25 October 2018
An afternoon in Real Alcázar
in Seville, the oldest royal
palace still in use in Europe
Having spent Wednesday morning in Seville Cathedral, I spent much of the afternoon [24 October 2018] in the Alcázar or Reales Alcázares de Sevilla or Royal Alcázar of Seville.
This royal palace was built for King Peter of Castile on the site of an Abbadid Muslim fortress that was destroyed during the Christian conquest of Seville, although elements of other civilizations remain.
The name Alcázar comes from the Arabic al-qaṣr, meaning the castle or palace, which in turn is derived from the Latin castrum, castle.
It is said the site of the Real Alcázar has been occupied from the eighth century BC. The collegium or College of Olearians was built here in the first century AD, and the early Visigothic basilica of Saint Vincent was built on its ruins.
When Seville was conquered by the Umayyad caliphate in the year 712, the Visigothic basilica was demolished to build the first military work. It This may have been a quadrangular enclosure, fortified, and annexed to the walls.
During the period of the first Taifa kingdoms, various buildings stood here, including stables and warehouses. The citadel began to gain importance, under the Abbadid dynasty in the first half of the 12th century, when the space doubled and a large palace called Al-Muwarak was built on the site of the present Patio de la Monteria. Some archaeological remains from this period are preserved.
Under the Almohads, when Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur was caliph, a new residence, court and mosque were built for the Caliph.
A small courtyard, the Patio del Yeso, served as the residence of Pedro I in 1358 before his new palace was built. When he was building this new palace, he reused some of shafts and capitals of this basilica, the only Visigothic remains to have survived to this day.
Most of the architecture of the palace, including its most flamboyant parts, was built for Peter of Castille and Alfonso X and includes Mudéjar, Gothic and Mannerist halls and courtyards.
After the Lisbon earthquake caused damage in 1755, the façade of the Palacio Gótico overlooking the Patio del Crucero was completely renovated in Baroque style.
We entered tAlcázar by the Puerta del León, the main entrance, which takes its name from the 19th century tile-work inlaid above it, showing a crowned lion holding a cross in its claws and bearing a Gothic script.
The Patio de las Doncellas or ‘Courtyard of the Maidens’ takes its name from a legend that the Moors demanded 100 virgins every year as tribute from the Christian kingdoms in Iberia.
The lower level of the Patio was built for King Peter of Castile and includes inscriptions describing Peter as a sultan. There are lavish reception rooms on the sides of the Patio. In the centre is a large, rectangular reflecting pool with sunken gardens on either side.
For many years, the courtyard was entirely paved in marble with a fountain in the centre. However, we were told during our tour that archaeological evidence shows the gardens and the reflecting pool were part of the original design and these have been restored.
The upper story of the Patio was added by Charles V and designed by Luis de Vega in the style of the Italian Renaissance.
Los Baños de Doña María de Padilla or the Baths of Lady María de Padilla consists of rainwater tanks beneath the Patio del Crucero, and is named after María de Padilla, the mistress of Peter the Cruel.
The Salon de Embajadores, or Ambassadors’ Reception Room, was the main room used by Peter of Castile when he stayed at Alcazar.
The gardens at Alcázar have undergone many changes over the century. During the reign of Philip III in the 16th century, the Italian designer Vermondo Resta introduced the Italian Mannerist style. Resta was responsible for the Galeria de Grutesco (Grotto Gallery) transforming the old Muslim wall into a loggia from which to admire the view of the palace gardens.
The palace is one of the finest examples of Mudéjar architecture in Spain and one of the most beautiful. The upper levels are still used by the Spanish royal family as their official residence in Seville, making this the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe.