Question: Where in the world has a decorated palace hosted monarchs for nearly 1,100 years, making it one of the oldest in the world?
Answer: The Real Alcazar of Seville, Spain
From its ornamented archways to its exquisite formal gardens and intricately carved ceilings of gold, nearly every inch of the Real Alcazar (Royal Palace) of Seville dazzles. Embellished from wall to wall with the lavish elements of traditional Islamic architecture mixed with European influences, it’s no wonder why Spain’s royal family still calls the estate their home.
The foundation that remains of the Alcazar was constructed by the Moorish rulers who inhabited the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages. In the year 913, the state ordered a new royal palace to be built in Seville for their leader, and the result was the Dar Al-Imara, or Prince’s house, a fortified and grand residence. By the 11th century, another king called for the expansion of the fortress, adding a new palace known as Al-Mubarak, or “the blessed,” which became a hub for Seville’s city officials and literary life.
However, by the year 1248, the territory of Seville and the Alcazar were conquered by the Christian Castilians who claimed the grounds as their royal residence and political center. The monarchs continued to embellish the beautiful palace with Islamic art styles including arabesques, calligraphy, and geometric patterns, as well as added to the lush gardens and baths to impress all who entered. The Alcazar became an important gathering place for heads of state, and remains so today. The palace regularly hosts dignitaries, and the upper stories of the building are still used by Spain’s royal family when they are in the city, making it the oldest palace in Europe still in use today.
The Real Alcazar is also the oldest and most extraordinary example Mudéjar art—a type of ornamentation which blends Moorish and European styles and was used in the Iberian kingdom from the 13th to 15th centuries. Some of these details which remain today are the Patio de las Doncellas or the “Courtyard of the Maidens,” which features a reflecting pool and sunken gardens on either side; and the Salon de Embajadors or “The Ambassadors Hall,” which is the ancient throne room decorated with intricate patterns of gold on the ceiling. Throughout each dazzling hall and courtyard, it’s clear the cultural and artistic influence the Moorish settlers had on Seville and the rest of Spain.
9 Intriguing Things to Know About Seville, Spain:
- Seville is the capital and the largest city in the Andalusia region of Spain and located in the country’s southwest corner.
- After world exploration began, Seville became a bustling metropolis, economic center, and port for the trans-oceanic trade of the Spanish Empire.
- Seville contains three prominent UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the Real Alcazar. The other two are the Seville Cathedral and the General Archive of the Indies which holds the archival documents of the Spanish Empire’s history.
- Seville is a favorite spot for movie makers—numerous movies and television shows have been filmed in the city including Lawrence of Arabia, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
- A gigantic structure known as the Metropol Parasol in Seville, which looks like a honeycomb wave, claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world.
- Although many Spanish regions claim to be the birthplace of tapas, Seville has the strongest connection. The name tapas comes from the Spanish word “to cover,” and the dish originated as thin slices of bread with meat on top that Andalusian sherry drinkers used to cover their drinks in between sips.
- NO8DO is the official motto of Seville which signifies the Spanish phrase, No me ha dejado, meaning “she has not abandoned me.” The motto is present on Seville’s municipal flag as well as on signs around the city.
- Both bullfighting and flamenco dancing have deep roots in Seville and are celebrated traditions that continue in the city today.
- The world-famous Seville oranges, also known as bitter oranges, didn’t actually originate in the area, but they were introduced to Spain in the 10th century by the Moors. Seville still grows large amounts of these oranges today, mainly to be used in marmalade.
Wander the stunning Alcazar of Seville and the rest of the city when you join us for the optional tour of Seville during Back Roads of Iberia: Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas.