When Europe was in its “dark” middle ages around the 13th century, Seville was an important city and as proof of this, we can enjoy today the architectural marvel of the Royal Alcazar of Seville. The Alcazar is one of the highlights of architecture in Spain and with no doubt, one of Spain´s main tourist attractions. Unesco agreed a long time ago with all of this and the Alcazar was granted UNESCO heritage status to recognize its historical value.
The Real Alcazar in Seville is one of the Royal palaces of Spain. This means it is one of the palaces where Spanish kings stay during certain visits, along with personalities from other countries. There are only a few royal palaces in Spain, and the majority are located in Madrid and near the capital city.
History and Styles
This royal palace has a long history. It is the most important piece of Mudéjar architecture in Seville and one of the most important in Spain. The original Alcazar was founded in 913 by the governors of Seville at that time (rulers from Cordoba). This means the Alcazar has XI centuries of history within its wals. It has gone through many extensions, destruction and re-construction. During the XI century the original Alcazar was expanded by the rulers of the Taifa of Seville. The current western part of the palace is what existed at that time and which got the name of the “blessed one” or the AlMuwarak. During the XIIth century, a new extension took place around what is today the Patio del Crucero. Seville was captured by Christian forces in 1248 and Fernando III moved to the Alcazar around that time. Fernando, son of Alfonso X el Sabio, replaced part of the previous elements of the Alcazar with gothic elements and during the rule of Pedro I the main jewel of the Alcazar was built: the Mudejar spectacular Palacio de San Pedro.
There are few remains from its fortress-like form of the Almohaden period in the 12C, like The Patio del Yeso with its arches and stucco ornamentation. The Alcazar shows influences of the Alhambra in Granada, with its complicated stucco decoration, introduced by Moorish artists from Granada under Pedro the Cruel (14C) predominate. During the 15th century a number of alterations were introduced, including the enlargement under Charles V (1526) and restorations under Philip IV and the introduction into the 19th century of some classical notes.
Patio del Leon
Passing beyond the Almohaden walls you come to the Patio de los Leones. This patio was the garrison yard of the original alcazar.
On the right side of the patio, there is the Casa de Contratación of Seville (founded in 1503), which was the administrative office for traffic with the West Indies. It contains beautiful Flemish tapestries with mythological themes (17-18C).
In the chapel, there is a well-known painting by Alejo Fernández, which is known as the Madonna of Seafarers’ (1530-5).
Patio de la Montería
On the left side is the Patio de la Montería, which provides a view over the magnificent palace façade. The rectangular, strictly articulated façade is broken by one triple- and two double-arched windows, beneath which are sebka ornamentation and blind arcades include an inscription that refers to Pedro I and the building of this part of the alcázar in 1364.
The blue and white band of tiles repeats, in Kufic characters, a sentence from the Koran: “There is no victor but Allah’
Patio de las Doncellas
The wings of the Alcazar date from the 16th and the 17th century. The part of the mexuar which is open to the public, between a battlemented wall and the palace itself, leads to the Patio de las Doncellas (Court of the Maids of Honour), around which the official chambers are grouped.
The arcades with their cusped arches rest upon 52 slender double marble columns. Of particular beauty are the 14C azulejos (tiles), the filigree-like stucco, and the decorations on the wooden ceilings and doors. Around the courtyard are the Salón del techo de Carlos Quinto with its superb Renaissance coffered cedar ceiling (16C), the Chambers of Maria de Padilla, the Dormitorio de los Reyes Moros and, above all, the splendid Salón de Embajadores (Ambassadors’ Hall) with its marvelous decoration from the reign of Pedro I.
Patio de los Embajadores
The high walls of the room are crowned by a massive dome (which was only built 1420) with geometric patterns, polychrome stucco, gilding, and stalactite work. The room opens on three sides through horseshoe-arched entrances. The frieze of portraits of Spanish rulers dates from the time of Philip II. The Patio de los Embajadores leads to the The Salón del techo de Felipe II, and the third part of the palace: The Patio de las Muñecas.
The Patio de las Muñecas
The ‘Doll’s Court’, so named after the small, doll-like faces in the arch spandrels. This part contains the harem or living quarters. The capitals of the columns of the arcade are mostly from Cordoba and Medina Azahara. Here also the decoration is of high quality, if a little more modest. The first floor has rooms with valuable tapestries from the 17th and 18th centuries. The royal chambers of Queen Isabella with an altar, the Patio de María de The Padilla, which has a few remaining Gothic arches and the ‘Baths of María de Padilla, is the Palace of Charles V with the Salón del Emperador.
This has an excellent series of 12 tapestries with scenes from the Emperor’s Tunisian Campaign, 1535-woven by the Flemish artist Pannemaker in 1554.
This part of the building dates from the 18the century, and was built after the earthquake of 1755 had destroyed the older Gothic palace. The chapel contains a collection of paintings from the Granada school.
The Gothic Palace and the Crossing Courtyard
Ferdinand III, the King of Castile who conquered Seville in 1248, was unable to enjoy the Alcazar for very long as he was to die there just four years later. Alfonso X the Wise, his son and successor, shared his father’s admiration for Islamic art and his predilection for Seville but the palace the Almohad Caliphs had once inhabited wasn’t wholly suitable for the Castilian King’s way of life nor for the requirements of his court.
In contrast to Muslim taste for more reduced spaces of moderate height, with maze-like layouts designed for greater privacy, Christian monarchs’ tastes differed somewhat as they preferred loftier and more spacious rooms, and opted for a clear hierarchy in the different areas of the palace. Therefore, for this reason and for the prestige that Gothic art, imported from France a few decades earlier, had acquired in the Peninsula, Alfonso X chose this style to build his own palace inside the Alcazar of Seville.
Gothic forms, moreover, were strongly associated with Christianity and the Crusades, and the King’s choice for this genre symbolised the Christian Western world’s victory over Islam. Thus, the King of Castile invited masons who had worked on the naves of Burgos Cathedral, a Gothic milestone in peninsular architecture, to construct his new royal residence alongside the vestiges of the old Almohad palace.
The Palace of King Peter I
In the second half of the 14th century, Peter I, the King of Castile, not only admired Islamic culture and surrounded himself with Muslim advisors and Jews, but even signed a pact of mutual assistance with the Nasrid Sultan of Granada (in theory his enemy) so that he could defend himself better against domestic foes. Thanks to this liberal attitude and cultural and religious tolerance the Alcazar of Seville’s walls now boast the spectacular Palace of King Peter I.
The Castilian monarch greatly appreciated the Muslim’s architectural heritage and summoned artists and artisans of Arab and Berber origin from Toledo, Granada and Seville itself to build a new palace between 1364 and 1366 according to the canons of Moorish art, a more genuinely Spanish style, a combination of cultures that coexisted on the Peninsula for eight centuries despite facing eachother on the battlefield. It was this interplay that resulted in epigraphs on the palace walls such as “Glory to our Lord the Sultan Peter!”, and “May Allah protect Him!”, a clear example of this cultural fusion.
After its construction, the palace converted into the regular residence for the Kings of Castileand later on was used by the Kings of Spain, and undoubtedly became the most magnificent example of the one thousand-year-old architecture of Seville’s Alcazar.
The House of Trade
Parallel to the construction, between the years 1364 and 1366, of the Palace of King Peter I, a vast area within the walls of the Alcazar was renovated which had been previously taken up by part of the former residence of the Taifa rulers of Seville, built three centuries earlier.
This space soon became the meeting point for the nobility that participated in hunts organised by the Spanish kings, and for this reason is known as the Hunting Courtyard (Patio de la Montería). In the early sixteenth century, with the founding of the House of Trade for the Americas (La Casa de Contratación de Indias) by the Catholic Kings, the courtyard soon became the Alcazar of Seville’s real centre of gravity. The House of Trade, which in the year 1504 took up the southern side of the Hunting Courtyard, was created in order to control trade with the Americas, whose colonisation had started just eleven years prior.
Thus, these installations within the Royal Alcazar were transformed, over a period of two centuries, into the logistics centre of the first global empire in the history of mankind, an immense task that included the control and the monopoly of American goods coming into the Sevillian port, the drafting of new laws that regulated such trade, the training of navigators who would be able to guide the sailing vessels through the oceans as well as the formation of cartographers.
The gardens of the Royal Alcazar of Seville
During the period of Muslim rule, the Royal Alcazar boasted an extensive area used for gardens, cultivation and corrals. In addition to providing fresh food to the members of the royal court, these spaces also had an aesthetic function. Every care and detail was taken to stimulate the senses: fragrant herbs and flowers were planted, trees were ordered into geometric patterns, pond water was used for its reflection and cooling properties and fountains and water jets were installed for their soothing sound.
Comparable to an oasis, the orchards also tied in with the ideas of the Koran, which often identifies a garden paradise, and thus this area was also considered a suitable environment for meditation. After the Christian Conquest and especially from the reign of Emperor Charles V onwards, the ancient Muslim gardens gradually came to lose their original layout to adapt to the changing tastes of the royal court.
Successive renovations carried out in the Royal Alcazar of Seville between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries resulted in an arrangement that was absolutely unique in Europe, in which nature and architecture were cleverly combined to create a wide variety of environments which used trends and influences as different as Mannerism, Romantic Naturalism, Historicism and English landscaping.
The Real Alcazar on the movies
The Real Alcazar of Seville is a place where you can find one of the most spectacular constructions: the Pedro I Palace which has a Mudejar architectural style. It´s rooms give movies an authentic feel, like the Patio del Yeso or the wall of the Monteria Patio, which were rebuilt by Pedro I “The Cruel” after an earthquake destroyed part of it in the XIV century.
Of all the famous movies filmed in the Alcazar, one that we should point out is Lawrence of Arabia (1962, United Kingdom), produced by David Lean.
In 2014, the Real Alcazar of Seville was chosen to be Games of Thrones filming location for its fifth season. It is based on the bestseller novel “A song of fire and ice” by George R.R. Martin.
Here is a list of some other movies that have been filmed in Seville: La Femme et le Pantin, La Folie des Grandeurs, 1492-La Conquista del Paraiso and The Kingdome of Heaven.