Backstage Pass: Model Victoria Henley strolls through the Villa Zorayda


A historic Gilded Age museum inspired by the Alhambra Palace in Grenada Spain; The Villa Zorayda is an architectural masterpiece built by the visionary Franklin W. Smith as his winter residence in St. Augustine. Fla.

The iconic mansion features an impressive collection of artworks, furnishings, tapestries, statuettes and more, which are original to the museum that has thrived for more than 109 years of family ownership.

The Villa Zorayda set a precedent for a bold new Moorish style of architecture in St. Augustine, which directly inspired the Spanish Revival style structures that can be seen throughout the city to this day. It features concrete and crushed coquina shell for a viscerally stunning aesthetic and a steadfastness to withstand the tumultuous weather for which the area is known.

I returned for a follow up spotlight on this legendary structure to give you inside look at the magic that waits to be discovered behind the stately doors of the Villa Zorayda. Conveniently located in the heart of St. Augustine, the Villa Zorayda offers a self-guided tour, which guests can take at their own pace with the assistance of a comprehensive, easy audio device if they choose.

Stroll through the expanse of the larger-than-life palace and be transported back in time to the 1800’s as you take in the splendor of each room, all of which inhabit their own distinctive style and personality.

Here are som highlights you’ll experience during your audio guided tour:

2: Entrance Room (featuring beautifully unique decor, artworks, and furnishings)

3: Prayer room (a room designed and built for prayer and quiet reflection)

4: Court of Lyons

5: Balcony Area

6: Sultan’s Den

7: Tower Alcove

8: Original Photographs of the Alhambra Palace

9: Harem Room

10: Egyptian room, featuring the world-famous sacred cat rug (an iconic Egyptian rug made from real cat hair, which has been featured in top news and media outlets worldwide, including a spotlight by “Ripley’s Believe it or Not.”)

11: Figure Portrait

12: Group of six brass urns sans lids

13: Tapestry of sultan and harem girls

14: Cork whips used by servants to clear crowded streets for masters

15/ Blackamoor bust  (Moor derives from ancient Berber tribe of the Maures in Mauritania, a Roman province. This inimitable bust features a chiseled face and beard, made of black marble of a Moorish chieftain.)

16: More cork whips on display

17: Tapestry of a family out on river with rugs etc.

18: Hall of Justice

19: Shakespearean Figural Group Sculpture

Following the 20-year time period during which the Villa Zorayda was enjoyed as a residence, the building was subsequently leased out as a gambling casino and speakeasy. After the acquisition of the palace by Lebanese immigrant, Abraham Mussallem and his wife, Olga, it was opened as a museum for the enjoyment of the general public in 1933. A vitally important structure to the history of the ancient city of St. Augustine, The Villa Zorayda Museum remains one of the most exquisite, recognizable, and fascinating attractions you’ll have the opportunity to visit.


PHONE NUMBER: (904) 829-9887

INSTAGRAM @villazoraydamuseum

Victoria Henley writes Backstage Pass for iHeart Radio and