the alcázar in seville

Monday, July 8:  I head to Seville’s intriguing Alcázar and its extensive gardens in hopes of finding some relief from the 43 degree heat.  Sadly, I find there is no relief to be found anywhere on its grounds or in the shade of its gorgeous arches.  However, it is stunningly beautiful despite the miserable weather in summertime Seville.

Entrance to the Alcázar
Entrance to the Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar

The original nucleus of the Alcázar was constructed in the 10th century as the palace of the Muslim governor, and is used even today as the Spanish royal family’s residence in this city, thereby retaining the same purpose for which it was originally intended: as a residence of monarchs and heads of state. Built and rebuilt from the early Middle Ages right up to our times, it consists of a group of palatial buildings and extensive gardens. The Alcázar embraces a rare compendium of cultures where areas of the original Almohad palace – such as the “Patio del Yeso” or the “Jardines del Crucero” – coexist with the Palacio de Pedro I representing Spanish Mudejar art, together with other constructions displaying every cultural style from the Renaissance to the Neoclassical.

I wander around the gardens for a good long while, as they are expansive, but I find it unbearably hot as it’s mid-afternoon and the sun is relentless.

gardens of the Alcázar
gardens of the Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar

When I wander into the Palacio de Don Pedro, I’m awestruck by the amazing arches and tilework.  In my eyes, this architecture is some of the most beautiful in the world.

Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar

The Conjunto Monumental, or group of historic buildings encompassing the Cathedral/Giralda, the Alcázar and the Archivo de Indias, constitutes a remarkable testimony to the major stages of the city’s urban history (Islamic, Christian, and that of Seville with its associations with the New World), as well as symbolizing a city that became the trading capital with the Indies for two centuries – a time during which Seville was the hub of the Spanish monarchy and played a major role in colonizing Latin America following its discovery by Columbus. (UNESCO: Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville)

Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar

The Alcázar has been expanded and rebuilt many times in the 11 centuries of its existence. Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs, stayed here in the 1480s as they prepared for the conquest of Cordoba.  Later rulers created the lovely gardens.

Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar

The Placio de Don Pedro, also known as the Mudejar Palace, was built by Pedro I between 1360 and 1364.  He built it in “perishable” ceramics, plaster and wood, following the Quran’s prohibition against “eternal” structures, reserved for the creator.  At the heart of the palace is the Patio de las Doncellas (Patio of the Maidens) surrounded by beautiful arches, plasterwork and tiling.  The Patio de las Munecas (Patio of the Dolls) has delicate Granada-style decoration, brought here from the Alhambra in the 19th century (Lonely Planet Spain).  These are my favorite parts of the palace by far.

Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar

I meet Australian Barry near this gate; he looks as hot and wilted as I feel. He’s looking for Carole, who has wandered off somewhere.

Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
underground cistern at the Alcázar

When I finish my visit of the Alcázar, I go in search of a cafe where I can sit in the shade and have a cool drink.  I find Carole and Barry sitting at a cafe near a fountain, and I join them for agua con gas, sparkling water, the only answer to the heat in Seville.

a common sign on streets throughout Spain
a common sign on streets throughout Spain
walking through the hot streets of Seville in search of agua con gas
walking through the hot streets of Seville in search of agua con gas
a little shade and a cool drink
a little shade and a cool drink

andalucía: seville & its impressive cathedral

Monday, July 8:  Seville is rich in history, from its first settlement by the Tartessians in the 8th century B.C. to its later settlement by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians.  Because the Rio Guadalquivir is navigable to the city, Seville became a strategic center for trade in Inland Andalucía.  The Romans called the city Hispalis and founded the colony of Italica in the surrounding area.

The Moors called it Ixbilia; the name of Seville is derived from that name. Moorish rule was a period of great splendor, not only architecturally, but culturally, politically, socially and economically.

In 1248, it was conquered by the Christian King Fernando III.

After the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492, Seville became the main port for trade with the New World, resulting in several centuries of grandeur.   Unfortunately, trade with America gradually moved to the port of Cadiz.

An Exposition was held in 1929.  Expo 1992 commemorated the 5th centenary of America’s discovery.

Seville is the capital of Andalucia and the 4th largest city in Spain, with over 704,000 inhabitants.  As part of the Mediterranean, its climate is warm and in the summer it reaches over 35 degrees.

We walk though Santa Cruz, the primary tourist neighborhood of Seville and the former Jewish quarter of the medieval city.   The neighborhood is the location of many of Seville’s oldest churches and is home to the Cathedral of Seville, including the converted minaret of the old Moorish mosque Giralda.  (Wikipedia: Santa Cruz, Seville)

According to UNESCO, the Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias together form a remarkable monumental complex in the heart of Seville. They epitomize the Spanish “Golden Age,” incorporating vestiges of Islamic culture, centuries of ecclesiastical power, royal sovereignty and the trading power that Spain acquired through its colonies in the New World.

Founded in 1403 on the site of a former mosque, Seville Cathedral, built in Gothic and Renaissance style, covers seven centuries of history. With its five naves, it is the largest Gothic building in Europe.

entrance to Seville Cathedral
entrance to Seville Cathedral
Inside Seville Cathedral
Inside Seville Cathedral
Seville Cathedral
Seville Cathedral
Organ at Seville Cathedral
Organ at Seville Cathedral
Seville Cathedral
Seville Cathedral
inside Seville Cathedral
inside Seville Cathedral
Seville Cathedral from outside
Seville Cathedral from outside
another unused entrance to Seville Cathedral
another unused entrance to Seville Cathedral
Another bit of Seville Cathedral
Another bit of Seville Cathedral

Its 90 meter high bell tower, the Giralda, was the former minaret of the mosque, a masterpiece of Almohad architecture and now an important example of cultural syncretism thanks to the top section of the tower, designed in the Renaissance period by Hernán Ruiz. Ever since its creation, the Cathedral has continued to be used for religious purposes (UNESCO: Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville).

Giralda Tower of Seville Cathedral
Giralda Tower of Seville Cathedral

It’s not too difficult to climb up the amazing Giralda because of the ramps built so guards could ride horses all the way to the top. Many windows along the ramp offer fabulous views of Seville and the spires and backbone of the Cathedral from above.  The original minaret was constructed in brick by Almohad caliph Yusuf Yacub al-Mansur between 1184 and 1198.  In 1365, an earthquake destroyed the original upper copper spheres.  To crown the new bell tower, El Giraldillo, a 16th century bronze weathervane, was added.  It represents the virtue of “Faith” and serves as a symbol of Seville.   The Giralda is considered by many to be Spain’s most perfect Islamic building because of its proportions, decoration and color. (Lonely Planet Spain).

It’s easy to imagine, as I climb the ramps inside of the Giralda, the guards and their horses clopping up the inside ramps during the tower’s early days.  What an amazing experience of rich history!

view from Giralda Tower
view from Giralda Tower
View of the top of the Cathedral from Giralda Tower
View of the top of the Cathedral from Giralda Tower
view from Giralda Tower
view from Giralda Tower
View from Giralda Tower
View from Giralda Tower
View from Giralda Tower
View from Giralda Tower
Bells in Giralda Tower
Bells in Giralda Tower
the courtyard of 60 orange trees from Giralda Tower
the courtyard of 60 orange trees from Giralda Tower
View from Giralda Tower
View from Giralda Tower
view of Seville's streets from Giralda Tower
view of Seville’s streets from Giralda Tower
Giralda Tower from outside
Giralda Tower from outside

I’m impressed by the elaborate tomb of Christopher Columbus, dating from 1902.  There is apparently great controversy over whether the explorer’s body is really buried there, however, as many argue that he is (mainly) buried in the Dominican Republic (Lonely Planet Spain).

Tomb of Christopher Columbus
Tomb of Christopher Columbus

The Capilla Mayor‘s Gothic gilded and polychromed wood altarpiece is believed to be the biggest in the world, holding more than 1,000 carved Biblical figures, according to Lonely Planet Spain.

The Patio de los Naranjos was originally the courtyard where Muslims performed ablutions before entering the mosque.  It is planted with 60 orange trees.

Orange trees at Seville Cathedral
Orange trees at Seville Cathedral
the door to the Cathedral from the courtyard
the door to the Cathedral from the courtyard

Of course like all the cathedrals in Europe in summer, Seville Cathedral is warm, damp and close inside.  Out in the orange tree courtyard, or climbing the ramp up the Giralda, or even wandering quietly or sitting in the Cathedral, I feel hot, sweaty and uncomfortable.  Escaping into the streets of Seville doesn’t give any relief either, but I head over to the Alcázar in hopes that its famous gardens might offer some cooling relief.

andalucía: morning in seville: plaza de españa, hotel alfonso XIII & tapas at hosteria del laurel

Monday, July 8:  Upon arrival in Seville, about a 2 hour drive from our villa in Mollina, Australian Barry, our resident botanical expert, notes the Jacaranda trees lining the streets of the city.  Jacaranda trees are apparently all over southern Spain. They have a light, pleasant scent and lovely blue or purple clusters of flowers.  Of course, as it’s July, they’re not currently in bloom, but Scottish Barry tells us Seville is beautiful in spring when the trees are in bloom.

First, we visit the Plaza de España , a plaza in the Parque de María Luisa It was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, which Spain hosted.  It’s an example of the Renaissance Revival style in Spanish architecture.

Plaza de España
Plaza de España

The entire southern end of the city was developed into an expanse of gardens and grand boulevards, with a half mile of  tiled fountains, pavilions, walls, ponds, benches and lush plantings of palms, orange trees, Mediterranean pines, and stylized flower beds.

The Plaza de España has been used as a filming location for films such as the 1962 Lawrence of Arabia and the Star Wars movies.  It was also featured in the 2012 film The Dictator.  (Wikipedia: Plaza de España (Seville))

Plaza de España
Plaza de España
Plaza de España
Plaza de España

Barry tells us that though it was built for the Exposition, it was never really used because of the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed.

Plaza de España
Plaza de España
Plaza de España
Plaza de España

The plaza was built on the Maria Luisa Park’s edge to showcase Spain’s industry and technology exhibits.  The Plaza de España complex is a huge half-circle;  buildings along the perimeter are accessible over a moat by bridges representing the four ancient kingdoms of Spain. In the center is the Vicente Traver fountain. By the walls of the Plaza are many tiled alcoves, each representing a different province of Spain.

Plaza de España
Plaza de España
Plaza de España
Plaza de España

Today the Plaza de España mainly consists of government buildings. The Seville Town Hall is located within it.  The Plaza’s tiled ‘Alcoves of the Provinces’ are backdrops for visitors’ photographs, taken in their own home province’s alcove.  I take some photos in the alcoves of the provinces I’ve visited or those I plan to visit: Toledo, Malaga, Cordoba & Barcelona.

Toledo
Toledo
Malaga
Malaga
Cordoba
Cordoba
Barcelona
Barcelona

At the end of the park, the grandest mansions from the fair have been adapted as museums. The farthest contains the city’s archaeology collections. The main exhibits are Roman mosaics and artifacts from Italy.

As we leave the plaza and walk into the city center, we pass some other beautiful buildings.

Seville
Seville
Seville
Seville
Seville
Seville
Seville
Seville

We then walk toward the city center of Seville, making a plush bathroom stop at the beautiful Hotel Alfonso XIII.  The hotel was constructed by order of of King Alfonso XIII of Spain to house VIP guests at the Iber-American Exposition in 1928.  The hotel has, for over 85 years, been the place to stay for royalty and heads of state.  Its distinctive Mudéjar-style architecture of sweeping arches, decorative brickwork, wrought-iron, ornamental towers and ceramic finials makes it a glamorous spot to stay in Seville.  It also welcomes visitors off the street to come in and have a look (Hotel Alfonso XIII, Seville).

Hotel Alfonso XIII
Hotel Alfonso XIII
Inside Hotel Alfonso XIII for a bathroom break :-)
Inside Hotel Alfonso XIII for a bathroom break 🙂
the staircase at Hotel Alfonso XIII
the staircase at Hotel Alfonso XIII

Outside of the hotel, Australian Barry identifies a prehistoric plant, a tree fern.  Barry is our flora expert on this tour, and he isn’t even the tour guide. 🙂

Barry says this is a prehistoric plant
Barry says this is a prehistoric plant

We meander into the Barrio Gotic, where we stop for a tapas lunch at the cafe Hosteria del Laurel.  We share a sampling of tapas: spinach with chick peas, chorizo al vino blanco  (sausages cooked in white wine), stewed beef’s cheek and a plate of Manchego Cheese.  I really enjoy the company of Carole and the two Barrys, the Australian Barry married to Carole, and the Scottish Barry, our guide.

It’s funny, after we polished off our tapas yesterday in Ronda before I remembered to take a photo, Carole begins to remind me at each meal to take pictures.  Thanks to her reminders, I have lots of pictures of wonderful Spanish food. 🙂

Hosteria del Laurel
Hosteria del Laurel
the view of the square from Hosteria del Laurel
the view of the square from Hosteria del Laurel
Manchego Cheese
Manchego Cheese
spinach with chick peas
spinach with chick peas
chorizo al vino blanco
chorizo al vino blanco
stewed beef's cheek
stewed beef’s cheek

After lunch, Barry the guide leaves us to explore Seville Cathedral and the Alcazar on our own.  The day is a scorcher, but little do we know it will reach 43 degrees during our explorations!  This is most definitely not the time of year to visit Seville.