Among the most beautiful places in Europe is Alcazar of Seville (or Palace of Seville). This great palace was the residence of the Moorish rulers who occupied Spain from the 8th Century. When the Moors conquered Seville in 712 the rulers took residence here. However, the construction of the palace became more like the palace it is today in the 12th Century, when the Berber Muslim Almohad Caliphate from Southern Morocco controlled the region. The original structure was refurbished, new elements were added to reflect the art of the Muslims of the time, including features such as interlocking arabesques, calligraphy and geometric patterns. The art of the Alcazar represents a period and location in Muslim history where few representations of animals or humans were included.
The Spanish Reconquista
In the 13th Century, the Spanish Reconquista (re-conquest) was in full swing and the area was re-claimed by the Catholic Kings of Spain who took over the palace. Gothic, Renaissance and Romanesque period designs were incorporated into the original Moorish art. The mixture came to be known as Mudejar after the designation given to Moors who remained in Spain after the Reconquista without converting to Christianity. The so-called Mudejar style persisted even though Moors were no longer employed in Spanish architecture. Parts of the building were completely reconstructed, but highlights of the Islamic and Mudejar style remain.
Reservoir of History
Now, the gardens around this palace cover more than 17 acres. The building itself occupies 17 thousand square feet. The upper floors of the palace are still used as a residence for His Royal Majesty Juan Carlos, when he visits Seville, as well as visiting dignitaries. It is the oldest palace in continuous use in the world. In 1987, the site was registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The site of the Alcazar of Seville is a profoundly deep reservoir of early modern history. Layers and layers of it are arrayed here. It is the story of transitions between cultures that have relevance today. The Alcazar is located near the other historic icons of Seville, the Cathedral and the General Archive of the Indies. The remains of several large historic structures lie nearby. A 1st Century ruin of unknown origin and purpose stretches from the historic tree-lined Patio de Banderas to the interior of the current Alcazar itself. An early Christian church, once one of three main Visigothic temples of the city was built on the 1st Century ruins.
The Gardens and Rooms
Alcazar of Seville’s Alcazar Gardens are lined with tall palm trees and spotted with white and orange buildings. Perfectly manicured pathways and trails form organized squares and trapezoidal patterns over the grounds. Formal hedges wall the paths. With the overhanging balconies and porches, the gardens begin to resemble images of Babylon. The trace of history is etched in the mix of cultures. Moorish origins are still felt through the tiles and other materials, the vegetable gardens, water channels, fountains and spouts. And yet the gardens are meditative in their Christian influence that spans virtually the entire history of the faith.
Visit the Salon de los Embajadores (the Ambassador’s Room) with its dome decorated with gilded cedar sculptures and its horseshoe arches decorated wit unique tiles and complex plaster work. See El Patio de la Montera (The Hunting Patio) where the court met before the hunt. You can see a good example of Mudejar design here. El Patio del Yeso (The Plaster Patio) is an ornate garden full of flowers and streams demonstrating the architecture of 12th century Moors. The Patio de las Doncellas (Patio of the Maidens) is above the ancient baths. Jardin de los Poetass (Garden of the Poets) contains two ponds inspired by the Arabs and the Romans. Jardin de las Vega Inclan has 20 square flower beds separated by baths and fountains, inspired by Moorish culture and the Renaissance.
The Alcazar of Seville is a magical space, like a trip in a time machine. It carries visitors through a time of change during a conquest and reclamation, and a mixture of cultures. If you are visiting the Seville area, this is a World Heritage Site you should experience!