WELCOME TO EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO GET THE MOST OUT OF THe Alcazar Experience!
The Real Alcázar of Seville is one of the oldest palaces left in use in the world today. The Alcazar has been in constant use from the end of the 11th century and is still used by Spanish royalty. It’s walls have contemplated the influence of many different cultures as they have passed through Sevilla, and when exploring it’s rooms and gardens, one gets the feeling if being transported to another time and place altogether.
The guidebook I have put together for you here is meant to give you a taste of the history, as well as the lesser know mysteries of this amazing place. The box itself also includes mazes, games and coloring sheets for to use to explore some of the architectural elements. You will find pdfs to reprint these at the bottom of this webpage.
So let's explore!
The complex compound which makes up the Royal Alcazar of Seville was built in the early Middle-Ages, when the ancient Roman city of Hispalis was re-named Ixbilia. According to the most trustworthy sources, it was at the beginning of the tenth century that the Caliph of Cordoba, Abdurrahman III an-Nasir, ordered new government headquarters to be built on the southern swath of the city. Previously, the ruling al-Andalus powers had been seated inside the Low-Roman-Empire city centre. Seville’s centre of power after that point was linked to the hub of its economic activity, the port. The city’s ancient port, on the grounds of the current Plaza del Triunfo, moved west towards the main course of the Guadalquivir, while the river’s subsidiary branch gradually lost its importance as an urban waterway.
Later on, the Abbadíes, who ruled Sevilla during the tenth century, added onto the Alcazar palace and called it al-Mubarak, ‘The Blessed’, and this quickly became the hub for the city’s official and literary life. The Almoravids then expanded the palace all the way to the Guadalquivir river. In the twelfth century, the Almohades added their own buildings to the structures erected in Arab times, whose ruins are the only examples that remain the whole world... One of these is the House of Trade.
In 1248-49, the territory was conquered by Castilians, who made The Alcazar a Royal Residence, and palaces rose up around the original foundations. In the middle of the fourteenth century, when the Crown of Castile ruled, there was a re-emergence of Mediterranean concepts and Arabic style.
This Royal Relationship has held up since the beginning of the Modern Age, and its influence can be seen in the continuous alterations made to the building itself, in an effort to adapt the decor to the times. For example, the top floor of the Courtyard of the Maidens, was refurbished in a Renaissance style, or the Courtyard of Dolls whose nineteenth-century restoration robbed it of its original appeal while maintaining the ancient columns and capitals that were part of the original design
Renaissance artists contributed much, like splendid tiles and altarpieces. From the middle of the eighteenth century, the inside halls were filled with magnificent collections of eighteenth-century Flemish tapestries and ceramic tile plinths.
The Bourbon monarchs of the nineteenth century did not fail to leave their mark on the Alcazar either. They re-arranged the spaces on the top floor of the building, refurbishing some of the halls in the style of that century, decorating with tapestries, chandeliers, clocks, furniture and an impressive collection of paintings.
Even the gardens have continuously changed with fountains and ponds, pavilions, arches and galleries. The parterres have been redesigned and innovated as well across time. The Galería de los Grutescos, is an old Muslim wall that was given a facelift in the 17th century by the Italian artist Vermondo Resta.
Let’s take a look at some of the less obvious innovations and architectural elements to be found:
One of the most spectacular of Alcazar’s ceilings is in the Ambassador’s Hall.
Many of the palace’s internal walls bear the intricate, repeated patterns of Moorish interior design.
In some rooms, not an inch of wallspace has been neglected.
The effect of the tile work in some rooms is almost hypnotising.
Many of the lower sections of the palace’s internal walls are decorated with ceramic tiles from Triana, one of Sevilla’s most loved barrios. Many of the surviving structures you can see today date from the 14th century, although some could date back as early at the 10th century.
Next let’s take a look at some of the more mysterious and mythological elements hidden within these walls. Appearances can be deceiving! And some of the things I am about to tell you will not be revealed in the official Royal Alcazar tour.
The tile lion that greets visitors to the Alcázar is one of it’s most recent additions. It was created in 1894 by artist José Gestoso, and the Gothic script it contains...Ad Utrumque literally means “Prepared for All”. Why? Well the gate itself is believed to have been constructed in the 14th century by Peter of Castile, better known as Peter the Cruel, a king with a notoriously bloody reputation.
Patio del León, which incorporates a section of an older Muslim wall was the home of the controversial El Corral de Comedies de la Montería, whose theatrical productions had been banned and whose theater burned down in 1695. Researchers recently created a virtual reconstruction of what the theater would have looked like.
Sala de Justice, which definitely exhibits a Muslim artistic influence, was likely the residence of Peter I during the construction of his own palace, and while living there, he murdered his step-brother, Don Fadrique under very strange circumstances. As the story goes, one night the king was walking the streets of Seville, alone and in pursuit of an affair, when he had an altercation with a stranger. Swords were drawn and the king (Peter) killed the man. During the fight, an old woman came to her window, and by the light of a candle, saw the men fighting, the striking and the fatal blow. As Peter fled the scene she dropped the candle revealing more clearly the scene below. The next morning, word came that Peter’s half-brother Henry had been assassinated, and a witness (the old woman) had been found. When the king questioned her, he realised from her description that he himself was the assassin. Having already promised that the killer would be found and his head hung upon the wall, the king was in a quandary. Shortly after, the king presented a box, which he said contained the head of the murderer, to be hung on the wall where the killing occurred. When Peter eventually died, the box was opened and found to contain a plaster cast of his own head. So in death he confessed his crime. The street was renamed “Cabeza del Rey Don Pedro”, and the adjoining street became “Candilejo” (candle) for the light that had revealed him to old woman.
Mudéjar Palace incorporates both Muslim and Christian styles in its construction, and this is immediately evident when one enters the Patio de las Doncellas, or the The Courtyard of the Damsels. The Courtyard was named after a legend that said the Moorish rulers of Andalusia would have 100 Christian virgins brought to the courtyard each year for a carnal celebration. This tale was also used to spur the Christian reconquest that took place during the Middle Ages.
Patio de las Muñecas, the Court of the Dolls contains very busy decor including numerous small carved stucco heads which resemble small dolls. According to the 16th century tradition, if you locate on of the carved faces it will bring you good luck, marriage or fortune.
When exploring the elaborate interiors of the Alcazar, don’t forget to look up: its ceilings are some of the buildings most incredible features, and there are endless symbols to explore.
Well-ordered gardens were an integral part of all royal palaces in Moorish Spain, providing their residents with aesthetic pleasure as well as fruit and vegetables. It is easy to see by this historic illustration of the layout how the once agricultural space was converted to primarily ornamental appeal in the 16th and 17th centuries-
The garden’s Pond of Mercury in fact was part of the agricultural history. It was originally an irrigation reservoir fed by a Roman aqueduct, but in 1575 it was converted into a decorative pool based on the Roman god Mercury, decorated with frescoes and stonework. At the center of the pond is a small fountain with a statue of Mercury. The bronze statue with his winged helmet was designed by Diego de Pesquera and cast by Bartolomé Morel in 1576. Behind the pool is an Italian grotto gallery, made from volcanic stones of different types that are reminiscent of sea rocks. The view from the gallery into both sides of the gardens is spectacular. This pond is one of the sites chosen by Game of Thrones directors filming here in 2017. For more info on this site and others click here
The infamous ‘Book of Deadly Names,’ allegedly revealed to King Solomon and written down by some anonymous ancient sorcerer, may have been buried and resurected from the Palace’s catacombs. This book apparently gives details about the 72 most evil creatures to be found on earth, including their names, descriptions, locations, afflictions and weaknesses. The manuscript was said to have lost until it was dug up near the Baths of Lady María de Padilla , the cavernous rainwater tanks named after the mistress of Peter the Cruel, King of Castille between 1350 and 1369. These baths also hide an entrance to the Dance Garden, which was their preferred place to meet. Interestingly, King Peter’s mistress Maria, was declared Queen after she died.
Archaeological excavations in the Patio de Banderas, the plaza you walk through when you leave the Alcazar, revealed Moorish, Roman and prehistoric remains. The earliest is a kitchen from the 8th century BC, although plans to preserve and display these treasures have been put on hold.
What other mysterious tales and histories have you found within the Alcazar’s walls?
Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, and don’t forget to check out the activities in your box for more fun exploring the grounds!