Art Diaries: Inspiration In The Alcázar

We all travel for different reasons. This year, the need to travel was far more acute, and somehow felt more necessary than it had done before. It wasn’t about sightseeing, or self-discovery or anything grand. As cliché as it sounds, it was just about escaping. About leaving the trickling hourglass behind and fulfilling some of those whimsical dreams. I can tell I’m in need of the travel bug this year, as without hesitancy, I’ve booked three very different holidays only three months apart.

But my goal with each is the same. It’s not about sightseeing, it’s not about learning, or exploring a new culture, it’s not to lounge on the beach and get tanned. It’s more of a selfish self-indulgence of seeing where the road takes me.

Seville has been the first step of a three-part travel journey this year, and the one I was looking forward to the most as it was a quiet week away with my husband, and the chance for us to metaphorically recharge our batteries. We had a rough list of places we wanted to visit, and some sights, but we knew we probably wouldn’t stick to it.

One place we were certain we had to go to was the Real Alcázar. Me being an artist and my husband a writer, our needs to go and see this place were very different, but probably we were both more engaged with our surroundings than the American tourists behind us complaining about the price of bottled water, or the herds of ageing Japanese tour groups.

The Real Alcázar is a 13th century palace that was built by the new Christian rulers of Spain, yet much of this grand place is built in the Mudejar style of architecture (Christians essentially building in the Arabic style). I was intrigued by this palace, for it’s a place where rulers seem to embrace their past conquests instead of trying to erase over them. It’s also a place where, as anywhere in Islamic art, representation of forms is strictly forbidden. How can this abstract, geometric and unfamiliar style be so aesthetically captivating? We were about to find out.

The elegant entrance with the swifts high above

The first thing that struck me about this place, from it’s rather humble castle-wall façade, was the grand entrance that was awash with pinks, blues and greens, most unlike the beige and brown you normally see on church exteriors. Already, we knew what world we were stepping so delicately in to: a world of arches and mathematical precision.

Almost stabbing at this carved forest were the swifts. Somehow, they’d skipped the lines, dodged the turnstiles and were wheeling freely around the entrance, emitting their shrill calls just as they did outside the walls of the Cathedral. Religious inclination means nothing to these birds.

Incredible details, so church-like yet so amazingly different

Inside, and the Alcázar opens up to a whole new level of breath-taking beauty. Where in a Gothic church or a catholic cathedral the walls are drowned in gold, columns draped in doctrine and the altar shouting its graces, this palace was something truly different. Though great attention to detail is everywhere – truly everywhere from the mosaic tiles to the marbled stairs and the inscriptions filling every inch of free space – somehow it feels more understated, yet at the same time so much more elegant.

The gold ceiling in the Hall of Ambassadors – taking this picture is both breath-taking and neck-breaking!

The architecture and form invited us into a calm, almost natural space. Off in the Courtyard of Maidens, trees grew in between the red marble and hexagonal-rounded arches. Cutting through the middle like a mirror breaking up a massive hallway, a canal of water cut straight through the middle.

Nature meets architecture

All of this is intentional, of course. The builders of this place embraced nature, even though they couldn’t portray it directly. But let the water embrace the columns and the arches, and let it scoop up the solid brick like it’s a bowl of cold gazpacho. Watch these solid, complex forms dance in the ripples and you’ll see just how well nature and architecture can merge. I wish I could have seen this place at night!

Inspiring corners

In among these grand halls, and the most splendid gold ceiling in the Hall of Ambassadors, are numerous gardens filled with citrus fruits and fragrant flowers – and more swifts, of course. The gardens provided food for palace residents, but they were also created strictly for bringing pleasure. This is a lesson I think the island of Malta needs another role-call on.

Out in the corners, hidden on the undersides of stone benches, some representational forms had found their way in…

I’m not normally a fan of architecture. I don’t know a whole lot about it, and even though most of my travels take me to cities, I find myself more interested in the nature or the people than the comings and goings of architectural trends or great historical buildings. But there are a few truly beautiful examples about there, and the Real Alcázar in Seville is one of the finest.

A sketch from my favourite, quiet vantage point

Though my wander through the city could be considered narrow minded by some, I’m not interested in what guidebooks tell me to look at. It’s about embracing what you love, looking at the world the way you want to, and finding happiness in whatever corner you seek to find it.

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