Coming from a dry continent, the Arabs developed a profound admiration for green gardens, sometimes building the necessary springs themselves, which required some impressive engineering skills for the time. The Quran itself is full with images of the Paradise described as an oasis in the desert. So when the Muslims crossed the Mediterranean to the Iberic Peninsula, they found a land so rich that was bound to accomplish their ancestral fantasies.

The Moors, as they were called, came from various ethnic backgrounds of North Africa, comprising Arabs, Berbers and other African natives, which didn’t defined themselves as Moors, but shared the same religion. The land of origin for the Moors is occupied today by parts of Mauritania, Algeria, Niger, Mali, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt. The occupied southern part of Spain, they called Al Andalus, from the Vandals that probably made a lot of the territory now known as Andalusia. In the eight centuries of Moorish occupation in Spain, they created unequaled monuments of architecture in palaces and mosques of Granada, Cordoba and Seville.

Alcazar is a fortress and palace in Seville, built by a Moorish dynasty originating from modern Morocco. It was the place from where the Moors ruled the part of Iberia that they conquered, but what we can see today is only a replica of their palace reconstructed after te Reconquista, by the Christian kings. The workers were brought up in the same tradition of Mudejar architecture, yet we don’t know whether they respected the attitude of modern day restaurateurs or, much plausible, gave way to their own creativity. It’s impossible to say whether this lead to an improvement or to a pale replica of what the palace looked when occupied by caliphs and sultans.

A complex aqueduct system waters the elaborate gardens of the palace, with green labyrinths, high palm trees, orange orchards and ponds in which enormous fish can be seen swimming. The architecture of the palace is just as impressive, with Arabesque decorations that mimic the exuberance of nature. Following an interdiction form Quran that prevents Muslims from making idols, religious and secular buildings cannot have depictions of men and animals. So the talent of Muslim painters manifested itself in inventing ever more complex patterns in pottery, tapestry or plaster.

The palace has subterranean rain water deposits in rooms that use the arch vaults that were to be employed later in building the Gothic cathedrals. Several cloisters or patio as they are also called served as relaxation places for the sultan. They are interior gardens with running water, surrounded by columns that support a vault with amazingly carved stone patterns. The different architectural styles are harmoniously blended, with the Mudejar vaults recognizable by the lace-like stone carvings, followed by a more recent Renaissance style of vaults with its clean rounded shape. In the same way, Arabic verses from the Quran intertwine with Christian symbols and depictions of kings and animals from the royal crest. The most decorated is the Ambassadors Salon, with its tile roof with intersecting domes. Having its name from the legend of the hundred virgins that await the virtuous ones in the after life, the Patio of the Maidens used to be above the royal baths and is the most decorated cloister, done by artists from Cordoba.

The water pipe comes from a near mountain spring, on the wall, to flow from a few meters above in the pond of the Garden of the Reservoir (Jardin de la Alcubilla). Several other gardens have developed using this water source in various styles. There is a typical English garden, built in the beginning of the twentieth century, resembling a modern park. The Garden of the Poets has high palm trees and two artificial ponds. The Vega Iclan garden, with its flower arrangements and numerous narrow paths in between, probably comes closest to the traditional Arab garden.

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