The Art of Alcazar, the Courtyard of the Maidens, and an Artist Named Sarah

By Reeti Roy

While travelling, it’s not just the places that intrigue me; I am always curious to learn about the women I meet as well: ordinary women who appear incredible to me as a visitor from far away.

One such experience occurred at the Courtyard of the Maidens in Alcazar, Seville, Spain. If the name rings a bell, it is because the iconic film, Lawrence of Arabia was shot here. More recently, the fifth season of the Game of Thrones (a series adapted from immensely popular science-fiction novels written by George R.R. Martin) was also shot here.

Any Game of Thrones aficionado will instantly recognise the extensive patios, fruit orchards comprising never-ending orange trees and the riveting aesthetic of the Alcazar.

The Alcazar is a royal palace in Seville, Spain, constructed at the behest of King Peter of Castille. It was built by Castilian Christians on the site of an Abbasid palace. (Abbasid is a dynasty that is widely recognised as the Golden age of Muslim culture. The dynasty ruled the Islamic caliphate from 750 BCE to 1258 CE.)

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Photo credit: Pixabay

To this date, upper levels of the Alcazar are used by the Spanish royal family as their official residence in Seville. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site.

The outstanding blend of Moorish and Mujedar architecture within the Alcazar is breathtaking. During King Peter’s reign (1350 to 1369 CE), the courtyard is said to have been at the centre of the public area, where people flocked to pay their respects. Surrounded by arches, the courtyard is made up of geometric compositions, plant motifs and Arabic epigraphy.

Legend has it that during Moorish rule, this was a space for more than a hundred women who were brought in as ‘conquests’ for the rulers. While history presents a dastardly vision of these women simply as objects of pleasure for rulers oozing machismo, I would like to think that they forged friendships of their own in this beautiful courtyard, and negotiated their spaces despite their curbed freedoms.

As I was thinking these thoughts and strolling out of the courtyard, I met a woman named Sarah Guldberg displaying her artwork just outside the Alcazar. She emanated light, and her artwork really reflected everything I had seen within the courtyard.

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L-R: Artist Sarah Guldberg with Reeti; one of Sarah’s works on display (photo credit: Marina Maestre)

I explained to her that I was fascinated by her work and was interested in knowing her story. Sarah said she grew up in Denmark, and trained as a textile designer. The geometry and patterns of Moorish architecture fascinated her so much that she has been living in Spain for the past 25 years.

All through the month of July this year, Sarah exhibited her works at the upper floor (Apadaero wing) of the Alcazar. She uses definitive, bold brushstrokes and sheds light on a world of textile through watercolour and geometric patterns. Her use of metallic watercolour is particularly fascinating, as every time the light falls on any of her paintings, the image changes.

As a tourist from India, I left Seville’s Alcazar with a feeling of kinship with an incredible woman following her own path, a sense of wonder at the mastery of the ancient architects, and deep respect for the artists of the world who uplift humanity.

First published in the August 2018 issue of eShe magazine