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Map: Alhambra

Another view of the Alhambra
Another view of the Alhambra
by Er Komandante (GFDL)

Fuente de los leones - Fountain of the Lions
Fuente de los leones - Fountain of the Lions
by Fernando Martin (cc-by-sa-2.0)

Arches on the Court of the Lions, Alhambra
Arches on the Court of the Lions, Alhambra
by Javier Carro (cc-by-sa-2.5)

Details on the door called The Moor's Tears, Alhambra
Details on the door called The Moor's Tears, Alhambra
by Balbo (cc-by-sa-2.0)

Court of the Lions
Court of the Lions
by Werner Lang (GFDL)

Arches and columns at the Alhambra
Arches and columns at the Alhambra
by Javier Carro (cc-by-sa-2.5)

The Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex in Granada, Spain. The name Alhambra means "The Red" in Arabic. It is regarded as the most beautiful representation of Moorish architecture in the world. Alhambra is located on Sabika, the hilly terraces overlooking Granada. It was inscribed by Unesco as a World Heritage Site in 1994, along with Generalife and the Medieval Moorish enclave of Albayzín.

At the time that it was built, the Alhambra was known as Al-Andalus. Although it used to be the residence of the Muslim rulers of Granada, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V also built a palace in the Renaissance style and placed it within the Alhambra complex.

To understand and appreciate the Alhambra, we need to look at the history of the Moors in Spain. It started around 711 AD when a Muslim army crossed the Straits of Gibraltar. Within a short period of time, much of Spain was under Moorish rule. The founding of the Alhambra can be traced to the late 9th century, when The history of the Alhambra can be traced back to an earlier edifice, a red castle called Qal'at al Hamra. It was built in Elvira, which is in present-day Granada, by Arabs retreating from a bloody warfare with the Muladies. The castle was very much in a state of ruin when Ibn Nasr, the founder of the Nasrid Dynasty, built the Alhambra that we know of today, in 1238.

Ibn Nasr was fleeing religious persecution from King Ferdinand, who was determined to rid Spain of Moorish control. Ibn Nasr retreated to Granada, and there, he planned out his palace complex. It was to have six palaces - five of which grouped together in a royal living area, two circuit towers, numerous bathhouses. Rather than depending on rainwater as the old castle did, the new Alhambra was irrigated by a canal system that totals 8km in length, allowing for a profusion of fountains and cascades within the complex. The entire design transformed the austere fortress into a sumptuous palace.

At the Alhambra we see the last great burst of Andalusian creativity in art and architecture, standing as a small Moorish enclave within Spain. Detached from mainstream Muslim influences, the artists and artisans of Alhambra perfected their style. Creating works of incredible beauty, from graceful calligraphy to elegant arabesque, they adorned the walls, columns and ceilings of Alhambra.

The Christian conquest of Granade by Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile in 1492 brought an end to Moorish diminion of Alhabra. From then onwards, subsequent wave of non-Muslim rulers injected his own style in altering the palace complex. Charles V (1516-1556) rebuilt portions of it in the Renaissance style. Philip V (1700-1746) italianised some rooms, and put up his palace in the middle of the comples, blocking up sections in the process. In 1812 Count Sebastiani blew up some of the towers. The entire complex barely escaped being totally demolished by Napoleon - a soldier who wanted to save the palace defused the explosives. Neglect, defacement and vandalism added to the sorrows of Alhambra.

The earliest recorded restoration of Alhambra began in 1828, by architect Josť Contreras, and after his death, continued by his son Rafael.

Layout of Alhambra

The Alhambra consists of three different sections which you would explore separately:
  • Nasrid Palaces
  • Alcazaba Fortress
  • Generalife

    The Nasrid Palaces
    The Nasrid Palaces are the palaces of the Moorish rulers of Alhambra. It is located in the middle portion of the complex. Overwhelming this whole section and rather out-of-place with the surrounding architecture, is the Palace of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, which is of Renaissance style.
    It's in the Nasrid Palaces section that you find the famous Court of Lions and the Court of Lions Fountain, perhaps the most recognised icon of the Alhambra. It was commissioned by Muhammed V and constructed between 1362 - 1391 AD. The Fountain of the Lions is a most unusual theme for a Muslim palace, as Islamic architecture would forbid representing lifeforms. By the time the lions were built, the Moors in Granada have been cut off from the rest of the Muslim world, and the use of the lions as figurative motifs reflects Castilan influence to Nasrid art. Incidentally, the lions of the fountains were believed to have been carved not by Muslim but rather by Jewish artisans.

    The Alcazaba, or citadel, is the original Moorish fortification of Alhambra. It is the oldest section of the fortress and is located on the western end of the complex.

    Officially Palacio de Generalife, this summer palace derived its name from Arabic, Jannat al-Arif, meaning Garden of Arif, or Garden of the Architect. It is the country estate of the Nasrid sultans of Granada, whose palaces are at the Alhambra a short distance below. The palaces and gardens of Generalife were begun during the rule of Muhammad III (1302-1309), and continued by his brother Abu I-Walid Ismail (1313-1324AD)

    Getting there

    The Alhambra is located on the hills of Sabika, in the city of Granada, in the Granada Province, Andalucia, Spain. Granada Airport is located half an hour from the city. There are daily flights connecting Granada with Madrid and Barcelona by Iberia (http://www.iberia.es/) From London, budget carrier Ryan Air (http://www.ryanair.com/) connects Granada with Stanstead International Airport, London, and with Liverpool. Monarch (http://www.flymonarch.com/) connects it with Garwick International Airport, London. From the bus terminal in Granada are bus services connecting it with Seville, Cordoba, Algeciras and Malaga. Train services are also available connecting Granada with Cordoba, Malaga, Almeria and Seville. For details, visit the website of Renfe, the National Railway, http://horarios.renfe.es/hir/ingles.html

    Visiting Hours

    The Alhambra is open from 8:30am - 8:00pm on Sundays-Thursdays with extended hours till 10:00pm on Fridays and 11:30pm on Saturdays, between March to October. From November to February the opening hours are shorter, from 8:30am - 6:00pm Sundays - Thursdays, with extended hours till 8:00pm on Fridays and 9:30pm on Saturdays. Admission fee is €10, and ticket office closes an hour before the gates. Evening visits is limited to the Nasrid Palaces only.

    Guided tours are available every day for €44.50 that includes entrance fee, transport and tour guide.
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