Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Seville Walking Tour: The Alcazar, Almudena & Álvaro

One of the best ways to explore Seville for the first time, is to hire a local guide with a wealth of knowledge of the history and traditions of this magical city, an intoxicating mix of resplendent Mudéjar palaces, baroque churches, winding medieval lanes and where the scent of orange blossoms fills the air. Our guide for the day was Álvaro Carmona who met us at the Alfonso XIII and gave us a brief overview of the history of Seville, before setting out for our full day walking tour, beginning with the monumental Royal Tobacco Factory built in the 18th-century, which housed the first tobacco and cigar making factory in Europe, and was the inspiration for Bizet's opera Carmen where she made cigars as a cigarrera. Beside the Real Fábrica de Tabacos is the magnificent Plaza de España Palace in María Luisa Park, built for the Ibero-American Exposition World’s Fair that took place in Seville in 1929, a Spanish architectural marvel with Art Deco, Mudejar, and Renaissance Revival influences built by architect Animal Gonzalez, who also built the Hotel Alfonso XIII. Surrounded by overwhelming buildings and charmingly adorned with scenic bridges and colourful tile alcoves representing Spain’s provinces, the Plaza de España has been used over the years as a location for filming several movies, such as Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia.

A magnificent marriage of Christian and Mudéjar architecture, Seville's Royal Alcazar Palace complex is a breathtaking spectacle. Built by Castilian Christians on the site of an Abbadid Muslim residential fortress destroyed after the Christian conquest of Seville, the palace is the foremost example of Mudéjar architecture in the Iberian Peninsula, and renowned as one of the most beautiful. The upper levels of the Alcázar are still used by the royal family as their official residence in Seville, and is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe. Registered in 1987 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, along with the adjoining Seville Cathedral and the General Archive of the Indies, the Catedral de Sevilla is the world’s largest Gothic cathedral. Built between 1434 and 1517 over the remains of what had previously been the city’s main mosque, the highlights include the Giralda, the beautiful bell tower which incorporates the mosque’s original minaret, the monumental tomb of Christopher Columbus, and the Capilla Mayor with an astonishing gold altarpiece.

The 18th-century Royal Tobacco Factory in Seville produced 75% of all cigars sold in Europe at the time, and was also where Bizet's opera Carmen was set

A remarkable example of 18th-century industrial architecture, the Real Fábrica de Tabacos features ornate carvings over each portal

Original 18th-century ceramic tiles outside the Fabrica Real de Tobacos  

The magnificent Plaza de España was built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929 in the Renaissance-neo-Moorish style by architect Animal Gonzalez, who also built the Hotel Alfonso XIII

Bust of the Spanish hero El Cid, a legendary knight and subject of 'The Poem of the Cid', the oldest preserved Castilian epic poem about the Castilian hero during the reconquest of Spain from the Moors

The main building, flanked by two imposing towers, connects to the open plaza via four ceramic bridges that represent the ancient kingdoms of Spain: Aragon, Castille, Leon and Navarre

The Plaza has been used over the years as a location for filming several movies, 
such as Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia

Scene from Lawrence of Arabia, 1962

Scene from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, 2002

The 13th-century Tower of Gold - Torre del Oro - on the Guadalquivir River, built during the Almohad Caliphate and named after the gilded ceramic tiles that originally decorated the tower

The Giralda Bell Tower of the Seville Cathedral 

Gardens along the original Moorish wall of the Alcazar

Archway to the Patio de la Montería - The Hunting Courtyard - in from of the Palacio de Don Pedro, owes its name to the hunters that would meet here before hunts with King Pedro

The Palace's subime Courtyard of the Maidens, surrounded by arcaded arches, with extraordinary plasterwork and tiling, and an elongated pool surrounded by beautiful gardens

One of the multifoil arches that supports the arcade surrounding the Courtyard of the Maidens, features decoratively carved filigree stonework with shell and floral designs

Patio de las Muñecas - Patio of the Dolls - is the heart of the Alcazar's private quarters, 
featuring delicate Granada-style plasterwork and decoration

Arch detail with original blue highlights to the carved plasterwork

Intricate multifoil arches are characteristic of the Moorish architecture of al-Andalus

Handmade ceramic azulejo tiles with Islamic-inspired geometric motifs

Wonderfully intricate carved plasterwork engraved with verses from the Qur'an and leafy organic motifs are simply breathtaking in their beauty

The Ambassador’s Hall, also known as the Throne Room, is extravagantly decorated with beautiful tiled walls and magnificent carved cedar wood gilded dome of multiple star patterns, symbolizing the universe

Triple horseshoe arcade in the  Salón de Embajadores framed by an alfiz - an Arabaic rectangular adornment which encloses the outward side of an arch - and supported by pink marble columns with Moorish capitals detailed with Arabesque Mudjar plasterwork  

The Cuarto del Príncipe - the Prince’s Suite - with elaborate gold ceiling 
intended to re-create a starlit night sky

Courtyard of the maidens with upper chambers the 12th-century Almohad palace

An architectural jewel, the Alcázar is absolutely breathtaking

Original 12th-century Islamic-style tilework

A magnificent marriage of Christian and Mudéjar architecture, the ornate archways and tilework of the Alcázar's are it's crown jewel

16th-century Gothic Palace of Spanish King Carlos I who was also the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and his Salone de los Tapices, a huge Gothic-style vaulted hall with vast tapestries and Italian ceramic azulejos

Detail of Italian tilework on the walls of the great hall

'Ne Plus Ultra' is the national motto of Spain and personal motto of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, and was inscribed as a warning on the Pillars of Hercules at the Strait of Gibraltar, which marked the edge of the known world; Charles adopted the motto following the discovery of the New World by Columbus, and denotes taking risks and striving for excellence

On the other side of the Salone de los Tapices are the Alcázar’s formal gardens with pools, fountains and Galeria de Grutesco, a raised gallery with porticoes fashioned from an old Muslim-era wall

The Pool of Mercury

Ceramic urn with royal crown overlooking the gardens

Square in the historic Jewish Quarter of Seville

Founded in 1934, family-run Casa Román in the old Jewish quarter of Santa Cruz is a lovely local tapas restaurant and a particular favourite of Alvaro

Iconic Iberico Jamon hanging in full glory

The charming tiny interior of Casa Roman

Local Sevillan beer and a glass of chilled manzanillo

Bowl of plump juicy Spanish olives

This lovely lady at the next table was dressed for the Feria and only too pleased to have her photo taken

Plenty of white Casa Roman napkins were needed for our tapas-style lunch

Our server ordering a platter of Jamón Ibérico de Bellota

Delicious pink and perfect Jamón Ibérico de Bellota

Iberian Pork Cheek stew with patatas braves

Alvaro selected the perfect restaurant, a welcome opportunity to enjoy delicious tapas 
and rest our weary feet

Succulent morsels of fried cod

Walking through the winding cobblestone lanes of historic Seville

The Giralda bell tower of the Seville Cathedral was originally built as the minaret for the 
Great Mosque of Seville, where the cathedral now stands

Built on the site of the great 12th-century Almohad mosque, 
Seville’s cathedral was built to demonstrate the city’s power and wealth

The main cathedral door, richly decorated and well preserved, is on the western side 
and known as the Door of Assumption

The largest Cathedral in the world, it's construction lasted over a century, from 1401 to 1506, and as the plans were drawn up, church elders stated, “Let us build a church so beautiful and so magnificent that those who see it finished will think we are mad”

The spectacular 65-foot high Gothic Capilla Mayor altarpiece was the life’s work of a single craftsman

Composed of 45 carved scenes from the life of Christ, it is carved in wood and covered with staggering amounts of gold, and is the largest and richest altarpiece in the world

Just one of the cathedral's 80 opulent side chapels

The tomb of Christopher Columbus

Ladies in traditional flamenco outfits enroute to the Feria by horse drawn carriage,
outside the Seville Cathedral

Beautifully dressed ladies are a common sight wandering around town 
during the annual Seville April Fair

Festive dress, shawl, decorative flower and hair combs are the traditional Feria ensemble

The iconic Metropol Parasol is a wooden structure located at La Encarnación square, are rather unpopular with locals who call them 'the mushrooms' and other things!

Bidding adieu to our 'Tours by Locals' guide Alvaro who was off for another night of Feria festivities 
in one of his family's private tents

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