Magnífica Arquitectura

Seville’s Real Alcazár a draw for lovers of Iberian culture, history, architecture

SEVILLE — Everyone kept saying, “Eres tan afortunado” — “You are so lucky.” The temperature in the middle of June was only 83 degrees — “A cool snap,” they said. My friend had even tried to warn me off visiting Seville in the summer because it would be too hot — and she grew up there.

The normal temperature for that time of year, the week before and the week after our visit, is 100 degrees. Even if the temperature is blistering, a visit to Seville is worth it just to see the Real Alcazár, an architectural masterpiece in Spain’s fourth-largest city.

Seville was founded as the Roman town of Hispalis before becoming Ishbilya after the Muslim conquest of Spain in 712, and much of the city’s architecture still reflects the Moorish influence. The palace will be familiar to fans of “Game of Thrones” as the scenes set in Dorn are filmed there, as well as being used in the TV show “The Emerald City,” and scenes from the epic movie “Lawrence of Arabia.”

The Alcazár — the name comes from the Hispano-Arabic word alqáçr, meaning Royal House or Room of the Prince — is still used as a palace when the royal family is in town, but it is open to tourists all year and is a must-see.

One enters through the Puerta de Lion, the entrance arch set into a red wall with an inlaid tile mural of a lion holding a cross in its claws. In the 15th century, Seville was the main center of the tile industry producing Azulejo, a form of tin-glazed ceramic tilework that is a signature feature of the architecture found in everything from palaces to ordinary homes. The ceramic tiles are not only decorative, they serve as a natural air-conditioning system, accumulating heat during the day and releasing it at night. Considering Seville’s summer days hover around 100 degrees — and even today most homes do not have central A/C — it’s no wonder the Sevillanos love their tiles.

Alcazár’s interior is a visual feast in every room. The tiles, many incorporating the interlocking Arabic motif, are varied and colorful. The rooms are large and opulent. The building incorporates a variety of styles as it grew over centuries with each ruler adding their own era’s style. The architectural influences range from the Arabic period through late Middle Ages Mudéjar period right to the Renaissance, the Baroque era, and the 19th century.

The Patio de las Doncellas — “The Courtyard of the Maidens” — is named for the legend that the Moors demanded 100 virgins a year from the Christian rulers of Iberia. A large reflecting pool is flanked by sunken gardens. The current layout reflects the original design, although it was paved by a marble floor before being restored. Director Ridley Scott had it temporarily paved again for his 2005 Crusades move “Kingdom of Heaven.” The bright summer light gives the gardens an almost artificial glow that enhances their beauty.

Los Baños de Doña María de Padilla, or The “Baths of Lady María de Padilla,” are rainwater tanks beneath the Patio del Crucero. The tanks are named after María de Padilla, the mistress of Peter the Cruel, who was king of Castile from 1350 to 1369. The moody lighting is brilliant and gives the impression of being almost church-like.

All the Andalusian palaces had magnificent gardens and the Alcazár is no exception. Not only were they aesthetically pleasing, but they also supplied food to the palace. The gardens incorporate an intricate irrigation system of pools and channels. During the 16th century, Italian designer Vermondo Resta adapted the old Muslim wall into the Galeria de Grutescos — the Groot Gallery — which offers a overview of the gardens.

The building seems to go on forever, with delightfully named areas as the “Patio of the Dolls,” the “Patio of the Maidens” and the “Hall of the Half Orange,” named for its domed ceiling.

­­The Casa de la Contratación (Contracting House), founded by the Catholic Monarchs in 1503 to control trade with Spain’s American colonies, features many paintings and tapestries. One particular large-scale weaving shows a map of Southern Spain and north Africa — although, curiously, it is upside down.

Seville is a beautiful city, and its cathedral, which contains the remains of Christopher Columbus, is magnificent.

But if one wants to really see the history the history of Spain in all its splendor, a day or two at the Real Alcazár has everything one needs.

General admission tickets are 9.50 euros, and admission is free on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., October-March, and 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., April-September.

Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., October-March, and 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., April to September.

For more information, visit www.alcazar sevilla.org.

Story by Andy Coughlan, ISSUE editor

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