With stunning architecture, beautifully crafted gardens, a visit to Sevilla in the south of Spain is not complete without a royal palace tour. Real Alcázar, is the oldest royal residential complex in Europe. Walking through the grounds it is easy to see how the palace is the most beautiful with a mix of Muslim, Arabic, Gothic and Spanish architectural influences and design.
It once started as a Moorish military fort in the 9th Century and over time was redesigned and expanded by the Moorish rulers who lived there. In the 12th Century it became a residential suite of the Governor, a palace for King Al-Mutamid, then the home to Ferdinand III following the Christian conquest of Sevilla. Finally, perhaps the most beautiful touch was added by Pedro I, the Mudejar Palace de Don Pedro between 1364 to 1366. The Mudejar touches are evident in the arched windows and blind arches. Improvements were made in the 16th century bringing in Gothic and Renaissance touches.
Today the Real Alcázar is the residence of King Juan Carlos and his family
For the lover of architecture this palace is a treasure trove to explore. A gorgeous palace of Mudejar architecture, courtesy of Pedro I, brings together Christian and Moorish architectural design and demonstrates how two cultures can co-exist side by side.
The main feature of the palace is the Lion Gate as one enters the palace, also known in Spanish as Puerta del Leon. The lion is prominently displayed on the gate framed in ceramic tiles marking the entry to the courtyard. The lion is a symbol of Don Pedro during the Christian conquest of Sevilla in 1364.
Once you pass through the courtyard, step inside to the Hall of the Ambassadors (Salón de Embajadores) which is still used for special ceremonial events. Gaze up at the design and marvel at the impressive and intricate horseshoe shaped archways. The dome’s multiple star design is said to symbolise how the universe was back in 1427. Look closely and you will notice the dome is typical Moorish design in interlaced wood, hand designed by local crafts person Diego Ruiz in 1389. In addition the Salón de Embajadores located on the western side, also leads to the Hall of Kings, Hall of Charles V and Patio de las Doncellas, was the throne room of Pedro I’s Mudejar Palace.
The Patio de las Doncellas is a beautiful courtyard below the royal living quarters. It is the centre of attention for the royal family and named because it was frequented by the ladies of the palace daily.
If you look up at the living quarters, this is where the royal family live when they are in Sevilla. It is said that the most beautiful room is the one that belonged to Pedro I. However, it is only able to be visited (for a small charge of 4 Euros) when the King and his family are not in residence. As the rooms are home to the royal family, it is understandable why visitors are restricted to a 20 minute visit and accompanied by a palace guard.
The next room I found of interest was the Salones de Carlos V, named after the Spanish King Carlos I. Find the stairs in the southeastern corner of the Patio de las Doncellas to access this room in the 13th Century Gothic Palace. These rooms have been re-designed over the years and currently reflect the style of Alfonso X. On the walls hang gorgeous tapestries and tiles reminiscent of the 16th Century. The intricate detail that went into these tapestries are amazing.
Before you exit into the gardens, you will some to a gorgeous reflective pool. This is the freshwater bath of Dona Maria de Padilla. Take a moment to imagine you are the queen taking a luxurious bath surrounded by a golden glow. I could stand here for hours and admire the design and feel of this room if not for the echo of voices as people join you to take photos. Perhaps the only downside of this room.
As the palace is so huge, one can get lost in a search for the gardens. The palace was designed this way over the centuries as a defense mechanism to protect the Kings and Queens who resided there. For tourists, however, the security guards are very helpful to assist you navigate your way around the palace grounds.
From the freshwater bath, exit through a tree covered hallway to the beautiful gardens which include fountains and pavilions that provided relaxation to the royal residents. The huge garden landscape shows a diverse style of French, Italian and Arabic influences. However, as the area has many acres of garden to cover, it will take you the whole day to see and appreciate the beauty and design.
There are three main gardens that I visited briefly all very beautiful and uniquely designed. So take some time to walk through the fragrance of jasmine, lemon and orange and explore centuries of Spanish garden architecture.
The first garden is the Jardin Inglés, or known as the English gardens. Inspired from 18th Century Britain, they were crafted in 1909.
The second garden is Jardin de los Poetas meaning Garden of the Poets. The most interesting item in this garden are the two ponds of Italian and Arabic influence. The garden layout was inspired the influence of Joaquin Romero Murube.
The third garden is Jardin de la Vega Inclan inspired by the Damas. There are many flower beds one can walk through along paths and enjoy the beauty. There are also fountains to add to the Islamic and Renaissance culture they were inspired from.
A truly magnificent palace in beautiful Sevilla and worthy of the status Crown Jewel of Spain.
Historical facts referencesd from Lonely Planet Travel Guide