Everything I had read suggested that the Royal Alcazar of Seville was similar and style and second only to the Alhambra in Granada. Built later, but continually occupied and updated, so in much better condition, we were very excited to see it.
Similar to the Alhambra, you ideally need to book your tickets in advance, and will be given a set entry time to control numbers (750 people at a time) and ensure the best experience. If you don’t book, you will have to join the long queue and wait in the sun until spots are available – booking is best. (See bottom of the article for entry times and ticket details.)
Highlights of the Seville Alcazar
The name ‘Alcazar‘ means castle in Spanish and is derived from the Arabic word al-qasr (fortress or palace).
It’s the oldest Royal Palace still in use in Europe and is still the official residence of the King of Spain in Seville. While the Alcazar looks like a Moorish palace it was built by Moorish workmen for the Christian King Pedro the Cruel in the 1360’s. Despite updates and additions, and restorations due to fire and earthquake, the palace remains one of the best examples of Mudejar architecture.
The Alcazar is divided into sections dating from a succession of eras: Moorish (11th-12th century), Gothic (13th century), Mudejar (14th century), and Renaissance (15th-16th century), as the palace was extended through time.
The Contracting House or House of Trade. Established in 1503, this single room was instrumental in the exploration of the New World. Representatives from any country that wanted to visit the Americas had to pass through this very room. Here, officials approved voyages, collected colonial taxes and stored top-secret information. Some of the greatest voyages of the time were planned here. One of them was Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the world, which sailed from Seville in 1519! Today, it houses the iconic painting The Virgin of the Navigators (above). This work is famous for being the first European piece depicting the Americas and the native people.
As you stand in the main courtyard in front of the impressive palace, you can see buildings from three separate ages of development, and the oldest part of the complex, the Plaster Patio and Justice Room. The audio guide takes you around the palace in a logical route, but it can also be fun to explore on your own.
On the right-hand side of the courtyard you can go through a small door, climb a set of large stairs beautifully decorated with coloured tiles, and onto the glass-fronted corridor that leads to the private apartments. Here you can also find a really good display and museum of old decorative tiles. I especially liked the lines of tiled stair risers, below. If you enjoy the decorative arts, this tile museum shouldn’t be missed.
After that, we didn’t really find there was a particular route around that you needed to follow. Go through every arch, every door way and into every courtyard, up every staircase and you’ll discover all the riches and wonders the Alcazar has to share. Not only are there treasures to be discovered behind every door, but every door in itself is a treasure.
The Seville Alcazar was chosen to be the set for Dorne in Game of Thrones. Dorne is the most beautiful and spectacular of all the GOT kingdoms with its rich architecture and beautiful water gardens. This palace is the perfect setting for that magical feeling of exceptional quality and architectural style.
Throughout you’ll find stunning geometric tile decoration on the lower parts of the walls, topped with a rich border of intricate Moorish style plaster work.
It’s a large complex so even though there are a lot of visitors, you’ll usually find yourself alone in some of these spectacular rooms. No trouble getting photos of your favorite ceilings and architecture in most parts of the palace. An exception though is the famed Patio of the Maidens (or Patio of the Virgins), where you’ll never be alone unless you are first into the palace in the morning.
Located in the centre of the courtyard is an elongated reflecting pond, surrounded by sunken gardens and a full gallery with serrated arches with access to the various reception rooms. Look out in the corner on the right of the photo here for a small door and inconspicuously hidden staircase which takes you up to the upper levels and the palace of Charles V with its much later decoration.
This patio was decorated by the best architects in Granada and is one of the outstanding (and busiest) areas of the palace. It stands above the ancient baths which sadly can’t be visited.
From here check out the Patio of the Dolls. This patio is said to be originally designed as a children’s play area, and with its bedrooms and adjacent corridors was the heart of the palace, and a private area for the family. It takes its name from the two tiny faces that decorate its arches. It’s apparently good luck if you can find them in amongst all the decoration – and all the people.
This is one of the most stunning areas, but it’s on the coach trip tour route so you’ll likely never get to enjoy this space in peace and quiet. Thankfully with the new headsets many of the tour groups wear, the guide doesn’t have to bellow out to be heard any more so although it can be crowded here, it’s not too noisy. Stand and enjoy all the layers and layers of intricate splendour for a while.
Just when you think it can’t get any better than this, imagine the same but with colour and you’ll have an idea of what’s coming up next! The Throne Room or Ambassadors Room will knock your socks off! Enter into these impressive public rooms through these stunning doors and you’ll be back in the magical kingdom of Dorne.
The Ambassadors Room: Enter through striking horseshoe arches into the magnificent dome of the Ambassadors Room, decorated with gilded cedar wood sculptures, tiles, lattice and complex plasterwork. It’s an explosion of everything ornamental and you won’t know where to look first!
Seville craftsman Diego Ruiz built the Hall of Ambassadors (also known as the Throne Room) in 1389, using a Moorish style. The design of the room incorporates representations of both heaven and earth. The king himself would stand on the centre stone directly beneath the dome to welcome visiting dignitaries.
The balconies in this room were constructed for the wedding of Charles I and Isabel of Portugal. The couple got married here in 1526. Later, the king used the balconies to secretly spy on visiting dignitaries. Also known as the Throne Room, this is the most important room of the palace and it was used for public events and affairs of state.
The room is extravagantly decorated with beautiful tiled walls (typically Moorish) and a magnificent cedarwood cupola with elaborated carvings and geometrical patterns (stars, circles, tears and other shapes). You’ll probably leave this room with a stiff neck from staring up at everything this room has to offer. Can you imagine how it would have looked even more magnificent when it was furnished too!
Moving into some of the later parts of the palace, the decoration changes. Rooms of Charles V: The rooms and chapel of Charles V are decorated with tapestries and coloured tiles from the 16th Century. Beautiful and precious in a completely different way to the areas we’ve just seen, and it’s hard to reconcile the two very different parts of the same building.
From here you can enjoy expansive views from the outer windows and balconies over the formal gardens and fountains. These rooms are much more enclosed and have glass windows and large fireplaces. The tapestries, in particular, are impressive, especially one of an early map of the world which sadly we don’t have a photo of.
As we venture outside, there are some areas underneath the palace you can visit. The Baths of Lady Maria de Padilla (below) are rainwater tanks beneath the Patio del Crucero. The tanks are named after King Pedro’s mistress, Maria de Padilla, who would come here to seek solace in the subterranean gallery.
There is a small grotto at the far end of the tanks, and today in this underground area of the palace there are a lot of small alcoves and rooms which would perhaps originally be used for kitchen storage.
Outside you have to check out the Mercury’s Pool and the enormous water spout that pours down from the top of the adjacent building. Sadly the pool is very green and dirty and could do with some tlc, but we are treated again to another change in architectural style, with the pavilion and long covered Italian Grotto Gallery through the gardens.
There are some fun little places to sit and explore along the grotto gallery, but this now marks the end of our tour through the Seville Alcazar.
It wasn’t all perfect at the Alcazar and some parts were downright disappointing. See this magnificent courtyard, the most impressive central part of the palace? Looks OK from a distance doesn’t it, but the gardens either side of the pool, all that greenery. That’s not plants – that’s weeds. It was knee high, or higher in weeds and it was clear this hadn’t been taken care of in a long time.
That wasn’t the only thing showing the neglect. Much of the palace hadn’t been cleaned in a while. And I don’t mean deep cleaned or restored, I just mean swept. The courtyards were dirty and dusty with large amounts of dead leaves blowing about. Not just an amount that hadn’t been swept today, but it had clearly been weeks or maybe months since anyone checked out these courtyards of dead plants, broken fountains (that don’t look like they’ve worked for several years) and piles of rubbish.
The same went for some of the rooms of the palace, they didn’t look like anyone had brushed up in there for weeks. I found it really disappointing. But it seems they barely have any staff. The palace and gardens complex is huge, but other than the people selling and checking tickets at the entrance, over the whole place we only saw one staff member, a security guard in the Throne Room. That was it. No one was looking after this place other than taking the money it seems.
The plaster work is dirty, many of the tiles are crumbling, the paintwork and stonework is dirty from people touching it. In some areas there is graffiti and even places where people have scratched their initials in the plaster. With no guards or staff members around to supervise, it seems some people can’t behave themselves and turn to vandalism. Maybe when they see a place isn’t being cared for or valued, they don’t value it either.
Some areas of the gardens look OK from a distance and the hedges have been cut, but other areas are dirty and badly neglected. Here’s the rose garden (above) for example. The poor rose bushes haven’t been pruned in a long time but are still doing their best to produce some flowers, even though the weeds in this bed are well up over my knees.
Despite the areas of neglect, broken fountains and piles of dead leaves etc, the gardens are still worth a visit. They have quite a few peacocks wandering around which always make the place feel majestic. This one had a duck friend with a bad leg who follows at his side constantly.
The less formal areas of the garden are still looking nice and a little neglect here really doesn’t show as the gardens are designed to look a little wild, like romantic gothic in style such as this grotto.
So if you are a little pushed for time, don’t worry too much if you didn’t have time to visit the gardens surrounding the palace, because at this time, for whatever reason, they aren’t looking their best. Hopefully this will improve soon.
Seville Alcazar opening times and prices
The attraction is open 7 days a week (holidays excepted) from 9:30 to 5:00pm. (until 7pm April-Sept). In the summer months, the best time to visit is early or late in the day so you can enjoy the gardens without the blisteringly hot sunshine.
Prices are €18.50 per person for basic entry including the audio guide, or €12.50 without the guide. There isn’t much information available within the palace itself, so the audio guide is highly recommended to get the most out of your visit.
You can also book an additional ticket to visit the upper floor Royal private apartments, but this is only available in the morning. This costs €23 including an audio guide. We left it too late to get these tickets so make sure you don’t miss out! Book on the official website here.