The ancient city of Granada is undoubtedly one of the most popular destinations in southern Spain, but the city gets is charm from the exquisite citadel and palace carrying along a celebrated history, the Alhambra. Belonging to the medieval ages, it is the only Muslim palace in the world that has survived till today. Perched on a hilltop, the grand palace was built by the Muslim ruler Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar to serve as their protection on the Iberian Peninsula, towards the end on the 13th century. The death of the prophet Mohammed in 632 AD led to the spread of the Islamic empire away from Arabia. At its peak, the empire stretched across continents, from India to Portugal.
The Moors were nomadic people from North African country of Morocco. They were Islamic converts who made it into the Iberian Peninsula by crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. From the 8th century onwards, they had established their rule throughout Spain. Alhambra was the highlight of their entire kingdom, a symbol of their glory. Spain had been reconquered by the Christian monarchs in 1492 by the time its construction was finished. The Christian rulers also began to use certain portions of the Alhambra, with Charles V building his own palace within the Alhambra. The Alhambra thus became the last Moorish refuge, managing to flourish for another 2 centuries through trade, commerce and diplomacy in full swing.
The Alhambra didn’t gain any more artistic Islamic influences from the rest of the world, it is safe to say, and it was largely sequestered and soon developed exotic and unique artwork that is still visible to the visitor today. Its name ‘Alhambra’ translates to the Arabic word which means “red fortress”. Being built from red clay, the name deemed to be most suitable for it. The picturesque whitewashed buildings nestled in a forest led a Moorish poet to describe it as “a pearl set in emeralds”. An oasis of decorative serenity along with its chambers and verdant gardens is tucked amidst its awe inspiring castle walls and towers. The European influences are evident on the Islamic structure. This happened after the Moors were expelled from Granada.
The square and bland exterior conceals a fine form of Islamic artwork. Courtyards with small fountains, magnificent palaces, and secret gardens that evoke the tranquillity in the region are enclosed with striking ramparts of the Alhambra. The over scale of the Alhambra is impressive with exquisite details. The effort of the workers put into minute details of these features is evident.
Inside, on every surface, one can observe geometric patterns of interlocking shapes. These decorative features represent God, as in those days, the depiction of the human form was forbidden by religion. The same is also represented in the ornate calligraphy used for quotations of the Koran. The massive honeycomb ceilings with elaborate mouldings are breathtaking and they were also inspired by geometry.
Most of the parts which seem nothing but ordinary in the daylight, are magnificent in the night. It is said that the Alhambra was built to be seen in the night, with its shining marble retaining its whiteness and undoing its weather stains of the daytime, unlike most constructions of the period. There are four gates to the Alhambra walls one of the tourist routes to enter is through the Gate of Justice, also known as Gate of the Esplanade. The gate was built in 1348 and stands as the largest gate out of the four. Make sure to pick up an English audio tour for information of the monument. The Alcazaba building is a must visit, it was used for military affairs. The renowned ‘Vela Tower’ is located here, from where one can witness some breathtaking views of Sierra Nevada. The ruins of baths and water tanks are still visible today.
Constructed in 1533, the Palace of Charles V is a beautiful piece of renaissance architecture, with Italian influences. The museum of Alhambra is situated on the ground floor of the palace. The Granada Music and Dance festival as well as exhibitions are known to take place in its courtyard. Alhamar, the founder of the dynasty, constructed this complex of palaces in the 13th century, known as the Palacios Nazaríes. It comprises of three strikingly beautiful palaces, namely: The Mexuar, The Comares and The Palace of the Lions.
While exploring the Alhambra, the visitor will enjoy a thrilling experience discovering space that filter light through ornate screens, a classic concept used in Islamic architecture. Wafting scents from the nearby garden, and the calm breeze will guide the visitors passing between rooms to explore more of the palace’s open plan. A pleasant combination of nature and pragmatism is evident in every corner of this majestic monument. Water has played a significant role in the concept of this monument, right from the running water flowing through hidden stone channels to exquisitely decorated fountains. The water required by the palace is satisfied the diversion of water from the Daro River from a channel cut through the Assabica hill on which the Alhambra stands.
Most of the striking Islamic artwork has been lost after the Christian monarchs extended their control over Granada. But, the vision and glory of the Moorish leaders outplays the trials and tribulations the Alhambra may have gone through, the monument today, stands as an architectural masterpiece they left behind in Spain.