Palacio Real (Madrid): No longer occupied by royalty, but still used for state occasions, the Royal Palace sits on the bank of the Manzanares River. It was built in the mid-18th century over the site of a former palace. It's not Versailles, but it's still mighty impressive, with around 2,000 rooms. No one has lived here since 1931, but the chandeliers, marble columns, gilded borders, paintings, and objets d'art, including Flemish tapestries and Tiepolo ceiling frescoes, are well preserved. The empty thrones of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía are among the highlights of the tour.
Alcázar (Segovia): Once the most impregnable castle in Spain, El Alcázar rises dramatically from a rock spur near the ancient heart of town. Isabella's marriage to Ferdinand at this foreboding site eventually led to Spain's unification. Today, it's the single most photographed and dramatic castle in Iberia.
Palacio Real (Aranjuez): Built at enormous expense by the Bourbon cousins of the rulers of France, the palace was designed to emulate the glories of Versailles in its 18th-century neoclassicism. The gardens are even more fascinating than the palace. The gem of the complex is the Casita del Labrador, an annex as rich and ornate as its model -- Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon at Versailles.
Alhambra (Granada): One of Spain's grandest sights, the Alhambra was originally conceived by the Muslims as a fortified pleasure pavilion. Its allure was instantly recognized by the Catholic monarchs after the Reconquest. Despite the presence of a decidedly European palace at its center, the setting remains one of the most exotic (and Moorish) in all of Europe.
Alcázar (Seville): The oldest royal residence in Europe still in use was built by Peter the Cruel (1350-69) in 1364, 78 years after the Moors left Seville. Ferdinand and Isabella once lived here. The Alcázar is one of the purest examples of the Mudéjar, or Moorish, style, and its decoration is based on that of the Alhambra in Granada. A multitude of Christian and Islamic motifs are combined architecturally in this labyrinth of gardens, halls, and courts, none more notable than the Patio de las Doncellas (Court of the Maidens).
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