History of the Alcazar
The Alcázar of the Christian Monarchs was a centre of political power since its origin. In Roman times, it was the headquarters of the Customs and the residence for political officials ruling the city, the Procurator and the Quaestor. When the Visigoths arrived in the city, they occupied and used the building but they did not carry out great alterations. The situation changed with the Muslim invasion. During the time of the emirate, Abd al-Rahman I and his successor Al-Hakam I and Abd al Rahman II carried out works to extend the building, they built scorings on the ground, gardens, stables, in order to adapt it to the Muslim lifestyle and customs. When Abd al Rahman III founded the independent Caliphate in the 10th century, the Alcázar lost some relevance to the detriment of the palatial city of Medina Azahara, and the following centuries, it was destroyed by the different lootings Córdoba suffered. We have preserved both Roman blocks of stone, columns and capitals, and Visigothic and Islamic skirting boards and mouldings.
After the Christian Reconquest in the year 1236, Fernando III the Saint shared out the site of the old Andalusian Alcázar with the bishop, some noble men and the order of Calatrava. His son Alfonso X the Wise started the works to transform it into a royal residence, whereas, already in the 14th century, Alfonso XI the Hard, commissioned its fortification between the years 1327 and 1329. His love affair with the noble Leonor de Guzmán, from Seville, had the Alcázar as a meeting point, where ten bastards were born, among them the future Enrique II of Trastámara. It was also the place where different episodes of the civil war between Pedro I the Cruel and Enrique II took place. Since the end of the conflict, the triumphant king Enrique II used the building again as royal residence from the summer of 1371, like his successors, such as his grandson Enrique III the Sufferer, who was received here when he arrived in the city in 1495. Also, from here, King Enrique IV the Impotent, left on the 20th May 1455, to marry Juana of Portugal, and from this marriage Juana La Beltraneja was born in 1462, who would later confront Isabel I, Enrique IV’s stepsister, and her husband Fernando II of Aragón, fighting for the throne of Castilla in a long civil war.
Since 1482 the Catholic Monarchs used the Alcázar as military headquarters and from here they planned the Reconquest of Granada, finished in 1492. The Alcázar was the scene of the first interview between the monarchs and the future discoverer of America, Christopher Columbus, in 1486. The Princess María was also born there, future Queen of Portugal, and Isabel’s mother, who would be the wife of Emperor Carlos I of Spain and V of Germany, and mother of King Felipe II of Spain.
In 1499, Isabel and Fernando stopped using the Alcázar as residence, and they handed it over to the Tribunal of the Inquisition so that they could establish their headquarters in Córdoba. Therefore, the building was adapted to provide it with dungeons and cells, thus losing its palatial character.
For more than three centuries, it became a “terrible scene of cruelties”, according to Salcedo Hierro, until the beginning of the 19th century, when the Court of Cádiz abolished the Inquisition in 1812 for the first time and with a permanent character in 1821. From that date until 1931, the facilities were used as a civil prison first, and later, a military one, with 33 rooms, 20 cells and 7 courtyards, according to Ramírez de las Casas-Deza. The beginning of the Second Republic gave the building the category of Historic Monument, although the damage suffered was more than evident. Aware of its situation, in 1955 Mayor Antonio Cruz Conde could obtain the ownership of the Alcázar for the Council of Córdoba, and he commissioned its restoration to the architect Víctor Escribano Ucelay, who, for example, decorated its main hall with the Roman mosaics which were discovered at the time under the Corredera Square. The Gardens of the Alcázar have enjoyed a special protection since 1986 due to the General Plan of Urban Planning, but the most important milestone for its conservation and value was the incorporation of the building as Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO in 1994.
The old palace has recovered its splendor, and it is nowadays an important tourist attraction located in the vicinity of the Mosque-Cathedral. It is also a place where exhibitions, concerts and weddings take place, and one cannot but admire its beautiful architecture and magnificent gardens –Muslim legacy– where a modern inscription reminds the visitor that Gaius Julius Caesar himself planted an oriental plane (a tree which provides with shade in many streets and gardens of the city) in the Alcázar with his own hands. This is a testimony which proves that the successive cultures which have marked the history of Córdoba have left their traces since ancient times in this building, whose historic relevance is clearly evident.
If you are not sure what to do in Córdoba, we recommend you visit the Alcázar of the Christian Monarchs hiring one of our guided tours. We will pay special attention to the history of the building. Choose to do high quality sightseeing with qualified staff. Do not hesitate, ArtenCórdoba is the best option.
Text: Jesús Pijuán