General Archive of the Indies

Coordinates: 37°23′02″N 5°59′31″W / 37.384°N 5.992°W / 37.384; -5.992
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General Archive of the Indies
Native name
Spanish: Archivo General de Indias
The Archivo de Indias, Seville
LocationSeville, Andalusia, Spain
Coordinates37°23′02″N 5°59′31″W / 37.384°N 5.992°W / 37.384; -5.992
Built16th century
ArchitectJuan de Herrera
Juan de Mijares
Architectural style(s)Renaissance
Official nameCathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville
Criteriai, ii, iii, vi
Designated1987 (118th session)
Reference no.383
General Archive of the Indies is located in Seville
General Archive of the Indies
Location in Seville

The Archivo General de Indias (Spanish pronunciation: [aɾˈtʃiβo xeneˈɾal de ˈindjas]; lit.'General Archive of the Indies'), housed in the ancient merchants' exchange of Seville, Spain, the Casa Lonja de Mercaderes, is the repository of extremely valuable archival documents illustrating the history of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and Asia. The building itself, an unusually serene and Italianate example of Spanish Renaissance architecture, was designed by Juan de Herrera. This structure and its contents were registered in 1987 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site together with the adjoining Seville Cathedral and the Alcázar of Seville.


The origin of the structure dates to 1572 when Philip II commissioned the building from Juan de Herrera, the architect of the Escorial to house the Consulado de mercaderes of Seville.[1]: 128  Until then, the merchants of Seville had been in the habit of retreating to the cool recesses of the cathedral to transact business.

The building, known as the Lonja, was begun in 1584 by Juan de Mijares, using Herrera's plans.[citation needed] The northern rooms of the ground floor were completed in 1598, as recorded by a dedicatory inscription over the central door of the northern façade, and the rest of the ground floor was completed the following year. Work then began on the next level but construction was paused in 1601 due to funding problems. Work resumed in 1609 but the building was not finished until 1646.[1]: 128  Work was directed until 1629 by the archbishop Juan de Zumárraga and finished by Pedro Sanchez Falconete.[citation needed]

The building encloses a large central patio with ranges of two storeys, the windows set in slightly sunken panels between flat pilasters. Plain square tablets float in the space above each window. The building is surmounted by a balustrade, with rusticated obelisks standing at the corners. There is no sculptural decoration, only the discreetly contrasting tonalities of stone and stucco, and the light shadows cast by the slight relief of the pilasters against their piers, by the cornices, and by the cornice strips that cap each window.

In the aftermath of a devastating plague in 1649, the building appears to have been abandoned by merchants by 1660. From 1660 to 1674, one of its rooms was used as a painting academy established by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. By the 18th century, the building's upper floor had been partitioned for use as apartments.[1]: 128 

Creation of the archive[edit]

View of the main courtyard.

On 12 March 1784, Juan Bautista Muñoz, a historian who was attempting to write a history of the New World, wrote to José de Gálvez, the Minister of the Indies, suggesting the idea of creating a centralized archive for documents relating to the Americas. José de Gálvez had already been considering the idea for a decade and wrote him back on 24 April, encouraging him to look in Seville and Cadiz for potential buildings that could house the archive.[1]: 128  On 24 May, Muñoz toured the former Lonja with Féliz Carazas and Lucas Cintora. He wrote to Galvez on 8 June, enthused about selecting this structure due to the fact that it was a solid structure made entirely of stone and containing sufficient space. He indicated that they would merely need to remove the recent partitions of the upper floor and restore the building to its original state.[1]: 129–130 

Galvez communicated the idea to King Charles III, who on 27 June 1784 issued a letter instructing Muñoz to draft a proposal for the work needed to convert the building into the Archive of the Indies.[1]: 130  In February 1785, Charles III approved a decree for the creation of the archives according the proposed plans.[1]: viii  The project was to bring together under a single roof all the documentation regarding the overseas empire, which until that time had been dispersed among various archives, as Simancas, Cádiz and Seville.[2]

Responsibility for the project was delegated to José de Gálvez, Secretary for the Indies, who depended on the historian Juan Bautista Muñoz for the plan's execution. Two basic motivations underlay the project; in addition to the lack of space in the Archivo General de Simancas, the central archive of the Spanish Crown, there was also the expectation, in the spirit of the Enlightenment, that Spanish historians would take up the history of Spain's colonial empire. It was decided that, for the time being, documents evolved after 1760 would remain with their primary institutions.

The first cartloads of the documents arrived in October 1785. Some restructuring of the Casa Lonja to accommodate the materials was required, and a grand marble staircase was added in 1787 after the designs of Lucas Cintara.


The archives are rich with autograph material from the first of the Conquistadores to the end of the 19th century. Here are Miguel de Cervantes' request for an official post, the Bull of Demarcation Inter caetera of Pope Alexander VI that divided the world between Spain and Portugal, the journal of Christopher Columbus, maps and plans of the colonial American cities, in addition to the ordinary archives that reveal the month-to-month workings of the whole vast colonial machinery, which have been mined by many historians in the last two centuries.

Today, the Archivo General de Indias houses some nine kilometers of shelving, in 43,000 volumes and some 80 million pages, which were produced by the colonial administration:

View of a corridor with a cannon.
  • Consejo de Indias, 16th–19th centuries
  • Casa de la Contratación, 16th–18th centuries
  • Consulados de Sevilla y Cádiz, 16th–19th centuries
  • Secretarías de Estado y Despacho Universal de Indias, de Estado, Gracia y Justicia, Hacienda y Guerra, 18th–19th centuries
  • Secretaría del Juzgado de Arribadas de Cádiz, 18th–19th centuries
  • Comisaría Interventora de la Hacienda Pública de Cádiz, Dirección General de la Renta de Correos, 18th–19th centuries
  • Sala de Ultramar del Tribunal de Cuentas, 19th century
  • Real Compañía de la Habana, 18th–19th centuries

The structure underwent a thorough restoration in 2002–2004, without interrupting its function as a research library. As of 2005, its 15 million pages are in the process of being digitized. The digitized sources are accessible online [3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Hamann, Byron Ellsworth (2022). The Invention of the Colonial Americas: Data, Architecture, and the Archive of the Indies, 1781–1844. Getty Publications. ISBN 978-1-60606-773-4.
  2. ^ Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World: Histories, Epistemologies, and Identities in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World. Stanford: Stanford University Press 2001, p. 170.
  3. ^ "Portal de Archivos Españoles". 18 May 2018.

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