Home Alhambra, Spain

World / Spain


Alhambra, Spain
Alhambra, Spain
Roland Geider

The Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex in Granada, Spain. The name Alhambra means "The Red" in Arabic. It is regarded as the most beautiful representation of Moorish architecture in the world. Alhambra is located on Sabika, the hilly terraces overlooking Granada.

At the time that it was built, the Alhambra was known as Al-Andalus. Although it used to be the residence of the Muslim rulers of Granada, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V also built a palace in the Renaissance style and placed it within the Alhambra complex.

Alhambra, as seen from the gardens of the Generalife
Alhambra, as seen from the gardens of the Generalife

World Heritage Site Inscription Details

The Alhambra, along with Generalife and the Medieval Moorish enclave of Albayzín, was inscribed as a World Heritage Site during the X session of the World Heritage Committee

Location: Granada, Province of Granada, Autonomous Community of Andalusia.
Inscription Year: 1984
Type: Cultural
Inscription Criteria: I, III, IV

To understand and appreciate the Alhambra, we need to look at the history of the Moors in Spain. It started around 711 AD when a Muslim army crossed the Straits of Gibraltar. Within a short period of time, much of Spain was under Moorish rule. The founding of the Alhambra can be traced to the late 9th century, when The history of the Alhambra can be traced back to an earlier edifice, a red castle called Qal'at al Hamra. It was built in Elvira, which is in present-day Granada, by Arabs retreating from a bloody warfare with the Muladies. The castle was very much in a state of ruin when Ibn Nasr, the founder of the Nasrid Dynasty, built the Alhambra that we know of today, in 1238.

Exquisite interior of the Alhambra
Exquisite interior of the Alhambra

Ibn Nasr was fleeing religious persecution from King Ferdinand, who was determined to rid Spain of Moorish control. Ibn Nasr retreated to Granada, and there, he planned out his palace complex. It was to have six palaces - five of which grouped together in a royal living area, two circuit towers, numerous bathhouses. Rather than depending on rainwater as the old castle did, the new Alhambra was irrigated by a canal system that totals 8km in length, allowing for a profusion of fountains and cascades within the complex. The entire design transformed the austere fortress into a sumptuous palace.

At the Alhambra we see the last great burst of Andalusian creativity in art and architecture, standing as a small Moorish enclave within Spain. Detached from mainstream Muslim influences, the artists and artisans of Alhambra perfected their style. Creating works of incredible beauty, from graceful calligraphy to elegant arabesque, they adorned the walls, columns and ceilings of Alhambra.

The Christian conquest of Granade by Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile in 1492 brought an end to Moorish diminion of Alhabra. From then onwards, subsequent wave of non-Muslim rulers injected his own style in altering the palace complex. Charles V (1516-1556) rebuilt portions of it in the Renaissance style.

Courtyard of Charles V in the Alhambra
Courtyard of Charles V in the Alhambra

Philip V (1700-1746) italianised some rooms, and put up his palace in the middle of the comples, blocking up sections in the process. In 1812 Count Sebastiani blew up some of the towers. The entire complex barely escaped being totally demolished by Napoleon - a soldier who wanted to save the palace defused the explosives. Neglect, defacement and vandalism added to the sorrows of Alhambra.

The earliest recorded restoration of Alhambra began in 1828, by architect José Contreras, and after his death, continued by his son Rafael.

Layout of Alhambra

The Alhambra consists of three different sections which you would explore separately:
  • Nasrid Palaces
  • Alcazaba Fortress
  • Generalife

    The Nasrid Palaces
    The Nasrid Palaces are the palaces of the Moorish rulers of Alhambra. It is located in the middle portion of the complex. Overwhelming this whole section and rather out-of-place with the surrounding architecture, is the Palace of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, which is of Renaissance style.

    Arches and columns at the Nasrid Palace, Alhambra
    Arches and columns at the Nasrid Palace, Alhambra
    Javier Carro

    It's in the Nasrid Palaces section that you find the famous Court of Lions and the Court of Lions Fountain, perhaps the most recognised icon of the Alhambra. It was commissioned by Muhammed V and constructed between 1362 - 1391 AD.

    The Fountain of the Lions is a most unusual theme for a Muslim palace, as Islamic architecture would forbid representing lifeforms. By the time the lions were built, the Moors in Granada have been cut off from the rest of the Muslim world, and the use of the lions as figurative motifs reflects Castilan influence to Nasrid art. Incidentally, the lions of the fountains were believed to have been carved not by Muslim but rather by Jewish artisans.

    Fountain of the Lions, Nasrid Palace
    Fountain of the Lions, Nasrid Palace
    Fabio Alessandro Locati

    The Alcazaba, or citadel, is the original Moorish fortification of Alhambra. It is the oldest section of the fortress and is located on the western end of the complex.

    Alcazaba, Granada
    Alcazaba, Granada
    El Pantera

    Officially Palacio de Generalife, this summer palace derived its name from Arabic, Jannat al-Arif, meaning Garden of Arif, or Garden of the Architect. It is the country estate of the Nasrid sultans of Granada, whose palaces are at the Alhambra a short distance below. The palaces and gardens of Generalife were begun during the rule of Muhammad III (1302-1309), and continued by his brother Abu I-Walid Ismail (1313-1324AD)

    Generalife, the summer palace of the Sultans of Granada
    Generalife, the summer palace of the Sultans of Granada

    Getting there

    The Alhambra is located on the hills of Sabika, in the city of Granada, in the Granada Province, Andalucia, Spain. Granada Airport is located half an hour from the city. There are daily flights connecting Granada with Madrid and Barcelona by Iberia (http://www.iberia.es/) From London, budget carrier Ryan Air (http://www.ryanair.com/) connects Granada with Stanstead International Airport, London, and with Liverpool. Monarch (http://www.flymonarch.com/) connects it with Garwick International Airport, London. From the bus terminal in Granada are bus services connecting it with Seville, Cordoba, Algeciras and Malaga. Train services are also available connecting Granada with Cordoba, Malaga, Almeria and Seville. For details, visit the website of Renfe, the National Railway, http://horarios.renfe.es/hir/ingles.html

    Visiting Hours

    The Alhambra is open from 8:30am - 8:00pm on Sundays-Thursdays with extended hours till 10:00pm on Fridays and 11:30pm on Saturdays, between March to October. From November to February the opening hours are shorter, from 8:30am - 6:00pm Sundays - Thursdays, with extended hours till 8:00pm on Fridays and 9:30pm on Saturdays. Admission fee is €10, and ticket office closes an hour before the gates. Evening visits is limited to the Nasrid Palaces only.

    Guided tours are available every day for €44.50 that includes entrance fee, transport and tour guide.

    Related Site

    A replica of the Alhambra can be found at Taman Tamadun Islam, an Islamic-themed monument park in Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia

    The Alhambra, Granada, Spain
    The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

  • Preparing for your trip

    If you are planning a trip anywhere, make sure you compare prices of hotel rooms as provided by different online booking sites. Enter your destination and travel date below to see which site offers the best price, then click to proceed to that site.

    Finally, if you're interested in World Heritage Sites like me, here are a few books on World Heritage Sites which you might want to add to your library. They are all available directly from Amazon.