Discovering Mudéjar Style in Seville’s Alcazar
By Barbara Rizza Mellin
A fortress-like entrance and a palace-like interior make up one of the most spectacular buildings in Seville, Spain.
The magnificent Real Alcazar (or royal castle) is an excellent example of Mudéjar style. Mudéjar refers to work created by Muslim/Moorish artists, who were subjects of and claimed loyalty to a Christian king. Such work is found only on the Iberian Peninsula.
Little of the original structure, which began life in 913 as a Moorish fort, still remains. During the 11th and 12th centuries additions were made by the Almohad rulers. By the 14th century, Pedro I constructed his royal residence within the original structure. Craftsmen from Toledo, Cordoba, and Granada were gathered to work on his palace. These exceptional artisans transformed it into one of the most impressive example of Mudéjar art in the world. Partially Gothic, partially Islamic, the art and architecture created in Spain in the 12th to 15th centuries has a unique, recognizable style, fascinating and beautiful.
The Palace of Pedro I forms the core of the current Alcazar, but Renaissance rulers who followed, including Isabel I and Carlos I, known as Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, also added contributions.
The outer wall, with its entrance Gate of the Lion, retains a fortress-like appearance. There are also open courtyards and azulejo (tile)-covered halls throughout this huge space. The Patio of Plaster surrounds a garden and retains much of the elements of the 12th century Almohad Alcazar, such as amazingly complex plaster work and open fretwork on its pointed arches.
The Courtyard of the Maidens, however, is a breathtaking combination of Mudéja and Renaissance elements. The lower level, built by Pedro I, features rows of pointed arches and intricate plasterwork created by the best craftsmen of Granada (home of Alhambra). The upper portion, added by Charles V in the 16th century has semi-circular arches on columns connected by a marble balustrade. A large rectangular reflecting pool sits in the center of the courtyard, with sunken gardens on either side.
A cluster of rooms, the Casa de la Contratación, was established by the Catholic Monarchs in 1503. Here, they regulated trade voyages to and from the newly-found Americas. On the wall hangs one of the first paintings to show the discovery and one of the first to depict Columbus and Magellan’s around-the-world voyage. Painted in 1535, The Virgin of the Navigators forms the central panel of the chapel altarpiece. Mary stands in the center connecting the two continents and protecting the ships. Her mantel encompasses such notables as Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci (cartographer whose name gave us “America”), and Emperor Charles V, in the red cloak.
One of the main areas used for public events is the the Ambassador’s Hall, a superb example of Mudéja style. It is entered through three horseshoe shaped arches set on pink marble columns with Moorish capitals. A larger arch with three blind windows and lattice tracery tops the three open arches below. A magnificent gilded dome, created in 1427 of carved, interlaced wood is the crowning touch. In this room, as in many throughout the alcazar, colorful azulejos with geometric patterns decorate the walls and other surfaces. It was in this hall that Charles V married Isabella of Portugal in 1526.
In addition, there are also reflective underground rainwater baths and beautiful gardens. Today, the alcazar serves as the part-time residence of the current king.
It is not surprising that along with the Seville Cathedral and the city’s Archivo de Indias, Seville’s Alcazar is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Barbara Rizza Mellin is a local artist and art historian who writes about art, travel and culture for local and national publications. You can view her artwork at the Captain White House, Alamance Arts, Graham, N.C. (Jan. 23- Mar. 3, 2018); at Artworks Gallery, Trade St. Winston Salem; and on her website: www.BarbaraRizzaMellin.com.
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