What is the Archivo de Indias?

After Seville’s port was awarded the royal monopoly for trade with the Americas, the city entered a golden age and an influx of wealth came pouring in from the New World. In order to regulate commerce, King Philip II ordered a merchant exchange to be built in 1589. That building was later converted into the Archivo de Indias which today houses over 80 million pages of documentation relating to trade and exploration.

Inside, you can wander through the archive’s hallways, see a few exhibitions and admire one of Spain’s finest Renaissance buildings. The Archivo de Indias is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it’s free to visit.

Archivo de Indias Tickets & Opening Times

Opening Times icon indicating when the monument is open


Tuesday to Saturday: 9:30am to 5pm
Sundays: 10am to 2pm
Mondays: closed

The Beginnings of the Merchants' Exchange

General Archive of the Indies – Sevilla, Spain
General Archive of the Indies

Soon after the Americas were discovered, Seville secured its role as Spain’s commerce hub by way of a royal decree from Queen Isabella I of Castile. Merchants, looking to take advantage of Seville’s exclusive trading rights, came from all over the continent.

In the early 1500’s traders and merchants would gather around Seville Cathedral to do business. When it rained, they would continue their business inside of the church. This of course upset the clergy who then chained up areas around the building and hired bailiffs to guard against trespassers.

Grand marble staircase at the Archivo de Indias – Sevilla, Spain
Grand marble staircase at the Archivo de Indias

The church’s complaints reached King Philip II who, in 1589, constructed the Casa Lonja de Mercaderes (merchants’ exchange).

The merchants’ exchanged continued until the second half of the 17th century when the Spanish Empire began to decline. In addition, parts of the Guadalquivir River filled in with silt, making it impossible to navigate large ships inland and up to Seville.

For that reason, Spain’s trading port moved its headquarters to Cadiz on the coast. Without any trade, the businessmen left and the merchants’ exchange building began to rapidly deteriorate.

Creation of the Archivo de Indias

Almost 300 years after the discovery of the New World, a massive collection of documents relating to trade and exploration had accumulated. They had run out of space in the Archivo General de Simancas and documents were ending up in several different locations.

The Archives of the Archivo de Indias in Seville, Spain
Archives at the Archivo de Indias

In 1785, King Charles III saved the merchants’ exchange from certain death by converting it into the Archivo General de Indias (General Archive of the Indies). All of Spain’s written history relating to the conquering and hispanization of the Americas was unified under one roof.

The Archive of the Indies Today

With over 43,000 files and 8,000 maps, the Archivo’s shelf space is equivalent to 9km (5.5 miles) in length. This extensive collection has recorded history concerning politics, commerce, art, geography, anthropology, exploration and much more.

There are priceless texts from Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro. Today, the archive is the best source of information for those studying the presence of Spain in America.

The building itself is quite impressive. Its facade, made of stone and red brick, is distinctly Sevillian in style and a great example of Renaissance architecture. Besides the archive’s hallways, the other highlights are the checkered stone patio and a grand main staircase made of red and black marble.

Patio of the Archivo de Indias – Seville, Spain
Patio of the Archivo de Indias

Many of the interior walls are decorated with portraits of famous explorers. There are some artifacts on display such as indigenous American art and Japanese ceramics. Temporary exhibitions covering topics such as the first circumnavigation of the world are displayed and usually they are quite interesting.

The archive is conveniently located next to the Alcazar de Sevilla and the cathedral and with free admission, it’s worth a visit.

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