The Alhambra in the 16th century (Spain)
The name of this magnificent palace complex originates in Arabic and means 'the red one'.
Alhambra, Generalife, Alcazaba, Palace of Charles V, Granada, Kingdom of Spain, Spain, Charles V, Moorish style, history, Arab architecture, 16th century, modern history, palace, fortress, citadel, water supply, architecture, history of art, Reconquista, Islam, Christianity
With the capture of Granada in 1492, a few years after the union of the Crown of Castile and the Crown of Aragon following the wedding of Isabella I and Ferdinand II, (later known as the Catholic Monarchs), the last refuge of Muslims on the Iberian peninsula disappeared. This meant the end of Muslim presence in the territory known for almost eight centuries as al-Andalus. Until the late 15th century, the Kingdom of Granada had been able to resist Christian pressure due to its commercial importance, as well as the natural defense provided by the mountain ranges in the Southern Iberian peninsula, and the military support of the North-African Muslim kingdom of the Wattasid dynasty. The rivalry between the Christian kingdoms occupying the northern parts of the peninsula and the internal conflicts of the kingdom of Castile also allowed the Kingdom of Granada to prosper for centuries.
The capital of the former kingdom, Granada, except for the fertile plains to the west, is surrounded by mountains. The Sierra Nevada mountain range lies south of the city. The highest peaks of the Iberian Peninsula, some of which exceed 3000 m (9843 ft) in altitude, are found here.
Granada is the site of the world-famous Alhambra (which in Arabic means "the red one"), a Moorish palace and fortress complex. It is situated on a hill between the Darro and Genil rivers, facing the Albaicín, one of the oldest neighborhoods of the city. Its walls were once connected to the city walls, which made the Alhambra an impregnable citadel within the city. Inside, there were palaces, gardens, a fortress (Alcazaba) and other types of dependencies typical of this type of palace complex.
It was home to the monarchs and served as the seat of the court of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada. Its beauty resides not only in its decorative style, representing the peak of Andalusian art, but also in its ability to seamlessly merge into the surrounding landscape. Extraordinary engineering feats concerning water treatment compliment these factors. Numerous gardens, fountains, ponds and ditches supplied the inhabitants with water, which are still in use today, and also contribute to the magical atmosphere of the place.
The monumental site of the Alhambra consists of structures that were completed after almost two and a half centuries by the Nasrids, as well as previous structures and later contributions of the Christian Era, from 1492 onwards.
Today, it is difficult to imagine the Alhambra without the beautiful and lush surrounding forests. Back in the day, they didn’t exist, as it would have made defending the grand fortress impossible. The first trees were planted alongside the access roads during Charles V’s reign, while the others were planted later on at the beginning of the 19th century.
The Alhambra became a royal residence from 1238 onwards when Muhammad I came to power as the first monarch of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada. However, the most important palaces were built between 1333 and 1391, during the reigns of Yusuf I and Muhammad V. The luxurious interiors of the Comares Palace (Palacio de Comares) and the Palace of the Lions (Palacio de los Leones) both date from the 14th century. The site has an elongated shape, which is adapted to the shape of the hill on which it sits. It is 740 meters (2428 ft) long and its width varies from 40 to 180 meters (131-591 ft).
The towers located along the walls, of which 22 remain today, ended up becoming living quarters from the 14th century onwards, as they were no longer used for defense purposes.
The Mexuar, comprising the Court of Machuca (Patio de Machuca), its tower and gallery, is the oldest part of the Alhambra. It is named after the architects responsible for the construction of Charles V’s palace, Pedro Machuca and his son Luis. Beside it lies the courtroom, in which the king dispensed justice and ministerial councils took place. It is one of the structures which have undergone the most renovations and changes. Both Muslim and Christian elements can be found in it.
The Gilded Room (Cuarto Dorado) and the Oratory, which face south-eastwards towards Mecca are also worth mentioning here
Comares Palace (Palacio de Comares)
The Comares Palace houses the official buildings. It consists of dependencies, among which are the Hall of the Boat (Sala de la Barca), and the Hall of the Ambassadors (Salón de los Embajadores o del Trono) which is inside the Comares Tower (Torre de Comares), overlooking the Darro valley. It is perhaps the most important part of the monument as it served as the seat of the political and diplomatic activities of the Kingdom. The grandeur and refinement of this Muslim court can be seen not only in the richness of its decorations, but also by the presence of poetic compositions and praises to the emir on its walls. It can be accessed through the Court of the Myrtles (Patio de los Arrayanes), in which guests most likely waited to be received. The name of this court comes from the hedges that line both sides of the pool.
The proximity of the baths to the Hall of Ambassadors bears witness to the importance of this space. Those invited were surely important figures, that could relax and enjoy preferential treatment. There was a cold room, a warm room and a hot room, as well as a room with beds in which people could relax after the baths. There was also a toilet, and a gallery for musicians above. Members of the opposite sex were forbidden to mix in the baths.
Palace of the Lions (Palacio de los Leones)
The construction of this palace began under Muhammad V, and much like the other areas of the monument, stands out for its beauty. It is centered around the Court of the Lions (Patio de los Leones), one of the most characteristic and popular spots of the Alhambra. During its construction, new esthetic and formal concepts were implemented, such as the creation of sculptures depicting animals, which was forbidden by Islam.
The Court of the Lions is an enclosed space, much like a hidden garden, and is considered by Muslims as the equivalent of paradise. It was home to the Sultan, in which there were spaces that were reserved (though not exclusively) for women. For this reason, there were no harems, so to speak. The Hall of the Abencerrajes (Sala de los Abencerrajes), in which the bedrooms could be found, is next to it. It was an ideal spot to relax, as its unique design allowed hot air to flow out through the upper parts of the room, so that even in the summer temperatures never exceeded 22°C (72 °F).
Other rooms that can be found around the Court of the Lions are the Hall of the Kings (Sala de los Reyes), which owes its name to the paintings of Nasrid kings as well as scenes depicting Muslim and Christian figures, the Hall of the Muqarnas (Sala de los Mocárabes) and the Hall of the Two Sisters (Sala de Dos Hermanas).
To the Southeast of the Court of the Lions is the Partal, in which small, landscaped areas are staggered in order to adapt to the uneven terrain. Within this enclosure, the Ladies' Tower (Torre de las Damas) and the pond are the only structures that have remained intact. The other structures are the ruins of what was once the residence of Yusuf III, a small mosque, old houses, stretches of streets, fountains and stairs.
This is perhaps the oldest part of the whole site. It sits on the highest part of the hill, which made it an ideal location in terms of the surveillance and protection of the city, the surrounding agricultural areas and the Alhambra itself - as part of the characteristic fortified enclosure. Some of its oldest elements are, in all likelihood, from the 11th century.
From the 13th century onwards, the Alcazaba came into being as we know it today, after the construction of several large towers: the Watchtower (Torre de la Vela) to the west, and the Keep (Torre del Homenaje), Quebrada and Adarguero to the east. The whole structure is surrounded by a road, with an entry point at the Arms Gate (Puerta de las Armas).
As the main concern of the King of Granada was to ensure the defense of the fortress, fortifying the Alhambra began at this time too. Work was carried out on its walls, certain towers, as well as various gates in order to provide access to the inside.
The work included certain innovations which made the Alhambra almost impenetrable. A few significant examples of these innovations are the following:
• The main entry points were in the towers rather than the walls. Only a few assailants would make it all the way to the top, as the walkway inside towers had many turns which forced them to advance slowly, and as they climbed higher they would be more vulnerable to attacks.
• The 'coracha' was a wall that jutted out from another one, leading to a tower next to the river. Its purpose was to ensure that people inside the fortress did not run out of water.
Palace of Charles V
The final stage of the Alhambra’s transformation took place after the Kingdom of Granada was conquered by the Catholic Monarchs on January 2, 1492. Reforms that took place in 1526 in order to accommodate Charles V and his family during their stays in the Alcazar of Granada lent the Court of the Lindaraja (Patio de la Lindaraja) and the Patio of the Wrought Iron Grille (Patio de la Reja), which are located next to the Comares Palace, their current forms. The Charles V Fountain (Pilar de Carlos V), the Church of Santa Maria de la Alhambra (Iglesia de Santa María) and the Monastery of San Francisco (Convento de San Francisco), in which the Catholic Monarchs were buried before being moved to their final resting place in the Royal Chapel of Granada, were further Christian contributions to the site during the 16th century.
The Charles V Palace (Palacio de Carlos V) is the most outstanding Christian addition to the site, which became part of the palatial complex even though construction on it was not finished until much later. Today, two museums can be found inside it.
Charles V discovered the Alhambra in 1526, while on honeymoon with Isabella of Portugal, and the royal couple stayed there for several months. In awe of the beautiful site, he decided to build a residence that would have all of the most comfortable fittings of the time. Pedro Machuca, an admirer of the Italian Renaissance, undertook the task of its construction, with works beginning in 1527. Today, it is considered one of the most remarkable buildings of the Spanish Renaissance. Its circular patio is one of the only two in Spain, alongside the one in Bellver Castle, a gothic fortress from the 14th century in Palma de Mallorca.
The Generalife, probably dating from the end of the 13th century, is a villa with gardens. Its original purpose was to be a space in which the kings could relax. It is separate from the Alhambra and can be accessed from the side facing the river Darro.
Water supply system
The Moorish palace complex known as the Alhambra is located in Granada, Spain, on a hill situated between the Darro and Genil rivers. Its name means 'the red one' in Arabic.
This monumental ensemble is the result of work of almost two and a half centuries, carried out during the reign of the Nasrid dynasty. It became a royal residence from 1238 onwards when Muhammad I came to power. However, the most important palaces were built between 1333 and 1391, during the reigns of Yusuf I and Muhammad V. The construction of the Lions Palace, and its famous courtyard, began during the reign of Mahomed V and, like other areas of the monument, stands out for its undoubted beauty.
The Alcazaba is perhaps the oldest part of the complex. It is located at the highest part of the hill, an ideal spot for the surveillance and protection of the city, the agricultural areas around it, and of the Alhambra itself. Some of its oldest elements are, in all probability, from the 11th century.
From the 13th century onwards, the Alcazaba came into being as we know it today, after the construction of several large towers
When the Kingdom of Granada was conquered by the 'Catholic Monarchs', On January 2, 1492, the last refuge of Muslims on the Iberian peninsula was lost and the Muslim presence in the territory known for almost eight centuries as al-Andalus ended. The final stage of the Alhambra’s transformation took place after this period. The Charles V Palace (Palacio de Carlos V) is the most outstanding Christian addition to the site. Today, it is considered one of the most remarkable buildings of the Spanish Renaissance. It has an exceptional, circular patio.
The Generalife, probably dating from the end of the 13th century, is a summer palace with gardens. Its original purpose was to be a space in which Muslim kings could relax. It is separate from the Alhambra and can be accessed from the side facing the river Darro.
The palace complex was included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Sites in 1984. Today it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Spain, visited by millions of people every year.
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