Villa Zorayda Museum
St. Augustine, Florida, USA
- Villa Zorayda: Boston businessman Franklin Smith was so enamored with the Alhambra Palace's Spanish-revival architecture that he replicated it in his own Moorish fantasy villa.
- Innovative construction: The mix of coquina (basically, seashells) with Portland cement created an attractive, super-hard concrete that became St. Augustine's preferred style.
- The museum: See rare art, priceless antiques, tropical hardwood furniture, the 2,400-year-old Sacred Cat fur rug, and a three-piece inlaid table that took five men nine years to complete.
About this St. Augustine, Florida tour
The Gilded Age millionaire who re-created a fanciful Spanish castle in St. Augustine and created a signature Florida architectural style in the process was as fascinating as the museum he left behind.
Franklin W. Smith was moral, religious, and industrious; when the church where he supervised Sunday school burned down, he helped rebuild it. He vigorously opposed slavery and danced with his wife at Abraham Lincoln's inaugural ball. He founded the Boston YMCA. He was so honest with military contracts that he was court-martialed as a civilian for, essentially, embarrassing Navy brass. (Lincoln overturned the guilty verdict.) And he was an innovative amateur architect who, when he decided to build a winter home in St. Augustine, pioneered a new construction technique that changed everything.
Inspired by a visit to Granada's magnificent Alhambra Palace, Smith did more than adapt its lavish interiors and gorgeous Moorish arches, columns, and curves. He turned Florida's surfeit of seashells into a new type of building concrete fast-setting and solid as rock. This "coquina" concrete was cheaper than brick and beautiful in a rugged, unfinished way; after millionaire developer Henry Flagler adopted it for St. Augustine hotels and churches, it became a look and style of its own. That's why it's everywhere in this town, and pretty much all over Florida.
Yet the man behind the museum may have been even more influential. His Villa Zorayda is thought of by some as Florida's first "fantasy" architecture, preceding Disney World by more than eight decades.
Not bad for an amateur.
Curse of the cat
The cat-worshipping ancient Egyptians found a novel use for the hair of the felines that roamed the Nile's banks: They made rugs out of it. The Zorayda Museum's Sacred Cat rug, woven about 24 centuries ago and looted from one of the Great Pyramids, is said to come with a curse for anyone who walks on it. Which should help it last several centuries longer.
Please make your way to 83 King St, St. Augustine, FL 32084, in St. Augustine's Historic District.
Closed Easter, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
Audio tours run continuous throughout the day in English, French and Spanish.
Photography is not permitted inside the Villa Zorayda.
To fully participate may require leisurely walking over primarily even surfaces. There may be a limited number of steps and some standing for extended periods of time. Wheelchairs are able to access the 1st floor; there is no access to the 2nd floor.
Cultural, Family Friendly
Tour Participation Requirements
This experience is rated mild. To participate fully, you may be required to walk over primarily even surfaces at a leisurely pace. You may encounter a limited number of steps, cobblestones, or uneven surfaces, and you may have to stand for extended periods of time.
Suitable for all ages. Children under 8 years of age participate free of charge.
Full refunds issued for cancellations made 7 full days prior to the date and time of requested services. Cancellations made within the 7-day and 72-hour window will receive a 50% refund of purchase total. Purchases are non-refundable inside of 72 hours.
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