The Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos ('Castle of the Christian Monarchs') served as one of the primary residences of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. It forms part of the Historic Center of Córdoba that was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994.
In early medieval times, the site was occupied by a Visigoth fortress. When the Visigoths fell to the Umayyad conquest of Hispania, the emirs of the Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus rebuilt the structure. The Umayyads fell to the Abbasid Caliphate and the surviving member of the Umayyad Dynasty, Abd ar-Rahman I, fled to Córdoba. Abd ar-Rahman I's successors established the independent Caliphate of Córdoba and used the Alcázar as their palace. The city subsequently flourished as a key political and cultural center, and the Alcázar was expanded into a very large and widely used area with baths, gardens, and the largest library in the West. Watermills on the nearby Guadalquivir powered water lifting to irrigate the extensive gardens.
In 1236, Christian forces took Córdoba during the Reconquista. In 1328, Alfonso XI of Castile began building the present day structure on part of the site for the old fortress. Other parts of the Moorish Alcázar had been given as spoils to the bishop, nobles, and the Order of Calatrava. Alfonso's structure retained only part of the Moorish ruins but the structure appears Islamic due to Alfonso's use of the Mudéjar style.
The Alcázar was involved in the civil war where Henry IV of Castile faced a rebellion that backed his teenage half-brother Alfonso. During the war, the Alcázar's defenses were upgraded to deal with the advent of gunpowder. At the same time, the Alcázar's main tower, now known as the 'Tower of the Inquisition' was constructed.
Henry's successor, Isabella and her husband, Ferdinand, used the Alcázar for one of the first permanent tribunals of the Spanish Inquisition and as a headquarters for their campaign against the Nasrid dynasty in Granada, the last remaining Moorish kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula. The Inquisition began using the Alcázar as one of its headquarters in 1482, converting much of it, including the Arab baths, into torture and interrogation chambers. The Inquisition maintained a tribunal here for three centuries. Boabdil was held prisoner here in 1483 until he promised to make Granada a tributary state. When Boabdil refused to surrender his kingdom in 1489, the Christians launched an attack. Isabella and Ferdinand's campaign against Granada succeeded in 1492. The same year, the monarchs met Christopher Columbus in the Alcázar as he prepared to take his first voyage to the Americas.
The Alcázar served as a garrison for Napoleon Bonaparte's troops in 1810. In 1821, the Alcázar became a prison. Finally, the Spanish government made the Alcázar a tourist attraction and national monument in the 1950s.
The architectural ensemble has a sober character in its exterior and splendid in its interior, with the magnificent gardens and courtyards that maintain a Mudéjar inspiration. The outdoor area of the Alcázar is situated within the walls of the four towers (Paloma, Leones, Homenaje and Inquisición), this creating an almost square shape to the building.
The main hall of the building, constructed in the 18th century, is referred to as the “Hall of Mosaics”, given the impressive Mosaics that can be found within the hall. The mosaics on show were discovered at the Corredera Square (Plaza de la Corredera) and formed part of the Roman Circus, as well as a sarcophagus from the 3rd Century. Beneath the current floor of the hall, it is still possible to discover the remains of which are believed to be from the Royal Baths which were used by high dignitaries during the Muslim era.
The Royal Baths were constructed in 1328 by King Alfonso the 11th. They were structured into four rooms: the changing room, the cold room, the temperate room and the hot room.
The old Alcázar orchard has been transformed into an impressive area of approximately 55,000m² of magnificent gardens with forest species including palm, cypress, orange and lemon trees, which surround a number of elegant fountains and ponds. The gardens are structured on three levels: the upper garden, the middle garden and the lower garden.
The King's walk (El paseo de los reyes) is a walk bordered by a line of cylindrical cypress trees and is also divided into two paths by two narrow ponds. On this walk, there are several sculptures of the Kings who built the Alcázar, which are located on pedestals aligned between the hedges.References:
The Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba, also known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba and the Mezquita is regarded as one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture.
According to a traditional account, a small Visigoth church, the Catholic Basilica of Saint Vincent of Lérins, originally stood on the site. In 784 Abd al-Rahman I ordered construction of the Great Mosque, which was considerably expanded by later Muslim rulers. The mosque underwent numerous subsequent changes: Abd al-Rahman II ordered a new minaret, while in 961 Al-Hakam II enlarged the building and enriched the Mihrab. The last of such reforms was carried out by Almanzor in 987. It was connected to the Caliph"s palace by a raised walkway, mosques within the palaces being the tradition for previous Islamic rulers – as well as Christian Kings who built their palaces adjacent to churches. The Mezquita reached its current dimensions in 987 with the completion of the outer naves and courtyard.
In 1236, Córdoba was conquered by King Ferdinand III of Castile, and the centre of the mosque was converted into a Catholic cathedral. Alfonso X oversaw the construction of the Villaviciosa Chapel and the Royal Chapel within the mosque. The kings who followed added further Christian features, such as King Henry II rebuilding the chapel in the 14th century. The minaret of the mosque was also converted to the bell tower of the cathedral. It was adorned with Santiago de Compostela"s captured cathedral bells. Following a windstorm in 1589, the former minaret was further reinforced by encasing it within a new structure.
The most significant alteration was the building of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the middle of the expansive structure. The insertion was constructed by permission of Charles V, king of Castile and Aragon. Artisans and architects continued to add to the existing structure until the late 18th century.
The building"s floor plan is seen to be parallel to some of the earliest mosques built from the very beginning of Islam. It had a rectangular prayer hall with aisles arranged perpendicular to the qibla, the direction towards which Muslims pray. The prayer hall was large and flat, with timber ceilings held up by arches of horseshoe-like appearance.
In planning the mosque, the architects incorporated a number of Roman columns with choice capitals. Some of the columns were already in the Gothic structure; others were sent from various regions of Iberia as presents from the governors of provinces. Ivory, jasper, porphyry, gold, silver, copper, and brass were used in the decorations. Marvellous mosaics and azulejos were designed. Later, the immense temple embodied all the styles of Morisco architecture into one composition.
The building is most notable for its arcaded hypostyle hall, with 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, granite and porphyry. These were made from pieces of the Roman temple that had occupied the site previously, as well as other Roman buildings, such as the Mérida amphitheatre. The double arches were an innovation, permitting higher ceilings than would otherwise be possible with relatively low columns. The double arches consist of a lower horseshoe arch and an upper semi-circular arch.