Seville is the capital of Andalusia, Spain's largest Autonomous Region, and for many is synonymous with traditional Spanish culture. The city is over 2000 years old and has been part of numerous civilisations over the centuries, including the Roman Empire, the Visigothic Kingdom and al-Andalus. It was founded by an ancient people known as the Tartessians, who ruled what is considered to be the first empire in the Western world. They were important trading partners of the Phoenicians and had their own language (unrelated to any surviving modern language) and syllabic writing system. In the modern day the city proper is home to about 700,000 people while about 1,500,000 live in the greater metropolitan area. The historic centre, or "old quarter", of Seville is among the largest in Europe, at about 3 kilometres long by 2 kilometres wide. Seville is divided into two halves by the River Guadalquivir.
The ancient Tartessians called the city Spal, which was later latinised by the Romans as Hispalis. In prehistoric times, Spal was a village located in the same place as the modern street called Cuesta del Rosario, then part of an island in the middle of the River Guadalquivir. It eventually became the centre of the Tartessian Empire. When the Phoenicians began peacefully colonising the Iberian Peninsula they became the main trading partners of the Tartessians, converting Spal into a relatively prosperous trading hub. Later on, the Tartessians would also trade extensively with the Carthaginians. The fall of the Phoenician metropolises to the Persian Empire in the 6th Century B.C. gave free reign to Carthage, which had been a Phoenician colony, to adopt an expansionist policy. Carthage soon adopted an agressive, militaristic expansionist stance, conquering and razing Tartessos and destroying the Tartessian Empire.
The Republic of Carthage retained control over Tartessos until their fateful confrontation with the nascent Roman Republic in the Punic Wars. During the Second Punic War, in the year 206 B.C., Carthaginian Tartessos was occupied by Roman legions under General Scipio Africanus and the Iberian Peninsula became the Roman province of Hispania. The city's name, Spal, was latinised by the Romans, becoming Hispalis, and the river that runs through it was called the Betis.
The Romans founded nearby Italica as a fully Roman colony and residential city. It remains remarkably well preserved and is today the site of numerous Roman-era ruins. Other artefacts of Roman origin to be found within Seville include the Roman Aqueduct. The most relevant contributions to the city in more recent history, however, were made by the Arabs during the Islamic period.
Hispalis was conquered many times in the Middle Ages after the collapse of the Roman Empire. In the first millenium it was invaded by a wave of Germanic tribes, classed as barbarians by the Romans, first by the Vandals under King Gunderic in AD 426, then by the Suebi under King Rechila in AD 441 and finally by the Visigoths who would remain in control of the city they called Spali until the Moorish invasion in 712. The establishment of al-Andalus as part of the greater Islamic Caliphate brought substantial changes. The Roman name of the city, Hispalis, became arabised as Išbīliya (إشبيلية). The "p" sound, which doesn't exist in Arabic, was replaced by a "b" and the "a" morphed into an "i" due to the influence of the Hispanic Arabic dialect (known for frequent use of the imāla). Seville was the first territory to gain regional status under the Caliphate and remained an important urban centre in al-Andalus and, following the disintegration of al-Andalus, as the capital of an independent Muslim kingdom, until it was again invaded by the Christian Castilians under King Ferdinand III in 1248. Parts of the old city wall from the Caliphate period have become a local tourist attraction.
Under Castilian rule, Išbīliya became castillianised as Sevilla, which eventually passed into French as Séville and finally into English as Seville. Following the discovery of America, Seville became the cornerstone of the entire Spanish economy by monopolising transatlantic commerce through the Casa de Contratación de Indias, a sort of proto-East India Company. Up until the late 18th Century, all intercontinental Spanish maritime traffic had to have authorisation from the Casa de Contratación de Indias and ships sailing without authorisation were considered rogue. Intercontinental traffic turned Seville into a hub for imperial economic transit. All imports to and from the New World passed through Seville, and all the related bureaucracy thus was concentrated within the city. Seville quickly turned into one of the most urbanised cities in the Empire, with over 100.000 inhabitants, and became known for its impeccable cobblestone and brick streets.
Between the 17th and 18th Centuries, however, Seville suffered an acute decline. The city was devastated by the Plague in 1649 and about 60,000 Sevillians (then 46% of the existing population) perished in the epidemic. The city's population dropped dramatically from 130,000 to 70,000 in just one year. In 1717 the Bourbon monarchy relocated the Casa de Contratación de Indias to Cadiz, which had a much better suited atlantic port. At the start of the 19th Century an outbreak of yellow fever wiped out a third of the population. In 1810, Seville surrendered to Napoleon's forces and the city was occupied without a shot being fired and many important art works were stolen.
Seville's rash of bad luck didn't end until the mid 19th Century. Industrialisation began in earnest in 1841, with the founding of a ceramics factory by Carlos Pickman on the site of an old monastery. The factory remained operational until the 1980s, when the monastery was refit for the Seville Expo '92.
Seville's official motto is NO8DO. The motto is a rebus in which the "8" in the middle represents a skein, in Spanish madeja, thus reading No-madeja-do, a recognisable contraction of No me ha dejado (meaning "it hasn't left me") in spoken Spanish. Experts differ on the origin of the motto, though popular legend attributes it to King Alfonso X "The Wise" (el sabio) who is said to have bequeathed it to the city as a reward for remaining loyal to him during the war against his son Sancho, who ultimately succeeded in dethroning him and seizing the crown. During the war, only Seville gave refuge to the beleaguered Scholar King and so the motto is supposedly a reference to the city's unwavering loyalty. Another theory, however, suggests that the rebus is recursive, with "NODO" being the Latin for "knot" (nudo in modern Spanish) and the figure 8 in the middle a graphic representation of the same knot. According to this interpretation, the knot represents the legendary Gordian Knot undone by Alexander the Great. Still others speculate that it may simply represent the Latin phrase, nomen domini (in the name of the Lord), like London's "NODO". Whatever the case, it is today the most widespread symbol of Seville both within and without the city, and features in the centre of the Sevillian flag.
Modern Seville is a forward-looking city with a developed industrial base and important high-tech and research sector. It was the first to be connected to Madrid via high speed rail (in 1992). More recently, its very first metro line was inaugurated along with one of the most extensive bicycle lane networks in Spain.