Seville, located in the Andalucía region of southern Spain, straddles the Guadalquivir River. Founded by the ancient Iberians, the city had a long history of conquest and settlement by the Phoenicians, Romans, and Visigoths, before a combined Arab and Berber army conquered it in 712 CE.
During its five hundred years of Islamic rule (between 712-1248 AD), Seville (Arabic: Ishbiliya) expanded beyond the confines of the Late Antique walled city.
The core of Islamic Seville included the area on the east bank of the Guadalquivir where the Cathedral (constructed on the site of the twelfth-century Almohad Great Mosque), the Christian Alcázar, and the medieval quarter known as the Barrio Santa Cruz are located today. The city center included the palaces and government buildings surrounded by residential quarters, each with its neighborhood mosques and public baths.
Under the rule of the North African Almoravids and then the Almohads, beginning in 1147 AD, Seville replaced the Umayyad city of Córdoba as the capital city of al-Andalus. During the course of the tenth and eleventh-centuries the city expanded beyond the confines of the Roman walls, requiring the construction of new walls and fortifications. A remnant of this period of refortification is extant at the city's once vibrant commercial port on the Guadalquivir River, the Torre del Oro (completed 1220 AD). This tower exemplifies the Almohad's approach to guarding the ports' southern end.
Seville's most famous Islamic monument is the Giralda tower, formerly the minaret of the Great Mosque constructed in the late twelfth-century under the Almohad caliph Abu Ya'qub Yusuf. It and the Patio de Naranjas that served as the courtyard of the Great Mosque, are all that remain of the Almohad monument, which was destroyed to make way for the Cathedral, which follows the footprint of the old mosque.
The Alcázar, or palace, includes within it parts of the old Islamic palaces. As it exists today it is mainly the product of building campaigns carried out during the rule of the Christian ruler Pedro I. The Alcázar is marked by its Islamicizing visual language, which is similar to what later developed at the Alhambra during the reign of the Nasrid Emirate of Granada.
Valencia, Rafael. 1992. "Islamic Seville: Its Political, Social and Cultural History." In The legacy of Muslim Spain, edited by S. K. Jayyusi and M. Marín. Leiden ; New York: E.J. Brill, 136-148.
----. "El espacio urbano de la Sevilla árabe." 1988. Premios de Investigacíon. Ciudad de Sevilla. 1986. Seville: Univ. of Seville, 241-93.
The Alcázar of Seville was constructed during the 12th century Almohad reign, but was rebuilt in 1364 for the Christian ruler Pedro I ("The Cruel"). All that remains of the Almohad palace is a section of wall and a cross-axially-planned garden, but the rebuilt palace's plan, gardens, and decorative programme place it squarely within the tradition of Islamic palaces on the Iberian Peninsula.
The palace is arranged in blocks on three sides around a rectangular court, entered through the remains of an Almohad wall with arched openings. The block opposite the entrance has a façade ornamented with blind interlacing polylobed arcades. The entrance axis extends through two rectangular halls, across the main rectangular courtyard (the Patio de las Doncellas) and through the entrance to the rectangular hall at the opposite end of the courtyard. The Patio de las Doncellas is surrounded by luxurious rectangular reception halls ornamented with carved wood doors, ceilings, and polychrome glazed tile dados - all of which visually connect the Alcázar to the contemporary Nasrid palaces of the Alhambra. Paved with white marble, the Patio de las Doncellas has a large central fountain and is surrounded by an arcade ornamented with elaborately carved stucco. Arabic inscriptions referring to Pedro I as "sultan" are found throughout the courtyard and palace, carved in stucco and in wood.
The Patio de las Muñecas (Court of the Dolls) is a smaller, though richly ornamented, interior courtyard located southeast of the Patio de las Doncellas, but still within the palace block north of the entrance court.
The block on the west side of the entrance courtyard contains the square, vaulted Hall of Justice. The interior of the Hall opens onto the Patio del Yesso (Court of Stucco), whose name refers to the court's decoration in carved stucco. The two spaces are connected by water - a shallow fountain basin in the Hall's pavement flows into the pool of the Patio del Yesso along a shallow channel, much like the pavilion water features in the Alhambra's Court of the Lions.
Though the Islamicizing appearance of the Alcázar is traditionally attributed to the work of Muslim craftsmen sent from Granada, it is not clear that the visual language created by the Nasrids at the Alhambra was only executed by Muslim craftsmen. The existence of churches, monasteries, and synagogues on the Iberian Peninsula that utilise this visual language suggests that such forms were widely appropriated by non-Muslim patrons and craftsmen who could work in the popular idiom.
King, Geoffrey. "Spain." 1996. In Architecture of the Islamic World. Edited by George Michell. London: Thames & Hudson, 215.
Ruggles, D.F. 2000. "Palaces of the 11th and 12th centuries." In Gardens, Landscape, and Vision in the Palaces of Islamic Spain. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, p. 141-45.