The ‘Alhambra Palace’ is the palace & fortress complex of the former Moorish monarchs, located in the Granada province of Spain. The palace is nestled atop the hill ‘Al-Sabika’, on the left bank of the river ‘Darro’ in the western terrain of Granada City. The name ‘Alhambra’ stands for ‘The Red’ in Arabic & called so because of its reddish walls, although the complete name of this palace is ‘Calat Alhambra’.
The original palace of ‘Alhambra’ was just a small fortress till 889 AD & was renovated on large scale by Moorish king ‘Mohammad ben Al-Ahmar’ of the ‘Emirate of Granada’ & later on, was converted into a regal palace by ‘Yusuf I’, Sultan of Granada.
Today, ‘Alhambra’ stands as the UNESCO’s ‘World Heritage Site’ & one of the major tourist attractions in Spain.
HISTORY IN BRIEF:
The strategic position of the ‘Alhambra’ laid to its construction even before the arrival of the Muslim emperors. The first historical records of this place date back to the 9th century, when the ‘Alhambra’ was consisted of a small fortress with few irregular shaped ramparts. The fortress had provided shelter to the refugees of the battles between the ‘Arabs’ & the ‘Muladies’ which were won by the ‘Arabs’. The fortress, later on was abandoned until the 11th century, when the rulers of the ‘Zirid dynasty’ revamped it to some extent.
The fate of this fortress was completely changed in the 13th century with the arrival of the first ‘Nasrid King’, ‘Mohammad ben Al-Ahmar, who carried out an extensive restoration of the old fortress to make it suitable for the Sultan’s residence. His successors, ‘Mohammad II’ & ‘Mohammad III’, later on, added more elements such as, two circuit towers, bathhouses & an extensive network of aqueducts to the structure, which transformed ‘Alhambra’ into a thriving palace-city from a mere military fortress.
‘Yusuf I’ (1333-1353) & ‘Mohammad V’ (1353-1391) played a heroic role in giving ‘Alhambra’ its today’s magnificent appearance. They added a number of structures to ‘Alhambra’ such as the ‘Pation of Lions’, Justice Gate, the ‘Comares Room’, ‘Hall of the Boat’ etc. to improve its aesthetic value.
This regal palace of the ‘Nasrid dynasty’ was captured by the ‘Reyes Catolicos’ during the ‘Reconquista’ in 1492. Some new structures such as the ‘Palace of Charles V’ were added in the ‘Alhambra’. Some part of it was blown up during ‘French invasion’ & after the 18th century, the ‘Alhambra’ was totally abandoned. It was rediscovered in the 19th century by the European travelers & scholars & extensive restorations were initiated after that to repair the sabotage.
The ‘Alhambra’ never had any master plan for the overall site designing. Due to the site’s various construction periods, few of the structures are found at odd place with respect to each other. The plateau where ‘Alhambra’ is situated measures about 740 m X 205 m & covers around 142,000 sq. meters of area. The ‘Alcazaba’ (citadel) is the most important position on ‘Alhambra’ & rest of the area is occupied by several Moorish palaces, ramparts & the thirteen towers.
The complex was designed using the ‘Mudejar’ style which is actually a blend of Western elements in Islamic style architecture. The majority of the palaces are quadrangular in shape with all the rooms opening into a central court. The palaces were adorned with myriad column arcades, frolicking fountains & azure pools & most of the palaces were connected by small passages. The exterior of the palaces was kept spartan & tiles painted in blue, red or golden yellow colors were used for paneling the walls. The interiors of the several palaces are decorated with arabesques & calligraphy.
The Royal Complex is the most important part of the ‘Alhambra’, which consists of three parts: Mexuar, Serallo & Harem. The ‘Mexuar’ served as the administrative & a functional place for the Sultans whereas, the ornate ‘Serallo’, constructed by ‘Yusuf I’ in the 4th century, contains the ‘Court of the Myrtles’. The high-grade expensive woodwork is used for adorning the walls & the ceilings of this place. The ‘Harem’ wasused to house the quarters for the royal women as well as the mistresses of the monarchs. The Harem too, was highly decorated & had bathrooms with the facilities of shower & running water.
The ‘Court of Myrtles’ contains a large pond filled with huge number of goldfish & is set on marble flooring flanked by the bushes of myrtles. The pool was meant for cooling down the palace & was often regarded as the symbol of the prestige.
The ‘Hall of the Ambassadors’ (Salon de los Embajadores) was the ‘seat of the Sultan’ & is the grandest structure in ‘Alhambra’. The place was a large reception room & is square in dimensions with every side running 12 meters in length & the center of the dome reaching up to 23 meters. The walls are adorned with several stuccos. The series of medallions with inscriptions are hanged on the walls, which improves the aesthetic part of this regal building.
An oblong court named as the ‘Court of the Lions’ (patio de los Leones) is one of the most beautiful corners of ‘Alhambra’. The center of the court is occupied by the stunning ‘Fountain of Lions’ which is an alabaster basin hold up by the statues of twelve marble-made lions. The fountain was viewed as the symbol of the might & the domination. The court is flanked by the series of 124 marble columns & the walls bearing colored tiles.
The picturesque garden called the ‘Generalife’ (Palacio de Generalife or Jannat-Al-Arif) is situated in the expanded part of the ‘Alhambra’. The villa called ‘Villa de los Martires’ (Martyrs Villa) is located atop ‘Monte Mauror’, which was constructed in the memories of the Christian slaves who were employed in the construction of ‘Alhambra’. The ‘Vermillion Tower’ in the vicinity was used for confining the slaves & was provided with cisterns, stables & a garrison.
The incredible ‘Alhambra’ boasts the brilliant example of the Muslim art when it was going through its last remarkable phase in Europe & today it stands as the most precious Islamic architecture in Spain. This exceptionally beautiful Islamic Palace was described by a Moorish poet as ‘A Pearl set in emeralds’ due to its appearance, whitish colored buildings engulfed by the lush foliage! This amazing royal palace of Spain’s last Muslim rulers has been the inspiration for a multitude of stories & songs from past so many years!