Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Real Alcázar de Sevilla

You don't really notice the vibrant beauty of the Royal Alcázar of Seville when you first walk up to it. Thick walls and high towers guard the splendours of this royal palace complex dating back to the days of the Muslim rule over the Iberian peninsula, though most of its beautiful rooms were actually built - by Moorish workmen - for the Christian King, Pedro the Cruel of Castile, in the 1360's. Still, the style of the palace is heavily influenced by the Muslim rule of Spain that lasted from the conquest in 711 until 1492, when Granada was recaptured by Christian forces.
The word Alcázar actually comes from the Arabic word for castle, al-qasr. And that's what it is. An extensive castle complex including some stunning gardens that actually double as the Water Gardens of Dorne in Game of Thrones. The Real Alcázar still houses the official residence of the King of Spain whenever he visits Seville thus making it the oldest royal residence in Europe in use.
While use of the area dates back to the first century, the history of the Alcázar begins in 914 when the Umayyad dynasty began with the construction of a fortification with a quadrangular wall attached to the old Roman wall of the city. Inside there were some simple outbuildings attached to the walls, such as warehouses, stables and barracks.
During the 11th century, the power of the Umayyad dynasty started to decline. The Córdoba Caliphate effectively collapsed during a civil war between 1009 and 1013, although it was not finally abolished until 1031 when al-Andalus broke up into a number of mostly independent mini-states and principalities called taifas. These small principalities were unable to defend themselves against the Christian northern states of the Iberian peninsula and thus invited the Almoravids, Berber Muslims from Morocco, to help them.
The Almoravids, however, soon took control of all the taifas. The Almoravids were followed by another Muslim Berber dynasty, the Almohades. They gained control of Seville in 1181 and soon embarked on a building frenzy constructing a number of baths, towers, a grand mosque and Al-Muwarak (The Blessed), the fortress-like palace today known as the Alcázar.
However in the 13th century, the Spanish Reconquista was in full swing and the area was reclaimed by the Catholic Kings of Spain who claimed the palace as their own. This marked the beginning of a new era for the palace. During the following years, elements of Gothic, Renaissance and Romanesque design were combined to the original Islamic structure leading to the unique blend of styles known as Mudéjar.
Of the original Islamic style structure only the Patio de Yeso, the Sala de Justiciathe Patio del Crucero and the Patio de la Casa de Contratación remain. The rest of the buildings were either completely rebuilt or newly added to the original structure during the Middle Ages.
Seville had been reclaimed by Christian forces under Fernando III of Castile in 1248 after 16 months of siege. The Alcázar soon became a favourite with the new Christian rulers of the city. For decades the Kings of Castille continued to use the palaces of their Muslim predecessors. Between 1252 and 1260 King Alfonso X of Castile used the space of the main building to build the Gothic Palace.
During the 14th century, King Pedro of Castile demolished three palaces of the Almohad dynasty in favour of a new palace built in the Mudéjar style. Mudéjar being a style of medieval Iberian architecture and decoration, particularly of Aragon and Castile, strongly influenced by Moorish taste and workmanship with the word Mudéjar actually coming from an Arabic word meaning 'allowed to remain'. The works commissioned by Pedro the Cruel and carried out by workmen from Granada, at the time still under Muslim rule, were finished in 1364.
Many of the Alcázar's most stunning rooms owe their existence to Pedro the Cruel (also occasionally called Pedro the Just), the last ruler of the main branch of the House of Ivrea. Pictures actually don't really do the palace justice as there are so many details that even standing in the palace's rooms, it is hard for your eyes to capture all of them: Arabic scripts, tiles, carvings, and many more from the floor all the way up to the ceiling.
Over the centuries, the Real Alcázar de Sevilla continued to be used as a royal residence. In 1478, Prince Juan, the only son of Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon who lived to adulthood, was born there. In 1526, the wedding of Holy Roman Emperor Carlos (Karl) V with his cousin Isabel of Portugal was celebrated in the Alcázar. The palace was also the birthplace of Infanta Maria Antonia of Spain (1729–1785), daughter of Felipe V of Spain and Elisabetta Farnese. The King and Queen visited the city to oversee the signing of the Treaty of Seville which ended the Anglo-Spanish War.
During all those years, parts of the Alcázar were again and again adapted to suit the taste of the times though the Mudéjar-style parts of the castle complex remain the most impressive. Equally stunning are the gardens that are also part of the Real Alcázar. While there are many small courtyards with little pools, fountains and recessed seats, there is also a large 16th century Renaissance-style garden featuring a large labyrinth and a fine pavilion built during the times of Carlos V.
All in all the Real Alcázar de Sevilla is quite a wonderland and it made me fall in love with Moorish and Mudéjar architecture even more than the sights of Portugal last year. There is so much to discover and it actually made me want to hop on on plane and go to the Middle East or Northern Africa to discover more Muslim-influenced architecture. One improvement that could be made though are signpostings. There were moments when I actually felt a little lost but then again she who gets lost, sees more of life - or something along those lines...
Good to know:
The Real Alcázar de Sevilla is open between April and September from 9.30am to 7pm, they close two hours earlier in the winter. The palace is closed on January 1 and 6, Good Friday and December 25. Admission per adult is 9,50 euros. I did not purchase a ticket before visiting and the waiting time wasn't more than ten or 15 minutes. However when I passed the next day, the queue was much longer - so it is probably not a bad idea to buy a ticket online as you can thus jump the queue. For more information, have a look here.

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