Travel Report: The Alcazar, Seville.
The Alcazar, Seville.
March 2017. It’s not every day you get to visit a royal palace with a thousand years of history! However, if you’re lucky enough to spend some time exploring Andalusia, you could grab yourself two in the space of a few weeks. That’s what I managed to do in the spring of 2017. Having seen the marvellous Alhambra in Granada, it was now time to note how Seville’s architectural wonder shaped up in comparison.
The Alcázar’s long, dramatic story can be traced back all the way to 913 when, much like The Alhambra, it began life as a fortress. The first caliph of Andalusia, Abd al-Rahman III ordered its creation on the remains of a Visigothic Christian basilica.
From there, even a potted history of the palace makes for some rich reading. In the 12th century the ruling Almohad Caliphate transformed it into an opulent Islamic palace, while by the 13th century the Christians swept in.
They claimed the palace for Spain’s Catholic kings and set about adding stunning expansions of Gothic, Renaissance and Romanesque designs. This cauldron of styles, along with retained Islamic elements, gave birth to a new breed of architecture called Mudéjar. Which is largely responsible for why today’s palace is such a fascinating sight.
The Alcazar, Seville.
Somehow, even within the first few courtyards, I sensed The Alcázar was a more intimate affair than The Alhambra. Firstly, it’s undoubtedly smaller in scale, not to mention much less hectic. In fact, one could even call it cosy.
The above shot shows Patio del Yeso, one of the few remaining purely Islamic courtyards. In the mid 1300s King Pedro I resided in one of the rooms leading off the courtyard, while construction of new palace wings took place.
Incredibly, The Alcázar is still in use as a royal palace! From time to time, visitors may find the place closed to general entry because of visiting state officials. Moreover, a wing of upper residential suites is still available for members of The Spanish royal family.
Here and there, as you stroll the various tiled corridors, you might see a security barrier separating general passage from other corridors leading to the royal quarters.
The Alcázar’s most picturesque courtyard is Patio de las Doncellas, Courtyard of the Maidens. Its name refers to the legend that Moorish rulers demanded a hundred virgins every year as a tribute from the Christian kingdoms. As the story goes, these women resided in the chambers that line both sides of the courtyard.
The Courtyard of the Maidens.
Its upper floor was an addition by Charles V in the mid 1500s. He hired the royal architect Luis de Vega to build it in the Italian Renaissance style. Movie fans might well think the courtyard looks strangely familiar. That’s because it doubled up as the court of The King of Jerusalem in Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven.
The absolutely stunning Hall of the Ambassadors was once the palace’s main throne room. It features triple horseshoe arches, gilded wood, star patterns and Arabic inscriptions quoting The Koran. King Pedro I used the hall to hold official receptions and meetings of his inner circle.
In fact, some say his eventual nickname, Pedro The Cruel, mostly likely came from within these walls. According to historians, he lived in a perpetual state of plotting. Either planning attacks against his enemies or arranging for a host of people to be murdered for minor and indeed often imagined crimes.
Equally stunning is the neighbouring Felipe II Ceiling Room, with its so-called peacock arches. The small but sublime chamber connects the Hall of the Ambassadors on one side, an entrance to the palace gardens on the other.
Visitors can take a rare opportunity to sit down in The Admiral’s Room (Sala del Almirante). Queen Isabella I of Castile hosted Christoper Columbus in the hall, following his second voyage to The New World in 1496. The hall went on to become part of the Casa de Contratación, a house of trade with The Indies in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The Alcazar, Seville.
Furthermore, this is where Amerigo Vespucci, Fernando Magellan and Juan Sebastián Elcano planned the first voyage around the world. And where Juan de la Cosa produced the first global map. A series of massive classical paintings only heightens the palpable sense of history.
The Palace Gardens are every bit as sumptuous as the interior. Up until the sixteenth century they were somewhat wild and unloved, mostly untouched from their Islamic days. But when Charles V married Queen Isabella of Portugal in 1526, the royal house decided it was time to transform the gardens into something the new Christian dynasty could call their own.
The first project was The Prince Garden, named so due to the fact that Prince Juan, son of Isabella and Fernando, was born in a nearby room. There’s a wide variety of lush vegetation packed in, including magnolia and Chinese palm trees.
The Alcazar Palace Gardens.
In recent years, the palace has seen a sharp increase of admirers after the gardens appeared in the popular TV series Game of Thrones. Fans of the show may recognise The Alcázar’s lawns, ponds and fountains as The Water Gardens of Dorne in four episodes of seasons five and six.
On the day of my visit there were artists everywhere, sketching under trees and hunched up behind easels. Many of them stood before the incredible, elevated viewing gallery, Galeria de Grutesco.
Transformed by the Italian architect Vermondo Resta in the late 16th century from the ruins of an old Almohad wall, the gallery offers sweeping views over the gardens and palace. Thus we wandered through, gazing out between the various columns and taking a few shots. Makes you feel a bit like royalty yourself.
The Alcazar, Seville.
The gallery’s centrepiece is Mercury Pond, a former palace swimming pool. From the outside, one can see painted mythological creatures on its facade. In 1576 the Spanish sculptor Diego de Pesquera added a bronze statue of Mercury wearing his winged helmet.
Finally, it was time for my travel buddy and I to head for lunch. We had our hearts set on a Mexican feast at Iguanas Rantas Cantina. So we bid the palace a farewell glance and made for the exit, stopping just briefly to say hello, and then goodbye, to the palace peacocks.
For more on this incredible city, have a read through my other articles from Seville.
Wanna read more about the region? Check out more pieces from around Andalusia.
Why not also take a look at many more of my pieces from across Spain.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.
I visited the Alcazar in 2009 for the first time for a holiday trip and went back a couple of years later for a business trip. What impressed me most is the Patio de Las Donzellas (the courtyard of the Maidens) whose atmosphere is pretty well captured in your picture.
Agree that The Maidens courtyard is the prettiest spot. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!
Your photos are beautiful! And oh for that weather right now. I loved the Alcazar, and Seville as a city, when I visited. Such a different feel to it than other parts of Spain. Have a good day 🙂
Thanks Han, appreciate you taking the time to comment. You’re right, there’s a little X factor to Seville that also makes it one of my favourite Spanish cities.
I loved Seville, we were there at Easter during the Easter celebrations.
Thanks Marion. I’ve yet to meet someone who was left cold by Seville. Hope your 2021 is progressing nicely!
wow! the skies were so blue in the olden days!
seville looks and sounds ace. i can almost taste the oranges!
Hey Nick, thanks for reading and leaving a comment. I often wish I could transport my life back to 2016-2017 Southern Spain, ha. Seville is one of those rare monster cities that truly delivers in spite of all the tourism.
You are making me want to travel, and to do so now!
I’m making me want to travel too ha ha! Thanks for reading Stella! Hope I haven’t caused too much mental anguish 😉
I don’t have a detailed memory of all the buildings and gardens that you show well in the post, but I do remember my visit to Seville which enchanted me in the pleasant spring sunshine.
It seems everyone who’s been to Seville has fond memories. Thanks for reading!
I’d completely forgotten about the contemporary royal connection. As your vivid narration records, it has a very intimate feel to it. I especially was impressed by the Courtyard of the Maidens and the Palace Gardens which seemed so personal and almost private. Thanks for the revisit and the Leighton touch.
Courtyard of the Maidens coming up as a favourite spot time and time again. Glad I managed to bring an alternative perspective to a place you’ve visited.
Looks very impressive and those gardens! 🙂
Thanks for reading Karolina!
Beautiful! I visited the Alcazar twice, once during the day (it was packed with tourists – how come there weren’t any in your pictures? 😄) and another time during the night, when they did a sort of live play inside the palace and in the gardens. It was absolutely beautiful! Thanks for sharing your experience and beautiful pictures!
Hey Juliette, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I wish I could say there were no tourists that day! But it was really just loads of patience. A live play in the gardens sounds pretty special!
I visited the Alcázar during my one day in Seville over four years ago. It was beautiful, especially with its Moorish architecture. It was also a beautiful day when I went, but your photos look infinitely better than what I took; you’re truly the professional!
Aw, that’s very kind of you to say. I spent quite a while scrubbing those photos up as they were a bit shit to be honest. It’s good to know that effort paid off. Thanks again!
I would’ve never known you had them edited. The photos are great!
Beautiful pictures!! I am amazed by how well it is preserved, that is amazing!
Thanks Lyssy! Hope your 2021 is going well so far.
I love the captures Leighton and your post has just made me want to visit Seville, especially the Alcazar!
Cheers for the feedback! Hope you get to Seville at some point.
The Alcazar is one of my favourites sights that I’ve been to. Love your detailed pictures!
Hey , thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Cheers for the follow too, hope you enjoy exploring my site.