The Alhambra Palace

The Alhambra Palace

The Alhambra Palace

The Alhambra word is taken from the Quranic word Qal’ at al-Hamra which means red lady. It is an ancient (eighth-century-old) monument at Granada in Spain. It is the last magnificent Muslim monument in Western Europe. It is basically a fortress based on the Moorish architectural style.  A successive number of Nasrid dynasty rulers worked for its magnificence and construction.

History of Alhambra Palace

Throughout history, it has gone through various modifications in different centuries. There is an Arabian reference of Alcazaba (older fortress) existence during the 9th century. According to historians, Sawwar and Hamdun took refuge during the civil war between Maladies and Muslims. So, they interpreted that Alcazaba fortress was present there in the 9th century.  

In the 11th century, the Zirid dynasty renovated the structure of Alcazaba Cadima (an old fortress). Emir Badis ben Habus was also constructed at that time. Vizier Samuel ibn Nahgralla took steps to preserve the Jewish castle present over there. He started renovative work at Sabika.

According to some Historians, it is the oldest building named Alcazaba.  It was built in the medieval era. It is a fortress with a multitude of towers and served as a military base.

But connecting to the 11th century, the ruins of Sabika hill attracted Ibn al-Ahmar. Ibn al-Ahmar is also is known as Muhammad 1 and the founder of the Nasrid dynasty. He initiated its construction on a plateau. Muhammad 1 raised three towers. These were named The Keep, the Watch Tower, and The Broken Tower. He also ordered the construction of a royal residence. Darro river flowed at the base of Plateau. He channelized water from the Darro river. Further, he was also honored for the construction of Alhambra palaces, bastions, and warehouses for guards and soldiers.

His successors (Muhammad II and Muhammad III) built the public baths and the Grand Mosque of the Alhambra. He and his successors renovated and constructed it between 1238-1358.  The task of interior decoration was done on behalf of Yusuf 1. Yusuf and Muhammad V added the Comares Room, the Justice Gate, the Lions, the Hall of the boat, the Patio of the Lions, and the Baths to the Alhambra complex.

Affected building in the 14th century

In 1492, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand ended the Muslim rule in Spain. They exiled Muhammad XII and held the foundation of the Catholic monarchy. The destruction caused by Moors affected the interior and furniture of the fortress. Later, Charles V (Spain’s ruler as Charles 1) modified the fort with a renaissance style. He built the Italianate palace at Alhambra. Pedro Machuca helped Charles V to design Charles V palace in 1526. They also replaced the Alhambra mosque with the church. They also built a queen’s dressing room and the emperor’s chambers.

Fig. 3 Charles V palace Alhambra

In 1812, the Peninsular war and earthquake-affected badly the towers. Some of its parts were blown off by French forces. In 1828, Jose Contreras and Ferdinand started the work of its construction and restoration. In 1847, the son of Contreras stepped forward for his work after his father died. Later, his death succeeded his son Mariano Contreras to continue construction. Contreras III’s death didn’t stop the conservation and restoration work in 1912. It continued throughout the 21 century by other Spanish architectures.

Its name history:

It was named Alhambra which was taken from al-Qala al-Hamra. Which means red lady or red fort or castle. Some argued that it was named so because of the reddish color of the towers and walls around the fortress. While some said it was named on the lady of some Muslim king.

Its Structure and Design of The Alhambra Palace

The Alhambra consists of the threefold structure as a palace, an annex, and a castle. Its structure reflects the medieval Christian style. The Alcazaba is on foreland at the ending of a plateau in the northwest. Its bastion, outer walls, and towers marked a difference.  Torre de la Vela (a tower of 25 m height) raised the flag of the Spanish conquest in 1492.  In 1881, the turret bell was restored which was damaged after lightning.

The Alhambra Palace complex

The Alhambra Complex has three main parts. The Alcazaba, the Medina, and the palatial zone. The Alcazaba is a military base for the protection of guards and their families. The Medina is a place for housing and administrating court officials. While a palatial zone is a royal place for kings and their kinships.

The Alhambra Palace Complex

Nasrid divided the complex into three independent parts. These are Mexuar, the palace of Lions, and the Comares Palace. Mexuar was built for judicial and administrative tasks. The palace of lions was designed specifically for the king, his mistresses, and his kin. While the Comares palace was of the king (sultan). It consisted of the Court of Myrtles enclosed in several rooms. Yusuf 1 built it in the 14th century. It also contained several other structures as the courtyard of Lions, the hall of ambassadors, and the hall of Abencerrajes. The Patio of Lions (courtyard of Lions) was named because of twelve Lions on a central fountain. The hall of an ambassador is the place where Muslims and Christians commanders negotiated. The magnificent hall of the stalactite ceiling is famous for the murder of one of the noble families. This legendary hall is called hall Abencerrajes (the hall of ambassador).

The Mexuar

The northern edge consisted of an audience chamber called The Mexuar. Ismail 1 constructed it as a throne room. In the 3330s, the construction of the palace changed it from the throne room to the meeting room. Carved stucco and geometric tiles panels were used for their ornament.

The Three Palaces:

The three palaces of Alhambra include Comares Palace, The Palace of the Lions, and The Partial Palace. The description of these is given below:

The Comares Palace:

The Comares Palace lies behind The Mexuar. It is a formal and stucco carved façade facing the fountain and courtyard.  It is connected with the Court of Myrtles through a dark passage passing by the patio courtyard of Lions. The Comares Tower is also the part of it that depicts architectural and decorative art. It was designed by Yusuf 1 in the 13th century. The windows of the palace are made of complex geometric tiles pattern. These windows have double arches for light and fresh air. It also has calligraphy and panels of curvilinear arrangement.

 The Palace of the Lions:

Twelve carved lions

The palace of the Lions follows the Comares palace but is an independent palace. The hydraulic system was used in the construction of fountains in the 14Th century. It consists of twelve carved lions that spewed water into the marbled basin fountain. Stucco carving was used in columns of arches. A patio encircled the whole courtyard. Two magnificent pavilions are also part of this palace.

Hall of ambassador within Palace of Lions

Both palaces were connected when Granada was shifted to Christians after Muslim rule. In the West of the Palace is Muqarnas Chamber. These muqarnas have vaulting ceilings. The hall of the king is in the east across the courtyard. This hall is of multiple alcoves and vaulted muqarnas. The roof also has a traditional painting reflecting the courtly life.  The north and south sides have independent halls. The hall of Ambassadors and the hall of Sisters has residential functions. These have domes and muqarnas which were decorated with carved and stucco paintings.

The Partial Palace:

The Partial Palace also called Portico Palace was made by five arched arcades.  It was built in the 14th century on the pool. It is the most ancient structure of the Alhambra complex.


The Nasrid dynasty built Generalife outside the walls of Alhambra. The word Generalife has an Arabic phrase as Jannat al-Tarifa.  It was the reflection of nature created through natural resources. It consists of a garden, fountains, and water canals. Its distinctive monumental piece is the construction of a patio with two rows of fountains and water canals. Its structure is a reflection of one of the monuments within Alhambra but it was different functionally. It was created as a welcome complex for the kings of Garand.

The Generalife

The Court of Myrtles:

The entrance of the palace is connected with the Court of Myrtles. It is also called as Court of the Pond or the Court of blessings. It is portrayed as a symbol of power.  The pool in the center has marble pavement.  It is named because the pond is surrounded by Myrtles and is full of goldfish. The lower side has north and south galleries. These galleries have three windows and tiny pillars.  The upper side has a main entrance on the right side.

Court of Myrtles - The Alhambra Palace

Other Features:

Court of the Council Chambers, Queen’s Robing Room, Court of the Vestibule, and Hall of Justice are the other prominent features. These have the same decorative and Moorish architectural style. A labyrinth, vaulted sepulchers, a silent gallery, a row of bedrooms, summer rooms, and baths.

UNESCO World Heritage:

It was declared as UNESCO World Heritage in 1984. It was designated because of its location on Sabika hill which provides a view of Granada. Arab writers too compared Granada to crown and Alhambra to diadem.

The Alhambra is the essence of Islamic rule in Spain. It is the only existent monument of the golden era of Muslims in Europe. It has been the center of attraction of Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

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