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Gardens of the Alcazar, Seville


Like nearly every other historic spot in Spain's Andalusia region, the Royal Alcazar of Seville is a complex overlay of civilizations and cultures, most noticeably those of the centuries of Muslim rule followed by those of Christian Spain.


No reason, therefore, to be surprised that the Alcazar's gardens, lovely and far-flung, don't belong, as a whole, to any particular period, and even knowing the origin of any particular part doesn't account for the ways in which they have influenced each other and blended together.


The same is true of the Alcazar itself, a large compound in the city's center. Originally the residence and center of power for Seville's Moorish rulers, who started building it in 913 on the site of a former basilica. It was expanded repeatedly over the next three centuries in changing styles; when Seville fell to Christian forces, they moved in, and continued the process.


Roughly speaking, it's more or less a mix of Moorish styles of its first three centuries, followed by a couple of hundred years of what's been called a 'mudejar' style, blending that with 'Christian' styles. Then a few centuries of Renaissance and Gothic, and then the so-called modern era of the past couple of hundred years.


Like the gardens, the buildings can defy attempts to clearly separate one era from another, although there are very few bits left from the earliest times. But even in those earliest times, there were gardens and orchards, not mainly for beauty or relaxation, but to produce food for the residence and fortress.

P1250335P1250327P1250362While that role is no more, there are still edible plants in the gardens, including herbs and a variety of fruit trees including almond, carob, quince, persimmon, figs and dates. And, not surprising considering that oranges are among the city's common street trees, there are oranges, lemons, and grapefruits. Altogether, 187 species; surprisingly, less than a quarter are Mediterranean, while a third come from Asia.


I've visited and toured the Alcazar twice, several years apart; there's always more to see and try to understand. But following a path through the several palaces built in different eras can be confusing; a bit like the student who asks a teacher "What did Romans believe?" only to be asked "When? When the Republic began or when the Empire fell?"


Each time, I found there was no better solution to my perplexity than to leave it inside and wander through the gardens, watching people and birds, noting formal and less formal arrangements, and even, because of a variety of terraces, having the opportunity to see some areas from very different viewpoints.


Not, of course, that the gardens are entirely separate from the rest of the estate, although the largest areas are outside an internal wall. They are not even limited to the area around the edge of the palaces, because there are spots of green and other colors to be seen in the various courtyards of the complex.




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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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