Although there are many places of interests in Granada, Alhambra is one very special place that is worth the drive from the coast. Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage site and to reduce any damage caused to this historical place, visitors numbers are restricted. Pre-booking your ticket and your tour-slot is a prerequisite and a camera is indispensable. Do not go to Alhambra without either of these!!
It’s in the name!
There are many theories about the origin of the name Alhambra feel free to take your favourite “Tales of Alhambra”!
Some suggest the name signifies the word in Arabic for the colour red (Al Hamra), which could have derived from the colour of the sun-dried tapia or bricks used. These bricks were made of fine gravel and clay and are the main materials for the outer walls of the castle.
Some historians suggest the red flare of the torches by whose light the work of construction was carried out day-and-night for many years was the origin of the name.
Others claim the name was derived from the founder of the project, Muhammad Ibn Al Ahmar. They point to the fact that the palace was built chiefly between 1248 and 1354 during the reigns of Al Ahmar and his successors.
Others believe it was derived from the Arabic sentence “Dar al Amra” (House of the Master).
As even the names of the principal artists employed are either unknown or doubtful, nobody can be sure what and how the name came about, but it is just fun to speculate.
The position of Alhambra is one of rare natural beauty. Towards the west and north the site commands a wide view of the city and plain of Granada. Towards the east and south it enjoys the magnificent views of the Sierra Nevada. Moorish poets described it as “a pearl set in emeralds,” in allusion to the brilliant colour of its buildings, and the luxuriant woods round them.
The park (Alameda de la Alhambra), which in spring is overwhelmed with wild-flowers and grass, was planted by the Moors with roses, oranges and myrtles. Its most unusual feature is the dense wood of English elms created in 1812 by the Duke of Wellington. The park is celebrated for the multitude of its nightingales, and is usually filled with the sound of running water from several fountains and cascades. These are supplied through a conduit 8 km (5 miles) long, which is connected with the Darro at the monastery of Jesus del Valle, above Granada.
Alhambra reached its present size simply by the gradual addition of new quadrangles, designed on the principle of creating interconnected inner courtyards,. Though varying in dimensions and connected with each other by smaller rooms and passages. In every case the exterior is left plain and austere, as if the architect intended thus to heighten by contrast the splendour of the interior. This simple exterior typifies the Moorish and Islamic culture of modesty and the fundamental belief in flaunting of wealth to be vulgar and sinful.
Within, the palace is unsurpassed for the exquisite detail of its marble pillars and arches, its fretted ceilings and the veil-like transparency of its filigree work in stucco. Sun and wind are freely admitted, and the whole effect is one of the most airy lightness and grace. Blue, red, and a golden yellow, all somewhat faded through lapse of time and exposure, are the colours chiefly employed. The decoration consists, as a rule, of stiff, conventional foliage, Arabic inscriptions, and geometrical patterns wrought into arabesques of almost incredible intricacy and ingenuity. Painted tiles are largely used as panelling for the walls. The interior work and designs are ascribed to many different kings including Yusef I, Mohamed V, Ismail I, etc.
The Tower of Justice (Torre de la Justicia) is the original entrance gate to the Alhambra, built by Yusuf I in 1348. The entrance is called the Tower of Justice as this is where the Caliph held regular public hearing of the citizen’s grievances and disputes, which he then passed on judgement on the matter put in front of him.
After the Christian conquest of the city in 1492, the conquerors began to alter the Alhambra some of which would be considered as cultural vandalism these days. The open works was filled up with whitewash, the painting and gilding erased and replaced with “Christian” style, the furniture soiled, torn or looted.
Charles V (1516–1556) built a new palace in Renaissance style of the period, and in the process pulled down the greater part of the winter palace to make room for the palace which has never been completed.
Philip V (1700–1746) redesigned the rooms in Italian style and completed his palace right in the middle of what had been the Moorish building, once again destroying older buildings. He ran up partitions which blocked up whole apartments.
In subsequent centuries under Spanish authorities, Moorish art was further defaced in the name of restoration and Christianisation.
In 1812 some of the towers were blown up by the French under Count Sebastiani. The whole building narrowly escaped the same fate when Napoleon’s troops tried to blow up the whole complex as they retreated. It is alleged that a wounded soldier was left behind to start the explosions but he defused the explosives instead as he could not bring himself to destroy such a beautiful complex and thus saved the Alhambra for posterity.
However, 9 years later in 1821 it was mother-nature’s turn with an earthquake causing further damage.
Finally, the work of restoration was undertaken in 1828 by the architect Jose Contreras was endowed in 1830 by Ferdinand VII; and after the death of Contreras in 1847, it was continued with a fair degree of success by his son Rafael (d. 1890), and his grandson Mariano.
In spite of the long neglect, wilful vandalism and sometimes ill-judged restoration which the Alhambra has endured, it remains the most perfect example of Moorish art in its final European development. Freed from the direct Byzantine influences which can be traced in the Mezquita cathedral of Cordoba more elaborate and fantastic than the Giralda at Seville.
Alhambra is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and to reduce any damage caused to this historical place. The complex is managed by a trust which is responsible for continuous maintenance and restoration of the palace in the hope of preserving it for future generations.