Seville - The Alcazar
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The Alcazar is not only less ancient than the Alhambra, but is also much more obviously be-furbished and renovated. Its gilding is as fresh and bright as that of the library at Washington. Its reds and blues and buffs have not the saving grace of age. And so much of it is garish, blatant, and thoroughly unsatisfactory. It might have been much more effective if it had remained as it was and had been permitted to yield to a general flavor of mild decay. Even the additions of Charles V. might please—altho the guides generally exclaim, as they point to these Carlovingian additions, "Carlo Cinco—bad!" As it is, the Alcazar of Seville has a spruce and rejuvenated appearance that grates rather harshly. A sweet disorder in the dress comes not amiss in such buildings after so many centuries.
Practically nothing now remains of the original Alcazar, and still less of the Roman Praetorium, which was its predecessor on the site. The present building is merely the restored palace of Peter the Cruel (Peter I.), plus certain amplifications made by the great Charles shortly after his marriage in these very courts to Isabella of Portugal, whose altogether charming portrait is to be seen today in the Prado at Madrid. The palace, however, is more thoroughly identified with Peter's memory, and many interesting traditions of his reign survive. He was a curious character, sudden, quick in quarrel, and apparently well worthy of his sobriquet ! for as you wander through the gardens, you are constantly reminded of sanguinary acts which he committed in the name of "justice"—a quality on which he prided himself. And yet he appears to have been rather a popular monarch. He murdered cheerfully whomsoever he would, and then occasionally cracked a grim joke by demanding that the police produce at once the guilty homicide, on pain of their own decapitation !
Peter had for his favorite consort Maria de Padilla, for whose sake he put away a lawfully wedded wife of royal blood; and he constructed for her use a long subterraneous bath—warmed by a hypocaust, no doubt—through the vaulted roof of which he provided windows for viewing that charming lady at her ablutions. It remains to-day, a cool and gloomy apartment like a tunnel, truly grateful on a hot afternoon to one wearied with the heat and glare of the gardens. The stone tank in its midst is very long and narrow, not deep enough to swim in, but large enough to accommodate Maria de Padilla and a whole regiment of waiting maids at one bathing. The courtiers were expected to drink eagerly of the water afterward, and in view of their master's hasty temper and habit of cutting off heads for less offense, they doubtless did so with loyal enthusiasm and much smacking of lips !
The palace gardens are extensive and, as has been said, are charming, particularly in the early summer, before the parching heat of Seville has burned them. Thanks to the Moors, who were a cleanly race and addicted to the copious use of water, the garden paths lack not for hydraulic arrangements of every kind. At least one path is perforated from end to end with tiny holes, almost imperceptible to the eye, and the guards regard it as a huge jest to inveigle one into this tempting byway and then set the whole district to playing madly by a sudden turn of a hidden stopcock. The jets rise vertically from the pavement to a height of perhaps four feet—and to appreciate it one must be drest in a bathing suit. To those unsuitably attired, the one feasible course is to beat a hasty retreat to dry ground, and laugh.