The Alcazar of Sevilla site is a complex of palaces that have been built by various monarchs over the last 1000 years
Puerta de Leon Seville
Tucked away in the corner of Plaza Virgen de los Reyes, only 50 metres south west of the Archivo de Indias, is the less than imposing Puerta del León. It is easily missed and the rather bland exterior belies the treasures that lie within. This is the entrance to the Real Alcazares de Seville.
Declared a World Heritage site in 1987, the Alcazar of Sevilla site is a complex of palaces that have been built by various monarchs. With more than 1000 years of history, the Alcazar contains Spain’s oldest palaces and some of the best examples of Mudejar architecture in Spain. It gained worldwide prominence in 2016 when it was used as the set for some of season 7 of the American drama series, ‘Game of Thrones’.
The 39,000 square metres that make up the alcazar was, originally, the Roman city of Hispalis. In those days the Rio Guadalquivir almost lapped the edge of the city. When the Muslims arrived, in 711 AD, they established themselves near the Mosque, now the cathedral, on the location of the present day Collegiate Church of El Salvador. Two years later, in 713 AD, the Caliph of Cordoba, Abdurrahman III an-Nasir, ordered new government premises, the Dar al-Imara, to be built on the southern flank of the city, just south of the cities hub of economic activity, the port, that was then situated in the vicinity of the Plaza del Triunfo. Dat al-Imara was the beginning of the Real Alcazares de Seville.
Later on, the Abbadids, who ruled Seville and its surroundings during the 11th century Taifa period, would add a new Alcazar to the palace built for the Umayyad government. This new palace, al-Mubarak, 'The Blessed', became the hub of the city's official and literary life. The Almoravids and Almohades, who ruled al-Andalus from Seville from the late 11th century to the 13th, would subsequently expand the palace all the way to the Guadalquivir. In the twelfth century, the Almohades added their own buildings to the structures erected earlier, those ruins remain as the only examples of their kind in the world. As a matter of interest, they were also responsible for the Giralda tower, now attached to the Cathedral.
Ixbilia, as it was then known, was conquered by the Castilians early on during the reconquest, in 1249. The Alcazar became a Royal Residence and remains so today. Palaces sprang up over the next few hundred years. Alfonso X of Castile built a Gothic Palace in the middle of the 13th century and Pedro I built a palace in the Arabic style between 1356 and 1366. It is now called the Mudéjar Palace.
Palace of Pedro I
Following the overall reconquest of al-Andalus, in 1492, the Renaissance period made its mark on the Palacaes within the Alcazar. The Courtyard of the Maidens was refurbished in a Renaissance style. Magnificent artesonados (wooden ceilings of interlaced beams with decorative insertions) were created all through the sixteenth century, still upholding the Mudéjar aesthetic and staying faithful to the original spirit of the building, the most remarkable being the one that looks down over the spacious Hall of the Ambassadors. Artistic treasures from the Renaissance period include the ornate tiled altar that stands in the chapel of the Catholic Monarchs and the pictorial altarpiece preserved in the Admiral's Quarters, dedicated to the Virgin of the Seafarers. The Halls of Charles V are filled with a fantastic collection of Flemish-style eighteenth-century tapestries telling the story of the conquest of Tunis.
During the 19th century, the Bourbon monarchs refurbished some of the halls and decorated them with tapestries and chandeliers, clocks, furniture and an impressive collection of paintings.
Finally, you arrive in the gardens. Founded in the 10th century, they have been modified and adapted over the thousand year history of the Alcazar. They are probably the most impressive gardens in Spain.
There are twelve distinct gardens spanning the period, from the 10th century Moorish gardens in front of the palaces built by Alfonso X and Pedro I, remodelled in the Renaissance style in the 17th century, through the Mudejar period and into the modern age. It is easy to spend a couple of hours just wandering through these gardens. Look out for the Flower Garden with its water jet features and the Troy Garden that has a central fountain dating back to the 12th century. The Pond Garden, with its 16th century statue of Mercury, was used until the 15th century as a cistern to collect the water from the Roman aqueduct that ran to Carmona.
Water is a constant feature in the gardens and, beneath the Dance Garden, you will find the Baños de Maria Padilla. Groin vault arches cover a large alberca or water tank. A beautiful grotto at one end is reflected in the still waters, a photo shoot if ever there was one and easily recognised as the Water Gardens of Dorne, if you are a Game of Thrones afficionado. Maria Padilla was mistress to Pedro I of Castile and enjoyed bathing in the alberca, hence its name.
The more modern gardens include The Ladies Garden notable for its Fountain of Fame. This is on the site of the original Moorish orchard. The fountain was once surrounded by statues of fifteen mythological figures, of which just six remain. Finally I must mention the Garden of the Marquess de la Vega-Inclan and the Garden of the Poet, both very modern
The gardens also act as a plant repository. There are almost 200 species represented by over 20,000 individual plants; herbs, fruit and palm trees, flowering shrubs and perennials, from all over the world, the south Pacific, Africa, America, Asia as well as species from the Mediterranean.
Despite its unassuming entrance, the Real Alcazares de Seville is a peaceful haven right in the centre of a bustling, busy city. It is easy to see how they provided the inspiration for poets and artists such as Sorolla. Passing through the Puerta del León you are transported into a beautiful, tranquil space, and an era long past.