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History of Alkazar Castle in Segovia

The name "Alcazar" indicates that the history of this castle dates back to the beginning of Moorish rule on the Iberian Peninsula. The Moors constructed their "Alcazars" (strongholds) in a number of places in today's Spain and Portugal. It is unknown when exactly the stronghold of Segovia was built by Saracens, but it is obvious that it must have been constructed between the 7th and 9th century. In the 20th century, when archaeological excavation work was carried out in the city, evidence was found that forts or fortifications had already been built here during Roman rule and were probably destroyed by the Visigoths before the Arabs conquered Spain. In 1085 Alfonso VI's forces drove Saracens out of Segovia, easily taking the wooden fortress, whose destiny was to be turned into one of the most beautiful castles in Spain. The first written references to this castle come from the 12th century, and while in 1120 the castle was described as an unknown "fortress on the hill at the Eresma River", by 1155 in the archives of the castle church it was known as "Alcazares Castle" – this name was traditionally used for strongholds and palaces built in the Moorish style.

In 1176, when King Alfonso VIII, called the Noble, married Eleanor of England, he chose the Alcázar as his place of residence, which was a turning point in the long history of this luxury castle.

Later, it became the family home of monarchs of House of Trastámara, a lateral branch of House of Burgundy, and a series of alterations and extensions was made. A few Alcázar buildings from the times of Alfonso VIII have survived: the Great Hall and Royal Chambers, the gallery on the northern side of the castle and the armoury. In 1258 King Alfonso X, called the Wise, miraculously escaped death when some part of the castle suddenly collapsed. As a result, alteration work started immediately in the building. The Hall of the Monarchs was built in the castle at that time, it was a room where important meetings and grand receptions were held. In the first half of the 15th century, in the times of King John II of Castile, the highest structure of the Alcázar Castle was constructed – the New Tower, today known as Juan II Tower.

In 1474 the Alcázar played an important role in the history of Spain – within the solid walls of the castle the would-be Queen Isabella I of Castile took refuge when the news of the death of her brother, Henry IV, in Madrid reached her in Segovia. The next day, with the help of King Henry's butler and treasurer, the noble courtier Andres Cabrery, and supported by Segovia's Council, Isabella was crowned Queen of Castile and León at the city's main square; however, it was not until 1479 that the royal title was officially given to her, when the War of the Castilian Succession ended. According to some sources, a secret wedding of Isabella and Ferdinand, Duke of Aragon, was also held in the Alcázar. Another monarch who also organized his wedding in the Alcázar was King Philip II of Spain; in 1570 he entered into his fourth and last matrimony with young Anna of Austria in the castle.

In the times of King Philip II, a series of renovations was conducted in the Alcázar, and as a result the building became more similar to the castles of Central Europe, in particular the castle's tower to which a cone-shaped roof with dark graphite slates was added at that time, and in 1587 the castle was enriched with an extraordinary garden designed by Francisco de Morar. By the end of the 16th century, when the building work in Escorial, a grand palace complex, was completed, King Philip II lost his fondness of the Alcázar of Segovia and moved to Madrid, taking his court. Then a state prison was housed within the Alcázar walls for nearly two centuries, and in 1762 the Royal Artillery School was established in the castle on the initiative of King Charles III. Since many castle rooms were damaged by a great fire, after a hundred years the military school was closed. The rebuilding of the castle started in 1882, and the old interior was accurately restored thanks to the prints and notes made by Jose Maria Avrial y Flores – a Spanish painter, graphic artist and illustrator who created them in the early 19th century. The reconstruction of the Alcázar Castle was finished in 1896, and later young King Alfonso XIII and his mother, Queen Maria Christina, Regent of Austria, traditionally handed over the castle to the army. The Ministry of War deployed the Artillery Corps here, and several years later the main military archives were established on the upper floors of the castle; the archives still operate here. In 1931 the old Alcázar Castle in Segovia was awarded the historic monument status, and after World War II a special organisation which took care of the castle was established. At that time the Alcázar Castle was open for public viewings, and a museum is housed in some of the castle rooms.

The Pine-Cone Room was named so because it features a unique ceiling with various carved figurines, which gives the impression that there are nearly 400 pine cones there. The walls are covered by Flemish tapestries from the 15th and 16th century, and the horizontal frieze dating back to the 15th century attracts attention thanks to the original mixture of the interweaving Gothic and Mudéjar styles. Lavishly arranged in the tones of scarlet, the Hall of the Monarchs presents the rich history of the castle's owners, monarchs of Asturias, León and Castile, whose likenesses are presented in the form of sculptures as well as portraits. Valuable collections of weapons from the past centuries are kept in the Armoury, including valuable items encrusted with gems and gold.