Cloisters of Saint John Lateran, Rome. Source:

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Alhambra. A Pearl. Set In Emeralds.

Text and Illustrations from Wikimedia - the free encyclopaedia,
unless otherwise stated.

The Alhambra,
Granada, Spain.
Photo: August 2006.
Source: Flickr.
Author: bernjan.
(Wikimedia Commons)

English: Evening panorama of The Alhambra from Mirador de San Nicolas.
Español: Panorámica de la Alhambra al atardecer desde el
Mirador de San Nicolás, Granada, España.
Photo: 6 August 2014.
Source: Own work.
Author: Slaunger.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Alhambra (Spanish: [aˈlambɾa]; Arabic: الْحَمْرَاء‎, [ʔælħæmˈɾˠɑːʔ], Al-Ḥamrā', literally. "The Red One"), the complete form of which was "Calat Alhambra", is a Palace and Fortress complex located in Granada, Andalusia, Spain.

It was originally constructed as a small Fortress in 889 A.D., and then largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the Mid-11th-Century, by the Moorish 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.

The Ceiling,
Photo: 10 March 2012.
Source: Own work.
Author: Liam987.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Alhambra's Islamic Palaces, as we know them today, were built for the last Muslim Emirs in Spain and the Court of the Nasrid dynasty. After the Reconquista by the Reyes Católicos ("Catholic Monarchs"), in 1492, some portions were used by Christian rulers.

The Palace of Charles V, built by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1527, was inserted in The Alhambra, within the Nasrid fortifications. After being allowed to fall into disrepair for Centuries, the buildings being occupied by squatters, The Alhambra was rediscovered in the 19th-Century by European scholars and travellers, with restorations commencing. 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 (Alameda de la Alhambra), 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 (5.0 miles) long, which is connected with the River Darro at the Monastery of Jesus del Valle, above Granada.

English: Arabesques around one of the windows in The Alhambra.
Español: Mirador de Lindaraja, dentro del palacio de los Leones, Alhambra de Granada.
Photo: 23 February 2006.
Source: Own work.
Author: Javier Carro.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Despite long neglect, wilful vandalism, and some ill-judged restoration, The Alhambra endures, as an atypical example of Muslim art, in its final European stages, relatively uninfluenced by the direct Byzantine influences found in the Mezquita of Córdoba. The majority 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.

The 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 colours chiefly employed.

The Alhambra,
Granada, Spain.
Available on YouTube at

The decoration consists, as a rule, of Arabic inscriptions that are manipulated into sacred geometrical patterns wrought into Arabesques. Painted tiles are largely used as Panelling for the walls. The Palace complex is designed in the Mudéjar Style, which is characteristic of Western elements, reinterpreted into Islamic Forms, and widely popular during the Reconquista, the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslims by the Christian Kingdoms.

The Alhambra did not have a Master Plan for the total site design, so its overall layout is not orthogonal, nor organised. As a result of the site's many construction phases over time, from the original 9th-Century Citadel, through to the 14th-Century Muslim Palaces, to the 16th-Century Palace of Charles V, some buildings are in odd positionings to each other.

The Terrace or Plateau, where The Alhambra sits, measures about 740 metres (2,430 ft) in length by 205 metres (670 ft) at its greatest width. It extends from West-North-West to East-South-East and covers an area of about 142,000 square metres (1,530,000 sq ft). The Alhambra's most Westerly feature is the Alcazaba(Citadel), a strongly-fortified position. The rest of the Plateau comprises a number of Moorish Palaces, enclosed by a Fortified Wall, with thirteen Towers, some defensive and some providing vistas for the inhabitants.

One detail of the Arabesques (see, above).
Fine architectural detail at The Alhambra Palace,
Granada, Spain.
This File: 29 January 2007.
User: Serg!o.
Source: Flickr
(Author: Yves Remedios)
(Wikimedia Commons)

The decorations within the Palaces typified the remains of Moorish dominion within Spain and ushered in the last great period of Andalucian art in Granada. With little of the Byzantine influence of contemporary Abassid architecture, artists endlessly reproduced the same forms and trends, creating a new style that developed over the course of the Nasrid Dynasty.

The Nasrids used freely all the stylistic elements that had been created and developed during eight centuries of Muslim rule in the Peninsula, including the Calliphal Horseshoe Arch, the Almohad Sebka (a grid of rhombuses), the Almoravid Palm, and unique combinations of them, as well as innovations such as Stilted Arches and Muqarnas (Stalactite Ceiling Decorations). The isolation from the rest of Islam, plus the commercial and political relationship with the Christian Kingdoms, also influenced building styles.

Columns and Muqarnas appear in several Chambers, and the Interiors of numerous Palaces are decorated with Arabesques and Calligraphy. The Arabesques of the Interior are ascribed to, among other Sultans, Yusuf I, Mohammed V, and Ismail I, Sultan of Granada.

Detail of the script
on the wall of the Mexuar Hall:
"God is the only Victor.".
Photo: 8 November 2009.
Source: Own work.
(Wikimedia Commons)

After the Christian conquest of the City in 1492, the conquerors began to alter The Alhambra. The open work was filled up with whitewash, the painting and gilding effaced, and the furniture soiled, torn, or removed. Charles I (1516–1556) rebuilt portions, in the Renaissance Style of the period, and destroyed the greater part of the Winter Palace to make room for a Renaissance-Style structure which was never completed. Philip V (1700–1746) Italianised the rooms and completed his Palace in the middle of what had been the Moorish building; he had partitions constructed which blocked up whole apartments.

Over subsequent Centuries, the Moorish art was further damaged, and, in 1812, some of the Towers were destroyed by the French, under Count Sebastiani. In 1821, an earthquake caused further damage. Restoration work was undertaken in 1828 by the architect José Contreras, endowed in 1830 by Ferdinand VII. After the death of Contreras in 1847, it was continued with fair success by his son, Rafael (+ 1890) and his grandson.

Completed towards the end of Muslim rule of Spain by Yusuf I (1333–1353) and Muhammed V, Sultan of Granada (1353–1391), The Alhambra is a reflection of the culture of the last Centuries of the Moorish rule of Al Andalus, reduced to the Nasrid Emirate of Granada. It is a place where artists and intellectuals had taken refuge as the Reconquista by Spanish Christians won victories over Al Andalus.

English: A room of The Alhambra Palace
and a view of the Court of the Lions.
Deutsch: Innenhof der Alhambra.
Artist: Adolf Seel (1829–1907).
Date: 1892.
Current location: Unknown.
This File: 22 March 2006.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Alhambra integrates natural site qualities with constructed structures and gardens, and is a testament to Moorish culture in Spain and the skills of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian artisans, craftsmen, and builders of their era. The literal translation of Alhambra, "the red (female)," reflects the colour of the red clay of the surroundings of which the Fort is made. The buildings of The Alhambra were originally whitewashed; however, the buildings, as seen today, are reddish. Another possible origin of the name is the tribal designation of the Nasrid Dynasty, known as the Banu al-Ahmar (Arabic: Sons of the Red (male)), a sub-tribe of the Qahtanite Banu Khazraj tribe. One of the early Nasrid ancestors was nicknamed Yusuf Al Ahmar (Yusuf the Red) and, hence, the (Nasrid) fraction of the Banu Khazraj took up the name of Banu al-Ahmar.

The first reference to the Qal‘at al-Ḥamra was during the battles between the Arabs and the Muladies (people of mixed Arab and European descent) during the rule of the ‘Abdullah ibn Muhammad (888 A.D. – 912 A.D.). In one particularly fierce and bloody skirmish, the Muladies soundly defeated the Arabs, who were then forced to take shelter in a primitive Red Castle, located in the Province of Elvira, presently located in Granada.

According to surviving documents from the era, the Red Castle was quite small, and its walls were not capable of deterring an army intent on conquering. The Castle was then largely ignored until the 11th-Century, when its ruins were renovated and rebuilt by Samuel ibn Naghrela, Vizier to the Emir Badis ben Habus of the Zirid Dynasty of Al Andalus, in an attempt to preserve the small Jewish settlement, also located on the natural Plateau, Sabikah Hill.

English: The Court of the Lions;
a unique example of Muslim art.
The Alhambra Palace.
Español: Patio de los leones.
Photo: 2 October 2003.
Source: Flickr.
Author: comakut.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Ibn Nasr, the Founder of the Nasrid Dynasty, was forced to flee to Jaén to avoid persecution by King Ferdinand III of Castile and the Reconquista supporters working to end Spain's Moorish rule. After retreating to Granada, Ibn-Nasr took up residence at the Palace of Badis ben Habus in The Alhambra. A few months later, he embarked on the construction of a new Alhambra fit for the residence of a Sultan. According to an Arab Manuscript, since published as the Anónimo de Granada y Copenhague, This year, 1238, Abdallah ibn al-Ahmar climbed to the place called "The Alhambra", inspected it, laid out the foundations of a Castle, and left someone in charge of its construction.

The design included Plans for six Palaces, five of which were grouped in the North-East quadrant, forming a Royal Quarter, two Circuit Towers, and numerous Bath-Houses. During the Reign of the Nasrid Dynasty, The Alhambra was transformed into a Palatine City, complete with an irrigation system composed of Acequias for the gardens of the Generalife located outside the Fortress. Previously, the old Alhambra structure had been dependent upon rainwater collected from a cistern, and from what could be brought up from the Albaicín. The creation of the Sultan's Canal solidified the identity of The Alhambra as a Palace-City, rather than a defensive and ascetic structure.

Canopy, with stonework.
The Alhambra Palace.
Date: 5 July 2008 (original Upload Date).
Source: Transferred from en.wikipedia;
Transferred to Commons by User:Arch2all
using CommonsHelper.
Author: Tim Bray.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Muslim Ruler, Muhammad XII of Granada, surrendered the Emirate of Granada in 1492, without The Alhambra being attacked when the forces of the Reyes Católicos, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, took the surrounding territory with a force of overwhelming numbers.

The Alhambra resembles many Mediaeval Christian strongholds in its three-fold arrangement as a Castle, a Palace and a Residential Annex for subordinates. The Alcazaba or Citadel, its oldest part, is built on the isolated and precipitous Foreland, which terminates the Plateau on the North-West. All that remains are its massive Outer Walls, Towers and Ramparts.

On its Watch-Tower, the 25 m (85 ft) high Torre de la Vela, the Flag of Ferdinand and Isabella was first raised as a symbol of the Spanish conquest of Granada on 2 January 1492 [Editor: GRANADAINFO.COM states that, nowadays, four Flags are flown from the Tower: The Blue European Flag; the Green and White Andalucian Flag; the Red and Yellow Spanish Flag; and the Red and Green Granada Flag.]

English: Flag of the Autonomous Community of Andalusia (Spain).
One of four Flags flown, nowadays, from the Torre de la Vela, The Alhambra.
Español: Bandera de la Comunidad Autónoma de Andalucía (España). Según la descripción:
La composición de tres franjas horizontales (verde, blanca y verde) que forman la bandera fue aprobada por la Asamblea de Ronda en 1918. Sus colores evocan tonalidades del paisaje andaluz,
al tiempo que simbolizan los valores de la pureza y la esperanza en el futuro. En ambas caras
y en situación centrada se reproduce elEscudo Oficial de Andalucía que tiene una altura
de dos quintas partes de la anchura de la bandera. El color verde se denomina
"Verde Omeya Bandera de Andalucía.
Sources/Fuentes: Símbolos de Andalucía & Descripción símbolos de Andalucía.
Date: 21 February 2009.
Source: Own work.
Author: Miguillen.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Detail of Palacios Nazaries,
The Alhambra, Granada, Spain.
Photo: 20 May 2010.
Source: Own work.
(Wikimedia Commons)

A Turret, containing a large Bell, was added in the 18th-century, and restored, after being damaged by lightning, in 1881. Beyond the Alcazaba, is the Palace of the Moorish Rulers,

Access from the City to the Alhambra Park is afforded by the Puerta de las Granadas (Gate of Pomegranates), a Triumphal Arch dating from the 15th-Century. A steep ascent leads past the Pillar of Charles V, a Fountain erected in 1554, to the main entrance of the Alhambra. This is the Puerta de la Justicia (Gate of Judgment), a massive horseshoe Archway, surmounted by a Square Tower and used by the Moors as an informal Court of Justice.

The Alhambra tiles are remarkable, in that they contain nearly all, if not all, the seventeen mathematically possible Wallpaper Groups. This is a unique accomplishment in World Architecture. M. C. Escher's visit in 1922, and study of the Moorish use of symmetry in the Alhambra tiles, inspired his subsequent work on Regular Divisions of the Plane.

In Astronomy, there is a Main Belt Asteroid named Alhambra.

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