Seville … celebrating the true home of azulejos and a tan-“tile”-lising look at Spain’s flamboyant and trend-setting past

One of the greatest delights Portugal offers an explorer is its fine collection of azulejos: beautifully decorated mosaic tile work, some dating as far back as the sixteenth century, covering the walls of churches, monasteries and affluent villas. So prolific are azulejos across Portugal that it is generally assumed to be a native Portuguese art form. Yet, the technique was actually introduced to the country from the Spanish city of Seville.

Although Islamic caliphates were driven out of Andalucía in the Middle Ages by Christian forces, the newly appointed Castilian noblemen and monarchy were rather taken by the Moorish architecture their predecessors had left behind. They particularly liked horseshoe arches, plasterwork and azulejos, and began adopting and adapting these Islamic techniques not just for themselves but for trade. As a result, Seville became a major centre for the production of azulejos, and on a visit to the city in the early sixteenth century, the then King of Portugal Manual I, was so impressed by the ceramic work there, he brought the technique back with him to Sintra. Consequentially, his court copied the style and azulejos flourished in the Portuguese kingdom.

The best surviving examples of original azulejos in Seville can be found in the glorious Real Alcázar. This collection of royal palaces and gardens was built upon and adapted from the remains of the palace built here by the preceding Almohad caliphate. Little of the original Islamic palace remains here, but its influence is everywhere. Successive Castilian kings drew inspiration from, tweaked and extended the original palace to create what is now an eclectic mix of palatial visions.

Seville’s grand Real Alcázar, seen from the Patio de la Monteria

Some of the earliest surviving Castilian alterations to the Almohad palace can be seen in the Sala de la Justicia (Hall of Justice)

King Alfonso XI adapted Islamic plasterwork techniques to create this beautiful example of Mudéjar plasterwork in the fourteenth century

The artesonado ceiling too is an adaptation of an Islamic technique of interlacing beams with decorative insertions

Arguably, the most stunning palace in Real Alcázar is the Palacio del Rey Don Pedro

Here, the fusion of Islamic and Christian influences to create the Mudéjar style is at its most prominent

Traditional Islamic azulejos characteristically involved only geometric shapes and patterns

Under King Pedro I’s rule in the fourteenth century, azulejos became far more intricate, incorporated more into plasterwork than ceramic tiles

Animal and floral motifs were also introduced to the decoration of these adapted azulejos as seen on the Arco de Pavones (Peacock arch) in the Hall of Embassadors. A rather apt motif using the most flamboyant bird to decorate the throne room of a dynasty with such flamboyant flare

Ceilings too became more decorative

Yet, even the Castilian palaces were further tweaked by successive kings. Albeit stunning, this beautiful domed ceiling designed to represent the starry night sky, was added to the Hall of the Embassadors in the fifteenth century

And this lantern was added a few centuries later to the Patio de las Muñecas (Patio of the Dolls)

The delightful Pabellón de Carlos V in the gardens of the Alcázar

Notice the royal crest motif running along the edge of the ceiling inside

The huge tiled walls of the Salones de Carlos V date back to the sixteenth century, reflecting even more intricate and detailed azulejos designs. Motifs are no longer consigned to a single tile but created across a number of tiles. This fabulous design is like a Terry Gilliam cartoon for Monty Python

 

The place of azulejos in Seville’s history has been immortalised at the Plaza de España. Just a short distance away south of the Alcázar, the plaza and its huge semi-circular building were constructed in 1929 for the Ibero-American Exposition fair held in the city that year. It is a huge monument to Spain reflecting its architectural history as far back as the Moors. Along the building’s inner perimeter is a huge collection of azulejos alcoves, each alcove and azulejo representing a Spanish province.

The grand Plaza de España

A reflection of Spanish architectural history with its Moorish Revival arches…

… and Moorish Revival tile work (that can make one’s eyes go funny)

…through to more contemporary Art Nouveau and Arc Deco styles at the time of the plaza’s construction

But, the plaza’s showstopper is its collection of azulejos covering this line of alcoves

 

This mish-mash of architectural styles and revivals may jar for some and may seem gaudy to others, but seen in isolation, the azulejos and the scale of azulejos here are stunning and seem a rather suitable way to celebrate the kingdom the Spain. I just wonder what will happen to those azulejos reflecting the provinces around Barcelona should Catalunya declare independence over the next few days (October 2017) and break away from Spain.

Useful information

The Real Alcázar is a must when visiting Seville. Unsurprisingly, everyone else has the same idea so queues and waiting times during the day can be very long, and can be incredibly unpleasant under the sweltering sun (queues snake around Plaza del Triunfo where there is little shade or cover from the weather). It is a good idea to book tickets in advance to skip the queues, but then once inside the crowds can be infuriating, depending on the time of day.

Although a satisfactory visit will entail a few hours, I would suggest arriving an hour before closing time to beat the queues, the crowds, and especially in the Summer, the heat. Stay and linger until closing time, particularly in the Palacio del Rey Don Pedro when the crowds start to dispel and some fabulous photos can be taken without (too many) tourists wandering into shot.

If staying in Seville for a couple of days, visit the Alcázar more than once to truly appreciate everything it has to offer. Try not to visit the cathedral and the Alcázar in one day as this will cause cultural overload and fatigue.

Opening times vary across the year. More details and how to purchase tickets online can be found on the official Real Alcázar website here.

The Plaza de España is open to the public day and night and there is no entrance fee. The surrounding building however, now houses government offices and, apart from the walkways are not usually accessible to the public. It is easy to reach the plaza via the Parque de María Luisa on foot from the Alcázar and Old Town, but for those who wish to take it easy, the nearest metro stop is Prado de San Sebastián and buses 30 and 31 stop by the entrance to the plaza.

TLT x


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A touch of Seville’s Real Alcázar in Malaga

 

 

 

 


Lisbon … views for miles and decorative tiles

 

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1 Response to Seville … celebrating the true home of azulejos and a tan-“tile”-lising look at Spain’s flamboyant and trend-setting past

  1. Sheryl Wright says:

    Thank you so much for reminding me that I need to go back to the beautiful city of Seville once again. Your film and photos brought back wonderful memories. It really is one of the most interesting and friendly cities in the world. We visited the Alhambra last year and were somewhat disappointed as it didn’t seem nearly as beautiful as the Real Alcazar in Seville. Maybe because it was wintertime and we were in Seville in sunshine.

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