It would be possible for a casual visitor to miss the Real Alcazar – the royal palace of Seville – hidden as it is behind a small gate near the Cathedral. The entrance gives no clue to the extent of the complex of palaces and gardens within, or of their splendour. Yet there is much here that is reminiscent of the more famous Alhambra palace in nearby Granada, or of the smaller – but equally exquite – Alcazar in Cordoba.
History of the Real Alcazar in Seville
The Alcazar was constructed in the 11th century by the Moors who occupied Seville for many centuries. The original building was a fortress enclosed by a massive wall (this wall still exists, which is why you might not notice the Alcazar immediately). But when the city was recaptured by the Castilian monarchs in 1248 the fortress was turned into a royal palace.
Over the centuries more palaces and lush gardens were added to the site. Today it continues to host royal occasions, making it the oldest European palace that is still in use. Along with the Cathedral and the Archivo de Indias, the Real Alcazar became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. This was partly due to the exceptional fusion of Arabic and Christian cultural influences.
Design and Architecture of the Real Alcazar
The Real Alcazar features different design elements. The elaborate Moorish arhcitecture co-exists with later additions in a mixture of Gothic, Renaissance and Romanesque styles. The varying styles can sometimes even be seen in layers of the same wall! The main palace offers room after room of intricately designed arches, tiles and decorative features.
Then there are the acres of formal gardens. Like the buildings, these have been added to and altered over the centuries. They had both a recreational and a practical function, being filled with fruit trees and other plants that supplied the palace kitchens. The Moorish influence is apparent in the use of water as a feature, with ponds and irrigation channels.
Exploring the Royal Palace of Seville
We walked past trees just coming into blossom, and others groaning under the weight of last year’s ripe oranges. There were lots of tour groups so we escaped into the cool seclusion of the English Garden, where it was just us and the birds. It was cool and shady here, with many trees and a trickling fountain.
We sat for a while and listened to the sound of collared doves and a peacock in the distance, before going to investigate the maze. In contrast to the usual design, we had difficulty in finding the way in (walking all the way around before finding a tiny gap in the hedge), but managed to walk directly to the centre!
There are lots of small buildings dotted around the gardens, including the Lion Bower.
A covered arcade looks down over the gardens. I imagined Spanish queens sitting here on rainy days, looking over the gardens while sipping Amontillado.
The pools are not the reflecting pools of traditional Moorish architecture. However, the Moorish baths provided still water for a reflective photograph.
We walked back through the inner courtyard before finally spotting the peacock that had disturbed our peace in the English Garden!