Castle of the Week 81 – Alcázar de Segovia

This beautiful castle fortress has a wealth of history. It was first mentioned in 1122 in a document as a hill-fort on a rocky outcrop formed by the rivers Eresma and Clamores. Its location gave it the secure identity of an impregnable fortress and, at the same time, gave it the distinction of having a location of beauty with famous hunting grounds in the mountains nearby.

This may have been the first mention, but there is evidence of even earlier occupation of the area, perhaps back to the prehistoric Celtic culture and later Roman occupation. Segovia still has the working remains of a Roman Aqueduct on the south-east extreme that dates back 2000 years; no mortar is used to hold up this wonder.

By 1155 the reference to the castle became “Alcázar”, an Arabic word for royal residence, which is situated on the northwest extreme of the medieval wall which surrounds Segovia. It was in this Alcázar that Queen Isabella promised Columbus the backing he needed to fund his venture that discovered America.

The Guadarrama Mountains provide a panoramic back drop for the castle and separate the area from Spain’s capital, Madrid, and its populace of 3 million.

In the two first photos you are looking at the west end of the palace, showing the keep and the round tower which was used as the treasury.

Alfonso VI was the first of the nobility that reign successively during the years that follow, altering the look of the castle. Moorish art is also seen in some of the decorations. Alfonso X “The Wise” made this Alcázar into one of his favorite residences.

In the 14th century Segovia suffered through the fighting between the factions of nobility. Use of artillery caused the Alcázar to strengthen its walls and extend its defenses as the struggling factions of nobles fought for control.

The fortress was pivotal in gaining control of Castile, and it was from this castle that Isabella proceeded to the main square of Segovia to be crowned Queen of Castile. Her marriage to Ferdinand, the King of Aragon, gave them equal authority in both realms, thus unifying Spain. Through them, the Spanish Inquisition was carried out earning them the title of “the Catholic” from the Pope for purifying Spain and unifying it under one faith.

Alterations began on the Alcázar to enlarge it around the beginning of the 13th century, as Romanesque transitions to the Gothic style of architecture. King John II (1405-1454) enlarged the defensive moat which reached a depth of 26 meters and was spanned by a drawbridge at the front of the castle. He also enlarged the east tower which was named after him.

The Alcázar was visited by Austrian monarchs who did extensive alterations to the castle. King Phillip II (1558-1598) married his fourth wife, Anne of Austria, at the Alcázar. He fashioned the patio in the Herrera style and covered the roofs with conical slate spires which were popular in Central Europe.

The Alcázar remained important during the civil wars from the reign of Juana the Mad to the Caflist wars in the 19th century. It was used as a state prison until 1764, when it became the Royal School of Artillery. 1862 brought a fire that destroyed the roofs causing the School to be moved to the Convent of Saint Francis. The Alcázar was restored about two decades later in a romantic style grander than the original building.

An interesting note about this Alcázar is that it continues to have wonders discovered; it has multiple underground levels and secret passages that connected it to other palaces of Segovia and also the river. Not long ago a passage was discovered that led to the discovery of a Roman stronghold of ancient Segovia, thanks to a document found in the Vatican’s Library. The stronghold had the same stone as the Aqueduct.

As a side note, the towers may look familiar as the Alcázar de Segovia is supposed to have been the inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World in Florida.

Write-up provided by Lady Arcola. Pictures courtesy of Castles of the World