Words fail to express the extraordinary beauty of Seville’s Alcázar Palace. In reality, it’s three palaces in one, built over the centuries by Seville’s different rulers, with attached formal gardens filled with shaded, tree-lined avenues. For three centuries this was the epicentre of Islamic civilisation on the Iberian peninsular. On the other side of Plaza del Triunfo, where today the cathedral stands, was Moorish Seville’s grand mosque.
In The Land of the Blessed Virgin, William Somerset Maugham summed up the intensity of Moorish Spain that you feel visiting the Alcázar: “In what you divine rather than in what you see lies half the charm of Andalusia, in the suggestion of all manner of delicate antique things, in the vivid memory of past grandeur. The Moors have gone, but still inhabit the land in spirit and not seldom in a spectral way seem to regain their old dominion.”
Maugham goes on to describe the powerful visions of Moorish Andalusia that he’d had travelling through this part of Spain. He recounts seeing “a Muslim knight riding in pride and glory, his velvet cloak bespattered with the gold initial of his lady”. His imaginary and romantic visions of Al Andalus before the Reconquista culminates in a savage battle battle between Moorish and Christian forces.
Despite its appearance and Islamic history, much of the Alcázar dates from after the fall of Seville to Castilian forces in 1248. There are several architectural styles, added by Spanish monarchs who used this as a royal residence over the centuries. Much of it though, was constructed in the Mudéjar style of North Africa by Moorish craftsmen under Christian rule during the reign of Pedro the Cruel, as he’s known to history.
The Alcázar is undoubtedly one of the highlights of a visit to Spain, and consequently comes with a proportionate number of tourists. It’s worth booking a ticket and getting in as early as possible if you want to be there before the tour groups start arriving. We were visiting outside of the main season, but a Spanish national holiday made up for any lack of international visitors.
Some areas of the palace were pretty crowded, but that doesn’t take away from the joy of exploring this amazing place. The exquisitely delicate architecture is delightful, and the scale and detail of the buildings and gardens absorbed half a day of our time. It passed in the blink of an eye. The first Moorish palace was built here in the early 10th Century, making it the oldest royal residence still in use.
After the a few hours of marvelling and getting a cricked neck viewing the carved and tiled interior rooms, we arrived in the gardens. After the busy palaces, these were a scene of peace and tranquility. It’s remarkable how few people make the effort to explore the gardens beyond the areas close to the palace. We often found ourselves walking alone amongst the orange, lemon and pomegranate trees.
It’s no surprise to discover that the Alcázar has been the backdrop for many films over the years. It played a starring role in the 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia, and Ridley Scott’s medieval crusader epic, Kingdom of Heaven. More recently, it features in the immensely popular Game of Thrones series, as the royal palace in the Kingdom of Dorne. This really is a place where fantasy and reality merge.