p.p1 from Marrakesh in the mid-twelfth century

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Royal palaces are monuments to communicate the wealth and power of a nation as well as its lineage and overall identity. The Alcazar de Seville is considered one of Spain’s oldest palaces dating back to the early eighth century during the Moorish invasion but has undergone many renovations to match changing aesthetics and most importantly to adapt to social and political shifts. The Palace of Pedro I in the Alcazar de Seville was purposefully constructed to be used for state affairs and public events, making it the perfect place to represent Spain. But how does Spain, a Western European power, use this overwhelmingly Mudejar space to shape their identity, and what does it communicate about their political ambitions? By looking at political and cultural shifts surrounding the building and renovations to Pedro I’s Palace at the Alcazar de Seville, we can draw conclusions as to how an Islamicate vocabulary has worked to negotiate Spain’s Moorish past and their identity as a Western European political power.
The Alcazar was originally built in the eighth century outside the old Roman walls of Seville to stand as a fort and castle. Seville quickly became the center of the wealthiest and most powerful state ruled by the Abbadid dynasty. Being situated on the Guadalquivir river granted access to Cordoba, North Africa, and the Mediterranean that would allow Spain to thrive economically and politically. When powerful Christian kingdoms proved difficult to defeat, more powerful dynasties from Morocco took over starting with the Almohad Dynasty from Marrakesh in the mid-twelfth century which adopted Seville as its capital. Naturally, the Almohads included sunken gardens with delicate stucco tracery and arches, that was later covered with Gothic elements. 
In 1247, Ferdinand III set fire to homes, harvests, vineyards, and orchards and was able to take hold of the city after sixteen months. His son and successor, Alfonso X, claimed Seville as his capital and inhabited the Alcazar which he would come to remodel in the Gothic style. His successor, Alfonso XI built the Hall of Justice to function as his throne room after a claiming a great victory against a multitude of Islamic cities at the Battle of Salado in 1340. Many shields of Castile, Leon and the Order of the Sash — a Christian order of knights created shortly before the Battle of Salado — clearly communicated patronage affiliations and dynastic identity. Interestingly enough, Alfonso XI did use Mudejar architecture and decorative elements like arches, fountains, vegetal motifs, and Arabic inscriptions. The Hall of Justice not only contained, mirrored, and represented him in his absence — it was a monument to celebrate a Christian kingdom triumphing an Islamic kingdom. By using Islamic architecture in his throne room, Alfonso XI shows not only his power to seize Islamic territory, but also his power to appropriate, invert, and seize Islamic imagery and culture. In contrast, his successor Pedro I chose to add an entirely new palace — Palace of Don Pedro — that would house his throne and would function as a site for official affairs. Unlike his father Alfonso XI, Pedro I’s decision to employ the Mudejar style balances and represents Spain’s coexisting Christian and Moorish identity.
In the ninth century, Christian Spain was threatened by the invasion of Islam and used the image of St. James the Moorslayer as its emblem to symbolize a preservation of Christian identity and a resistance to the political power of Islam and its attractive culture. However, there was a shift in the twelfth century when French invasions became more threatening because even though the religious politics were Christian, much of the Iberian peninsula had been conquered and their indigenous identity was nearly compromised by French culture. To combat this, Spain reclaimed its Islamic past by appropriating and converting fortresses, city walls, mosques, and magnificent palaces to function for Christian rulers. These rulers would come to renovate these spaces to suit their tastes, but they were criticized for straying too far from Islamic modeling, the most famous case being from the 1523 remodeling of the Cordoba Mosque. Charles V severely criticized his architect for poor judgement when he began demolishing the Mosque’s interior.
After the Reconquista, a lot of Moorish art, literature, and artifacts were lost or destroyed which almost erased them from Spain’s cultural landscape, but this allowed for poets and writers sympathetic to the Moors to rewrite them into Spanish history in a way that accurately documented the cultural tensions and exclusionist policies they faced. The most prominent example is The History of the Abencerraje, a short novel that tells the story a Moor who has been captured and imprisoned by a Christian king name Rodrigo de Narváez. Though this particular text was centralized in Granada, Moorish characters were included in texts all over Spain, most of which were contextualized with cultural policies and tensions. King Narváez’s closing statement suggests the complete erasure of the Moors will only impoverish Spain’s past and that preserving the culture accommodates diversity and proves an amicable exchange between Christians and Moors. Texts like these worked to rework the Moorish placement within Spain’s identity rather than positioning them as defeated enemies of the Reconquista and falsely imagined chivalric characters from medieval literature.
Around the time of the build, there was much tension between Christian kings alone, but Pedro had inherited conflicts with France and Aragon since he took the throne at sixteen years old. Before his forced political marriage with French woman Blanche de Bourbon, Pedro had secretly married Maria de Padilla in 1353 who bore him four children. He and Blanche despised each other and she was having affairs with his stepbrother and half-brother, who were actively attempting to assassinate him with support from Aragon. He was constantly at war with Aragon between 1356-1366 and could not support his Castilian interests in the Mediterranean against Aragon and France and his alliance with the English — a debt which was eventually repaid with his daughters Constance and Isabella as collateral. Pedro’s paranoia consumed him and he felt the only option was to execute any potential threats, eventually earning him the nickname Pedro the Cruel.
In 1359, Nasrid ruler Muhammad V of Granada was overthrown and exiled by his brother and Pedro offered him refuge in the Alcazar de Sevilla. Three years later, Muhammad was able to reclaim his throne and owed his success to Pedro’s support. This event marked the beginning of a lifelong alliance and both leaders decided to remodel their antiquated palaces.
With his new alliance with the Nasrid dynasty, Pedro had to rework his official identity and began building and remodeling a new palace to reflect Spain’s past and present coming full circle. In 1364 when Pedro began building on to the Alcazar, he modeled it after Granada’s Alhambra and included symbols of his dynastic lineage like shields of Castile, Leon, and the Order of the Sash. The palace itself is overwhelmingly Mudejar with polylobed arches, muqarnas, ornamental stucco, and blessings and attributions in Arabic and Latin scripts lining the “vulnerable openings” of the palace like windows, entryways, and the facade. Much of the Kufic script throughout the palace, especially in the Ambassador’s Hall (specifically because it is the most heavily decorated) are accompanied by obsessive interlace, tendrils, and scrolls. Historically, interlace patterns accompany and enclose the symbols and script to serve a dual purpose as decoration and apotropaic devices that offers protection from the evil eye. Considering Pedro I’s paranoia, the heavy use of interlace and Arabic blessings may have been used as a layer of protection from the evil eye for Pedro and Spain’s future seated rulers.
The facade at the entrance of the Alcazar features inscriptions in both Spanish and Arabic that reveals an alliance with Granada. The Latin script reads, “The highest, noblest, and most powerful Conquerer, Don Pedro, by God’s grace King of Castile and Leon, has caused these Alcazares and palaces and these facades to be built, which was done in the year 1402 sic; 1364”. The Arabic script reads, “There is no Conquerer but Allah,” —the motto of Granada that is repeated throughout the palace.
Before entering the Ambassador’s Hall, one must pass through the Court of the Maidens. Though it greatly resembles the Court of Lions in the Alhambra at Granada, this patio was built prior and is often referred to the “rehearsal” for the Court of Lions. For Muhammad V to appropriate Pedro’s Mudejar patio again reinforces their alliance and confirms an authenticity to Pedro’s identification with Spain’s Islamic past and present.
The arches leading from the Court of Maidens into the Ambassador’s Hall are packed with interlace,  and Kufic script lines the edges and facade — again serving a possible apotropaic function for the kingdom and its ambassadors. The Hall is similar in design to the Alhambra’s Ambassador’s Hall and is shaped like a qubba or Islamic mausoleum. Arabic inscriptions are easily found throughout the space repeating the motto of Granada (“There is no Conquerer but Allah”), identifying Toledo artisans, extending protection, and naming Pedro as patron and sultan. An inscription on the doorway leading into the Ambassador’s Hall dated 1366 refers to him as a sultan, extends blessings for Pedro and his ambassadors, and praises Allah: 
“Our exalted high lord the Sultan, don Pedro, King of Castile and León (may Allah give him eternal happiness, and may it remain with his architect) ordered that these carved wooden doors be made for this room of happiness (which order was made for the honour and grandeur of his ennobled and fortunate ambassadors), from which springs forth and abundance of good fortune for this joyful city, in which palaces and Alcázares were raised; and these magnificent abodes (are) for my lord and only master, who gave life to its splendour, the pious, generous sultan who ordered it to be built in the City of Seville with the help of his intercessor (St. Peter?) with God the Father. In its dazzling construction and embellishment joy shone forth; in its adornment, craftsmen from Toledo (were used); and this (was) in the exalted year 1404 (ad 1366). … praise be to Allah.”
For Pedro I, a Christian king, to be gifted such a highly regarded honorary title specific to Muslim rulers, he immediately identifies an ally for neighboring Islamic nations and the Muslim people within his own kingdom. The fact that he accepts this title proudly and without hesitation further reinforces his alliances to visiting officials.
In the center of the dome, the shields of Castile and Leon are alternately represented. Supporting the dome are gilded muqarnas, an architectural element specific to Islamic holy spaces before it was liberally used as a decorative element. Below this are portraits of local Spanish rulers running the perimeter of Hall, contained in gilded frames mirroring polylobed arches. Situated within the Kufic script above are portraits of Spanish princesses. In using local royalty within this Mudejar framework, Pedro again legitimizes Spain’s Moorish identity and the modern concept of royal portraiture is Western enough to place them as a modernized European power.
The renovations of the Palace of Pedro I ultimately served as a monument of coexistence between Christianity and Islam. Pedro I’s employment of the Mudejar style rejects the Gothic aesthetic, therefore French identity, and reclaims Spain’s Islamic past and indigenous identity. In negotiating his personal Andalusi influences, he represents his alliances with neighboring Islamic territories and the undeniable presence of Muslim commoners in his kingdom. By straying from the Gothic style at the site of official life, Pedro I shows he has moved away from participating in Christian politics and is focused on fulfilling the interests of his people. Though he identifies as a Christian king, he also identifies with Spain’s Islamic past. Employing some Western European elements within his overwhelmingly Mudejar palace, specifically the throne room — designed to contain, reflect, and represent him in his absence — he acknowledges Spain’s presence as a key player in European politics while also insisting that its unique past never again be subject to erasure as it was during the Reconquista.

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