Alcazar of Sevilla—its Hidden Mysteries

  Erica Hansen photo

Erica Hansen photo

A brief history of the Alcazar of Seville

The complex compound which makes up the Royal Alcazar of Seville was built in the early Middle-Ages, when the ancient Roman city of Hispalis was re-named Ixbilia. According to the most trustworthy sources, it was at the beginning of the tenth century that the Caliph of Cordoba, Abdurrahman III an-Nasir, ordered new government headquarters to be built on the southern swath of the city. Previously, the ruling al-Andalus powers had been seated inside the Low-Roman-Empire city centre. Seville’s centre of power after that point was linked to the hub of its economic activity, the port.

Later on, the Abbadíes, who ruled Sevilla during the tenth century, added onto the Alcazar palace and called it al-Mubarak, ‘The Blessed’, and this quickly became the hub for the city’s official and literary life.

A change in ownership for the Alcazar

In 1248-49, the territory was conquered by Castilians, who made The Alcazar a Royal Residence, and palaces rose up around the original foundations.  In the middle of the fourteenth century, when the Crown of Castile ruled, there was a re-emergence of Mediterranean concepts and Arabic style.
This Royal Relationship has held up since the beginning of the Modern Age, and its influence can be seen in the continuous alterations made to the building itself, in an effort to adapt the decor to the times.

 Courtyard of dolls (muñecas). Erica Hansen photo

Courtyard of dolls (muñecas). Erica Hansen photo

For example, the top floor of the Courtyard of the Maidens, was refurbished in a Renaissance style, or the Courtyard of Dolls whose nineteenth-century restoration robbed it of its original appeal while maintaining the ancient columns and capitals that were part of the original design.
 

 Ambassador's hall. Erica Hansen photo

Ambassador's hall. Erica Hansen photo

Let’s take a look at some of the less obvious innovations and architectural elements to be found:

One of the most spectacular of Alcazar’s ceilings is in the Ambassador’s Hall.
Many of the palace’s internal walls bear the intricate, repeated patterns of Moorish interior design.

 The effect of the tile work in some rooms is almost hypnotizing. Erica Hansen photo

The effect of the tile work in some rooms is almost hypnotizing. Erica Hansen photo

In some rooms, not an inch of wall space has been neglected.

Ceramic in the Alcazar, Sevilla

Many of the lower sections of the palace’s internal walls are decorated with ceramic tiles from Triana, one of Sevilla’s most loved barrios.

Hidden secrets of the Alcazar

Next let’s take a look at some of the more mysterious and mythological elements hidden within these walls.  Appearances can be deceiving! And some of the things I am about to tell you will not be revealed in the official Royal Alcazar tour.

 Main entrance to the Alcazar, Seville. Erica Hansen photo

Main entrance to the Alcazar, Seville. Erica Hansen photo

The tile lion that greets visitors to the Alcázar is one of it’s most recent additions. It was created in 1894 by artist José Gestoso, and the Gothic script it contains...Ad Utrumque literally means “Prepared for All”.  Why? Well the gate itself is believed to have been constructed in the 14th century by Peter of Castile, better known as Peter the Cruel, a king with a notoriously bloody reputation.

 Patio del León. Erica Hansen photo

Patio del León. Erica Hansen photo

Patio del León, which incorporates a section of an older Muslim wall was the home of the controversial El Corral de Comedies de la Montería, whose theatrical productions had been banned and whose theater burned down in 1695.  Researchers recently created a virtual reconstruction of what the theater would have looked like.

Patio de las Muñecas, the Court of the Dolls contains very busy decor including numerous small carved stucco heads which resemble small dolls. According to the 16th century tradition, if you locate on of the carved faces it will bring you good luck, marriage or fortune.

 Don't forget to look up—there is a feast for the eyes waiting. Erica Hansen photo

Don't forget to look up—there is a feast for the eyes waiting. Erica Hansen photo

When exploring the elaborate interiors of the Alcazar, don’t forget to look up: its ceilings are some of the buildings most incredible features, and there are endless symbols to explore.

Want to know more?

Our Alcazar Experience box comes with a guidebook to more of these fascinating and mysterious elements, as well as activities, games and coloring sheets to help you explore the palace in more depth.

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Please share your thoughts in the comments below... And thanks so much to Kimberly Shellborn for inviting us to post for Traveling Around Spain!

 

Author: Erica Hansen

Bio: Erica is an artist and educator who has been exploring art, science and history in equal measure since moving to Italy in 2011.  She has worked in various communities to examine artworks and artifacts that illuminate ancient systems of knowledge and ecological ways of thinking.   
Since moving to Sevilla in 2016, she has become fascinated with the layers of history, mythology and culture available around every corner.  As she continues her own investigation into this place, she shares the best of those discoveries with you through her subscription box service Meeting Point Sevilla.