Palace Alhambra Shows What Spain Has To Offer

Palace Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Spain played a very important role in world history—and this shows in the country’s culture, belief, food, infrastructure, and others. After all, Spain was once one of the leading powers in the world, and together with Portugal, it became a global empire. Spain’s rich history gives incredible depth and color, characteristics that make the country a popular tourist destination. And this is surprising, since in no other country in the world can you find natural and man-made beauty in abundance. For instance, Spain is not noted for its beaches and coastline. It is also noted for its numerous sites for cultural tourism—cities like Toledo, Cordoba, and Seville are cities where these cultural destinations abound.

One of more noted man-made destination in Spain is the Palacae Alhambra in Granada. The Emirate of Granada itself has a very deep history; it was established after the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. The capital city of this autonomous region, also called Granada, has a number of important architectural sites that provide a glimpse of how the city’s Moorish and Catholic influences merged. Palace Alhambra is one of those sites.

The fortified walls of Alhambra

The Alhambra was once the residence of the Muslims in Granada, giving it an important part in Spanish history. Although Spain is mainly a Catholic country, the Moors—a term given to the Muslim people from certain parts of Africa—co-existed with the Christians in Spain for hundreds of years. However, at the start of the 700s, the European Reconquistas started their quest to expand their Christian territory. Before this, only the Kingdom of Asturias remained as the sole Christian state in the dominantly Muslim Spain, due largely because of constant raids by the Muslim. However, by 900s, the Kingdom of Asturias fought back and took advantage of the internal turmoil within the Moors in Spain. The struggle continued until the 1000s, when the Catholic Church, in its hopes to reform, appointed French monks as bishops. The foreign bishops were indifferent to the Muslim culture, and their presence in the country gave Spain a needed and invigorated Christian identity. The quest to claim the land suddenly became a holy war—a trend similar to what would happen in Asia, when the Catholic Church launched the Crusades.

This would go on until the 1300s. In the long run, the Spanish Catholics were able to win against the Muslims, and the country became largely Catholic. At the time when the Moor forces were already weakening, however, they still managed to set up a number of territories and fortresses that served as refuge. After all, the country was becoming largely Catholic, and the Moors needed a territory—a fortified one, where the Moors could easily defend themselves from the Catholics and their quest to expand their land. As history would prove, the Catholic Church became blind with power (something they already apologized for). Expanded territories mean more Catholics, and more Catholics within a territory mean for money for the church. And more money they had, as proven by the number of monasteries and churches they built during this time.
The Alhambra served as this fortress for the Moors in the Emirate of Granada during that time.


The actual Alhambra that people know today was completed before the end of the rule of Yusif I and Muhammed V, both sultans of Granada. As it is, the Alhambra is a reflection of the last days of the Nasrid rule. The Nasrids became the longest running Muslim dynasty in Iberia, making the emirate of Granada into an actual tributary state in 1238. The Nasrid rules paid tribute to the Christian kings of other kings and offered support in defeating rebellious Muslim forces outside the emirate.

It was Ibn Nasr who first created Alhambra, when he took residence in Alhambra’s Palace of Badis. This was to prevent being persecuted by King Ferdinand, who was then trying to get rid of the Moorish Dominion in the country. Ibn Nasr, because of this, became the founder of what is now known as the Nasrid Dynasty, with the Alhambra and Granada as their main base. Nasr had captured other Spanish territories, to be sure—before Granada, he took over Guadix, and tool over Almeria and Malaga after Granada. But it was Granada (due to its ideal location and available resources) became the capital of his dynasty. Later on, he collaborated with Ferdinand III of Castile to help the Spanish king take over Seville, which led to the independence of Granada. Nasr still paid tribute to Ferdinand III as part of their agreement for the independence of the emirate. Still, the Nasrid dynasty struggled with more external forces until 1492, when Muhammad XII surrendered to Aragon and Castile, both of which are Christian Spanish kingdoms. This became the ultimate end of the Moor’s longest hold of a territory in what was already then a largely Catholic-dominated country.

The allure and the charm of the Alhambra was not lost on contemporary art and popular culture, thanks to the numerous artists who used the palace and the culture and design of the palace as an inspiration.

In any case, at the start of Nasr’s reign in Granada, he saw to it that Alhambra was restored to make it fit for a king’s residence. The Palace Alhambra was completed at around the 1360s, during the reign of Yusuf I and Mohammed V, seeing the potential of the palace (something their predecessor’s didn’t).

Yusuf I designed the Alhambra Palace, making water one of the forms of decoration within the palace through canals that led to fountains. This was because Granada didn’t have an abundant water supply and the Moors cherished water and considered it as a sign of beauty. It was also during his reign when the Gate of Justice was built. It has a horseshoe shape, with an open hand above its entryway (symbolizing the five pillars of Islam faith).

Later on, the successors of Yusuf I decided to improve on the Palace Alhambra instead of just destroying it, which was the common practice then. This is perhaps a sign that the Nasrid Dynasty knew that their reign in the area was soon to come to an end, judging from the other Muslim dynasties that were ending at that point. However, this may also be proof of how the Moors found the Palacae Alhambra a marvelous and one of a kind beauty. When the Christian forces came and the Nasrid gave up, the palace wasn’t destroyed. Rather, the Spanish Christian forces decided to maintain the palace so they can enjoy it for themselves.

Palace Alhambra, Granada, Spain

The beauty of the palace

More than the history it holds, the Palace Alhambra is a marvel even until today since it demonstrated the various examples of fine Islamic architecture. The Palace Alhambra probably has the finest examples of this kind of architecture in the world, judging from its extravagance and its longevity. After all, even the Spanish Christian didn’t see the need to destroy something that represents a dark part of their rule in the country.

What makes the Palace Alhambra a curious creation is how it illustrates the work of the Moors when they have been so far detached from their mainland. Parts of the palace were undoubtedly influenced by Muslim stylistics—such as the use of the horse-show arch with the Almoravid palm, the stilted arches, among others. The design of the palace was also dominantly Arabesque, which is also a main factor of Muslim aesthetic styles. Even the concept used in the design of the palace was dominantly Muslim. For instance, many parts of the Palace Alhambra used design repetitions, which they say is an attempt to symbolize the existence of life after death—or the afterlife. With repetitions, the design meant to imply that life goes on and on. Afterlife, of course, is also a Christian, except for one notable exception—the Christians do not believe in reincarnation, and their life does not go on and go; their life on Earth ends after death.

Major parts of the palace include the Court of the Myrtles and the Court of the Lions. The Court of the Myrtles shows how Islamic architecture depends on its relationship with nature, with its central pool and Myrtle bushes. Also prominent in this court are the rows of thin columns. The presence of these three elements seems to resemble nature, and it demonstrates how water is an important part of Islamic worship. On the other hand, the Court of the Lions follow what the Koran (the holy book of the Muslims, like how the Bible is for the Catholics) says is the description of heaven: with rivers flowing underneath the gardens.

Generally, the complex of the Alhambra is composed of the Mexuar, the Serallo, and the Harem. The Mexuar has the functional areas of the palace, with modest decors and designs. The Serallo, with its brightly colored interiors, featured extravagant furniture. This area houses the Patio de los Arrayanes. The Harem is the most elaborate in terms of décor, since it is the living quarters for the main residents of the palace, which includes the wives and the mistresses of the king.

The Harem is perhaps one of the proofs that the Alhambra combined Christian and Muslim influences in its construction. The Harem features a number of human form representations—which was forbidden under the Islam rule but allowed under the Catholic law. Hence, according to historians, the Harem was probably designed by Christian artisans. The Muslim rulers were obviously tolerant of this—after all, they under technically under the Catholic kingdom Castile. This actually makes the Alhambra an even more curious creation.

The Alhambra today

Thanks to the Spanish Catholic forces that didn’t destroy the Alhambra, it is now preserved as a museum, a monument that Spain was once a major Muslim territory. Anyone who knows Spanish history from the time it was a dominant Catholic nation (together with Portugal) would not know that the Muslims actually resided in the country. In fact, their presence in the country—and the fact that Alhambra contained the best examples of Islamic architecture—is considered as ironic since, as mentioned earlier, the Muslim in Alhambra have long been isolated from the mainland Islam.

Alhambra today remains one of the major tourist sites of Spain. This goes to show that beyond the beaches and nightlife of mainstream Spain is a deeper site where one can learn the deep history and varied culture of Spain. The history of Alhambra would actually explain a lot of things about Spanish culture. For one, many people are constantly saying that Spain is a product of several cultures and beliefs. The presence of the Christians and the Muslim in the country proves this fact, since nothing can be more fruitful than the presence of two warring entities. The Christian-Muslim conflict also has a long history, something that could easily be detached from the history of Alhambra itself, but Granada’s existence and history adds more depth to their previous conflicts.

During the time of its glory, the Palace Alhambra was the peak of Islamic architecture. The exterior of Alhambra served as a fortress against their numerous enemies, but the palace inside the fortress is a tribute to God and paradise. This is proven by the ideas and the concepts of most of the designs in the Alhambra, defying the odds when their reign could have ended so soon. The Alhambra served as the perfect fortress and residence of Muslim’s last stand in Spain, and it also serves as the fitting symbol for their reign and ultimate end.

The use of water and nature as main motif in the Palace Alhambra seems to signify that the Moors in the Nasrid Dynasty wanted to exist without any further conflicts. And they made it possible for a long period of time. Today, quite ironically, a palace that saw the end of a Muslim reign in a now Catholic country might as well be the most proper symbol for cultural and religious co-existence.

Palace Alhambra, Granada, Spain

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One Response to “Palace Alhambra, Granada, Spain”

  1. I;ve been there a few times and I must say it’s beautiful – if you’re visiting the area then make sure you take a look! Great pictures.

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