The Alhambra – Grenada

The Alhambra is touted by many as being the best preserved example of a Moorish palace in Europe. Located in the Andalusian city of Grenada the ancient fortress is undoubtedly the city’s most famous site. The name Alhambra translates as “Red Castle” in Arabic and was described by Moorish poets as “a pearl set in emeralds”. The fortress occupies an ideal strategic defensive position flanked by a river to the north looking towards the towering Sierra Nevada. The Alhambra has had a rich and chequered history that has seen it under the rule of many and face near destruction at the hands of aggressors and natural disasters alike.The strategic use of the site dates back to the 9th century when it is thought that Sawar ben Hamdun took refuge in the “Alcazaba”; a small fort located on the site of today’s building. It is recorded that he began to develop and expand the site, clearly seeing the location’s tactical strengths.Most of the work that made the Alhambra how we see it today was carried out much later by the Moorish kings Yusuf I and Mohammed I in the 14th century. The Alhambra was set up as a royal residence for the Moorish Kings in the late 13th century and the first king to take residence there was the aforementioned Mohammed I, the first King of the Nasrid dynasty. As you would expect, the royal residence was extremely impressive and beautifully furnished throughout and the splendid Arabesques and architectural touches are ascribed to the kings of this period.After the Christian conquest of the city in 1492, the Alhambra was to undergo a few changes. The victorious Charles V pulled down the Moorish winter palace and rebuilt sections in the simple renaissance style – an action that is much lamented today due to there being precious little Moorish art and architecture in Europe.The citadel was seriously threatened in 1812 by the attacking French forces and indeed two of the towers were blown up, causing large-scale damage. The whole building very nearly suffered the same fate as Napoleon was bent on blowing the Alhambra up completely. His plan was only foiled when one of his own soldiers, a cripple who had a personal grudge against his illustrious commander, defused the explosives, thus saving the Alhambra. In 1821 an earthquake caused further damage to the fortress but work to repair the Alhambra was started in 1828 by the architect Jose Contreras and was eventually finished some years later.For modern visitors to the Alhambra there is a huge amount to take in with many celebrated parts to the citadel. The most famous of these is probably the “Patio de los Leones” (Patio of the Lions), a beautiful rectangular courtyard surrounded by a gallery supported by 124 marble columns. Above each arch is a mesmerising series of arabesques and squares of intricate filigree work. In the centre of the courtyard stands the famous Fountain of the Lions with its twelve white marble lions encircling the feature.The “Salon de los Embajadores” (Hall of the Ambassadors) is the largest of its kind within the Alhambra. It served as the grand reception room and hosed the throne of the sultan under the citadels Moorish rule. The walls are covered with beautiful ornate tiling and the majestic ceiling is inlaid with white, blue and gold – designed as an exhortation to the heavens.

The “Sala de las dos Hermanos” (Hall of the two Sisters) is so called because of two huge, unblemished slabs of marble that were laid as paving within the hall. There’s also a beautiful indoor fountain and the domed ceiling, possibly the finest of its kind, is honeycombed with thousands of tiny cells. This “stalactite vaulting” displays the architectural brilliance of the Moors. Other highlights in the Alhambra include the “Sala de Justicia”, the “Patio de Mexuar” and the “Peindar de la Reina” (The Queens robing room) – all elegantly designed and decorated.

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