The Alhambra in Granada: a Spanish treasure of the Muslim era

J.M. Towers

"Granada thrills to undo and melt all the senses," said the painter Henri Matisse, who visited it in 1910 during a tour of Andalusia, and the writer Ernest Hemingway, commented in one of his works: "How lazy the sun of Granada goes, it hides under the water, it hides in the Alhambra!" making it a must-see destination in Granada, Spain.

To mention the Alhambra, an ancient and transcendental Arab palace located in Granada, in the province of Andalusia, Spain, is to refer to one of the most famous, recognized and visited historical buildings in the world.

For those who do not know the complex history of Spain, it is important to note that the Iberian Peninsula was under Muslim control for eight centuries, between the years 711 and 1492, until the province was reconquered by Isabel de Castilla and Fernando de Aragón, better known as the Catholic Monarchs.

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© Board of the Alhambra and Generalife.

From all these centuries of occupation arose masterpieces of architecture, which still survive in Spain today, ranging from the Mosque of Cordoba, the Giralda of Seville or the majestic Alhambra of Granada, which was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1984.

A fascinating story

Ibn Nasr al-Jazrayu al-Ansari, emir of Granada, ordered to build on the hill that borders the Genil and Darro rivers, a fortified castle, and a regal city that dignified the surrounding domains. Work began in 1238. The red color of the land on which these structures were built gave it the name: Al-kalat al-Hamram, the castle built of red earth. For centuries the Alhambra functioned as a palace, citadel, fortress and as the residence of the Nasrid sultans and high officials. Successive generations of the prosperous Nasrid dynasty embellished the Red Castle until it became a majestic work of art, perhaps the most beautiful Arab palace in the world.

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© Board of the Alhambra and Generalife.

Palace distribution

The Alhambra consists of four areas: the Palacios, the Alcazaba, the Medina and the Generalife. It also integrates outstanding buildings from different eras, such as the Renaissance Palace of Carlos V, where the Alhambra and Fine Arts museums are located.

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© Board of the Alhambra and Generalife.

Among the thousand and one treasures offered by the Alhambra there are some that are especially visible, while some remain hidden, such as the amazing and beautiful poems by the greatest poets of the Court of Granada, Ibn al-Yayyab, Ibn al-Khatib and Ibn Zamrak, which are written on the palatial walls, in its niches, arches and fountains.

The feeling of intimacy and tranquility that comes from walking through the beautiful gardens of the Generalife is no accident, as it was an effect intentionally sought by the Nasrid kings, who used the gardens to withdraw from the crowds and take refuge from the hectic and bustling official life of the palace.

Alhambra de Granada

Faced with the beauty of such a masterpiece of worldly architecture has resulted in great individuals throughout history visiting these historic gardens, including former US presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, as they observed the unique beauty of seeing sunset in the gardens. Centuries before, the famous American writer Washington Irving (1783-1859) also visited and had the privilege of living in the Nasrid palaces while writing his book: Tales of the Alhambra.

Alhambra de Granada
© Board of the Alhambra and Generalife

“Granada thrills to undo and melt all the senses,” said the painter Henri Matisse, who visited in 1910 during a tour of Andalusia. Writer, Ernest Hemingway, also commented on this unique place in one of his works: “How lazy the sun of Granada goes, it hides under the water, it hides in the Alhambra!”

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