A magical use of space, light, water, and decoration characterizes this most sensual piece of Moorish architecture. The Islamic Moors first arrived in Spain in 710. By the late 13th century, only the Nasrid kingdom of Granada remained under their control, and the Alhambra is the most remarkable structure to have survived from this period. Seeking to belie an image of waning power, the Moors created their idea of paradise on Earth in this palace-fortress. Modest materials were used, but they were superbly worked. Restored in the late 1800s after centuries of neglect and pillage, the Alhambra’s delicate craftsmanship dazzles the eye.
THE NASRID DYNASTY
The Reconquista — a series of campaigns by Christian kingdoms to recapture territory lost to the Moors since 711 — started in northern Spain, arriving in Andalusia with a Christian victory in 1212. As the Christians infiltrated the Moorish empire, Granada became the principal Muslim stronghold in Spain. The Nasrids came to power in the kingdom of Granada in 1236, ushering in a prolonged period of peace and prosperity. Muhammad I, founder of the Nasrid dynasty, undertook the construction of the Alhambra and the Generate in 1238, building a fortified complex of singular beauty that became the official residence of the Nasrid sultans. Granada finally fell in 1492 to Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs.
Located west of the Alhambra, the Generalife was the country estate of the Nasrid kings.
Here, they could escape the intrigues of the palace and enjoy the tranquillity high above the city. The name Generalife, or Yannat al Arif, has various interpretations, perhaps the most pleasing being “the garden of lofty paradise.” The gardens, begun in the 13th century, have been modified over the years. They originally contained orchards and pastures for animals.
The palaces of the Moors were designed with gracious living, culture, and learning in mind. Space, light, water, and ornamentation were combined to harmonious effect. The Alhambra has all the key features of Moorish architecture: arches, stuccowork, and ornamental use of calligraphy. The elaborate stuccowork (Sala de los Abencerrajes) typifies the Nasrid style. Reflections in water, combined with an overall play of light, are another central feature. Water often had to be pumped from a source far beneath the palaces (Patio de los Leones).
The Moors introduced techniques for making fantastic mosaics of tiles in sophisticated geometric patterns to decorate their palace walls. The word azufejo derives from the Arabic for “little stone.” Exquisite azulejos, made of unicolored stones, can be seen throughout the Alhambra complex.
Salon de Embajadores
The ceiling of this sumptuous throne room, built from 1334-54, represents the seven heavens of the Muslim cosmos.
Palacio del Partal
A pavilion with an arched portico and a tower is all that remains of this palace, the oldest building in the Alhambra.
Patio de los Leones
Built by Muhammad V (1354-91), this patio is lined with arcades supported by 124 slender marble columns. At its center, a fountain rests on 12 marble lions.
Patio de Arrayanes
This pool, set amid myrtle hedges and graceful arcades, reflects light into the surrounding halls.
Washington Irving’s Apartments
The celebrated American author wrote his Tales of the Alhambra (1832) here.
Sala de los Abencerrajes
This hall takes its name from a noble family that was the rival of the Nasrid sultan Boabdil. According to legend, he had them massacred while they attended a banquet here. The geometrical ceiling pattern was inspired by Pythagoras’ theorem.
This great banqueting hall was used to hold extravagant parties and feasts. Beautiful ceiling paintings on leather, from the 14th century, depict tales of hunting and chivalry.
Sala de las Dos Hermanas
With its honeycomb dome, the Hall of the Two Sisters is regarded as the ultimate example of Spanish-Islamic architecture.
Patio del Mexuar
This council chamber, completed in 1365, was where there reigning Nasrid sultan heard the petitions of his subjects and held meetings with his ministers.
Palace of Charles V
Built in 1526, this houses a collection of Spanish-Islamic art, the highlight of which is the Alhambra vase.
THE ALHAMBRA AT NIGHT
Night visits provide a magical view of the Alhambra complex, when subtle, indirect lighting contrasts with the bright city lights. Nocturnal visits only give access to the outdoor areas of the Nasrid palaces.
1236: The Nasrid dynasty comes to power in the sole remaining Islamic state in Spain, the Kingdom of Granada.
1238: Construction of the Alhambra palace complex begins under the first Nasrid ruler.
1492: The Nasrid dynasty surrenders to the Catholic Monarchs during the Reconquista.
1984: The Alhambra and the Gen era life are added to UNESCO’s Vvbrld Heritage list.