The Alcazar – Spain Travel

Toward evening I went to see the Alcazar. The name makes one hope for an Arabian palace; but there is nothing Arabian about it except its name; the edifice which one admires to-day was built under the reign of Charles V., on the ruins of a castle, which existed in the eighth century, altho only very vague indications of the fact are to be found in the chronicles of that period. This building stands on a height in the center of the city, so that its walls and towers can be seen from all the higher portions of the street, and the stranger may use it as a guide out of the labyrinth. I climbed to the height by a long winding street, like the one which leads from the plain to the city, and found myself before the door of the Alcazar.

It is an immense square palace, at whose corners rise four great towers which give it the formidable appearance of a fortress. Before the facade extends a large square, and all around it a belt of embattled bulwarks in the oriental style. The entire edifice is of a decided chalk color, varied with a thousand shadings by that powerful painter of monuments, the blazing sun of the south; and is rendered brighter by the very limpid sky, upon which the majestic outlines of its walls stand out in bold relief. The facade is sculptured in arabesques with a taste full of nobility and elegance.

The interior of the palace corresponds with the exterior; there is an immense court, encircled with two rows of graceful arches; one above the other, which are supported by light columns; with a magnificent marble staircase, that rises in the center of the side opposite the door, and is divided, at a short distance from the ground, into two parts, which lead, on the right and left, to the interior of the palace. In order to enjoy the beauty of the court, one must go to the point where the staircase branches off, for there one embraces with a glance the whole harmony of the building which causes a feeling of pleasure like concerted music produced by scattered and unseen artists.

With the exception of the court, the other portions of the edifice, such as the staircase, rooms, corridors, and every thing, in fact, are already in ruins, or falling into decay. The subterranean portions, however, which served as stables for Charles V., and which can hold thousands of horses, are still intact. The guide made me look out of a window, from which I saw an abyss that gave me an idea of their vastness. Then we climbed a series of rickety stairs, into one of the four towers; the guide opened, with pincers and a hammer, a nailed-up window, and said to me, with the air of a man who is announcing some-thing marvelous : “Look, sir!”

It was a stupendous panorama. One gets a bird’s-eye view of the city of Toledo, street by street, house by house, as one would see the plan stretched out upon a table. Here is the cathedral, which rises above the city like an immense castle, and makes all the surrounding edifices look as small as toy-houses; there, the terrace (covered with statues) of San Juan de los Reyes; in another point the embattled towers of the new-gate; the bull circus; the Tagus, that flows at the foot of the city, between the rocky banks; beyond the river, near the bridge of Alcantara, on a steep rock, are the ruins of the old castle of San Servando. Farther away lies a green plain, and beyond are rocks, hills, and mountains, as far as the eye can reach. Above, is the clear sky, and the setting sun, which gilds the tops of the old buildings, and makes the river gleam like a silver scarf.

While I was contemplating that magical spectacle, the guide, who had read the history of Toledo, and wished to make the fact known, related every sort of story to me, in that half poetical, half facetious way, which is peculiar to the southern Spaniard. First of all, he wished me to hear the history of the works of fortification; and altho where he declared that he saw quite distinctly all that he was pointing out to me I saw nothing, I succeeded in understanding something about it.

He told me that Toledo had been encircled with walls three times, and that one could still clearly see the traces of all three boundaries.