Real Alcazar and Arab Baths

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January 28th 2009
Published: October 1st 2017
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Again, a slow morning. We went to Starbuck's again for breakfast, then walked to the Real Alcazar. Mum was desperate for a toilet by the time we arrived, so we paid quickly and went to the loo first.

The Alcazar is amazing - very beautiful, very serene. The current structure was built by Christian kings, but in the Moorish style, using Moorish artisans. One enters through the Patio de la Monteria, where the nobles gathered before the hunt. It's not all that impressive, although the central façade of the palace is elaborately carved. Follows a brief visit to the Room of Justice and the Patio del Yeso (or Patio of Plaster), which is one of the few parts of the palace to retain features of the old, 12th Century one.

One then crosses to the other side of the courtyard, to the Salon del Almirante, with its large, strange painting of the death of a king. The audioguide claims that, in this room (originally a storehouse), the first voyage to the new world was planned. My book claims that Isabel I gave her thumbs up in the neighboring Casa de la Contratacion (called in the Alcazar plans the Sala de Audiencias); I thought Columbus heard that his plan was approved in Granada-maybe these are different claims. In any case, the small room off the Hall is decorated with the court of arms of all the admirals of Castille up till (but not including) Columbus. It also contains a painting of the Virgin of the Navigators (Virgen de los Navegantes), or something.

One returns to the Patio de la Monteria, then enters the main palace through the vestibule. The vestibule has two doors into the palace: the main one, which we followed, and a second, smaller one, which was used by Pedro I, if he wanted to exit or leave the palace without his court knowing. This exit is still highly visible, and still leads to the vestibule and thence to the main patio de la Monteria, so it's a bit hard to imagine he could come and go secretly, but I'm sure it was more private than walking through the main courtyards, thus, a "secret" entrance.

The heart of the Alcazar is the Patio de las Doncellas, with its central fountain and elaborate plasterwork. The rooms on the upper story, added later, are still in use by the Spanish Royal family (as this is their official residence in Sevilla). Off the patio are various state rooms, all Moorish in style, with horseshoe arches, azulejos, and intricate plasterwork. The ceilings are more European in form than those at the Alhambra: usually wooden, often coffered, with twelve-pointed stars, or smaller stars, suggesting the night skies. The most impressive ceiling is in the Hall of the Ambassadors (Salon de Embajadores), which is sometimes called the "half-orange" and is a magnificent domed ceiling, constructed of carved, gilded wood.

After passing through some additional rooms, we climbed the stairs to the Salons of Charles V. The chapel was a chapel, but the Fiesta rooms had some beautiful tapestries, depicting the conquest of Tunisia. The rooms also seemed very light and airy, but the audioguide points out that these were originally a dark, Gothic palace, until Ferdinand II ordered the windows to be built, to let in the light from the gardens.

There is an additional patio off the Salons of Charles V: the Patio del Crucero. This patio lies over the old baths and was built after the Alcazar was damaged in the Lisbon earthquake: they filled in some of the old gardens in order to shore up the medieval walls.

We then emerged into the gardens of the Alcazar, where I could have spent considerable time. First, the Mercury pool, then fountains, orange trees, myrtles, a covered elevated walkway, box hedges ... it was lovely. We wandered for a while, visiting the Banos of Madame de Padilla, where you can see the old Gothic arches, which were retained even after reconstruction.

But we needed lunch, and we still wanted to visit the cathedral, so we exited. The cathedral was impressive: not a single Gothic space as the choir space and organ are in the center and break apart the space. Still, the main chapel, with its Retablo Mayor was ... huge. We also made a quick pass by the tomb of Christopher Columbus, where four pall-bearers carry him off to his final judgment.

Departing through the courtyard of the Oranges (with mosque-era fountains still in place), we had lunch at a nearby restaurant. It wasn't bad ... but we still think the best meal we had was in the hotel in Granada.

We returned briefly to the hotel (where Mum fell asleep on the loo) before going to the Arab baths. At 4pm promptly, we were checked in for our two hour session, went into the dressing room to change, then were sent downstairs. For the next hour or so, we went from bath to bath: the salt bath on the lowest floor, in a vaulted brick room; the cool bubble pool, with its domed roof and star-shaped skylights; the main bath, which is large, and has a hot and cold pool off of it. I also enjoyed the eucalyptus sauna ... though condensation rained from the roof in very hot droplets, so I had to wear my towel over me as protection. Finally, there was a tea room, with heated marble benches, and fresh water and tea to drink.

The entire baths are in an old mansion, and the facilities are beautiful. The walls are painted a burnt orange, and the rooms are lit with many tea lights and lanterns, which throw patterns on the walls. The pools all run wall to wall, and, in the main pool, the ceiling is carved wood, like you would find in a Renaissance home. Lying on one's back and drifting around the main pool is like swimming in the flooded living room of a lord's home. I enjoyed myself immensely.

Mum and Pas had massages as well; they were called, and I continued to swim. I had several of the pools to myself at times (it was never crowded), and ended doing yoga in the salt pool. At 10 minutes to six, after about an hour and a half in the pools, I was told our time was complete. Went upstairs, took a cool shower, and waited for Mum to return from her massage.

We were all tired so returned to the hotel to rest. Then, later, out for ice cream before bed.

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