Dotted along southern Spain and northern West Africa it’s possible to see the monumental remains of a powerful Arab empire.
The Real Alcázar located in the heart of Seville, Spain is the UNESCO protected royal palace built by the Arabs during the Moorish invasion of Spain which dates back to the 8th century.
The palace has been expanded by many subsequent Spanish kings throughout history. Today, it is one of the most visited locations in the world, and for good reason.
It is widely renowned as the most beautiful example of Moorish architecture in the region for it’s outstanding examples of Mudéjar architecture. Not to mention, no other Muslim building in Spain has been so well preserved.
History of the Alcázar
In 712, Seville was conquered by the Arabs. The Muslim general Muda bin Nusayr commanded the commander Tariq ibn Ziyan to invade Spain in the late spring of 711 with an army of 9,000 men, crossing the straight of Gibralter from the North African coast.
FUN FACT: The name “Gibralter” is the Spanish derivation of the Arabic name Jabal Tariq, meaning “mountain of Tariq”, which is named after him.
The Almohades, a Moorish dynasty, were the first to build the Alcázar of Seville. It was originally built as a Moorish fortress in the 10th century. In fact, the name Alcázar comes from the Arabic word for castle, al-qasr.
A long history of alterations, expansions, and renovations to the Alcázar have created a defining mixture of styles, including Islamic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Gothic. Most notably was the adding of the the Mudejar Palace, also known as the Palacio del Rey Don Pedro, by Pedro I of Castile (King Peter of Castile) in 1364, which includes the famous Patio de las Doncellas (Courtyard of the Maidens). He employed Granadans and Muslim subjects to continue the Islamic architectural style. Today this is still the Alcázar’s crown jewel.
The upper story of the Courtyard of the Maidens was an addition made by Charles V from 1540-1572. The addition was designed by Luis de Vega in the style of the Italian Renaissance although he did include both Renaissance and mudéjar plaster work in the decorations.
Today, the upper levels of the Alcázar are still used by the royal family today, making it the oldest royal palace in Europe.
TIP: The Cuarto Real Alto (Upper Royal Quarters), the rooms used by the Spanish royal family on their visits to Seville, are open for guided tours (€4.50; half-hourly 10 to 15:30; booking required).
Visiting the Alcázar
A trip to Seville is incomplete without a visit to the Real Alcázar. If you miss this experience, it’s like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower.
The Alcázar is truly a breathtaking work of art, combining centuries of history, culture and architecture into what feels like a stroll around a living museum and park.
The intricacies of tile work, color schemes, plant life, and archways is unparalleled in it’s drama. It’s the kind of place so extraordinary that it would be inconceivable to create in your imagination.
FUN FACT: In the fifth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, the Alcázar was used at the location for the Water Gardens of Dorne. Game of Thrones Producer DB Weiss said, "Once we realized we were allowed to shoot in the gardens (of the Alcázar), we realized that there’s nowhere on earth that looks more like the water gardens as we pictured than this place…. It’s the kind of thing you could never build as a set". See more HBO Game of Thrones shooting locations around the world.
The main entrance of the Alcázar is through the Puerta del León (Lion's Gate), built in the 18th century and clearly marked by an image of a lion inlaid in tile.
When you enter, the first building on your left is the Sala de la Justicia (Hall of Justice) and Patio del Yeso, the oldest parts of the Alcázar. The Hall of Justice is decorated with plaster work, joining elements of Muslim tradition and Castilian emblems. In the center a fountain with water leads to a connected pool in the Patio del Yeso.
Soak in history in the Admiral’s Hall, the place where Amerigo Vespucci, Magellan and Elcano planned the first travel around the world, and Juan de la Cosa made the first world map in History.
Venture to the Sala de Audiencias (Chapterhouse) which today is a chapel to admire the alter piece of the Virgin Madonna and stunning coffered ceiling.
Stand in awe of the Courtyard of the Maidens and the Salón de Embajadores (Hall of Ambassadors), south of the Patio de las Muñecas (The Dolls Courtyard).
The Hall of Ambassadors is the most important room of the palace and it was used for public events and affairs of state. This was originally Pedro I’s throne room built in 1366, although the fabulous wooden dome of multiple star patterns which symbolized the universe, was added later in 1427.
Get a bird’s eye view from the Galeria de Grutesco (Grotto Gallery). The old Muslim walls were transformed in the 16th century into a loggia from which to admire the view of the palace gardens.
Reflect at the Mercury Pond, with the Grotto Gallery in the background.
Meander through the seemingly endless paths in the gardens, originally used as an orchard for fruit trees, produce and fragrant flowers.
Get lost in the Jardín del Laberinto (Maze Garden). These hedge fences design different corridors, creating a labyrinth path.
Discover the underground rainwater bath of Los Baños de Doña María de Padilla (Baths of Lady María de Padilla) located just off of the gardens underneath the palace is a cool retreat from the blazing Seville sun.
There is so much to discover here! So take your time. Stop to enjoy yourself on one of the many benches in the gardens. Bring water, sunscreen and snacks if you need them.
The complex is quite large, so make sure to give yourself a minimum of three hours here! You could easily spend more than half a day here discovering each building, garden and corner of this place.
Hours & Tickets
April to September: From Monday to Sunday, 09:30 to 19:00.
October to March: From Monday to Sunday, 09:30 to 17:00.
Closed on the 1st and 6th of January, Good Friday and the 25th of December.
Regular ticket: € 9.50
Ticket for retirees and students ages 17 to 25: € 2 (on accreditation at the ticket office).
Entrance for the disabled, children under 16's and those born or residing in the city of Seville are free of charge (on accreditation at the ticket office).
Audio guides or a 3 hour guided tour are available.
Save time by skipping the queue and buy your ticket to the Alcázar online.
TIP: On Mondays from April to September 6pm-7pm and October to March 4pm-5pm, the entrance to the Alcázar is free.
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