In the stunningly beautiful, historic city center of Seville, lies an oasis like no other, The Alcazar. This ancient Palace rivals any and is well worth the trip. A visit in spring is the best time to enjoy the Iberian Peninsula before the sweltering heat of summer descends. We arrived on a warm afternoon in April when the gardens were in full bloom. The tall Jacaranda tree’s soft lavender blossoms rained down upon the patterned pathways as we walked through the park along the outer walls to the main entry, all adding to the charm of this city.
The Alcazar was originally built by the Moorish rulers who occupied Andalusia (the Iberian Peninsula) beginning around 712. Over the centuries examples of Gothic, Renaissance and Romanesque design, added by subsequent Christian rulers, morphed with the Moorish style into what is known today as Mudejar. This Palace is one of the best examples in Europe of the Mudejar art form, and the most beautifully restored. It is also one of the oldest still used as a private residence by a Royal Family.
Once through the main gate, which looks like a fortified medieval castle, the inner courtyard with its elaborate Moorish influence appears. Set beneath high graceful arches covered in bright masses of bougainvillea, the massive, intricately decorated doorway beacons you to enter. Here, away from the traditional Cathedral Square outside the walls, one is surrounded by the magic and beauty of this Palace created in a time of the powerful Moorish Sultans.
The oldest part of the Palace is a meandering group of rooms and chambers. Each one more delightfully decorated than the previous one, with colorful tile walls and floors. Above our heads were high beamed ceilings masterfully constructed and subtly adorned with jewel tone colors. Inner chambers displayed the most stunning carvings covering every inch, top to bottom. One particularly magnificent ceiling is known as the Orange, as it’s reminiscent of orange peel. Within the Sultan’s private chambers the ceiling forms a glass dome illuminating the inner space with a soft warm glow. The mystery and magic of the space fills you with awe at the skill and artistry of the craftsmen who created it.
The Courtyard of Maidens lies within the center of the Palace. A glassy pool in three long sections fills the sunny courtyard. Around the edges orange trees laden with huge fruit scent the air with the most delicious fragrance. This special courtyard is said to be named for the Moorish kings requiring 100 virgins a year to be presented to the Court.
Emerging from the original Palace, the Gardens unfold. Reflection pools and fountains dot the landscape cooling the space and adding to its peaceful state. This portion of the garden is more formal in design and subtly falls away to a shaded parklike area on one side and a more practical and serviceable area on the other. In this section food was produced for the occupants of the Palace and its many attendants. More practical plantings of fruit and nut trees line the paths here. While strolling through, one can easily be lost in a dream of what life might have been like here when it was still a Walled City protecting all within its confines.
To top it all off a visit to the underground baths created for Dona Padilla is something out of The Arabian Nights!
After all that imagining you may want to have a short spin around the Maria Luisa Park in a horse drawn carriage. Not just for the tourists, these beautiful horses and their impeccably maintained carriages are enjoyed by the locals for special occasions as well. We saw one such happy family enjoying a trot around the park after a wedding. Grandma sat, charming and proud, sporting her beautiful mantilla and beaming on that happy occasion. Seeing such lovely traditions warms the heart.
The Plaza de Espana is a not to be missed experience just outside the park. Be sure to take it all in, the details of the building are extraordinary.