The Royal Alcázar Palace in Seville is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe. It hosts the Spanish royal family when they visit Seville. However, it is owned by the public and open for tours at all other times. This gorgeous palace also plays Dorne in Game of Thrones‘ season 5, in addition to serving as a filming location for Lawrence of Arabia.
The palace has multiple sections, and walking through them is like touring time. The oldest parts of the palace were built as a fort in 913 for the Muslim rulers in Spain. The fort was expanded into a palace for the Muslim rulers in the 11th century, and the Christian king Ferdinand III made it his residence in 1248 when he captured Seville. Arguably the most famous part of the palace, the Mudéjar Palacio de Don Pedro, was added in the 1300s by the Christian king Pedro I. He was inspired by the Alhambra in Granada, so he mimicked a lot of the styles for his palace. The similarity is remarkable. The Mudéjar is divided into public and private sections, all following the traditional Arab style.
The relaxing Court of Maidens sits in the center. Archeologists recently discovered that the floor of the courtyard was actually much lower than expected and very recently completed an excavation to restore the courtyard to its original, sunken garden. The palace saw many changes in the early 16th century when Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, decided to have his wedding to Isabella of Portugal here. He added many Renaissance sections to the palace to demonstrate his own greatness.
Aside: I’m sure you’re asking yourself how a Spanish monarch became Holy Roman Emperor. Well, it goes back to Ferdinand V (also Ferdinand II of Aragon) and Isabella I of Castile, Charles V’s grandparents, the same Ferdinand and Isabella of Christopher-Columbus-New-World fame. These two, who were styled the Catholic Monarchs, united Spain with their marriage. Each had a sovereign claim over one kingdom (Isabella to Castile, Ferdinand to Aragon), so by marrying one another, they combined those claims. They had five children, including a boy called Juan who happened to be born at the Alcázar.
Unfortunately Juan died before ascending to his parents’ thrones, so they were forced to advance their daughter Juana, now known as Juana the Mad, as heir. This is a horribly unfair epitaph – she was married to Philip the Handsome, who was a real piece of work but also happened to be the son of the Holy Roman Emperor and a Habsburg. He was widely known for his luck with the ladies, making his wife terribly jealous. Upon his death, she insisted on keeping his corpse with her and was entirely too dramatic for the nice people of Castile. So it was rather easy for her father to lock her up as a nutcase after her mother died and Ferdinand tried to hang on to Castile. Juana had six kids, but none of them released her. In fact, her son Charles “co-ruled” Spain with her for many years, but Juana remained locked away.
She’s not the only one of Ferdinand and Isabella’s children to know a sad fate. Their youngest daughter was Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, and we all know how I feel about that guy. Julia Fox wrote a great book called Sister Queens on this topic, exploring the lives of the two sisters. Spoiler: it’s sad. So it was Juana’s son Charles who inherited his mother’s claim to Spain and his father’s claim to the Holy Roman Empire. His son Philip II would marry (Bloody) Mary I of England, Henry VIII’s daughter by Catherine of Aragon. Papal dispensations all around. But their marriage resulted in no children, so Mary’s sister Elizabeth became queen when Mary died, depriving Philip of his title as King (Consort) of England and Ireland. As if being King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor weren’t enough. This same Philip II also sent the Spanish Armada against his former sister-in-law Queen Elizabeth I with disastrous results for Spain. European history is interrelated and complex. /aside
And back to the palace… as you leave the Renaissance sections of the palace, you get to the wondrous gardens. They are divided in two sections: a formal French-style garden and a less formal but no less delightful Italian-style garden. In the 16th century, an Italian architect added a viewing gallery between the two sections, allowing royalty and visitors to enjoy the gardens from an elevated view.
Title quote: House Martell’s words by George R. R. Martin in his Song of Ice and Fire series