05 May 2014

Great Buildings: Seville's Alcazar

Seville's Alcazar reflects the Mudejar style of Spain, fusing elements of the Moorish and Christian cultures, which dominated the country during the medieval period. The Alcazar is one of the oldest European palaces still in use as a royal residence. The building is near to Seville's cathedral. If it looks like something seen on TV, portions of it have been filmed most recently to depict Jerusalem during the Crusades in Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven (2005) and will apparently be used as the setting of Dorne, in HBO's Game of Thrones season 5 in 2015.  If it reminds visitors of Granada's Alhambra, craftsmen from that city were among those who helped build the Alcazar. Today the upper floors of the Alcazar are home to the Spanish royal family when they reside in Seville. A series of rooms arranged around patios and gardens begun in the early medieval period have expanded under successive rulers of Spain. 

Long viewed as a prime location, basilicas, fortresses and palaces have existed on the site for several centuries. Arab invaders captured Seville in the eighth century and the city served as a capital of Moorish Spain.  The caliph Abd al-Rahman had a palace at the location of the Alcazar. Also, the Almohade empire built a palatial residence there called Al-Muwarak in 1161. One of the oldest parts of the Alcazar still standing from the twelfth century is the Patio del Yeso, which showcases Almohad architecture with its sunken pool and gardens. In 1248, Ferdinand III of Castile recaptured Seville from its Moorish rulers. Under the reign of his great-great-great grandson Pedro of Castile (1350-1369), Moorish and Christian builders from Seville, Toledo and Granada constructed the present-day Alcazar where the previous palaces once stood.

It took two years to complete the structure, starting in 1364 and ending in 1366. A unique friendship between Pedro and Muhammad V of Granada aided the work's completion. The monarchs of Granada were considered as vassals of the kings of Castile for two and a half centuries. Pedro and Muhammad shared common histories, both becoming kings at the age of sixteen. Pedro like some of his predecessors and successors admired Moorish culture even as they sought to conquer its people. Two years prior to his Alcazar's construction, Pedro had helped Muhammad reclaim Granada and its Alhambra from two usurpers, Muhammad's own half-brother and a cousin. In gratitude, Muhammad sent carpenters and master builders to work on Seville's Alcazar. The site incorporates design elements mirrored at the Alhambra, has similar names for its courtyards and rooms, and there are inscriptions naming Peter as sultan rather than king. 

In the same manner as medieval occupants, today's visitors pass through the entrance, the imposing Lion Gate (Puerta del León), so named for the ceramic tile work depicting the heraldic imagery of a lion atop a defensive wall. The symbol is not from the medieval period; it was added in the 19th century. The Patio of the Lion (Patio del León), which retains its earlier Moorish wall, has gardens that lead from the Lion Gate. On the left of the patio is the Hall of Justice (Sala de Justicia), which has a fountain at the center of the room. An archway also gives access to the Courtyard of the Hunt (Patio de la Montería), where the medieval monarch's courtiers and huntsmen organized their sport.  

Visitors can explore other areas of the palace, including a Gothic-style residence built by the son of Ferdinand III, Alfonso X. Pedro's private residence built in 1364 is also known as the Mudejar Palace for its incorporation of Islamic architectural styles. One of its most beautiful sections is the Patio of the Maidens (Patio de las Doncellas), a name that derives from the idea of Moorish rulers of Spain demanding a tribute of a hundred virgins each year from the conquered Christian cities.  This patio has beautifully sculpted arches shading carved doors and colorful tiles along the walls. There is also a pool at the center, which rises above sunken gardens with trees on either side. 

The Hall of the Ambassadors (Salón de Embajadores) served as Pedro's throne room. The elaborate woodwork ceiling with its gilded dome is reminiscent of the Alhambra. The original doors from 1366 still stand to allow visitors inside the room. There is tile work along the walls and the floor is made of white marble.  

For more information about Seville's Alcazar, visit http://www.alcazarsevilla.org/ 

All public domain images included, courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.

Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by the medieval period. She is the author of historical novels set in medieval England and Normandy, The Burning Candle, based on the life of Isabel de Vermandois, and On Falcon's Wings, chronicling the star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers. Lisa has also written four novels in a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana,  Sultana’s LegacySultana: Two Sisters, and Sultana: The Bride Price where rivalries and ambitions threaten the fragile bonds between members of a powerful family. Her short story, The Legend Rises, a tale of Gwenllian of Gwynedd, appears in the 2013 HerStory anthology.