I had a brief post on European castles and fortresses some time back and I stopped at the point related to the Spanish alcázars. I did it on purpose as southern Spanish castles are a little bit different from the others mainly because they were influenced by the Moors and they have a specific Moorish atmosphere and are of another style. That’s why here I will try to take you on a short “castle” journey to the two most splendid Moorish fortresses in Andalucía.
In the beginning, I would like to mention that the word alcázar (meaning a “castle”) is widely used in the country but actually, it’s of Arabic origin. It derives from “al quasar” which means a palace/ fortress. The Spaniards have a distinctive castle-architecture style which is tangible even in Southern Italy. However, true Moorish alcázars are something quite different since they were inspired by the Moors and very often they were built over Moorish fortresses of the 13th century.
We know the Moors invaded most of Southern Europe starting from the Iberian Peninsula in 711. In the course of 3 years they managed to conquer the whole peninsula (including both Spain and Portugal) stretching the borders beyond it. Thus they formed the third largest Moorish Caliphate of that time (after Syria and Egypt) with a capital city of Córdoba. The Moors remained on the peninsula for about 800 years when in 1492 Queen Isabella and King Fernando II of the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon shooed the Moors from these territories. During the Moorish reign these southern parts of the peninsula were dotted by lots of alcázars, the most distinctive ones being the following two castles – Alcázars of Seville and Alhambra.
One of the three UNESCO landmarks in Seville is the Alcázar of Seville. It was built in 913 as a simple fort and later on it was extended by the later Moorish rulers. In 1248, it became a Christian bastion and a home of King Fernando III. Even having fallen to the Christians, numerous Christian Spanish Kings were great admirers of the Moorish style and that is the reason why a lot of additions were made to the alcázar and they were in the distinctive style of the Moors. Nowadays the castle is the summer residence of the Spanish Royal family. When they are in the complex, tourists are not allowed in the alcázar. But otherwise, it’s a very famous tourist site in Seville; especially the gardens are a competitor of those of Alhambra. They are phenomenally impressive and ornate, with clipped hedges and various beautiful and fragrant flowers.
The same (and even more beautiful) views and gardens are to be enjoyed in the Alhambra as well. The castle has a Moorish name, too, coming from Al-Ḥamrā which is literally translated as the Red One. It stemmed from a small fort erected in 889 which was renovated and rebuilt later, in the 11th century. Two centuries later it turned into a royal palace of Granada and today’s walls and palace are namely from that period of time. Even Puerta de la Justicia (the Tower of Justice) is from the 13th century and is the original entrance gate of the Red Castle. The Hand of Fatima carved on the gate is with outstretched fingers and protects visitors from evil eyes while a carved key welcomes them and symbolizes authority (by the way, the same symbol is widely spread out inside the whole castle, too).
And what exactly can visitors see in the Alambra, the last Moorish bastion that fell to the Christians in 1492? The first thing is the Royal Complex consisting of Mexur (the business and administration parts of the palace), Serallo with the Court of the Myrtles (also known as Patio de la Alberca where there was a birka, i.e. a pool/pond, which cooled the palace and symbolized power) and of course, the Harem of the sultans’ mistresses and wives.
Then tourists, surely, head for the Hall of the Ambassadors where the sultan’s throne used to be placed opposite the entrance. The hall played the role of a reception room even for Christopher Columbus who obtained the so-needed funding from Queen Isabella for his voyage to the New World.
Continuing their journey, tourists pass through the Court of Lions and the Fountain of Lions and reach the famous Sala de los Abencerrajes. This hall is associated with one legend that goes like this. The father of the last Moorish sultan of Granada invited the Abencerrajes to a banquet in the 15th century. They were a noble Moorish family at that time. Unfortunately, one of these noblemen was caught while he was climbing up and entering through the window of a young girl from the royal family. The sultan wanted to know who that brave guy was and that’s why he invited them all to that banquet. Unfortunately, during that gathering the sultan showed no mercy and he massacred them all in this hall.
And finally the cherry on the cake is Generalife. Jennat al Arif (or the Garden of Arif/the Architect) is the most splendid villa in Alhambra, with the most awe-inspiring well-preserved gardens. Here people get lost in the beauty of the place and charm of the Moorish style. For sure, this is the most awesome part of the Alhambra that leaves anyone breathless.