The Alcazar up to the nineteenth century
The compound which makes up the Royal Alcazar of Seville was founded in the early Middle-Ages, when the ancient Roman city of Hispalis, the Spali of Gothic times, evolved to be re-named Ixbilia. According to the most trustworthy sources, it was at the beginning of the tenth century – in 913, to be specific – that the Caliph of Cordoba, Abdurrahman III an-Nasir, ordered new government premises, the Dar al-Imara, to be built on the southern flank of the city. Previously, the ruling al-Andalus powers had been seated inside the Low-Roman-Empire city centre, not far from the Hispalis Mosque, where the Collegiate Church of El Salvador now stands. From then on, Seville’s centre of power was linked to the city’s port, the hub of its economic activity. The city’s ancient port, on the grounds of the current Plaza del Triunfo, or the ‘Explanada de los Banu Jaldún’ as it was then called, moved west towards the main course of the Guadalquivir, while the river’s subsidiary arm, flowing from the current Alameda de Hercules through Tetuan street to the Plaza Nueva, gradually lost its importance as an urban waterway as it dwindled. Only during flood periods could it reclaim its place.
Later on, the Abbadíes, who ruled Seville and its surroundings during the tenth century, would add a new Alcazar to the palace built for the Umayyad government. This new palace, al-Mubarak, ‘The Blessed’, quickly became the hub of the city’s official and literary life, with poets like the king al-Mutamid setting the scene for other human activities and for the legends that are now part of Seville’s history. The Almoravids would subsequently close down the government space, expanding the palace all the way to the Guadalquivir. Then, in the twelfth century, the Almohades added their own buildings to the structures erected in Arab times, whose ruins remain as the only examples of that kind we can still see today throughout the world. One of these is the House of Trade.
In 1248-49, the territory was conquered by the Castilians, who gave it the role it still retains as a Royal Residence and as the city’s political hub. This was a historical moment, the crux of the cultural synthesis that has defined the city of Seville, when palaces rose up around the original foundations, like Alfonso the Tenth’s Gothic Palace, shaped by the new cultural framework that had taken hold of the city. In the middle of the fourteenth century, at a time when al-Andalus was already under the rule of the Crown of Castile, we see the re-appearance of old Mediterranean concepts, now dressed up in Arabic style, in the Mudéjar Palace of Pedro I.
Aside from its architectural framework, the elements that breathe life to the Alcazar of Seville must not be forgotten: new uses of its spaces, the gardens, and the endless water, gushing forth from every corner, seemingly trying to compensate for all that has been taken from the Guadalquivir. And all the individuals and groups who breathed life into the buildings at every moment and peopled the air that still blows from the Lion’s Gate to Puerta de la Alcoba, over the Tagarete creek, which today lies hidden under the landscape that witnessed the birth of the Alcazar eleven centuries ago.
Alcazar of Seville from the fifteenth century to the present
The relationship between Sevillian Alcazar and the Crown of Spain has held up since the beginning of the Modern Age, and its influence can be seen in the continuous alterations made to the building, in an effort to adapt the interiors according to the fashions of the times. One example is the top floor of the Courtyard of the Maidens, which was refurbished in a Renaissance style. Its plasterworks were also renovated and the arches of the lower gallery modified. Similarly, magnificent artesonados (wooden ceilings of interlaced beams with decorative insertions) were created all through the sixteenth century, still upholding the Mudéjar aesthetic and staying faithful to the original spirit of the building, the most remarkable being the one that looks down over the spacious Hall of the Ambassadors.
Other parts of the Alcazar had no such luck; the once charming Courtyard of the Dolls, for instance, suffered a series of nineteenth-century restorations that robbed it of its original appeal. Nonetheless, the ancient columns and capitals that form part of the original design of the courtyard were preserved.
Renaissance artists contributed magnificent pieces to the Alcazar’s artistic treasures. The splendid tiled altar that stands in the chapel of the Catholic Monarchs, for example, made by Francisco Niculoso Pisano in 1504; or the pictorial altarpiece preserved in the Admiral’s Quarters, dedicated to the Virgin of the Seafarers. This altarpiece comes from the House of Trade and was created by Alejo Fernández in 1536.
The splendour of the Renaissance also shines through the so-called Halls of Charles V, whose monumental entrance was built after the earthquake that hit Seville in 1755 by the architect van der Borch. This portico reflects the increasingly classical tastes that followed the Baroque period around the middle of the eighteenth century. The inside halls are filled with magnificent collections of Flemish-style eighteenth-century tapestries telling the story of the conquest of Tunis. Beautiful ceramic tile plinths, created by Cristobal de Augusta in the mid-sixteenth century, provide a perfect frame for these tapestries.
The Bourbon monarchs of the nineteenth century did not fail to leave their own powerful stamp on the Alcazar. They re-arranged the spaces on the top floor of the building, refurbishing some of the halls in the style of that century, and decorating them with tapestries and chandeliers, clocks, furniture and an impressive collection of paintings.
Last, but certainly not least, we found the palace gardens, continuously changing since the Renaissance with an outpouring of fountains and ponds, pavilions, arches and galleries. The parterres, have been constantly re-invented, and, right up until the mid-nineteenth century, they benefited from the significant innovations that have made this landscaped environment one of the most pleasant and beautiful places in Spain.