The Casa de Pilatos is the quintessential Andalusian palace. Stood in a sunny plaza at the edge of the historic neighbourhood of Santa Cruz, it is famed for its sublime architecture and seductive courtyard gardens, which offer a peaceful refuge from the hot Seville afternoon.
Construction of the palace began in 1483, just nine years before Columbus’s voyage to the Americas. Its incredible beauty and opulence offer a glimpse into the glories of Golden Age Spain when, for hundreds of years, Seville was one of the richest, most important cities in the world.
Arriving at the palace, you first step into a small cobble-stoned courtyard known as the apeadero (the mounting-block), which in bygone days would have echoed to the cries of stable boys and the clatter of horse-drawn carriages. Shady colonnades offer protection from the heat and rain, and a beautiful 100 year old Bougainvillea pours over the wall in a bright, frothing waterfall of magenta.
The heart of the palace is the spectacular main patio, with its paved black and white marble floor and two levels of arcaded galleries. In the corners, classical statues gaze out towards a central fountain which features a sculpture of the two-faced Roman god, Janus.
One of the most enchanting things about the palace is its seamless blend of architectural styles. The marble columns and fountain are pure 16th century Italian Renaissance, but the balustrade is Gothic, and the arches are Mudéjar (Spanish-Islamic), and when you gaze at the walls of the arcade and adjoining rooms, all gorgeously and kaleidoscopically tiled with azulejos, you really couldn’t be anywhere else but Andalucía!
There are said to be around 150 different azulejo designs throughout the palace, one of the largest collections in the world, all displaying a mesmerising variety of abstract, floral and geometric patterns.
The patio is also decorated with a style of intricate stucco carving, known as yesería, which was first introduced to Spain by the Moors.
The palace has a superb collection of antique statues. Of the four lifesize figures in the main patio, three are from ancient Rome (the goddesses Minerva and Ceres and a dancing muse) and one is from ancient Greece (the goddess Athena, dating from 5th century BC). Their shapely classical forms make a wonderful juxtaposition with the dazzling, lacy patterns of the yesería.
More statues surround the lower gallery. Looking down from the walls of the arcade are twenty five busts of Roman emperors and other illustrious figures from antiquity, plus one 16th century Spanish king – Carlos V – who in his time presided over his own vast, global empire with Seville as its bustling economic hub.
This monograph from 1850 shows how little the patio has changed in over 150 years. The palace clearly had plenty of admirers, even then!
A husband and wife from two of Seville’s most distinguished aristocratic families, Pedro Enríquez de Quiñones and Catalina de Ribera, first began work on the palace in 1483. Later generations (in particular their son, Fadrique Enríquez de Ribera, and grandson, Per Afán de Ribera) – gradually made their own additions and refinements.
In 1520, Fadrique, an ardent Italophile, returned from a two-year grand tour of Italy and the Holy Land. Inspired by the new styles of Renaissance art he had encountered, he began hiring skilled Italian artisans and assimilating their work into the palace’s design – the columns and fountain in the main courtyard, as well as the arch at the main entrance, were all imported from Genoa.
It was from Don Fadrique’s trip that the Casa de Pilatos is said to have acquired its quirky name. On his return from Jerusalem, the story goes, Fadrique arrived in Seville bearing the floor plans of Pontius Pilate’s Praetorium, which were then adopted as the model for the layout of palace.
Over time, rooms have acquired names in honour of this legend. The Praetor’s Room is another example of fine Mudéjar craftsmanship, lavishly adorned with azulejos, with a coffered ceiling carved with Don Fadrique’s ancestral coats of arms.
As you wander around the palace, there seems no end to its artistry and splendour. Each room contains a new, exquisitely rendered detail, such as these wooden marquetry shutters.
Or this ceiling, whose ten-pointed golden stars represent the celestial vault.
And here is the marble staircase that leads to the upper floor of the palace, one of the most admired in Seville.
The palace has two delightful gardens which are among the city’s best kept secrets. Abundant with palms and orange trees, with Spanish Jasmine, wisteria, magnolia, rosebushes, leadwort and bougainvillea, they are worthy of a visit any day of year, but the best time to come is from March to May when the air is full of the heady citrus and floral scents of Seville in the springtime.
As in the palace itself, the attention to detail in the gardens is wonderful – tiny azulejo tiles can be found embedded in the stone walls, and even in the terracotta flooring.
The Jardin Chico (small garden) contains a little rectangular pond surrounded with flowerpots. For centuries this was the reservoir that supplied the palace with freshwater (a luxury afforded to only the most prestigious residences). During the palace’s heydey, water was channelled directly from Seville’s Roman aqueduct, known as Caños de Carmona, which was still in use up until 1912. The pond also features a playful bronze statue of Bacchus.
A 16th century architect from Naples, Benavenuto Tortello, was hired to design the Jardin Grande (large garden). He built beautiful Italian style loggias at either end and an arcaded pavilion down one wing.
The loggias make the transition from interior to exterior seem effortless and organic – wherever you are in the palace you are never far from an elegant portico or window offering enticing glimpses of the gardens beyond. Architecture and nature work in perfect harmony.
The loggias also display many of the classical statues that the palace has acquired over the centuries
Also on display are artifacts excavated from the nearby archaeological site of Italica – a long vanished city of Hispania (Roman Spain), birthplace of Emperors Trajan and Hadrian.
These intriguing ancient fragments add a quiet note of melancholy to the overall effect. The white marble contrasts eye-catchingly with the bright ochre paintwork.
Though it maybe overshadowed by the city’s most famed palace – the Alcázar, the Casa de Pilatos is without doubt one of our favourite buildings in Seville. Its evocative architecture and incredibly lovely gardens make for a joyous visit, and one definitely not to be missed.
Where: Plaza de Pilatos, 1, 41003 Sevilla
Price of entry: 6€
Opening hours: 10:00 – 20:00
Offical website: Fundación Medinaceli
casa de pilatos – location map