The most intriguing gardens to explore often feel like a series of rooms, each with a distinctive style of decoration. We wander from area to area, never knowing what might be around the next corner. We get glimpses through trees and over hedges, and sometimes wider views that draw us on, ever eager to see more. Such are the gardens of the Real Alcázar of Seville.
The palace claims to be the oldest royal residence in Europe still in use; its gardens have been cultivated for more than a thousand years. Just as the building does, they blend Moorish and Hispanic styles with ease. Eastern style courtyards are ornamented with classical statuary; Renaissance trends modify the Arab designs. What was once the Moors’ orchard is now an informal garden where peacocks strut.
Let me take you on a stroll through some of the main sections of the garden, for the final Monday Walk of 2021!
We entered the gardens through the Puerta de la Marchena which was formerly the entrance to the palace, erected during the time of Isabella I of Castille. I liked the little lion crouched above the doorway. The gate has an interesting history. It was put up for sale by public auction in 1913 and purchased by the US press magnate William R. Hearst. But Alfonso XIII intervened and claimed the right of first refusal, thanks to which the gate remained in Seville. It was reinstalled at the Alcázar in this new location in 1914.
Tucked away in a corner near here is an azulejo panel depicting San Fiacre. He is the patron saint of growers of vegetables and medicinal plants, and of gardeners in general.
The Jardín del Marqués de la Vega-Inclán is on the site of the former orchards at this eastern end of the garden. It is laid out in a geometric style, with low hedges bordering the paths. Narrow water channels flow down these paths, linking a series of small fountains.
The gardens are dotted with palm trees …
And with orange trees, laden with fruit on the November day when we visited.
The central area, known as the Jardin de las Damas or Garden of the Ladies, is the most formal of the larger gardens. It is overlooked by the gallery seen in my featured photo, which separates it from the Jardin de la Danza / Garden of the Dance. The planting is interspersed with fountains, pools, statues and pavilions.
The most striking fountain is the Fuente de Neptune, Neptune’s Fountain. It is made of Genoese marble and topped with a 16th century bronze statue of the god.
At the eastern edge of this garden is another fountain, the Fuente de la Fama, the Fountain of Fame. This is an ‘organ fountain’ from the 17th century, the only one of its kind in Spain and one of only three in Europe. Above the small terracotta statue in my photo is another, of a trumpeter. The system uses water pressure to provide air to the statue’s trumpet, making it sound. The ‘organ’ plays hourly according to the Alcázar’s website, but we didn’t hear it sound during our visit. Perhaps, like so many things, it has been silenced by the pandemic?
At the far end of the Garden of the Ladies is the Pabellon de Carlos V or Pavilion of Charles V. This is the oldest building in the gardens, dating from Moorish times. It was probably originally built as a qubba. Charles transformed it on the occasion of his marriage to Princess Elizabeth of Portugal into a Renaissance garden retreat.
Nearby is the Cenador de Leon, the Lion Bower, a small 17th century building topped with a blue and white tiled dome. Its fountain is a stone lion, from whose mouth the water flows.
Wherever you go in this part of the garden there are attractive views back towards the palace. I even caught a glimpse of La Giralda, the cathedral’s striking bell tower (formerly the minaret of the mosque that once stood there).
The local parakeets are attracted to the date palms in particular. They were hard to photograph there but I caught some resting briefly in a bare tree nearby. These are Argentinean or Monk Parakeets; they are an invasive species which the city council here is trying hard to control, as they threaten local kestrels and giant bats. They are different from our London ones, with an even louder screech it seemed.
In the English Garden beyond, peacocks were strutting across the lawns, strewn with the vivid petals of bauhinia trees.
The gardens closest to the palace are known as the Historic Gardens. They were laid out in Muslim times but were remodelled in the late 16th and early 17th century in the Renaissance style. We followed the series of small courtyards, their flower beds rather bare at this time of year, back eastwards to one of the gardens’ highlights, the Galeria de Grutescos or Grotto Gallery. This is the result of the transformation of the old Almohad wall into a gallery lined with grotto-like stone work (the grutesco) and Renaissance paintings. The path on top affords a view across the gardens.
The pool here is where the water was collected from the city’s Roman aqueduct, rebuilt by the Almohads to provide water to the palaces and gardens. Water still spouts into the pool from somewhere beneath the palace, and a statue of Mercury stands in the centre. This, like the one of Neptune we had already seen, was the work of Bartolomé Morell. He was also responsible for casting La Giraldillo, the huge weather vane on the top of the cathedral’s bell tower, La Giralda.
Of course we visited La Giralda and the cathedral during our visit to Seville. But that is a post for another day!
I visited Seville in November 2021