In this blog, we’re going to tell you a little about the Moorish and Mudéjar architectural styles that we have here in Andalusia!
The Moorish architecture was brought by, not surprisingly, the Moors when they conquered the Iberian peninsula (now known as Spain!) during the beginning of the 8th century. It was the Muslim commander named Tariq ibn Ziyad that led this conquest against the Visigoths. As Muslims, their Islamic beliefs prompted them to build mosques in their newly conquered territory. The region was called Al-Andalus (which the current name Andalusia is derived from!). Of course, they did not just built houses of prayer; they also built forts and palaces! Some beautiful examples have withstood time and are still there to be marvelled at.
Some elements that are characteristic of Moorish buildings are the horseshoe arches, voussoirs (stones vertically placed to form an arch, in order to distribute the weight evenly towards the bottom, as can be seen in the white-red arches in the Mosque-Cathedral in Cordoba), ogee arches (arch made of two symmetrical S-shaped curves that meet in the middle), and muqarnas (ornamented vaulting in a dome or half-dome, often used at an entrance or to indicate the transition to another room). Muqarnas are parts I personally find particularly beautiful!
Another characteristic is the use of decorative tiles known as zellij or azulejos. Especially the latter term is one you will hear more often when you come to Seville; we have a lot of those pretty tiles here! Plaza de España is full of them for example!
Some great examples of Moorish architecture in Spain that are still there to be marvelled at include:
The Great Mosque of Cordoba, parts of which are even from the 8th century!
The Alhambra Palace in Granada, constructed between the 13th and 14th century
The Aljaferia Palace in Zaragoza, constructed in the 11th century
In the 13th century, the Reconquista really took flight. This was the attempt of Christian rulers to take back the Moorish-controlled lands. In 1248, Seville fell back into Christian hands and remained that way until the present day! The Iberian peninsula as a whole was finally completely taken with the battle for Granada, which ended in Catholic victory in 1492, signalling the end of the Reconquista and the dawn of a new era.
One of the interesting things that happened, is that some of the defeated Moors were allowed to stay (without converting to christianity), instead of being killed or driven back to Africa. Of course, they couldn’t just stay for no reason; they would be used for manual labour! They would break down the mosques that they had put in their blood, sweat and tears to build, and on the foundations, churches would be built. This was more cost-effective than building new foundations, and none of the christians had to lift a finger. Two birds with one stone!
This idea of islamic people building christian houses of prayer turned out to be the birth of a new architectural style, which would be called mudéjar (meaning something along the lines of “those who remained”). The Moors had their own ideas of what buildings were supposed to look like, but as it was the christian rulers who gave the order, a mixture of islamic and christian building styles came into being. The mudéjar style is something you will only find in the south of Spain, and Andalusia has a lot of it!
Some beautiful examples that can still be marvelled at today right here in Seville:
Real Alcázar de Sevilla, better known as its translation The Royal Palace of Seville, is a big complex with different architectural styles as a result of every king wanting to leave his own mark before passing. Of course, the palace also features a lot of Mudéjar elements! Interesting to know is that this complex is still used as a palace by the Royal Family, and therefore a small part of the palace is closed off (but without a doubt looks just as amazing as the rest of the palace!). Originally built in the 10th century as a Moorish fortress, it has grown tremendously in space, beauty and importance. Already a century later, the fortress gained its status as palace, where the islamic rulers took up residence. When christian king Fernando III defeated the Almohad rulers, he too, moved into the palace, and a tradition was born. When you decide to visit a palace, make sure to book a ticket online (usually 1 or 2 days in advance), as the line for people without tickets will be frustratingly long at times!
The Giralda Tower; originally the minaret that belonged to the mosque built by the Moors in the 11th century, the tower used to reach 76 meters. After the Christian army took Seville in 1248, they had most of the mosque destroyed to make room for a cathedral. This took a few decades and the cathedral was completely finished in 1506. A few extra meters were added in the form of a bell tower and a bronze statue (a woman holding a wind vane and a palm leaf). The Patio de los Naranjas right next to the tower used to be the entrance to the mosque and is the only other part of the original mosque that is still there. It now functions as the exit of the cathedral, and you will often find visitors lounging on the benches, enjoying sun, shade and, if the season permits it, the wonderful smell of oranges and orange blossoms.
Casa de Pilatos (Pilate’s House) was originally built as a Palace, but nowadays, many people walk right past it because it’s not really on route to other tourist hotspots. Nevertheless, it is definitely worth a visit, as it is truly marvellous on the inside! The Palace features not only a lot of Mudéjar elements, but also some Gothic and even some Italian! There are also two patios where you can enjoy the sun and rest your weary legs.
With this, we hope you’ve learned a little more about some of the beautiful architectural styles that we have here in the south! Come visit us in Seville to see the buildings in person; you won’t regret it, guaranteed!