Historical Weekend Walks: Alcázar of Seville (al-Qasr al-Muriq), Seville, Spain

Lockdowns are frustrating. Especially in the autumn/winter season because festive spirit isn’t quite there yet and the weather is, quite frankly, bad. In fact, Lockdowns are a constantly ongoing greyish mess. To dilute your Lockdown blues, we’re introducing a series of posts that will be produced on weekly basis, ‘Historical Weekend Walks’. In these posts we’ll be choosing one historical location and we’ll be giving you a mini-tour of the place by using our very own photos(which were not made in 2020)!

Our first ‘walk’ will take place in Alcázar of Seville, or as it’s known in Arabic, al-Qasr al-Muriq.

Although the location of this royal residence could be traced back to 8th century, the Alcazar we see now was largely build during 11-12th centuries during the Mutamid and Almohad periods. Coincidentally, these periods corresponded with a rise in socio-cultural developments and permitted the location to become one of the key non-Christian centres of arts and learning on the Iberian Peninsula.

In our day and age tourists enter Alcazar through the Lion’s Gate, which is one of the side entrances to the palace.

SOURCE TIME: (and you thought that we’ll miss out the opportunity to introduce you to some literary sources!) This is a poem by a famous Islamic poet Ibn Zaydun. Although written about another palace, what can you find out about Islamic attitudes towards either palaces or an elite culture within the palaces? Think about how the construction of the poem helps you to understand what the palace culture was like. (cc: https://www.islamicspain.tv/arts-and-literature/poems-from-al-andalus/)

After entering the palace and passing through an ancient arch you end up in mini-square, called the Patio de la Montería (or the Court of the Hunters), through which you can proceed in different paths to explore the palace. As you can see from the photos below, the overall architectural style of the Alcazar combines a lot of differing architectural influences. Indeed, the traditional ‘flat’ columns cohabitate with the Islamic-style carvings, thus uniting the aesthetic of the façade. Such a somewhat patchy style occurred probably due to King Peter I and his architects attempting to incorporate traditional European styles into Islamic building in 1360s.

The Patio de la Montería. View from the entrance to it.

After leaving the Patio, you can wonder off into different directions. We decided to follow the steps of various diplomats and slip into the Ambassador’s Room.

Architectural details of the entrance to the Ambassador’s Room

The Hall of the Ambassadors, was build by Seville craftsman Diego Ruiz in 1389, following the orders of Pedro I. The room mainly uses a Moorish style as the bottom half of the room is rich with Islamic geometric patterns. However, the top half is decorated by methods that are traditional to Western architecture. This could be seen most clearly in the predominant usage of golden decorations as well as portraits of various kings in a usual high Renaissance or Baroque style.

To give you a better idea about the size and layout of the room, here is a very short clip of the room.

When we left the Hall of the Ambassadors we popped into the Patio de las Muñecas (Patio of the Dolls). Decorated by delicate carvings and plaster works that seem typical to the Iberian Peninsula, the top section of the carvings in the balcony-like structure, were not part of the original ensemble as they were only added to the room in 19th century for Queen Isabel II. The lower half, however is the original work.

Think like a Historian:

Is it generally a useful idea for a figure in power to show off their lavish lifestyle if the country is going through a period of political and economic instability? Why do you think so? Can you come up with some historical examples?

Having cooled down within the walls of the palace we decided to face the blazes of the Spanish sun and we went on to explore the outside sections of the palace.

Located near the Patio of the Dolls, we found the Patio of the Maidens. This patio derives its name from an old local legend that mentions that this pond was originally filled with the tears of 100 Christian virgins as means to pay tribute to the Moors.

Think like a Historian:

Can local legends be used by historians to reconstruct a society that they’re studying? Why do you think so?

From this patio you can sneak into the Gothic Palace that was mostly developed by Charles V in 16th century and by Bourbon monarchs in 18th century. As you can see the architectural style is very different to the other parts of the palace.

Although not strictly related to the Alcazar, this video discusses the start of the Spanish Civil War. This video may be helpful for you to answer some of the questions which this post asks.

The key location to visit in this part of the palace are the Salones de Carlo V (Halls of Charles V) which consist of the Grand Hall and the Hall of the Tapestries. Whilst the Grand Hall, which was constructed in 1929 for the Ibero-American exposition in 1929 during the reign of Alfonso XIII, may not be as interesting for some, a location that may be more intriguing is the Hall of the Tapestries.

The Hall of the Tapestries was build during the 18th century. The construction was begun under Charles V, with an overall aim to celebrate his own military victories. However, by 18th century these tapestries began to wear down and needed to be fixed. As a result, the ‘updated’ tapestries now cohabitate with the ‘new’ 18th century tapestries that were made by the Royal Tapestry Factory in Spain following the commission of the Spanish Crown.

Think like a Historian:

Why do you think different tapestries were chosen to be put into the same room to celebrate Charles V’s victories? Think about the way how some rulers chose to justify their reign throughout historical continuity.

If you’re interested to explore the topic further…

  • If you’re interested in reading more about the Moorish Spain, may we recommend Richard Fletcher’s Moorish Spain. It contains a very readable style and introduces core concepts that are related to this period in Iberian history.
  • If you’re interested in finding out about the architectural style of Moorish Spain, may we suggest either Moorish Architecture by Marianne Barrucand or Felix Arnold’s Islamic Palace Architecture in the Western Mediterranean: A History.
  • Unfortunately we were unable to find any historical documentaries that contextualise Alcazar in Seville. However, what we did find were some historical music from the region!
Enjoy the music and see you next week when we will travel to yet another Moorish palace this time in Granada! ☺️

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