On our first full day in Seville, we spent the morning visiting the Seville Cathedral, as described in the previous Spain post. That was only the beginning of the day, however, as we went directly from the cathedral to the Alcázar, a beautiful royal palace with a long and storied history. It is still used by the Spanish Royal family as a residence when staying in Seville.
This palace-fortress has such a long history, with such extensive renovations and changes, that even its date of origin is unclear! It seems that many of the surviving structures date from the 14th century, though some remains could date back as early at the 10th century.
Appearances can be deceiving, however! The tile lion greeting visitors to the Alcázar is one of the most recent additions, and was created in 1894 by artist José Gestoso. The Gothic script Ad Utrumque means “Prepared for All”.
The gate itself is believed to have been constructed in the 14th century by Peter of Castile, a king with a notoriously bloody reputation. Through the gate one comes across the Patio del León, which incorporates a section of an older Muslim wall on the far side.
This Patio has a bit of a secret history: in the 1600s, it was the location of El Corral de Comedies de la Montería, a theater of a style popular in that era that were located in the inner courtyards of homes. The theater burned down in 1695, though theatrical productions had been banned in Seville years earlier. Last year, researchers designed a virtual reconstruction of what the theater would have looked like.
Off to the left of the Patio del León one can enter the Sala de Justica (“Hall of Justice”).
This room, which definitely exhibits Muslim artistic influence (including a fountain in the center of the room, not seen), was likely used as a residence of Peter I during the construction of his palace. Also, it is said that Peter’s step-brother, Don Fadrique, was murdered in this room by order of Peter himself.
Passing through the rear arch of the Patio del León, one enters the heart of the complex, the Patio de la Montería.
This open area connects three major buildings in the Alcázar. In front is the Palacio del Ray Pedro I de Castilla (“Palace of King Peter I of Castille”), built in 1364. On the left is the Palacio Gótico (“Gothic Palace”), built in the mid 13th century under Alfonso X. On the right is the Casa de la Contratación (“House of Trade”), which was established in that location in 1503 but whose facade dates to 1755, rebuilt in the wake of the devastating Lisbon earthquake.
At this point, everybody needed a restroom break (remember, we had already spent much of the morning in the Seville Cathedral). While I waited for everyone else to come back, I stepped into the area of the Gothic Palace and photographed what I would later learn to be the Patio del Crucero (“Court of the Crossing”).
The courtyard is one of the few things that remains from the original 12th century Moorish palace, though the Gothic Palace was essentially built around it. Directly ahead in the photograph is the entrance to the Gothic Palace.
Once we had all found each other again, we moved on to the Palacio del Ray Pedro I, also known as the Mudéjar Palace because it incorporates both Muslim and Christian styles in its construction. What this means is immediately evident when one enters the Patio de las Doncellas (“The Courtyard of the Damsels”).
The Courtyard of the Damsels is named for the legend that the Moorish rulers of Andalusia would demand 100 virgins from the Christian kingdoms each year. This story was used to spur the Christian reconquest of the Moorish territories that took place during the Middle Ages.
Directly behind the Courtyard, one enters the magnificent Salón de Embajadores, the throne room of Peter I.
I wish I had gotten more photographs for a more complete panorama! This ornately-decorated room is a perfect example of the phrase “horror vacui” — fear of the void — in which no space is left blank.
Another ornate, and subtly creepy, chamber is the Patio de las Muñecas (“Court of the Dolls”).
The room is subtly creepy because the busy decor includes numerous small stucco heads. I didn’t even notice them while passing through the chamber, and have no good pictures of them myself!
From the Mudéjar Palace we passed without realizing it into the Gothic Palace, and entered the Gothic Palace Chapel.
The picture on the altarpiece is Our Lady of La Antigua, a beloved saint of Seville. The image here is an 18th century reproduction of a 13th century original in the Seville Cathedral that was created soon after the mosque was converted into a church.
From the palace we passed out into the massive Gardens of the Alcázar. The first thing that caught our eye was the lovely Pond of Mercury.
This pond was originally an irrigation reservoir that was fed by a Roman aqueduct! In 1575, it was converted into a more decorative pool with a theme based on the Roman god Mercury.
The remainder of the gardens are divided into too many sections to describe in detail! Let me simply provide a few photographs of the various sections, to give a feel for its style.
The above ground view of the gardens were taken from the Galería de los Grutescos, an old Muslim wall that was given a facelift in the 17th century by the Italian artist Vermondo Resta.
The Galería de los Grutescos was a great place to take a picture of my lovely wife Beth!
There was so much more to be seen at the Alcázar, but we had so much more to see that day in Seville! Our next stop would be the Plaza de España… but I’ll leave that for my next post.