Alhambra Guide: Uncover Granada’s Moorish Masterpiece

The Alhambra is a Moorish fortress-palace in Granada, southern Spain. It is now a museum and one of Spain's most recognized and frequented tourist sites.

Alhambra

The Alhambra started as a small castle, but by the time the Moors left Spain, it had grown to encompass an entire city block (the medina) and eventually became the gigantic fortified palace it is today. The court's beautiful Moorish architecture, rebuilt in the XIX and XX centuries, is now a significant tourist attraction in Spain.


Content:

  1. History
  2. Palace elements
  3. Alhambra Gardens
  4. Where is the Alhambra

History

The construction and expansion of Alhambra spanned several centuries. Therefore, the royal structure's roots reach back further in time than its 13th-century construction date suggests.

The fortress before the construction of the Alhambra

On the hill where the Moorish palace is located, there was an ancient dilapidated fortress, the mention of which was first found in 889. Then a civil war raged in the Emirate of Cordoba, and one of the rulers took refuge in this Granada Alcazaba (citadel).

Understanding more about the fort's past is essential even after a century has passed. While it was successful in its goals and grew, its progress would have been more remarkable if it had occurred before the Alhambra. By the eleventh century, the city had been transformed from a free citadel into a besieged medina thanks to the Alcazaba erected to strengthen its fortifications.


Alhambra

Image of the emirate on the map of Piri Reis (XVI century)
Image of the emirate on the map of Piri Reis (XVI century)

The last Moorish kingdom in Spain, the Emirate of Granada, fell to Christian forces in 1492. Conversely, Christians have always had unrestricted freedom of worship and travel within the emirate.

The castle at Granada was the first structure Muhammad I fortified, and he did it with an eye toward military might. Under his leadership, systems like the Ommazha and Observation Towers were constructed. Muhammad II and Muhammad III, the emir's sons, continued their father's work of enlarging the palace. In addition, they altered the river's path around the hill and built warehouses and baths in the new space to prepare for a protracted siege.

The Alhambra palace served primarily as a military stronghold and did not resemble a great royal dwelling. In the fourteenth century, however, Yusuf I, a member of the same family as the current rulers of Granada, and his son and successor, Muhammad V, completely redesigned the stronghold, transforming it into the palace that visitors can see today. In addition, the time saw the construction of the Palace of Lions, additional gates and baths, and the beginning of the period's plaster wall carving tradition. However, subsequent emperors made little to no changes to the palace's layout.


Palace after the Reconquista

The Moors were expelled from the whole Iberian Peninsula with the fall of Granada in 1492. As a result, the Alhambra complex came under the sovereignty of the Spanish monarchs. On the grounds of the castle, a separate home was built for Charles V in the 16th century. Unfortunately, several old buildings were demolished simultaneously, and the Alhambra Palace itself sustained significant damage with the loss or deliberate destruction of numerous decorative features.

Granada and the Alhambra on a 16th-century plan
Granada and the Alhambra on a 16th-century plan

Once the Europeans acquired control of Alhambra, they attempted to adopt Muslim thinking as much as possible. Fresh, consistent coatings were needed on everything, even the decorative plaster.

One of the structures was transformed into a palace complete with Italian furnishings during renovations in the 18th century. Unfortunately, since then, Alhambra has been abandoned and allowed to fall into neglect and rot.


Restoration of the complex

The desolate Alhambra gained notoriety in the 19th century because of the works of painters and authors who came to Granada and were moved by the sight of the ancient royal house. The initial phase of restoration got underway in the middle of the century, although it was not totally practical.

Alhambra's restoration took more than 60 years and involved three generations of the Osorio architectural family: Jose, his son, and his grandson. Many parts of this reproduction were made up based on assumptions about the Moorish style, making it less accurate than it might have been. Leopoldo Balbas, in the twentieth century, began to correct the mistakes of his forebears by doing extensive research into primary materials.

The Alhambra in a 19th-century depiction
The Alhambra in a 19th-century depiction

The Alhambra Fortress is now a part of a larger architectural and park complex that also includes the Alhambra Gardens and palaces that serve as museums. The annual influx of more than two million visitors during the hectic summer months is proof of the attraction's enormous popularity.


Palace Elements

Insight into the complex's evolution throughout time may be gained by touring its various sections separately.


Alcazaba

For non-Spanish speakers visiting Spain, this term may ring a bell as the Arabic translation of the city's official name. When thinking of the Alhambra, the Alcazaba is the first thing that comes to mind because of its age and strategic positioning. This castle, which has the earliest known examples of defences from the Nasrid era, was home to the first rulers of the Nasrid dynasty. In response, the emirs moved to a neighbouring palace, and the Alcazaba of the Alhambra took on a more prominent defensive role.

The oldest part of the Alhambra is the Alcazaba
The oldest part of the Alhambra is the Alcazaba.

Walls, the Watch Tower (which provides a perspective of the city), and the ruins of various structures have been preserved in this fortress area. These buildings include a water storage reservoir, a jail, and living quarters for the military. The "Adarve gardens" outside one of the walls are also part of the Alcazaba area. Nonetheless, they are not part of the original Alhambra construction but emerged considerably later.


Nasrid Palace

This structure, together with the surrounding courtyards, halls, and towers, was the primary residential and administrative centre for the previous dynasty of emirs. Only a modest palace from the period of the fifth monarch of the dynasty is known, of which only a little fraction has remained and which is presently part of Meshuar; Muhammad I and his closest successors resided there.

Inner courtyard of the Nasrid Palace
Inner courtyard of the Nasrid Palace

The main works were carried out by Yusuf I, as discussed in the section on the history of Alhambra. Under him, a full-fledged palace was built, divided into three parts: Meshuar, Comares, and the Palace of Lions, which are still available for viewing by visitors. The court worked in Meshuara, one large hall, and visitors from among the subjects were received; the Comares Palace was the official residence where receptions were held for distinguished guests and foreigners, and the Lions Palace was the emir's private chambers. Today, in numerous halls of the emir's palace, the original interiors have been restored to the extent possible.


Palace of Charles V

The Alhambra was the official summer residence of Charles V of Habsburg, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Still, the old palaces did not meet the requirements of the monarch and opposite the Nasrid Palace in the 16th century began the construction of a new building called the "Palace of Charles V".

Inner round courtyard of the palace of Charles V
Inner round courtyard of the Palace of Charles V

This is a Renaissance-style square building with a courtyard in the centre; its construction took decades and was finished in the twentieth century. Several museums may be found in this area nowadays.

Upper Alhambra

In the late Arab era, the Alhambra complex turned into a full-fledged urban area, a medina, which included the monarch's palace with a citadel and a residential area called the Upper Alhambra. But, of course, no commoners lived here, but representatives of the upper classes and artisans served the complex. At the same time, the quarter was separated from the citadel by a moat, part of which has been preserved, but a fortress wall with many towers surrounds it.

Garden in the Upper Alhambra
Garden in the Upper Alhambra

Christianization led to the abandonment and eventual destruction of Upper Alhambra. However, a Catholic monastery was established in a repurposed Moorish palace, and most of the surrounding area is now a park.

Generalife

The Generalife is located on a slope roughly 350 meters in a straight line from the Alhambra's palaces. Despite its proximity to the citadel, this is the official rural residence of the emirs, where they retired to unwind even though it is in the countryside.

The Appearance of the Generalife
The appearance of the Generalife

In contrast to the Alhambra, the Generalife has been subject to substantial reconstruction during the Christian era, abandonment, and prolonged periods spent laying in ruins. As a result, the structure no longer resembles its initial state.


Alhambra Gardens

There are several gardens within the walls of the Alhambra. Typically, they are incorporated as part of a specific palace, but there are also distinct ones, such as the Adarve gardens arranged around the fortification walls. In addition, the entire region surrounding the hill is a continuous park or, more frequently, the Alhambra woodland.

Despite its fortified look, the fortress was only built as recently as the 17th century since all the trees in the area had been cut down for security reasons. Since the Spanish upper class did not need to worry about an actual invasion or spy networks, they decided to surround their holiday home with lush foliage.

Hillside garden, Alhambra
Hillside Garden, Alhambra

Where is the Alhambra

The complex' hilltop location near Granada's historic core makes it convenient to reach. Mainly, you can go one of three ways:

  • On foot;
  • By bus;
  • By private car.

The most thrilling choice is to ascend on foot from the city centre. Around a kilometre separates Nueva Square from the cathedral. However, specific grades are rather steep, calling for careful planning. Municipal buses on the C3 route to Alhambra depart every five minutes during rush hour. The cost of goods sold is, on average, 1.2 euros.

The Alhambra complex offers two gated parking areas close to the ticket office, where visitors can arrive by private vehicle. Just remember that coming from the city centre is not an option; visitors arriving in personal cars must approach through the southern portion of Granada's ring road.


Tours & Tickets for Alhambra:

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