The large Renaissance building that we know today as the Archivo de Indias was originally conceived as the Lonja de Mercaderes, to house and organize part of the commercial activity that arrived in the city during the 16th century. Until its construction, merchants used the spaces around the Cathedral as a market, especially the area known as 'las gradas', towards Alemanes street. The Chapter of the Cathedral was upset with this situation and asked the king for a solution.
Felipe II would attend to the request and commission Juan de Herrera, the famous architect from El Escorial, to design the new building in 1572. Work began in 1584 directed by Juan de Minjares following Herrera's plans. It seems that the building was ready for use in 1598, although there is evidence that the works continued during the 17th century.
When the center of commerce moved to Cádiz, in the 18th century, it was when the building was readapted to house all the documentation generated by the Casa de Contratación. As a result of this new circumstance, new works would be undertaken on the property in order to adapt it to the new use. It would be then, for example, when the monumental main access staircase to the upper floor was built.
It houses all the documentation related to the Spanish administration of the American territories. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, together with the Cathedral and the Alcázar, due to the great historical and artistic values of the complex.
The building is a magnificent sample of the Renaissance in the city, with a more sober and Italianate air than is usual here. It has a square plan, two stories high, articulated around a monumental central patio, porticoed with Doric columns, very similar to the Patio de los Evangelistas in El Escorial.
On the façade, a bichrome color was introduced between the reddish brick panels and the pale stone pilasters. This game of two colors was enormously successful in Seville and we will see it reproduced in numerous buildings in the city for centuries to come.
Inside, the naves around the patio are covered with hollow vaults, with coffers and plant decoration. Practically all the walls are covered by shelves of magnificent quality, made with mahogany and cedar wood brought expressly from Cuba. These shelves were added in the 18th century, when the old Lonja was converted into an Archive.
It was also then that Lucas Cintora designed the monumental staircase behind the main access from Avenida de la Constitución. It is covered with red and greyish black jaspers and above it stands a vaulted ceiling with a central lantern that provides light.
The Archive contains documents of incalculable value. Manuscripts of characters such as Christopher Columbus, Hernán Cortés, Miguel de Cervantes, Felipe II, Felipe IV or George Washington himself, the first president of the United States. In addition, it brings together a magnificent collection of engravings, drawings and maps, authentic jewels for the study of the history of America up to the 19th century.