Rising out on a rocky crag above the confluence of two rivers near the Guadarrama mountains, the Alcázar of Segovia is one of the most distinctive castle-palaces in Spain by virtue of its shape – like the bow of a ship. The Alcázar was originally built as a fortress but has served as a royal palace, a state prison, a Royal Artillery College and a military academy since then. It is currently used as a museum and a military archives building.
The Alcázar, like many fortifications in Spain, started off as Roman fort, but apart from the foundations, little of the original structure remains. A Muslim era fort, which was itself largely replaced by the present structure, was built by the Berber Almoravid dynasty. The first reference to this particular "alcázar" was in 1120, around 32 years after the city of Segovia returned to Christian hands. It can be concluded that prior to Alfonso VIII's reign, the Muslim era structure was no more than a wooden fort built over the old Roman foundations. Alfonso VIII and his wife, Eleanor of England, made this alcázar their principal residence and much work was carried out to erect the beginnings of the stone fortification we see today.
The Alcázar of Segovia was one of the favorite residences of the monarchs of Castile in the Middle Ages, and a key fortress in the defence of the kingdom. It was during this period that most of the current building was constructed by the Trastámara dynasty.
In 1258, parts of the Alcázar had to be rebuilt by King Alfonso X after a cave-in and the Hall of Kings was built to house Parliament soon after. However, the single largest contributor to the continuing construction of the Alcázar is King John II who built the "New Tower" (John II tower as it is known today).
The next major renovation at the Alcázar was conducted by King Philip II after his marriage to Anna of Austria. He added the sharp slate spires to reflect the castles of central Europe. In 1587, architect Francisco de Morar completed the main garden and the School of Honor areas of the castle.
Augustusburg Palace represents one of the first examples of Rococo creations in Germany. For the Cologne elector and archbishop Clemens August of the House of Wittelsbach it was the favourite residence. In 1725 the Westphalian architect Johann Conrad Schlaun was commissioned by Clemens August to begin the construction of the palace on the ruins of a medieval moated castle.
In 1728, the Bavarian court architect François de Cuvilliés took over and made the palace into one of the most glorious residences of its time. Until its completion in 1768, numerous outstanding artists of European renown contributed to its beauty. A prime example of the calibre of artists employed here is Balthasar Neumann, who created the design for the magnificent staircase, an enchanting creation full of dynamism and elegance. The magical interplay of architecture, sculpture, painting and garden design made the Brühl Palaces a masterpiece of German Rococo.
UNESCO honoured history and present of the Rococo Palaces by inscribing Augustusburg Palace – together with Falkenlust Palace and their extensive gardens – on the World Heritage List in 1984. From 1949 onwards, Augustusburg Palace was used for representative purposes by the German Federal President and the Federal Government for many decades.
In 1728, Dominique Girard designed the palace gardens according to French models. Owing to constant renovation and care, it is today one of the most authentic examples of 18th century garden design in Europe. Next to the Baroque gardens, Peter Joseph Lenné redesigned the forested areas based on English landscaping models. Today it is a wonderful place to have a walk.