The Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain

The Alhambra Palace

The Alhambra Palace is the finest fortified palace chambers ever built. Its layout bears features of a classic medieval castle, where the upper floors were occupied by aristocrats, soldiers and nobles, while the lower levels and the courtyard, protected by walls, were occupied by merchants and servants. In 1241 Ibn al-Ahmed started the Nasrid dynasty in Granada and called himself Mohammed I. The Nasrids ruled Granada until 1492. The citadel of Alhambra was built by Mohammed I.

In early 1492 the seven hundred years of Moorish rule came to an end. The Spanish Christian kings drove the Nasrid rulers out of Granada. For 250 years they had claimed the city and its surroundings as their own. The Nasridi fled their palace, the incomparable Alhambra. This “red city” should really be seen as an outstanding architectural ensemble rather than as an individual building.

The first part of the huge fortified complex, the Alcazaba (Upper Town), was completed either at the end of the 13th or the beginning of the 14th century.

The Mehuar, or House of Justice, including the richly decorated Quarto Dorado (Golden Room), were the official quarters of the sultan himself. Here, in the presence of his officials, he read the laws and decrees. On the walls of the Golden Room was the inscription: “Come in and do not be afraid to demand justice, you will get it.

The Comares Palace, which housed the living quarters of the sultan and his officials, is the jewel of the Alhambra. The vaults of the Embassy Hall, according to the Qur’an, represent the seven heavens. They are made of cedar with skilful inlays of ivory and mother-of-pearl. Sultan Mohammed V’s (1354-1391) personal guard occupied the Lion’s Court, an outstanding example of Arab architecture in Iberia and the Islamic style in general. The walls are ornamented with scarlet, green, gold, and blue tiles. The inner courtyard, with its 124 marble columns, gets its name from the fountain. Its bowl is held on the backs of 12 marble lions.

The most splendid room of the palace is the Hall of the Two Sisters (Sala de las Dos Hermanas). Its Moorish-style vaults are decorated with stalactites, so that the ceiling is divided into more than 4,000 sparkling cells. One wall is covered with verses inscribed in gold on the glaze.

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The sound of water can be heard in every corner of the Alhambra. Many springs flow within the walls of the citadel. Sultan Mohammed I decided that in his fortress there would be an abundance of water. And obedient architects have made water a detail of the interior decoration. Filigree jets of fountains perfectly combined with the brilliance of bricks covered with glaze, marble floors and colorful tiles.

The Alhambra consists of four parts:

  • The military fortress of the Alcazaba (the oldest part).
  • The stunning Nasrid Palace (the latest splash of Moorish architecture) ;
  • Generalife summer palace;
  • The Renaissance Palace of Charles V.

Between them runs a labyrinth of paradise gardens, which really seem to be the embodiment of heavenly heaths. The delicate combination of light, color, sounds and scents created by the gurgling fountains, the mirrored smoothness of the ponds, the tall hedges and the abundance of fragrant flowers are captivating.

The color of the walls, a mixture of red clay and stone, gave the Alhambra its name, derived from the Arabic word for “red. The walls once surrounded a small city with four gates, 23 towers, seven palaces, servants’ quarters, workshops, baths, educational institutions (madrasas) and mosques. Many of them are long gone, but those that remain continue to fascinate with their magic, as it happened with Charles V: having built an imperial palace here, the monarch used it only for ceremonies and preferred to live with his family in the more pleasant Moorish palace. Because of the Alhambra’s enormous popularity in high season, you might find yourself in the middle of a crowded tour group. So it’s better to schedule a second visit, and come again in the evening, when the elements of the architecture that you may have missed during the day are softly illuminated. As for the Nasrid Palace, you have to book a tour there and wait for half an hour (try to come after 12.00, when the crowd clears up) . But either way you can soak up the sensual atmosphere of the Alhambra for as long as you want.

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Alcazaba

This fortress is a great place to start. Climb up to the roof of the Torre de la Vela for a fantastic panorama of Granada, the Sierra Nevada and the vast plain (vega) to the west. The Alcazaba, built in the ninth century, represented the first major Moorish structure in Granada, although its two front towers did not appear until 400 years later.

Palacios Nasarides (Nasrid Palace)

The French poet Theophile Gautier called this palace, built for Yusuf I and Mohammed V in 1300, an earthly paradise. Its two patios, exquisitely carved stucco ceilings, friezes, capitals and arches, geometric mosaics, fountains and sense of infinite perspective epitomized the heyday of Moorish style in Spain. From the wonderfully tiled Mejuar (Hall of Council), make your way to the Patio del Cuarto Dorado and then to the stunning Salón de los Embajadores (Hall of Ambassadors) in the Comares Tower. This structure is topped by a domed vault, which is said to have used more than 8,000 tiles of cedar wood. Note the masterful stucco walls, the beautiful mucarcas (lattice stucco ceiling, arches and domes), and then admire the wonderful view from the windows. The Patio de los Arrayanes (Myrtle’s Courtyard) offers one of the best perspectives of the Alhambra, highlighted by the myrtle bushes along the sides of the reservoir.

From here the passage leads to the Hall of the Mosarabs, which is preceded by the famous Lions’ Courtyard. This rhythmically organized space is surrounded by a colonnade and is divided into four sections in the traditional Islamic spirit dominated by a fountain and water channels symbolizing the four streams of life. The pool, whose rim is covered with poetic verses in praise of the beauty of the courtyard, the garden and the interplay of the waters, is guarded by twelve stone lions. The author of these and many other inscriptions in the Alhambra was Mohammed V Ibn Samrak’s chief minister.

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Around the patio there are three halls of exceptional beauty. Most impressive is the Sala de las Dos Hermanas (Hall of the Two Sisters, on the left when entering the patio) with its octagonal domed ceiling decorated with remarkable mucarnas resembling stalactites. They are flooded with natural light pouring in through the windows below.

On the opposite side, this hall is connected by a water channel to the Hall of the Abenserrahs. It has a high domed ceiling and stalactite vaults. The third hall, the Sala de los Reyes (Hall of Kings), is behind the cluster of arches. The paintings on its ceiling were done by Christian artists hired by Mohammed V. To the north of here another hall leads to the Mirador de Daraxa over a beautiful courtyard with a garden.

From the main palace one can walk to the Palacio del Partal, which was probably the first part of the structure. An arched gallery leads to the Torre de las Damas (Tower of the Ladies) which is reflected in the mirrored purity of the large pool. The gardens are on different levels in the distance and form a bridge that leads to the Generalife.

Generalife

The building of the Generalife, built above the level of the Alhambra, was a summer palace. Its main attraction is the oblong pool surrounded by fountains in the Patio de la Acequia; there are also terraced gardens, pergolas and cypress groves that provide a healing coolness even in the heat of summer.

There is not much to see in the former royal apartments, apart from the wonderful views, so visit the Mirador de la Sultana viewpoint at the top.

At the end of June there are music and dance performances in the Generalife Gardens.

Charles V Palace

The Palace of Charles V was designed by Pedro Machuca, a pupil of Michelangelo. The vast circular inner courtyard embodies the World Empire (i.e. the globe) and is quite unlike any other structure in the Alhambra. Inside are the Museum of Fine Arts and the Alhambra Museum. The latter displays examples of Spanish-Muslim art. Upstairs, in the fine arts section, are works by Granada masters (Diego de Siloe, Alonso Cano, Pedro de Mena, Diego and Jose de Mora) .

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The Alhambra in Granada is a unique architectural masterpiece

The Alhambra in Granada is a fortress-castle from the Moorish domination of Spain. This fascinating architectural complex after its restoration in the 19th and 20th centuries was transformed into one of the most famous sights in Spain.

Alhambra is a masterpiece of Moorish architecture and attracts tourists from all over the world. Each year, the oldest castle in Granada is visited by more than two million travelers.

Alhambra in Granada

Alhambra in Granada

Alhambra in Granada

History of the Alhambra in Granada

On the hill where the Alhambra in Granada now stands, stood an old, dilapidated fortress. It is first mentioned in chronicles in 889. It was not until the 11th century that the citadel was joined to the medina, a quarter that was able to exist apart from the city under blockade.

In 1238 Muhammad ibn Nasr, caliph of Granada, chose Alhambra as his residence. He ordered that the palace be fortified. Thus the Towers of the Ommagus and the Observation Tower appeared. His successors, Muhammad II and Muhammad III, continued the work. During the reign of the Muslim emirs, the river course around the hill was altered. And on the vacated territory there were warehouses and bathing facilities with which to wait out the long siege.

The Alhambra fortress became a palace and a rich royal residence in the 14th century under Emir Yusuf I and later under his successor Mohammed V. During their reign, the Palace of the Lions, new gates and baths were built in Granada, and the walls were decorated with carved plaster ornaments.

After the Reconquista in 1492, Granada and the Iberian Peninsula were liberated from Moorish rule. And the Alhambra was transformed by representatives of the Spanish monarchy. In the 16th century Charles V became the owner of a personal palace built on its grounds – for which some of the original buildings were demolished. There was also damage to the Alhambra ensemble itself, as many elements of the decorations were lost or deliberately demolished.

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The desire to exterminate Muslims in the appearance of the palace resulted in even the decorative plaster being painted over. And one of the structures was rebuilt into a palace with Italian features. The Alhambra was rebuilt in the 19th century. But the result was not very successful.

A sort of recreation of the palace of the Alhambra in Granada in the next 60 years was engaged in the dynasty of architects J. Osorio. But much of the image of the castle was simply invented. Therefore, in the XX century architect-restorer Leopoldo Balbas had to correct the mistakes of his predecessors on the basis of a thorough study of historical documents.

Alhambra

Alhambra in Granada

What to see in the Alhambra

Today’s Alhambra in Granada is an architectural and park complex with a fortress, palaces (which house museums) and gardens. The Alhambra is divided into several spaces corresponding to the stages of its transformation.

Alcazaba

The oldest part of the Alhambra is the Alcazaba (Arabic name for the fortified seat of the sovereign), which was originally home to the first Nasrid caliphs. Then it served as a military citadel for the complex, and the caliphs settled in the newly built palace.

The towers of Alcazaba remain intact:

  • The Broken Tower and the Tower of Honor, which stand in front of the fort’s entrance.
  • The Broken Tower, which is so named because of the crack that cut it from top to bottom. In the middle recess of the structure lie the cores.
  • Ommagia, a tower 26 m high, was partly used as a prison and a food warehouse.
  • The four-storey Watch Tower is 26.8 m high. It is decorated with pylon-mounted arches. The bell on its western facade was restored after a lightning strike in 1882.
  • The cube and the semi-circle, on which the observation decks are located.

The Alcazaba Arms Square preserves the foundations of the military barracks, the remains of the water tank and the entrance to the subway prison.

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