Reales Alcázares, the Royal Fortress, dates back to the tenth century and has been adapted and remodelled according to necessities. It is the oldest Royal Palace still in use in Europe and the King and Queen of Spain still stay here when they visit Sevilla. It is said to be one of the most representative monumental compounds in the city, the country and the Mediterranean culture as a whole. Inside the fortress the arches are wonderfully decorated with calligraphic arabic inscriptions and the walls and ceilings are covered in detailed artwork.
Visitors enter through the Patio de los Leones and reach the Palacio de Don Pedro. This palace (originally of Addadid origin) was built for king Don Pedro by craftsmen from Granada and Toledo, accustomed to adapting the remains of old Almohad palaces to the new taste for the Mudéjar style. Apparently Granadine architects copied the façade of this building in the Mexuar of the Alhambra.
On the façade is the inscription “El mui alto y mui noble y mui poderoso y mui conqueror don Pedro por la gracia de Dios Rey de Castilla at de Leon mando fazer estos Alcázares y estos Palacios y estas portadas que fue fecho en la era de mil et quatrocientos y dos”, meaning “The highest, noblest and most powerful conqueror Don Pedro, by God’s grace King of Castile and Leon, has caused these Alcazares and these palaces and these façades to be built, which was done in the year 1402”.
Patio de las Doncellas is the centre of court life in the palace. The ‘Maidens’ Courtyard’ was named as such for the women who spent much of their time here. This courtyard is decorated with the shell (a symbol of fertility and life), the Hand of Fatima (synonymous of protection), geometric compositions, schematic plant decoration and Kufic Arabic epigraphy. The central part of the courtyard was covered with marble slabs and a Renaissance fountain for almost 500 years, but after the archeological excavations of 2005 it was restored to how it was in the fourteenth century.
Visitors pass through the ‘Arc of the Peacock’ before entering the Hall of the Ambassadors. This arch contains three horseshoe arches that are each framed with a line, known as ‘alfiz’, the three arches are framed by another large arch. The peacock is a symbol of the monarch’s power in the Islamic culture.
The ceilings of each of the rooms within the palace are very different and each beautifully decorated. The Felipe II ceiling room was given its name because of its curved ceiling composed of square caissons decorated with geometric motifs. The Hall of the Ambassadors was used for ceremonial events and is said to be the most magnificent part of the palatial complex. It is particularly famous for the wooden, domed ceiling of multiple star patterns, symbolising the universe. Chamber of the Catholic Kings is covered by a magnificent ceiling that appears to represent the emblems of the Catholic Kings; the yoke, the sheaf of arrows and the motto ‘tanto monta’.
In the coat-of-arms, crowned by St. John’s eagle, all the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the fifteenth century are represented – Castile, Leon, Aragon and the two Sicilies. The pomegranate is at the bottom, representing the victory in the war against Granada in 1492
The Prince’s Suite owes its name to Juan of Aragon and Castile, the second son of Fernando II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. Apparently it was in this room that Prince Juan was born on the 30th of June 1478. This room has a central hall with two smaller rooms, one at either end. The room to the north has a beautifully decorated ceiling, which is said to be a recreation of a starlit night’s sky
The Patio de las Muñecas (Patio of the Dolls) was the throne room of the palace and the heart of the private quarters. The plasterwork of this room was brought here from the Alhambra in the 19th century when the mezzanine and the top gallery were added for Queen Isabel II. The name is derived from the four small heads that decorate one of the arches.
From the Patio de las Muñecas are stairs that lead to the upper floor and the Gothic Palace of Alfonso X. This palace was built in the 13th century and underwent many alterations in the 16th and 18th centuries. It has a very different style to the Mudejar Palace on the ground floor. It is said to represent the triumph of Christian ideology against the Muslim past and was built over the old Almohad palace by stonemasons from Burgos.
The Hall of Charles V is also known as the ‘Celebration Room’, due to the celebration of the wedding of Charles V and Isabel of Portugal. The paintings on canvas that decorate the hall were painted by Gustavo Bacarisas commissioned by King Alfonso XIII to decorate the palace for the Ibero-American exhibition of 1929. A huge tapestry of a map of King Charles V’ s Tunisian war hangs on the wall. The map shows Spain from a central European viewpoint, or in other words it is upside-down. Apparently this is custom in Arabic mapmaking.
Outside is the Troy Garden (of Islamic origin), the Garden of the Galley (named by the galleys cut out of the myrtle hedges), the Flowers Garden and the Prince Garden (devoted to the son of the Catholic Kings who was born in a room nearby).
Within the gardens is the Mercury Pond, an old pool used by the Romans to collect the water from the Roman aqueduct to water the orchards and gardens of the palace. The Dance Garden is one of the oldest gardens of the Alcázar and takes its name from the two statues of mythological figures and the the figures sculpted into the myrtle hedges that seem to be dancing.
The Maze Garden is home to a new labyrinth which was designed in 1914. The Garden of the Cross is where the Garden of the Labyrinth was originally until 1910.
Under the palace are the Baños de Maria de Padilla. The baths are said to be named after Doña Maria de Padilla, the lover of King Pedro I of Castilla. Despite his two marriages to other women, Maria gave Pedro four children and stayed with him until her death in 1361. When she died the king was terribly upset; he had his two previous marriages annulled and the Cortes legitimised a ‘marriage of words’, making Maria queen after her death and her son heir to the throne. The baths are truly beautiful and very enchanting.
TOP TIP: Plan to spend a full day in the Reales Alcázares – there is a lot of see and the gardens are huge! Opening hours are: Monday – Sunday from 9:30 to 17:00 in winter (October to March) and Monday – Sunday from 9:30 – 19:0 in summer (April to September). General entrance tickets cost 9€ per person (without audio guide).*
- Nuñez, J. (ed) n.d., Seville in Focus, EDILUX
- Information sign at Reales Alcázares
*Ticket prices and opening times as shown on www.visitsevilla.es at time of posting.