Friday, July 22, 2011
Medieval, fairy-tale castle
Fall term of my junior year in undergrad, I studied abroad in Spain. That semester changed my life. It's why I love Spain so much, it's why I love the Spanish language, it's why I became an art historian, and it's the basis for my Master's Thesis!
Segovia was the first day-trip we took outside of Madrid. Besides seeing the Roman Aquaduct (A UNESCO World Heritage site dating back between the latter half of the 1st Century AD and beginning of the 2nd Century AD) and the cathedral (dating from 1525-1577), we got to visit the beautiful, stately, fairy-tale castle...El Alcázar.
El Alcázar - Segovia, SpainIt looks rather like the bow of a ship, doesn't it?
The Segovia Alcázar has been a fortress, a royal palace, a military academy, a state prison, and now serves as a museum. The Spanish "alcázar," derived from the Arabic word "al-qasr," is a Spanish palace or fortress originally built by the Moors. This is actually not the only Alcázar in Spain. Sevilla (Seville) also has a famous Alcázar. So does Madrid, Toledo, and Córdoba.
The Alcázar was originally built by the Moors, or Arabs. The oldest documentation of this site dates back to 1122, a short time after the city was recaptured by the Christian Alfonso VI of Castile. It was officially referred to as an "alcázar" by 1155. Unfortunately, no architectural remains before the late 12th, early 13th century (under ruler Alfonso VIII) exist today, though documents suggest there used to be a large, wooden, stockade fence. It's thought that the original structure could have been made of wood.
In 1258 under Alfonso X, parts of the castle had to be rebuilt due to a cave-in and the Hall of Kings was built to house Parliament. The largest contributor to the Alcázar's continued construction was Alfonso X's son, Juan II. The tower pictured above is known as the tower of Juan II, in his honor.
The Alcázar is also exceptionally important in the rise of Queen Isabella of Castile (married King Ferdinand II of Aragon, sent Columbus to discover the Americas, expelled the Moors and Jews from Spain). Here, she was crowned the Queen of Castile and Léon on December 13th, 1474 and this was also where she married Ferdinand II.
King Felipe II also married his queen, Anna of Austria, at the Alcázar. In 1587, the main garden and School of Honor were completed. Though the royal court eventually shifted to Madrid and the Alcázar was made a state prison for two centuries, the edifice was reborn as Royal Artillery School in 1762.
On March 6, 1862, a fire badly damaged the roof and framework of the structure. It didn't start being fully restored till 20 years later. In 1896, Alfonso XIII handed the building over to the Ministry of War as a military college. Today, it's one of Spain's most visited landmarks.
It's super nice inside too. But you know, Kings and Queens did live here. Here's a short video to show you the Throne Room. The ceiling is what really gets me...the detail! The hyper-detailed, lattice-like ceiling decoration looks very arabic, in my opinion.
I do not know about ya'll, but before actually visiting Spain, I had no idea what to expect from the terrain. Truth be told, most of it is plains-like, if not desert-like. But there's something about it...kind of like a romantic medieval story setting. And you can see forever! This is what surrounds the Alcázar.
Though the Alcázar was built by the Moors, its believed to have been built upon old Roman fortifications. This suggestion is supported by the nearby presence of the Roman aqueduct that Segovia is famous for. Granite blocks similar to those in the aqueduct have been discovered during excavations on the castle.
At the base of the castle, nestled down by the sweetest little dueling rivers, Eresma and Clamores (that meet near this spot), is this old, hidden look-out post. I couldn't tell you who built it or when...but it's OLD.
PS - All of these pictures were taken by yours truly. YAY :)