The Royal Alcazar of Seville
Without a doubt, the Royal Alcazar is the main civil building in the capital. It constitutes a building of great complexity in volumes, chronology and functionality. Historically it has served as the seat of different dignitaries, Muslim princes and Castilian kings. Since 1931 it has been municipal property, although it continues to be the residence for royal visits. Its functionality at present, besides being a Royal residence, is the celebration of municipal and private protocolary acts, cultural forum, university classroom and tourist monument. Since 1987 it has been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Cultural and Natural Heritage List.
The Islamic and Christian periods, has been heir to his mark, in architectural or landscape form. Thus, the profile and appearance that it offers us is the result of a series of constructions and destructions carried out throughout the history of the city.
History of the Royal Alcazar of Seville
The primitive Alcazar was designed by Abdallah ben Sinan at the beginning of the 10th century (914). The wall of that caliphal period that today surrounds the flag courtyard was located just on the western side of what was the Roman road leading to Orippo, the river port and the Roman forum. The Taifa kings, who ruled in the 11th century, made further extensions to the Caliphal palace, heading west, seeking the course of the Guadalquivir River as a natural moat. It was during the Almohad period, when Seville became the capital of the new Moroccan Empire, that the most important expansion works were carried out. In the previous enclosures, caliph and abbey, new palaces are reconstructed, of which important and well-known vestiges have arrived until our days, like the well-known canvas of the Gypsum. During the Christian Reconquest, King Ferdinand III took possession of the Alcazar, finding a palace complex of dimensions little known in the Castilian territories. He must have liked very much the sinuous forms inherited from the conquered Muslim culture, since 3 years later, in 1252, he died in the palace enclosure. It was his son, King Alfonso X, who ordered the transformation of some of the old Almohad structures to build his Gothic palace. This palace was composed of four rooms, two parallel to the courtyard of the Almohad Cruise and two other perpendicular, located at the ends of the previous ones. The Mudejar palace was commissioned by King Pedro I, continuing in the line of his father with master builders and carpenters of Muslim origin, from Seville, Granada and Toledo. Perishable materials were used, such as ceramics, plaster and wood. Therefore, we find ourselves with a building that is historically Christian but artistically Muslim.
With the 16th century the income of the Alcazar was increased considerably, thanks to the years of the port and the door of the Indies. The most important works of the Mudejar palace are made, completing the dependences of the king D. Pedro. Also, the control of the goods and goods coming from the new world, makes that the Queen Isabel the Catholic decides the creation of the House of Contracting of the Indies that definitively it is a set of warehouses of which today only the room of Audiences remains, a rectangular space known as Room of the Admiral. In the 17th century, the enclosure was enriched with new and important works by the visit to the city of Philip III. Following the orders of the mayor and the prime minister, the architects focused on the gardens and on generally modernizing the buildings. One of the spaces that is lost at this time is the Patio del Leon, since it served as the largest theater in the city, was burned at the end of this century. With the reign of Charles II, conservation work was carried out. And it is with the arrival of the first Bourbon period when the enclosure would enjoy the enlargement of the entrance to the halt and the construction of the Royal Armory, today destined for exhibition halls.
During the reign of Fernando IV, the earthquake of Lisbon caused havoc in various areas of the Alcazar, and it was necessary to shore up the gallery of caves and the baths of Doña María de Padilla in the lower level of the garden of the transept. With Charles III, the corridor between the halt and the courtyard of the Montería was built, and the missing cross section of the Gothic palace was built with an adjacent portico of classicist design. During the reign of Isabel II, it was to serve as a residence for the Dukes of Montpensier for a few years, and to accommodate them they carried out important restoration works, especially in the Mudejar palace. In the past, numerous conservation works have been maintained thanks to the follow-up of its owner, the City Council of Seville.
Parts of the Royal Alcázar of Seville
As we have seen throughout its history, the Royal Alcazars are a succession of spaces, corresponding to the different historical moments that the city has lived through, in which the artistic taste and the propagandistic interests of the different rulers are reflected. Next, we are going to develop the most important parts of the monument and garden, with its different rooms so that you do not miss the intricacies of its history.
It was Alfonso X the Wise who ordered the transformation of ancient Almohad structures and decided to build his Gothic palace. It consists of four rooms that cross perpendicularly and are covered with ribbed vaults. On the outside, strong buttresses treated as battlements and towers occupying the four corners of the rooms that in its interior hide spiral staircases. During the 16th century, these rooms were known as “Rooms of the Vaults or of the Festivals”, because they were used for wedding banquets or feasts. It was during this period that the rooms underwent an intense remodeling that sweetened their medieval austerity with Renaissance pieces. As a consequence of the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, the palace suffered the sinking of its northern ship, which was ordered to be rebuilt by King Carlos III. Nowadays, what we can appreciate is the late Baroque intervention, although in the last few years work has been done on the plasterwork, the vaults, the doors, the flooring and the marble base.
Palace of Pedro I
The main façade of the Mudejar palace closes the end of the patio of La Monteria, and is organized with two lateral bodies of double height, the lower one with semicircular arches framed by alfices and supported by pillars of rectangular section constructed in brick, while the upper one is composed of a large central arch, also of half a point, supported by brick pillars and adorned in its spandrels by atauriques, flanked on each side by groups of three arches peralted on marble columns, prolonged in sebka cloths. The upper galleries frame the windows of the main halls of the high palace, adorned in turn with plasterwork executed after the conquest of the kingdom of Granada, as indicated by the heraldic Grenadines that adorn them. In the central body, stone, ceramics, carved wood and brick are combined in a unitary manner despite being executed by craftsmen from different decorative traditions. On the lintel there are slogans alluding to Allah and the greatness of King D. Pedro.
Inside we find the Ambassadors’ Hall, the center of the public area. It has a square floor plan and is covered with a wooden dome made of Mudejar tracery responding to the Islamic typology of the Qubba. Its interior receives the most sumptuous and delicate decoration of the Mudejar palace, tiled socles, paraments that have arabesques, atauriques and epigraphy with a rich chromatic variation. At the top is the gallery of effigies of the kings of Castile from the time of the Goths until Philip III, a total of fifty-six kings. The space is closed by the dome, which, starting from a twelve-pointed star, rests on muqarnas tubes. From the upper floor of the palace, the office and bedroom of King D. Pedro, built at the same time as the first floor, stands out, as well as the oratory of the Catholic Kings.
House of the Contracting
When Christopher Columbus was making his fourth voyage along the Central American coast, the Catholic Kings signed in Madrid the creation of the Casa de la Contratación based in the city of Seville to control traffic with the newly discovered lands of the New World. The place chosen was oriented towards the river, very close and perfectly communicated. It remained in this unbeatable location until 1717, when it was moved to Cadiz.
What we see today is a square piece covered by a rich wooden roof of geometric work of the 16th century, painted and gilded. The space is presided over by an altarpiece with the Virgin of the Mareantes or the Amparo de los Navegantes from the disappeared Chapel. This room is a rectangular room that today serves as a space for cultural and official use, decorated with paintings of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but the canvas representing “The end of San Fernando” by Virgilio Mattoni (1887) and is owned by the Museo del Prado.
Courtyard of the Maidens
The Courtyard of the Maidens was the space used as the public space of the Palace of King Pedro I, son of Alfonso X. It was built between 1356 and 1366, and the central part of the courtyard remained hidden, from 1583 to almost five centuries, under a marble floor. In 2002, archaeologists uncovered the flowerbeds and the pond of the courtyard, revealing the structure of the old Mudejar garden. This fact was very significant for the history of Spanish medieval archaeology, thus acquiring greater relevance.
This courtyard is a quadrangular piece, surrounded by four galleries, two with 7 arches and two with 5 arches. This courtyard has a hypostyle shape, formed with brick pillars which were later changed to columns, and which creates a continuous portico around the entire enclosure. On each side of the courtyard, the sequence of poly-lobed arches is interrupted by a double-height arch in the middle. The arches in the Courtyard of the Maidens are pointed and angled in the Almohad style, over which a sebka bath is created with plasterwork taken from the Alhambra itself. There is no doubt that these ornamentations, together with the structure of the courtyard itself, represent a great work of geometry and symmetry.
The shell, which is a symbol of fertility and life, the hand of Fatima, which is synonymous with protection, the geometric loop compositions, the schematic plant decoration, the cartouches with Arabic and kufic epigraphy and the coats of arms of the Spanish monarchs complete the ensemble and finish off the decoration.
In the centre of the courtyard is a typical Almohad-Madarnaisian transept garden. On either side of the pool is a sunken planting area, which was common in the period of al-Andalus, established with a decoration of semicircular arches criss-crossed in brick and separated by marble columns. In addition, a ceramic plinth runs along the lower part of the wall, using a tiling technique.
The original 14th-century work corresponds to the lower gallery, while the upper floor is an extension that was built later by the Catholic Monarchs. King Charles I of Spain, V of Germany, undertook a major refurbishment of the Alcázar of Seville for his wedding.
It is worth noting that on the ground floor there were certain rooms that could be enjoyed by certain guests, but the rooms on the upper floor were private. Through the Maidens’ Courtyard, you can access three rooms in the palace: the Bedroom Room, Charles V’s Room and the Ambassadors’ Room.
Courtyard of Gypsum
The discovery of the Patio del Yeso dates back to the end of the 19th century, in 1885, by Francisco Mª Tubino. This discovery gave real value to this palace, as it is the only space in which the remains of the old Almohad palace are still preserved.
The Patio del Yeso consists of a rectangular courtyard around which the rooms are distributed. It also has a pool in the centre of the courtyard, which allows us to observe the homage paid to water, something typical of Islamic palaces. This pool is connected to the fountain in the Hall of Justice by a small canal.
During the Almohad period, there were two porticoes that opened onto this courtyard, but today only the southern portico remains. The southern portico of the Palacio del Yeso is considered to be a valuable Almohad jewel, consisting of a central arch on an axis with the doorway to the back room and bordered by three smaller arches on columns on each side that are built into the wall. Above them are three small recesses of the same shape as the arches described above. This wall with three blind horseshoe arches joined at the top is reminiscent of art from the archaeological site of Madinat al-Zahra in Córdoba. The structure of the portico is also lintelled, which means that the arches have a purely decorative function, and therefore do not support any weight.
The front wall of the courtyard of the Yeso courtyard has a poorer style, with three simple columns, while the left side of the courtyard has a much more decorative and attractive style, in which the arcaded arches stand out, forming what is known as the porticoed gallery.
The decoration of the panels is done with sebka work, typically Almohad and Sevillian, a series of interlaced lozenges on poly-lobed and mixtilinear arches. The architect Ahmed Ben Basso used the same work on the exteriors of the Giralda itself to decorate the outer walls. These panels are blind on the large central arch, but are open to the interior of the gallery in the trio of side arches on each side of the main arch, a curtain arch with schematic lacerations.
In the room just behind the portico, traces of painted decoration with floral motifs from the 16th century and geometric motifs from the 12th century have recently been found.
This courtyard can be accessed through the Hall of Justice. In addition, the gallery gives access to another room by means of two horseshoe arches on an intermediate column.
The Hall of the Ambassadors was the main hall of the palace and is of exquisite beauty. It was called Al-Turayya (Hall of Pleiades) and was used by King Peter I as a throne room where he received the most important personalities of his time. The hall has a square structure, similar to the Muslim ‘qubba’ in the palace of Medinat Al-Zahara, in which the square symbolises the earth and the dome symbolises the universe. It has beautiful architecture and a wealth of ornamentation.
During the 11th century, this piece was oriented towards the west, in the opposite direction to the one it has today, as well as being preceded by a tripartite portico and its main entrance being what is now the Arch of the Pavones. In the 14th-century remodelling, when it changed its orientation, this hall opened a door with access to the Maidens’ Courtyard.
It has a wooden dome, which is undoubtedly the most outstanding armature in the entire palace and which surprises visitors both for its proportions and for its incredible openwork, richly gilded and polychrome ribbon work. It is a very complex construction known as the half-orange loop ten lefe, located in one of the highest buildings of the carpenter’s guild. There are only four such half-oranges left in the world. All of its wheels are ten-pointed, and the candlesticks are regular five-pointed stars. These identical wheels are infinitely intertwined and among these geometrical figures are also present the so-called azafates, which are figures surrounding the main sinuses.
The walls are covered with magnificent, well-preserved tiled panels that depict looping motifs. A star-shaped muqarnas decoration links the square to the circle. The wrought-iron balconies in the hall were made during the reign of Philip II at the end of the 16th century.
In the upper part of the room there is a band of castles and lions and a wide frieze that runs around it, in which the Spanish monarchs from Recesvinto to Philip III are portrayed, with compartments in the manner of Gothic niches. These were painted by Diego Esquivel in 1599.
This hall is known as the hall of the ambassadors because that is how it is indicated on the Arabic inscriptions that decorate its door. This fact makes a great impression on its observers due to its balanced proportions and enormous richness, making it one of the most important and valuable pieces of the Alcázar of Seville and of all Mudejar architecture.
Hall of Justice
The Hall of Justice is also known as the Hall of Councils and was created in the first third of the 14th century by Alfonso XI. This room was the mexuar of the primitive Islamic palace, where the meetings of the council of viziers took place. In 1248 the city was recovered by the forces of Ferdinand III the Catholic, and justice continued to be administered here.
This room is the first Mudéjar work in the Alcázar. It is an almost square room, topped by a Mudejar-style treasury. The roof of the room is made of wood and has lacunar carvings like the Islamic qubbas. It has also been recently restored with steel plates and other wooden parts, which have stabilised the roof in order to extend the life of the room. The ceiling is decorated in the shape of an octagonal trough, i.e. it has a loop of eight. Moreover, in the centre of the ceiling is an octagon of muqarnasts.
In 1332, Alfonso XI created the Order of the Band, of which many of the knights of his court were members, and after the victory of the Battle of Salado in 1340, it was King Alfonso XI who gave the definitive step to the decoration of the Hall of Justice. The room is decorated with plasterwork in which nature is schematically reproduced and where elements from the Muslim tradition and Castilian emblems are combined. The room is decorated with heraldic motifs associated with the Order of the Band and with castles and lions, i.e. the symbols of the monarchy. There are also plant and epigraphic elements, such as initials of Mudejar art, where on more than one occasion the word ‘happiness’ can be read in kufic characters.
All these symbols and elements adorn the structure of triple blind arches in the walls of the Hall of Justice.
In the centre of the hall is a marble fountain in which water, representing the symbol of life in Islam, is transported by a channel from the fountain to the pool located in the courtyard of the Plaster. The communication between the two spaces is provided by an arch decorated with plasterwork, especially on its soffit.
The room is complemented by a continuous bench between the base of the low arches, which is covered with tiles similar to those that surround the fountain.
This room was later used to impart justice during the reign of Pedro I, the son of Alfonso XI. History tells us that certain events related to Pedro I took place in this room, such as, for example, the death of Don Fadrique, at the hand of King Pedro I, allegedly for having relations with his wife, Queen Blanca de Borbón. There are traces of blood stains next to the fountain that may correspond to this event. Who knows?
The Palace preserves seven hectares of gardens of the seventeen thousand square meters of buildings. Its gardens can be divided into two parts, a western part developed in front of the Alcazar building with the Renaissance gardens, and an eastern part separated by the remains of the Almohad wall.
In the western section there is the Prince’s Garden, the Infants’ or Flowers’ Garden, the Lime Garden, the Troy’s Garden, the Dance’s Garden and the Mercury’s pond. All of them Renaissance, compartmentalized, decorated with fountains and Mannerist covers, and without any link between them. These links to the Muslim heritage. The Prince’s Garden is the oldest in this series. It takes its name because it is attached to the Room of Prince John, son of the Catholic Kings. On a lower level, and separated from a baroque gallery, is the Garden of the Princes or Flowers, with a pond curved into the wall lined with tiles from 1561. It is followed by the Garden of the Galley, the Garden of Troy, the Garden of Dance and the Mercury Pond. In Muslim times, these gardens formed a single open garden, but in the reign of Charles V it was ordered according to Italianizing taste.
The eastern side of the Pond of Mercury is closed by the Gallery of Grottos, made in the early seventeenth century and using an ancient canvas of the Almohad wall. This is extended with a viewpoint to the eastern gardens.
In the 16th century, the great Garden of the Ladies or the Crosses was organized on the route of the Islamic orchard. The hedges are crowned with topiary nymph figures. The fountain of Neptune, in the center of the courtyard, is a Genoese marble work crowned by a bronze sculpture of the god by Bartolomé Morell. Attached to this garden is the Alcoba, built in the time of Emperor Charles V on what would have been an oratory and the royal Andalusian cemetery.
The pavilion of Charles V is the protagonist of this garden, decorated with tiles and plasterwork with Mudejar and Renaissance motifs. In this garden you can also find the Lion’s Supper, in the shape of a chapel behind a rectangular pond with a fountain with a rampant lion. Further south we find the Labyrinth, with the Jardín Inglés, the Jardín del Marqués de la Vega Inclán or Jardín del Retiro, the Jardín de los Poetas, the Jardín del Chorrón and the Jardín de la Alcubilla.
Curiosities about the Royal Alcazar of Seville
- Within the palace of King D. Pedro we find one of the patios that its visitors like the most, the Patio of the Dolls, since it hides a challenge for all those visitors who move in the atmosphere of the mysteries. Find the nine doll faces that are found in the courtyard that gives its name
- Legend has it that in the Tile Room of D. Pedro’s palace one can see the blood stains that the king made spill after the beheading of his brother D. Fadrique because of an infidelity with his wife. Embroiled in a dispute, the king ended the life of his stepbrother with a dagger, staining the entire marble floor that we can see today.
- It has been the scene of numerous films and television series, such as the perfect setting for the series Game of Thrones.
- Indebted by the debts of the State, the Duke of Osuna, D. Mariano Tellez Giron, gave away one of the doors belonging to the Palace of the Dukes of Arcos located in Marchena. This door was dismantled and by desire of Alfonso XIII it was moved to the Real Alcázar. The door was dismantled piece by piece to be moved, and in its place it was reassembled.
Timetable to visit the Royal Alcazar of Seville
It is open every day, except on January 1 and 6, Good Friday and December 25. From October to March its schedule is from 09.30 to 17.00. And from April to September from 09.30 to 19.00. The general visit of the monument and gardens is two hours, so it is recommended to go with enough time to enjoy your entrance. If what we want is a visit in detail, we will need about three hours. In addition, it is very pleasant to walk through the gardens so it can also be a reason for delay.
Prices for visiting Royal Alcazar of Seville
The general entrance fee to the palace and gardens is 11.50 euros, in the case of retirees and students from 17 to 25 years old, 4.50 euros. To visit the High Room, the price of the additional entrance is 4.50 euros. Acquiring the audio guide costs 6 euros, which you will have to pay at the entrance ticket office.
Free entrance is reserved for the disabled, children under 16 years old, those born or resident in Seville city and on Mondays from 6pm to 7pm from April to September, and from 4pm to 5pm from October to March.
Remember that to save long queues, tickets can be purchased online from the official website https://realalcazarsevilla.sacatuentrada.es/, with a surcharge of 1€
How to get to Royal Alcazar of Seville
Access to the Alcazar is very simple, it is done on foot from the Lion’s Gate, in the Plaza de la Concordia. In this door there are two tickets, for groups and previous reservation, and another one to buy tickets. It is located a few meters from the Cathedral and the Archivo de Indias.
There are many ways to get there, since the metrocentro or streetcar leaves us at the door of the Archivo de Indias, the cab can get to the door, and the horse-drawn carriages have their stop in the same square. Also different bus lines leave us relatively close to the Alcazar, and your walk can serve as an introduction to what awaits us inside.