The Alcazar

On the highest hill of the city, at 548 m, the solitary rectangular mass of the Alcázar dominates the horizon. It is one of the few buildings outside of the city. The remains of earlier structures indicate that it has always been a fortified location, since the days of the Roman Praetorian and the defence of the Muslim fortress.

The present building was ordered to be built by emperor Carlos V as a royal residence. To do this, the previous medieval castle was almost completely destroyed, although on the East facade there still remain battlement structures. Each facade of the building shows the artistic time in which it was constructed within the different stages of the Spanish Renaissance.

Its first and main architect was Alonso de Covarrubias from 1545, but Villalpando contributed to a patio and it was finally Juan de Herrera who was responsible for the monumental staircase under a barrel vault and the alteration to the southern wing that it houses.

The main entrance, with an ornamented Roman arch with the characteristic stone “mirrors”, crowned with an imperial coat of arms flanked by figures of the Visigoth monarchs Recaredo and Recesvinto and finished with a triangular fascia, is the work of Covarrubias.

The large central patio is surrounded by two galleries and presided over by the figure of the emperor, a copy of the work by Pompeyo Leoni. Outside there are large, square fortified towers at the corners, those on the North side being advanced and those on the South side level with the facade altered by Juan de Herrera, finished with black slate spires and roofs.

And yet the new palace was never lived in by kings, since, a long time before it was finished, the capital of Spain was established in Madrid, although it was home to queens, widowed queens to be precise, retired from the court by their husbands’ successors: Mariana of Austria, widow of Felipe IV and Mariana of Neuburg, widow of Carlos II.

It had several uses, such as the Crown prison, military barracks for Spanish and foreign armies, and silk workshops, before housing the Spanish Infantry Academy. The building suffered several fires; some caused deliberately, like in 1710 during the War of Succession, being restored under the direction of Ventura Rodriguez, twice during the War of Independence and in 1887, this time by chance, before its almost total destruction in 1936.

Its reconstruction would begin in 1940, crowned in 1961 with the inauguration of the monument to the defenders of the Alcázar during the Civil War, created by Juan de Ávalos. For years it was home to the National Army Museum, being adapted to house all of it in the near future. Renovation work has also been carried out on the top floor of the building to meet the needs of the new Castile-La Mancha Library.

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