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  • Writer's pictureJay Hicks

Villa Zorayda - One of the First St. Augustine Architectural Styles

Updated: Nov 18, 2021

If you want to see some of the original construction from the 1800s in the Moorish Revival Style, do not miss the Villa Zorayda. Originally constructed in 1883 in St Augustine, it was the winter home of Franklin Smith a Boston millionaire. The Villa Zorayda is based upon the magnificent Alhambra palace in Granada Spain.

Moorish Revival Style is found throughout St Augustine. But, it all started here with the Villa Zorayda!

So impressed by the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, Smith decided to make the Villa Zorayda an exact replica of one wing of the palace at 1/10 of the actual size. The 12th century Alhambra palace built by the Moore's in Granada was occupied by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 after expelling the Emirate of Granada who ruled Spain for six centuries.

Smith was gifted in architecture and designed the house using poured Portland cement reinforced with crushed coquina stone. Many of the other materials used in finishing the residence were imported from Spain.

Former Hotel Ponce de León, now Flagler College

In the 1880s, American industrialist Henry Flagler came to Saint Augustine and saw Mr. Smith’s Villa Zorayda and offered to buy it immediately. Mr. Smith refused but agreed to build the Casa Monica Hotel and instructed Henry Flagler’s architects in the use of the materials and methodologies. He then assisted in the construction of the Hotel Ponce de Leon, Alcazar hotel and Memorial Presbyterian Church. The architectural style for St. Augustine was now set in stone or concreate, quite literally. Today, Smith's architecture is extremely influential on the city of Saint Augustine, in which the style can be seen throughout the old town.

The home was sold in 1913 to Abraham Mussallem an authority on Egyptian antiquities. Later in 1922 the Villa Zorayda became a nightclub and gambling casino. In 1936 it was re-opened as a tourist attraction exhibiting items fitting the architectural theme of the building.

Many of the artifacts in the home original to Franklin Smith and to the second owner, Abraham Mussallem. Once inside you can observe an extensive collection of antiques from the gilded age. Many of the beautiful items are even older.

My personal favorite is a 2400-year-old ancient Egyptian rug, call the Sacred Cat Rug. The Sacred Cat Rug is possibly the world's oldest rug. The Egyptian relic is woven entirely from ancient cat hair and once carried a mummified human foot. An examination of the rug a few years back confirmed that it is woven entirely from cat hair. The rug is said to be cursed and that anyone who sets foot on the Sacred Cat will die shortly thereafter. Even though no human being has stepped on the rug in recent memory, a dead cat is rumored to have been found stretched out on the front steps of the museum.

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