The Real Alcazar, or royal palace, in Seville was one of the highlights of our Spain 2010 trip. While the Cathedral was bustling with tourists, the Alcazar was strangely deserted when we visited, even though the two sights are only a stone’s throw away from each other. Perhaps the €7.50 per person entry fee is to blame, but the moment we passed through the Puerto del Leon into the palace grounds, I knew it was worth every cent.
It was my first encounter with Moorish architecture, and I was simply blown away by it. It is completely unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Where the palaces of Europe are sumptuously decorated with luxurious furnishings, rich tapestries and classical artwork, the walls and ceilings of the Alcazar have no other ornamentation save for delicate stucco work, here and there replaced by intricately patterned tiles. I wandered from room to room admiring the exquisite workmanship.
A particularly pleasing trait of Moorish design is the practice of building rooms around courtyards, gardens designed to be a respite from Seville’s oppressive summer heat. There are usually one or more fountains or rectangular pools at which to sit and appreciate the surroundings. I also noticed channels of flowing water running throughout the palace, filling the whole complex with its soothing sounds.
Although we didn’t get hand-held guides, I think this is one of those places you could only benefit from hearing its history told as you explore each room. The original walls date back as far as 913 AD, but the palace was built over centuries, first by a succession of caliphs, then a series of Christian kings up until the 16th century, and finally underwent major modifications in the 18th century. Rooms of particular interest to me include the Audience Chamber (where Ferdinand and Isabella received visitors and the first known painting of Columbus’ American discoveries can be seen), the Courtyard of the Maidens (which commemorates the Moorish rulers’ yearly tribute of a 100 virgins from their Christian vassals) and the subterranean baths named for the mistress of Pedro I (1350 – 1369), Maria de Padilla.
As much as I enjoyed the interior of the Alcazar, I loved the gardens even more. Gareth had fun playing with the ducks at the Pool of Mercury, while I chased peacocks through hedges and past orange groves. While no one was looking, Gareth picked an orange and had a good whiff of its fresh citrusy smell (we took it home and his father had a few bites of it for breakfast, before declaring it totally inedible).
Taking a moment to enjoy the serenity of the gardens while sitting on the edge of a fountain, I found it hard to believe that we were in the centre of one of Spain’s busiest cities. If it were this peaceful now, what must it have been like during the days of the caliphs? What wouldn’t I give to be able to go back in time and experience the Alcazar in its glory days?
For more posts in the Spain 2010 series, click here.
Do you love exploring old castles and palaces as much as we do? Which one is your favourite?