In 711 AD, the Moors—the Muslim inhabitants of the Maghreb—entered Spain and within just a few years had conquered the Iberian peninsula, calling the territory Al-Andalus. Al-Andalus, at its most powerful, consisted of the modern-day Spanish regions of Galicia, Castile, León, Aragon, county of Barcelona, and of course Andalucía, though the Moors were also present in Portugal and even parts of France.
Eventually the Christians reconquered the peninsula, but they were fascinated by Moorish culture and style of architecture. They occupied abandoned mosques and Moorish structures, converting them into palaces and Christian places of worship. Many of the Moors who had stayed in Spain after the reconquista, called Mudéjars, were hired to renovate and construct, and the resulting style of architecture was a natural mix of Islamic traits and the Christian gothic trends of western Europe. This new style was also called Mudéjar.
Seville, capital of Andalucía, is abundant with Mudéjar architecture, truly unique to the Iberian peninsula. Mudéjar has come to symbolize the link between the two cultures, who for a time coexisted peacefully along with the Jews in a period known as La Convivencia (the Coexistence), sharing knowledge and styles of art.
Before entering into any exploration of Mudéjar architecture, one must examine the Moorish structures which influenced the movement. In Seville there remain just a few such structures. Here, the Torre del Oro, a 13th century watchtower, and La Giralda, a 12th century minaret, now one of Seville Cathedral’s bell towers. Islamic architecture, like its art, praises geometric forms, symmetry, and repetitive motifs, and indeed we can see this reflected in the dodecagonal Torre del Oro as well as the in the ornate carvings on the façade of La Giralda. Photo credits: Photo credit: S.Hoya, flickr and Marc, flickr
Another Moorish structure, perhaps one of the most iconic of Seville, is the Real Alcázar. Originally built as a Moorish fort, the Alcázar was seized by the christian monarchs after the reconquista and converted into a royal palace, as it still is today. Though the complex also contains a gothic structure, the Alcázar is best known for its Mudéjar section, and here we see that section’s façade. Abundant decoration on building façades, with intricate carving, tile-work, and ashlar corners, is often seen in Mudéjar architecture. Photo credit: Sara McCarty
King Peter I's (Pedro “the Cruel”) Patio de las Doncellas is an oasis of calm within the Alcázar. The courtyard is another prominent feature of Mudéjar houses. Photo credit: Sara McCarty
The Moors brought glazing techniques from the Maghreb, and as a result elaborate tile-work can be seen throughout Moorish and Mudéjar structures in Spain. Islamic art features repetitive, nature-based designs but no anthropomorphism, as stipulated by the Quran. Mudéjar tile-work is inspired by this, but often incorporates animal forms, medieval coats of arms, and Christian symbols, as seen in this photo. Photo credit: David Baron, flickr
One of the principal features of Moorish and Mudéjar architecture is the horseshoe arch, with and without lobing. This can be decorative or structural. Photo credits: Narisa Spaulding, flickr
The Moor were talented woodworkers, and thus ornately-carved wooden ceilings were common in Mudéjar structures. Pictured is a ceiling from the Casa de Pilatos, said to be one of the finest examples of Mudéjar architecture in Seville. It was constructed in the 16th century. Photo credit: Son of Groucho, Flickr
In this courtyard of the Palacio de los Marqueses de la Algaba, we can see geometrically designed gardens, the horseshoe arch, and brickwork, another feature of Moorish and Mudéjar architecture. The Palacio dates from the 16th century and is now the Interpretation Center of Mudéjar Art. Photo credit: ZEMOS98, Flickr
The Palacio de Lebrija, dating from the 16th century, is another fine example of architecture in the Mudéjar style. Here we see the palace’s intricate tile-work and carved-wood ceiling. Interestingly the palace also houses an enormous collection of Roman mosaics—one of the palace’s more recent owner’s, the Countess of Lebrija, had a passion for archeology. Photo credit: Damian Entwistle, Flickr
The Mudéjar style was in decline in the late 16th century and disappeared almost completely after the expulsion of the Moriscos (Mudéjars who had refused to convert to Christianity after a 16th century decree) in 1609, but a revival of the style emerged in the late 19th century. The Hotel Alfonso XIII, one of the city’s most luxurious, was built in this neo-Mudéjar style for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, which was held in Seville. Photo credit: Hotel Alfonso XIII