No day out in Seville would be complete without a visit to the Alcazar, which is exactly why the hero of my new book, Indiscretion, takes the heroine there:
They left the café and took a leisurely walk south through bright, tree-lined streets, eventually arriving at the Alcázar. Alexandra was dazzled by this palace straight out of One Thousand and One Nights, with its vast rooms covered in glazed tiles. Never before had she seen so many marble columns, arabesques, arcades, galleries and cool, echoing corridors. They walked through the silent gardens covered in clouds of roses, laden with the pungent scents of myrtle hedges and the sweet balmy breath of orange blossom.
An alcazar is a type of castle built in Spain and Portugal as a residence for royalty. The Alcazar of Seville is reminiscent of the Alhambra palace of Granada, and it too was crafted by Moors, but then was taken over by Christian kings. To this day, the Spanish royal family use the upper levels of the palace as their Seville residence, making it the oldest palace in use in Europe. It has been recognised for its unique beauty and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but visitors may explore parts of the palace and garden – as have I.
It was the history of the palace that most interested me when I explored it for Indiscretion. Its first occupants were King Pedro of Castille and his mistress, Maria de Padilla. Poor Maria lived in the shadow of another Maria, as Salvador explains:
‘At first Pedro the Cruel fell in love with Doña Maria Coronel, but she was married to another. He condemned her husband to death, but promised to spare him if his wife was accommodating. She refused to yield to him and her husband was executed. She sought refuge in a convent, but Pedro the Cruel tracked her down. In despair, she burned her own face, thus putting an end to the accursed love that her beauty had inspired. Don Pedro then consoled himself with Maria de Padilla.’
Still, Pedro must have loved Maria de Padilla: after her death from the plague, he had her remains interred at the Royal Chapter in the Cathedral of Seville. But Alexandra does not see any romance in the story: ‘So much for your famous Andalucian fidelity and passion. Not my idea of romance, I’m afraid,’ she tells Salvador.
And yet, there is something magnetic about the way Salvador challenges her on their visit to the Alcazar. In the magnificent Courtyard of the Maidens (Patio de las Doncellas) Salvador explains its purpose: every year, as tribute to their victory, the sultans received there 100 virgins taken prisoner in each of the Christian cities they conquered. It is a test of Alexandra’s metal:
Alexandra lifted a quizzical eyebrow, holding his gaze defiantly. ‘Has a liking for this barbaric custom left its trace in the Spanish people as well?’
This time Salvador gave his laugh full rein, delighting in her response. ‘I was in no doubt my independent and emancipated cousin would disapprove of such a custom.’
Thus does the Alcazar stand as a complex backdrop in this scene between two characters hovering on the edge of attraction. How will its legends, its history, its beauty affect their connection? Will Alexandra be seduced by the legacy of her Spanish background, and the man who is revealing it to her?
One thing is certain: there is a reason the Alcazar of Seville was recently chosen as a location for Game of Thrones filming. It is a stirring, atmospheric place that demands drama. And indiscretion?