The Alcázar of Segovia was for me, the best grand building I saw on my European trip last year. Most palaces and their selfish and clueless ostentation leave me feeling cold.
Warning bells went off in my head when I read that the Alcázar of Segovia was one of the buildings along with Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, that inspired that great exponent of kitsch and schmaltz, Walt Disney, to design the Wonderland entrance to his amusement parks. I was surprised how much I disliked Neuschwanstein and I wasn’t too optimistic about enjoying Segovia’s main tourist attraction.
We stayed in a very beautiful hotel right at the back of the castle, and as soon as I clapped my eyes on it, I was gob-smacked. Appearing through the early autumn foliage was, what has become for me, the epitome of what a castle could be.
Neuschwanstein rankled me so much because it was so ersatz; tacky in such a mad and over the top sort of way. A pure folly of brainless selfishness.
Segovia’s castle is obviously a defensive structure where some very powerful had people lived, but for me what saved it from being dismissed as yet another monument to greed, was that as far as the palaces I’ve experienced, it was relatively restrained.
Sure, the form of the Alcázar follows function, but there is also plenty of evidence of a desire to build something beautiful that not just the owners will see.
One of the things that struck me about Europe, was the fact that architectural beauty is important. I guess it’s a sad thing about wages becoming more equitable in the first world in this modern age that we live in. No more cheap labour to suck the life out of and exploit. No more decoration, just for the sake of it.
So many buildings (here in Australia at least) are built for a price nowadays and aesthetics have largely been abandoned in much of the public architecture I’ve seen sprouting up lately. For every Renzo Piano or Frank Gehry there seems to be thousands of tasteless architectural versions of Myrmidons, ready to churn out as many eyesores as they can.
Although most of the Alcázar is comparatively modest and functional, compared to so many other royal residences I’ve been to, there has been a fortune spent on the ceilings. It’s obvious where so much new world gold was spent. After all, this was the home of Isabella and Ferdinand, the alpha couple of their time.
As I looked up at the ceilings, I found myself thinking about Christopher Columbus going cap in hand to the King and Queen as he promised to make them so much richer.
The ceilings are proof that Columbus was a man of his word.
Perhaps this heavenwards manifestation of wealth was an early form of prosperity preaching. Go with the right god and you’ll hit the big time. Jesus is my main guy and his co-pilot the pope, let me take all this great stuff from those heathens.
So watch your step, or your arse will be mine!
Despite thoughts about what was done in Isabella and Ferdinand’s names, my wife and I never tired of seeing the Alcázar rising like a beautiful Renaissance stone battleship, out of the rocks.