Appearing shortly on your television, if you’re as hooked on Game of Thrones as I am, will be the episode of Season 5 when we are fortunate to feast our eyes on Seville’s majestic Alcazar. Our mudejar gem takes on the role of the Water Gardens, private residence of the House Martell. Filmed here last October, this episode will introduce one of the city’s most beloved monuments, recognised as UNESCO World Heritage, with its exquisite plasterwork, intricate ceramic tiles, gold ceilings, and fairytale colonnaded patios, to a whole new international audience – the series is watched in an estimated 170 countries.
The series creators have mentioned on several occasions how perfect the Alcazar is for this palace setting, as described in George RR Martin’s series of books A Song of Ice and Fire. Co-creator Dan Weiss was quoted as saying “It is as if [the Alcazar] was designed for us many years ago.”
Built across centuries by a succession of monarchs, both Muslim and Christian, the palace is correctly named Los Reales Alcazares – the Royal Palace Fortresses, as there are three main separate-yet-linked parts – Mudejar, Gothic and Renaissance, plus one Almohad (Moorish) patio. One of the palaces’ most outstanding features are the coloured tiles, made in the Seville barrio of Triana.
We’ve already had a glimpse of the Alcazar/Water Gardens in Episode 2 of Season 5, when Prince Doran of Martell was talking to Ellaria Sand about his late brother, Oberyn. This bisexual rake and hedonist was Ellaria’s lover and father of her three (illegitimate) daughters, known as the Sand Snakes. Oberyn was a colourful, supremely self-indulgent character, silver-tongued and fast with a sword, who met a sticky end in Season 4. Ellaria wants revenge on the Lannisters, whom she holds responsible for Oberyn’s death, but Doran doesn’t want to start another war.
Doran was sitting on a terrace in his Water Gardens palace, near the Dornish capital of Sunspear, watching his son Trystane play with his betrothed Myrcella Baratheon, daughter of the redoubtable, scheming Cersei Lannister. Lost? Then you’re not alone. The plot is complicated – there are seven kingdoms, and therefore seven families, or houses, to keep track of, with their intermarryings and interkillings, power struggles and alliances.
Enough about the characters – let’s check out the setting. Filming in a location can be a huge boost to the tourism industry, and Google searches for flights to Seville are reported to have gone up by 107% since season five started airing. Sevillano hotels and restaurants are sure to be rubbing their hands in anticipation of the many fans who will be inspired to come and tread the same ground as their favourite kings and princesses, knights and squires, and court whisperers. Game of Thrones was filmed in four parts of the Alcazar: the Ambassadors’ Hall, Mercury’s Pool, the Baths of Maria Padilla, and the gardens.
Salon de los Embajadores – Ambassadors’ Hall
The first is the most impressive and important, in appearance if not in size. A square room, open on all four sides with horseshoe-shaped arches, this was where the most prestigious visitors were received; it was the throne room of the original Muslim Palace. King Peter the Cruel had the room covered with inscriptions which embrace both himself and Allah, Christianity and Islam – Pedro was an enlightened king who respected both religions.
The Ambassadors’ Hall has an Arabian Nights feel, resplendent with beautiful decoration, including painted plaster mouldings, Arabic writing and handmade geometric tiles. Four balconies, which are supported by dragons, are a later addition.
The salon’s most celebrated feature is its lofty gold domed ceiling with hundreds of tiny mirrors, added in 1427. This stunning 3-D vision is intended to show that above the monarch, there is only God. Symbolically, as well as aesthetically, it’s the most important salon in the palace. You will find this room at the far end of the Maidens’ Courtyard, an arcaded patio with a long pool and orange trees.
Estanque de Mercurio – Mercury’s Pool
The second location is at the far corner of the main gardens, next to the gallery: Mercury’s Pool. This was the cistern which supplied the palace, fed by the water brought from the nearby town of Carmona. The supply was carried along a Roman aqueduct, of which a small section still remains – the Caños de Carmona in the Nervion district of the city.
The bronze statue of Mercury with his winged helmet was added in 1575, when the pond’s purpose became purely decorative. As the god of trade, he refers to Seville’s importance as a mercantile city in the 16th century, when ships brought back great wealth from the New World. Behind the pool is the Italian grotto gallery, originally built to hide the old Almohad wall. This is constructed of volcanic rock, to resemble caves. If it is open, the view from the gallery to both sides of the gardens is spectacular.
On a hot day, walk under the stream of water which cascades from above into the pool – you’ll get splashed gently. This can offer a valuable few minutes’ of welcome, cooling fun and distraction for small children whose tolerance of history and old buildings isn’t high.
Baños de Maria de Padilla – Baths of Maria de Padilla
The gardens themselves conceal the third setting. In the Jardin de las Damas, the Damsels’ Garden, look out for a doorway which leads underneath the palace – this takes you down steps to a cool, dark corridor (a welcome relief from the summer heat) which in turn gives onto a long, narrow pool of water with low, vaulted ceiling, taking the eye towards a small grotto at the far end of the tank.
It is said that King Pedro’s mistress, Doña Maria de Padilla, would come here to seek solace in this subterranean gallery, which was open to the sky in her day. Now it is lit by openings in the floor above – the gothic vaults were added later, as was the Italianate grotto.
The gardens between the palace and the Charles V Pavilion
Wandering through the Alcazar Gardens, you will pass tiled seats, pools, fountains where you can sit and contemplate the glories of Dorne and Seville; palm, cypress, myrtle, mulberry, magnolia, orange and lemon trees and, at the right time of year, cornflower-blue agapanthus or cerise-pink hibiscus.
The white arcaded building in the gardens is the Charles V pavilion, used by the Arabs who built the earliest part of the palace, as a Qubba – Muslim oratory, or domed building, in their orchard. It was restored in 1543 for Charles V, and boasts a coffered wooden roof, and originally was painted with frescoes both inside and out. Tiles benches around the outside offer a pleasant spot for a sit-down.
As the oldest European royal palace still in use – the Spanish monarchs stay in the upper floor when visiting the city – the Alcazares Reales are a must for for all visitors to Seville, especially those who enjoy location-spotting.
You can find a detailed explanation of each scene from Series Five shot in the Alcazar in another blog of mine here.
Open April to September: 9.30am to 7pm, October to March: 9.30am to 5pm. Entry 9.50 euros, retired and students (aged 17-25) 2 euros. Disabled, under 16s, born or resident in Seville: free. Scribbler in Seville hot tip: Mondays April to September 6pm-7pm and October to March 4pm-5pm: free.
Coming up soon: Daznak’s Pit, one of the fighting pits of Meereen, aka the bullring of Osuna.