Alhambra, the impressive palace and fortress complex on a hill in Granada, is undoubtedly one of the most famous buildings in Spain and one of the most visited attractions in Andalusia.
The Sabikah Hill of Granada was already inhabited in pre-Roman times. After the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors, they built a castle here. The castle withstands some wars against the caliphate of Cordoba and uprisings of the population. Later, the Almoravids and Almohads took control and further extended the castle to a fortress.
When Muhammad ibn Yusuf ibn Nasr had to escape under the pressure of Castille and Leon to the south, he could conquer Granada and made it the capital of his new empire. This resulted in a huge flow of refugees, that caused an economic and cultural upswing.
After disputes with Ibn Hud of Murcia, he pledged himself to a vassalage of Ferdinand III of Kastilien, in order to retain his empire. As Emir Mohammed I ibn Nasr, he founded the Nazarite dynasty and ordered the construction of the citadel (Alcazaba) and the expansion of the Alhambra as the residence.
As the interface between the Christian kingdoms and North Africa, the following sovereigns had to form shifting alliances in order to keep the country independent. Often the Strait of Gibraltar was at the center of conflicts of interest. Some rulers were dethroned, others killed. Intrigue, coups, and assassinations were almost normal.
Under Yussuf I, the Nazari kingdom reached its peak despite the turmoil. The influence of the Moroccans was stopped, but Granada had no allies against Castile. Yussuf I built the Nasrid Palace and the Comares Tower, the heart of the Alhambra. The Nasrid Palaces also include the summer palace Generalife.
The country could be consolidated again and given a new lease of life only under Muhammad V. Muhammad was friends with Peter of Castile (the Cruel), who was weakened even in the Castilian civil war.
A cultural single combat developed. Peter of Castile commissioned to built the Alcazar in Seville in the Moorish style, with master builders from Granada. In turn, Muhammad built the Lion’s Palace in the Alhambra which is the masterpiece of Moorish architecture in Europe to this day.
Later, the Alhambra still was supplemented with the palace of Charles V, which was never completed.
Tour of the Alhambra
We enter the Alhambra through the Puerta de los Carros and go directly to the entrance of the Nasrid Palaces. After passing the entrance controls we are inside the Mexuar.
It was built in 1314-1325 by Ismail and was the administrative center of the Emir. The Mexuar served for a long time as the court. Through a prayer room, with beautiful views of the Moorish city of Granada, we come to the Patio del Cuarto before we enter the Comares Palace.
The stalactite ceilings immediately catch our eye. The complex stucco elements correspond to strict geometric rules. They were manufactured one by one by hand and assembled on the ground, before being drawn and secured in the height.
Originally they were multi-colored, mainly painted blue and red. It is fascinating that the eye does not find any fixed point and therefore one can hardly assess the room and the height.
Then, the Patio de los Arrayanes ( Court of the Myrtles) lies in front of us. Nobody knew better than the Moors, to tie water as a component of the architecture. This can be seen in the many fountains, water bowls, and basins; Of course, also at the proliferating flora in this rather arid region.
The clear geometric structures of the surrounding buildings are reflected in the smooth water of the basin in Court of the Myrtles. The water is constantly replaced by fresh water to prevent it from silting up. The fresh water is flows slowly over an elongated flat gutter, so no waves arise to disturb the reflections.
We proceed to the Comares tower with the throne room. Here, the Emir received his subjects in the midst of a richly decorated, extremely high hall. He sat with the back to three windows, let in in deep niches, that threw the light on him from behind. His face could not be recognized in the dark. This one was a demonstration of power at its best.
Even more impressive is the following Court of the Lions. The delicate architecture is an impressive example of aesthetics.
The courtyard is dominated by a water bowl made of white marble which is carried by 12 lions. Round arches with slender pillars, that were originally studded with gold, frame the square.
The ceilings of the behind lying arcade are again formed from stucco stalactites. The surrounding buildings housed the private rooms of the emir and the harem. On the northern side, one reaches the Hall of the Two Sisters (Sala de dos Hermanas).
The Hall of the Abencerrajes (Sala de los Abencerrajes) is located at the southern side. Due to an intrigue, the emir had put to death all 16 men of an influential family here.
East of the Court of Lions is the Hall of the Kings, also called Hall of Justice (Sala de Justicia), divided into five smaller rooms, where you can admire the fascinating light and plays of colors.
Past the baths we reach the sleeping and living rooms of Charles V. The simple rooms with a fireplace and beamed ceiling, differ drastically from the Nasrid Palaces. In 1929, Washington Irving spent four months here and wrote “Tales of the Alhambra”.
The portal consists of the Ladies Tower with colonnade and arcades (Torre de read Damas), water basins, terraces, gardens, balconies, a small mosque, and houses. There was formerly the Palace of Yusuf III. The extant buildings date from the 14th century and are the oldest part of the Alhambra.
On the upper end of the terraces, we reach the Renaissance Palace of Charles V. from the outside a square, two-story stone building.
Inside, a circular courtyard with 42 m in diameter, surrounded by colonnades. Here you find the Alhambra Museum and the Fine Arts Museum today.
On the sunny hill above the Alhambra is the ornamental garden Generalife. On the way, we pass the area of a monastery and a hotel.
On the other side of the road, we can see a landscape of ruins. Napoleon commissioned to repair the water system in the Alhambra, that had deteriorated over time. When he left, he blew up the ammunition depots in the Alhambra.
After the amphitheater, which was built in 1952, we reach the Generalife with the Water Garden Courtyard (Patio de la Acequia ).
The complex with the fountain in the middle, the vegetation on the edge and the chambers on the front side, formed the summer palace of the Nasrids.
The Alhambra palace and gardens, along with the Generalife and the Albayzín belong to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1984.
We leave the Alhambra through the Puerta de la Justicia, where supposedly also the last Emir had left the Alhambra, and continue our way down the hill into town.
Please read on > Hotel Carmen in Granada
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