Invisible to my eyes, thou art ever present to my heart.
– Al-Mu’tamid (1040-1095)
POSTED BY PINKY
Andalucia, or al-Andalus, is the southernmost region of Spain known for its sunny weather, whitewashed villages with charming courtyards, shady trees and vibrant bougainvillea, moorish architecture and, of course, the flamenco.
Among all Andalusian cities, however, it’s Seville that seems to embody most of the qualities that remind us of this part of the country. And no other place in this city has captured my imagination more than its Real Alcázar, or royal palace.
Built originally as a fort for the Córdoban governors of Seville in 913 over what was once a Roman (and later on Visigoth) establishment, it had been expanded and reconstructed many times since. In the 11th century, Seville’s prosperous Muslim Ta’ifa (Princedom) rulers developed the original fort by building a palace called Al-Mubarak (the Blessed) in what is now the western part of the Alcázar.
This western part of the palace, which can be accessed through the Arquillo de Mañara or Puerta de la Plata, became possible under the leadership of one of the most brilliant poets in Andalusian history, Seville’s own bard, King al-Mu’tamid.
The legendary rise and fall of al-Mu’tamid’s life has been used as a metaphor for the very fate of al-Andalus itself. Just as only he could stand as the perfect embodiment of the poetic spirit of that period in Seville.
Al-Mu’tamid was born into an al-Andalus that had splintered into several principalities and locally-ruled kingdoms after the collapse of the Umayyad caliphate in 1031, diminishing the once-glorious capital city of Córdoba into a mere town.
The third and last ruler of the Abbadid dynasty, he inherited his ancestors’ love for literature and the arts. In fact, their court – his grandfather’s and father’s included – became a haven for travelers, poets, and all men of talent.
Seville flourished militarily as well. But first, al-Mu’tamid would meet the love of his life.
Story has it that al-Mu’tamid was goofing off one day along the banks of what is now the Guadalquivir River with his poet-friend Ibn Ammar when they came across some women washing linen.
Al-Mu’tamid began to recite a half-verse aloud, challenging his friend to supply the second verse. But instead of Ibn Ammar’s voice, what they heard instead was the voice of a woman with a retort so witty that the young man had no chance. He was smitten, by the beauty and intelligence of someone who turned out to be a slave. And her name was I’timad.
Al-Mu’tamid bought I’timad her freedom, married her, and made her his queen.
What followed after were years of war and the successful expansion of Seville’s kingdom into Córdoba very early on into the king’s reign, combined with his growing love and devotion for his wife, happily indulging her infamous extravagant whims. This was a period of joy in the family life of the royals.
But it proved to be short-lived.
Constant feuding among the moorish rulers provided an opportunity for Christian reconquest, forcing the moors to ally with the Berber nomads from North Africa, the Almoravids, who eventually betrayed them and instead added al-Andalus to its empire and banished the poor poet-king to the arid desert village of Aghmat, near Marrakech.
Humiliated, destitute, and eventually forgotten, al-Mu’tamid was finally overwhelmed with grief after the death of his beloved I’timad. And in 1095 at the age of 55, he died in exile in Aghmat. He was the last of the native-born Andalusian kings.
Seville’s Alcázar Today
A sad ending to a dramatic era perhaps, but the Alcázar still stands today, as beautiful as it was intended to be and is a living testament to the romantic hero of our story. In fact, it is still used as the royal palace of Spain’s current monarch whenever in Seville.
The Alcázar, which I think is the most beautiful in Andalucia, is a definite must-see. Many of the features we see today have been added by succeeding rulers of Seville.
Made even more popular recently by the series Game of Thrones, I hope that walking around the Alcázar and its lovely grounds will make you think instead of our poet-King al-Mu’tamid and his queen, I’timad…..
My desire each moment is to be at thy side.
Speedily may it be fulfilled!
Ah! my heart’s darling, think of me, and forget me not, however long my absence!
Dearest of names! I have written it, I have now traced that delicious word – I’timad!
Plan your visit to Seville’s Alcázar by checking here.