The Alhambra Palace in Granada
The Alhambra Palace was one of the greatest architectural wonders of the world when it was created in the 13th and 14th centuries and remains so today. It is unlikely that any future civilisation will ever be able to match the magnificence and mysticism of the Alhambra Palace – truly an extraordinary fairytale palace.
The Alhambra is a unique creation spawned from the gold coffers of Moorish sultans…
Wars, sieges and years of neglect have failed to detract from the allure of the Alhambra Palace which continues to attract millions of visitors each year to a hilltop that overlooks the city of Granada.
It was the last and most splendid of all the Arabian palaces to be built in Spain during 700 years of Moorish domination. The Moors were vastly superior to their European enemies in all areas of culture and the Alhambra Palace became a glorious symbol of not only their wealth and power but also their unsurpassable artistic and architectural skills.
The palace was constructed as both a fortress and royal residence for the sultans after the Christians recaptured Cordoba, which was the former capital of the mighty Western Islamic empire known as El Andalus.
From the mid-1200s onwards, the Moorish Nasrid Dynasty set about establishing a citadel and palace the like of which the world had never seen before. On the hilltop site of an existing 10th-century Arab fortress, the sultans brought together their empire’s greatest minds and most talented craftsmen to fashion an exotic array of exquisitely decorated palaces and courtyards within the walls of a castle designed to withstand the might of the Christian armies.
Visit the Alhambra today and you’ll still find a mesmerising mixture of the most intricate tilework, filigree decoration and mosaics within its royal rooms and shaded courtyards. A sensual blend of bubbling fountains, dark green pools, white marble floors and enchanting passageways draw you back through the centuries to a time and place where sultans once ruled and relaxed on silken cushions while naked beauties danced for them (accompanied by blind musicians!)
Jewels in the crown of the Alhambra include the legendary Court of the Lions with its famous fountain, the Hall of the Kings and Hall of the Queens, the royal baths and the magnificent Hall of the Two Sisters lavishly decorated with gold and lapis lazuli.
Within the grounds of the Alhambra lies the most popular Parador hotel in Spain, housed within a 15th-century covent which was part of the Moorish palace before being captured by the Christians in 1492. The hotel houses the former chapel where the crusading Catholic monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand were temporarily buried before being moved to their final resting place in Granada’s Capilla Real. Be warned that if you want to stay in this particular Parador you’ll probably have to book several months in advance.
In July and August, the Alhambra Palace is the main venue for the annual International Festival of Music and Dance which attracts some of the world’s top orchestras, flamenco performers and ballet companies.
If you plan to visit in high season it’s worth securing an entrance ticket in advance because this is one of Spain’s top tourist attractions and numbers are restricted.
Sights to see at the Alhambra Palace
The Cerro del Sol
A complex on the high plateau which overlooks the town to the south-east. It includes the superb palace of Granada’s Moorish kings, which was principally under the Nasrite rulers Yusuf I (1333-54) and Mohammed V (1354-91). Massive towers and gates surround the palace complex emphasizing its fortress-like character; there are also ring walls and the remains of the Alcazaba.
The Alcazaba was built by Mohammed V in shimmering red stone which led to the description ‘Calat Alhambra’ (Red Castle).
From the top of the Torre de la Vela, which is 29 meters (87 ft.) high, you get a panoramic view across the Sierra Nevada. The road up into the Alhambra park passes through the Puerta de las Granadas, a triumphal arch decorated with three pomegranates and designed by Pedro Machuca. To the right, on Monte Mauror, the 12th century Torres Bermejas can be seen; this is part of the fortification that links with the Alcazaba.
Further on you arrive at the Puerta de la Justicia, built by Yusuf I in 1348. Above the gate’s first horseshoe arch there is a carved hand that symbolizes its defence against evil. The second horseshoe arch is decorated with many Arab inscriptions and beautiful blue and green azulejos.
After four right-angled bends (for reasons of defence), you arrive at the entrance to the Alhambra Palace itself. Nearby the Renaissance fountain (1545) dates from the time of Charles V and is the work of Pedro Machuca. The 14th century Puerta del Vino leads to the Plaza de los Aljibes (‘Square of Wells’).
The ‘Gate of Wine’ displays the Nasrites’ artistic style to great advantage. To the west of the square there are the former buildings of the Alcazaba; to the east, there is the Palace of Charles V and to the north the Palacio Arabe (the Alhambra Palace).
The Alcazaba is enclosed by ramparts and several of its towers still survive. The Torre de la Vela is the most significant and dominates a magnificent panorama of the city and surrounding areas.
Also of interest are the Torre del Homenaje (the Keep), Torre Quebrada and Torre del Adarguero. The Puerta de la Tahona, in the tower of the same name, affords access to the royal palaces.
The Mexuar palace was originally given over to administrative and judicial affairs, and the Royal Council used to meet here. Although now in a deficient state of repair, the main section is a hall centred around four columns and a modern fountain; this was used as a chapel from the 18th century until the 20th.
The north facade serves as a portico for the Cuarto Dorado (‘Golden Room’).
The facade on the other side of the Mexuar is called the Serrallo front, its artistic eaves are remarkable.
After the Serrallo facade, you reach the Patio de los Arrayanes (‘Court of Myrtles’), also known as Patio de la Alberca, del Estanque or de los Mirtos, with a magnificent pool in the centre. Its arches are semicircular, with a voussoired structure. Special mention should be made of the wooden ceiling in the north gallery and the alabaster lamp-stands, with ceramics at the back, located in the jambs of the doorway.
The Sala de la Barca is between the portico and the Throne Room; its name derives from the inverted hull of a boat that adorns the ceiling.
The Salon de Embajadores (‘Ambassadors´ Hall’), also known as de Comares, is next, this was the centre of political and diplomatic life. Although it was once superbly decorated, it now retains only its artistic and architectural design.
Continuing towards the baths, the visitor will reach the Patio de la Reja (‘Court of the Ruling’) with its fountain and cypress trees.
Next is the Jardin de Lindaja (‘Lindaraxa’s Garden’), which does not correspond to the Moorish period, but dates from the 16th century. It was designed to embellish the courtyard onto which Charles V’s room opened. A post-reconquest fountain with an Arab basin stands in the centre.
The Banos Reales (‘Royal Baths’) stand next to Lindaraxa´s Garden, displaying polychromatic decoration, predominately blue, green, gold and red in the main room, where there is also a small 16th-century fountain. The Royal Baths comprise of three further sections:
The Tocador de la Reina (‘Queen´s Boudoir’) is between the Ambassadors´Hall and the Harem. This room was built for the Empress Isabella and displays outstanding fresco paintings on the walls. By the door to one of the Emperor´s rooms, there is a tablet recalling that Washington Irving, the author of The Alhambra, once stayed there.
The artistically decorated Sala de los Ajimeces (‘Hall of Mullioned Windows’) id the first of the rooms making up the Harem and its ceiling was restored in the 16th century. The Sala de las Dos Hermanas (‘Hall of the Two Sisters’) is beyond Lindaraxa´s Balcony. Boabdil´s mother lived here after being repudiated by Muley Hacen. The decoration is superb and the dome harmonious.
The name of the Patio de los Leones (‘Court of Lions’) is due to the twelve figures of lions that support the fountain in the centre. This rectangular courtyard, built in the reign of Mohammed V, is surrounded by a gallery supported by 124 elegant white marble columns.
The Sala de los Reyes, also called de la Justicia (‘Hall of Kings/Justice’), lies to the east of the Court of Lions. It was a Christian church from the time that the royal mosque disappeared until the construction of the church of Santa Maria de la Alhambra and is adorned by a painting of ten Moorish kings assembled in a meeting.
The Sala de los Abencerrajes (‘Hall of the Abencerrages’) is another important room as all of the children of Muley Abul Hassan were executed here upon marrying Zoraida.
The last room in the Harem is the Sala de los Mocarabes (mocarabe – carpenter´s design of interlaced prisms), which now displays baroque decoration on the ceiling.
Other interesting sights to see at the Alhambra Palace in Granada