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December 11, 2015

Spain: Seville, Reales Alcázares de Sevilla

Extensive gardens surround the royal palace.

Extensive gardens surround the royal palace.

The Reales Alcázares de Sevilla was constructed in the 10th century as the palace of the Moslem governor. After the Christian re-conquest of Seville in 1248, the Spanish used the complex as a royal palace. Today the Alcázar still functions as the Spanish royal family’s residence in this city. Though it now also accommodates thousands of tourists each day, the complex retains the same basic purpose for which it was originally intended: as a residence of monarchs and heads of state. The Alcázar is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe.

Built and rebuilt from the early Middle Ages right up to our times, the Alcázar consists of a group of palatial buildings and extensive gardens. The Alcázar embraces a combination of architectural styles where areas of the original Moorish buildings coexist with Spanish Mudejar art, together with other constructions displaying every cultural style from the Renaissance to the Neoclassical. UNESCO has recognized Reales Alcázares as a World Heritage site. It is noted as an outstanding example of mudéjar architecture.

Tiled rooms inside Reales Alcázares de Sevilla

Tiled rooms inside Reales Alcázares de Sevilla

Mudéjar is the name given to individual Moors or Muslims of Andalusia who remained in Iberia after the Christian Reconquista. After the recapture of Seville the Spanish retained the mudéjar as architects. Substantial construction and expansion of the Alcázar then followed; much of what you see today at the Alcázar was created by the mudéjar with the Spanish as patrons.

Inside the walls of the Reales Alcázares de Sevilla the mudéjar produced an airy and peaceful enclave. Beautiful gardens with ponds and fountains flow into the cool tile-lined interior living spaces; it is a place designed for hot Spanish summer days. It is a place that even today is livable.

Details inside the Alcazar

Details inside the Alcazar

On the left: La Giralda as viewed from the Alcazar's gardens. On the right: Repeating patterns inside the bowels of the royal palace.

On the left: La Giralda as viewed from the Alcazar’s gardens. On the right: Repeating patterns inside the bowels of the royal palace.

I find it interesting that after the Reconquista, a bitterly fought religious war, the Spanish opted to keep many Moslem mudéjar around in important roles. Perhaps this was a practical thing. Maybe the Spanish needed the skills of the Moslems they had just conquered and could not risk expelling them. But also it seems they admired the architectural style of the Moors. They clearly wanted to continue building the Alcázar in a semblance its original style. It would have been easy enough for the Spanish kings to pull the buildings down and remake the palace in a more traditional style. After all, this happened elsewhere. After the Reconquista, mosques throughout Andalusia were regularly brought down and rebuilt as Christian churches in the Spanish style. But when it came to their palace, the Spanish Kings chose to continue with the ornate Moorish style.


With the acceptance of the presence of the mudéjar by the Spanish came an element of religious tolerance. It mirrors the “convivencia”, the period of time of relatively peaceful coexistence of Muslims, Jews, and Christians in southern Hispania under the Moorish Iberian kings. For sure, pre or post the Reconquista, things were not ideal for the religious minorities. But it could have been worse. Indeed it was worse when tolerance of the mudéjar ended with the Spanish Inquisition.


The UNESCO World Heritage plaque

1 Comment »

  1. Saving to visit Spain one day. Hopefully it comes true … Lovely pictures

    Comment by AverageSouthAfrican — December 11, 2015 @ 5:58 pm

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