The Plaza del Triunfo forms the entrance to the Mudejar palace, the official residence of the king and queen when they're in town, built by Pedro I (1350–69) on the site of Seville's former Moorish alcázar (fortress). Don't mistake the Alcázar for a genuine Moorish palace like Granada's Alhambra—it may look like one, and it was designed and built by Moorish workers brought in from Granada, but it was commissioned and paid for by a Christian king more than 100 years after the reconquest of Seville.
Entering the Alcázar through the Puerta del León (Lion's Gate) and the high, fortified walls, you'll first find yourself in a garden courtyard, the Patio del León (Courtyard of the Lion). Off to the left are the oldest parts of the building, the 14th-century Sala de Justicia (Hall of Justice) and, next to it, the intimate Patio del Yeso (Courtyard of Plaster), the only part of the original 12th-century Almohad Alcázar. Cross the Patio de la Montería
(Courtyard of the Hunt) to Pedro's Mudejar palace, arranged around the beautiful Patio de las Doncellas (Court of the Damsels), resplendent with delicately carved stucco. Opening off this patio, the Salón de Embajadores (Hall of the Ambassadors), with its cedar cupola of green, red, and gold, is the most sumptuous hall in the palace.
Other royal rooms include the three baths of Pedro's powerful and influential mistress, María de Padilla. María's hold on her royal lover—and his courtiers—was so great that legend says they all lined up to drink her bathwater. The Patio de las Muñecas (Court of the Dolls) takes its name from two tiny faces carved on the inside of one of its arches, no doubt as a joke on the part of its Moorish creators. Here Pedro reputedly had his half brother, Don Fadrique, slain in 1358; and here, too, he murdered guest Abu Said of Granada for his jewels—one of which, a huge ruby, is now among England's crown jewels. (Pedro gave it to the Black Prince, Edward, Prince of Wales [1330–76], for helping during the revolt of his illegitimate brother in 1367.)
The Renaissance Palacio de Carlos V (Palace of Carlos V) is endowed with a rich collection of Flemish tapestries depicting Carlos's victories at Tunis. Look for the map of Spain: it shows the Iberian Peninsula upside down, as was the custom in Arab mapmaking. There are more goodies—rare clocks, antique furniture, paintings, and tapestries—on the upper floor, in the Estancias Reales (Royal Chambers).
In the gardens, inhale the fragrances of jasmine and myrtle, wander among terraces and baths, and peer into the well-stocked goldfish pond. From here, a passageway leads to the Patio de las Banderas (Court of the Flags), which has a classic view of the Giralda.
Allow at least two hours for your visit.