14. Seville: The Alcazar + Moorish Architecture
Let's tarry a bit longer in Seville (see my previous post). But instead of focusing on modern architecture, we'll step into our time machine and leap back about 1,300 years.
In 711 AD, the Moors - Islamic Berbers from North Africa - began their conquest of Spain, holding on to at least parts of it for close to 800 years. They were an educated and cultured society with a highly evolved sense of architecture and design. By contrast, the Spanish had a highly evolved sense of destroying Moorish architecture and design - something they did with great relish both during the re-conquest of the country, and for years afterward.
Fortunately, a few surviving architectural gems still testify to the glory that was Moorish Spain. There's the Alhambra Palace in Grenada. The Mezquita (Grand Mosque) in Cordoba. And in Seville, the highly ornamental minaret, the sole surviving part of the Grand Mosque, built from 1184-1198:
Seville is also home to the Torre del Oro (Tower of Gold) a defensive fort built in the early 14th century to ward off Spanish attacks coming from the river:
Most importantly, Seville is the home of the Royal Alcazar (full name: Reales Alcazares de Sevilla) the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe. The Alcazar is considered to be one of the finest examples of Mudéjar architecture in the world.
But what exactly is Mudéjar architecture you might well ask? Here's my understanding. During the Moorish occupation, their highly skilled artisans would build a magnificent structure on some particular spot. Later the Spanish would destroy it. Then, after the re-conquest, the Spanish would decide that they wanted to build something on the same spot. Recalling the grandeur of the Moorish years, they would hire Muslim architects to build a Moorish-style building. In subsequent centuries the Spanish would add incongruent Renaissance, Romanesque and Gothic elements in a resulting mish-mash.
This was, essentially, the story of the Alcazar. It was built as a Moorish fortress-palace in the early eighth century.... or ninth century....or tenth century - no two books or articles seem to agree on the same year. In 1364, after the re-conquest of Moorish Seville by Christians, King Pedro I commissioned the construction of a new palace on the site. Moorish craftsmen from across Andalusia erected a magnificent building arranged around a number of courtyards and patios. Subsequent Christian monarchs expanded the palace in a variety of architectural styles.
The ceremonial entryway to the Alcazar is through the Lion's Gate:
Most paying customers, though, go around the corner, and walk through a massive stone archway:
which leads to the Moorish facade created for King Pedro I:
Behind the facade is the first beautiful piece of WOWchitecture you come to, the Courtyard of the Maidens. It's surrounded by walls tiled and stuccoed with geometric patterns, and palm-shaped archways:
The courtyard includes a sunken garden divided in two by a rectangular reflecting pool:
The effect is so magical and dreamlike that the courtyard could have come straight out of a movie. In fact, it's the exact opposite - it was used in a movie, Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven.
The courtyard leads to a number of chambers, the most important of which is the Hall of the Ambassadors, where the old kings received foreign dignitaries. The Hall is entered through a spectacular archway:
which, in turn, houses more spectacular archways:
Most of the remainder of the Alcazar interior is made up of chambers and chambers-within chambers:
Tiles are everywhere, with the Moorish-inspired artwork:
looking considerably different from the Christian-designed artwork:
Equally appealing - and at times as eclectic and jarring - are the many types of gardens and terraces that surround the Alcazar: Arabic, French. Italian etc. My favourite is the tiled Persian Garden of the Dance:
although I don't think it's been done any favours by the Baroque-ish wall behind it. Others will prefer this garden with squared-off hedges and blossoming trees:
Still others will go for the gigantic date palms:
Just one final point about Mudéjar architecture, and I didn't want to mention it earlier for fear of confusing you even more than I already have. In the late 19th century, there was a bit of a revival of this style of architecture. It was called neo-Mudéjar and the finest example I know of is this building erected in Seville for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition:
You wouldn't have any trouble persuading Heather and I to live there!