Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos

Córdoba, Spain

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.

What to see

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.

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Details

Founded: 8th century AD
Category: Castles and fortifications in Spain

Rating

4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Raymond Ashcroft (8 months ago)
The tour only takes in a small part of the castle, before the magnificent gardens. Within the castle are roman mosaics found within the city of Cordoba. But the gardens are the real gems of this visit. Stunning even in November when we visited but a still a work in process.
Olivia D (9 months ago)
They make it impossible for you to visit. No clear mention anywhere on the website that you need to book online. If you manage to figure out by chance they don’t let you go through with a phone number that’s not Spanish. And you can’t buy tickets on site either. I’d recommend using a guided tour aggregator website instead.
Thiébaud (10 months ago)
There was currently (September 2021) very little to see from the Alcázar itself as the towers and walls were closed. However, the gardens around (accessible with the same ticket) are beautiful and very well kept. They were really worth the visit!
Anne de Haas (11 months ago)
The gardens here are absolutely stunning, filled with fountains and beautiful greenery. We went at the end of October and were impressed, so I can only imagine how amazing it is in the springtime! Lots of history here, and many shady spots to sit and contemplate the beauty.
Christopher Horner (14 months ago)
Beware Google Maps location fault for the entrance to the Alcázar. We entered the Alcazar in Cordoba as our destination on foot from the excellent Widow's Tavern. Google Maps directed us from the tavern (north west of the Alcázar) around the Alcázar in a clockwise direction all the way to the river and halfway down the Alcázar Gardens to a locked gate facing the river. We had to retrace our steps to find that the actual entrance to the Alcázar is on the north side on the same road as the Royal Stables. My advice for visitors is to locate the Royal Stables on Google Maps then look (or walk) east to the north east corner of the Alcázar where you will find the entrance next to an open space with trees and benches. Good luck and I hope this (direction to entrance) review helps some future visitors.
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