The Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex located in Granada. It was originally constructed as a small fortress in AD 889 on the remains of Roman fortifications, and then largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Nasrid emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada, who built its current palace and walls. It was converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada.

After the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492, the site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella (where Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition), and the palaces were partially altered in the Renaissance style. In 1526 Charles I & V commissioned a new Renaissance palace better befitting the Holy Roman Emperor in the revolutionary Mannerist style influenced by humanist philosophy in direct juxtaposition with the Nasrid Andalusian architecture, but it was ultimately never completed due to Morisco rebellions in Granada.

Alhambra's last flowering of Islamic palaces was built for the last Muslim emirs in Spain during the decline of the Nasrid dynasty, who were increasingly subject to the Christian Kings of Castile. After being allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, the buildings occupied by squatters, Alhambra was rediscovered following the defeat of Napoleon, who had conducted retaliatory destruction of the site. The rediscoverers were first British intellectuals and then other north European Romantic travelers. It is now one of Spain's major tourist attractions, exhibiting the country's most significant and well-known Islamic architecture, together with 16th-century and later Christian building and garden interventions. The Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the inspiration for many songs and stories.

Moorish poets described it as 'a pearl set in emeralds', an allusion to the colour of its buildings and the woods around them. The palace complex was designed with the mountainous site in mind and many forms of technology were considered. The park, which is overgrown with wildflowers and grass in the spring, was planted by the Moors with roses, oranges, and myrtles; its most characteristic feature, however, is the dense wood of English elms brought by the Duke of Wellington in 1812.The park has a multitude of nightingales and is usually filled with the sound of running water from several fountains and cascades. These are supplied through a conduit 8 km long, which is connected with the Darro at the monastery of Jesus del Valle above Granada.

Architecture

Alhambra endures as an a typical example of Muslim art in its final European stages, relatively uninfluenced by the direct Byzantine influences found in the Mezquita of Córdoba. Most of the palace buildings are quadrangular in plan, with all the rooms opening on to a central court, and the whole reached its present size simply by the gradual addition of new quadrangles, designed on the same principle, though varying in dimensions, and connected with each other by smaller rooms and passages. Alhambra was extended by the different Muslim rulers who lived in the complex. However, each new section that was added followed the consistent theme of 'paradise on earth'. Column arcades, fountains with running water, and reflecting pools were used to add to the aesthetic and functional complexity. In every case, the exterior was left plain and austere. Sun and wind were freely admitted. Blue, red, and a golden yellow, all somewhat faded through lapse of time and exposure, are the colors chiefly employed. The name Alhambra means the red one or the red castle, which refers to the sun-dried bricks that the outer wall is made of.

Decorations

The decoration consists for the upper part of the walls, as a rule, of Arabic inscriptions — mostly poems by Ibn Zamrak and others praising the palace — that are manipulated into geometrical patterns with vegetal background set onto an arabesque setting. Much of this ornament is carved stucco (plaster) rather than stone. Tile mosaics, with complicated mathematical patterns, are largely used as panelling for the lower part. Metal was also not present very mainly. Similar designs are displayed on wooden ceilings. Muqarnas are the main elements for vaulting with stucco, and some of the most accomplished dome examples of this kind are in the Court of the Lions halls. The palace complex is designed in the Nasrid style, the last blooming of Islamic Art in the Iberian Peninsula, that had a great influence on the Maghreb to the present day, and on contemporary Mudejar Art, which is characteristic of western elements reinterpreted into Islamic forms and widely popular during the Reconquista in Spain.

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Founded: 889 AD
Category: Castles and fortifications in Spain

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User Reviews

Ryan Church (2 years ago)
An absolute must see if visiting Granada. If you know you dates book in advance as it is incredibly popular. We arrived without booking but we're lucky as we headed to the tourist office and managed to get some last minute tickets there. They do sell online but make sure you keep refreshing as tickets are held and released throughout the day.
Linda Harding (2 years ago)
Fabulous well worth the visit. Amazing palaces and gardens. We have been in there 4 and half hours. When you arrive you must go straight to the Alhambra palace as that's you're entry to time for there. The rest take at you're leisure and enjoy.
Never Enough (2 years ago)
What a sight to behold! A really amazing place filled with great detail at every corner. There’s so much history to the Alhambra that makes it a must visit for anyone travelling to the south of Spain. We booked a day trip tour from Seville and had a 3 hour tour of the grounds but could have easily spent another 1-2 hours at least, to soak in the grounds and all the beauty of the palace and gardens. A very photogenic place!
Helene Thituson (2 years ago)
An amazing place - so much history. The ceiling is decorated with lots of stars. Painted to shine like ivory, mother of pearl and silver. And it blew my mind how many 8 pointed stars there are everywhere. As you wander along the maze like corridors of the palace, you will see many walls covered in brightly coloured ceramic tiles
Grace Stephenson (2 years ago)
An absolute highlight of our trip to Spain. An incredible example of Islamic architecture with views over the whole city. I have never seen anything quite like it. The (unfinished) palace of Charles V next door was another highlight. Make sure you buy your tickets in advance. We were lucky to pick up a couple online the day before but it was otherwise sold out for the rest of the week. (It was peak of the busy season when we went). I believe they also host a plethora of special events during the day and evening which would be worth checking for. There are also other interesting examples of mannerist and various other historical architecture and ruins, places to eat, galleries, gift shops, and extensive beautifully maintained gardens nearby. Take a whole day to explore.
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