Alhambra has long been considered one of the most renowned and recognizable palaces on Earth. Perched atop a plateau overlooking Granada, it was built by the Nasrid sultans in the 13th century.
This large complex has a rich and powerful history, one mixed with Arabic and Christian influence. There are many highlights in the Alhambra palace, but probably none more than the tiles.
Let’s talk about some of it.
Long and Rich History
The building was constructed in the 13th century, but there is evidence of earlier periods. For example, archaeologists have found remains of ancient foundations of Roman presence on the Sabika Hill. A fortress exited on the hill in the 9th century, probably dating from the Visigothic period.
The first reference to the palace is during the battle between the Arabs and Muladies between 888 and 912. According to surviving documents, the red castle was quite small in the beginning. The walls were not capable of deterring an army intent on conquering.
During the 11th century, the region of Granada and Andalusia was dominated by the Zirids, a Sanhaja Berber group who ruled parts of North Africa. The Zirids also built a castle and fortress, which is on the hill now occupied by the Albaicin neighborhood.
Who built the Alhambra?
It wasn’t until the 13th century that the current palace was built. It is composed of different parts, the Alcazaba, Nasrid Palaces, the Gardens of the Generalife, the Medina, the cemetery, and more.
The oldest palace is Alcazaba, a fortress with a lot of towers which was used as a military base for the guardians of the sultan. According to some documents, it dates back to the 9th century.
The Alhambra Palace was not built by one sultan. It was too big of a project for one. It took consecutive rulers of the Nasrid dynasty and their work.
Mohammad I set the basis by buttressing the Alcazaba, placed in Sabika. He constructed three new towers. His sons and grandson, Mohammed II and Mohammed III continued his work.
Back in the day when the palace was built, located was crucial and most important. The Alhambra palace lies on a strategic location, built on higher ground and on hill. This would give a vantage position in watching out for the enemy.
Built on the al-Sabika hill, the location gives a greater view of the land below up to the current city Granada area and the meadow.
The plateau is 2430 feet long and 674 feet wide. Before it was a Royal residence, it served as a military camp.
The Origin of the Name
The name comes from the Arabic word al-Hamra, which translates to “the red one”. There are many theories to what it refers. The name itself means The Red in Arabic. Many believe it was inspired by the reddish color of the rammed earth outer walls.
In Arabic, the full name of the color of the fortress is al-Qal’at al-Hamra. But because in Andalusia people have a tendency to shorten words, that is probably how the name Alhambra came to life.
More than a Palace
As we said before, it was some time before the place was used as a palace. Nowadays, it is more than just a palace.
We refer to it as the Alhambra Palace, but area is a whole citadel within the city of Granada. The complex has different palaces, gardens, fortresses, passageways, and more.
The area was the home of the Sultan and his family, but also home to the court and many workers. It is the only Muslim citadel still standing that looks as perfectly as it was in the beginning.
Beginning of antiseismic architecture
One of the things about Muslim architects, they were smart and paid attention to everything. They used antiseismic structure and architecture back in the day people had no idea of that.
They knew the region of Granada was a seismic area, so they made sure the palace could withstand a disaster. This palace has survived several earthquakes in its 800+ years history.
How did they do it? Well, architects used lead foils in between the columns and foundations. So, if there was a seism, the buildings would follow the movement without collapsing.
The walls can talk
What do we mean by that? The walls of the palace have words carved all over them. The inscriptions describe poems and parts of the Quran.
For many years, the palace witnessed power and love stories from Muslim sultans. They have been there far more than Spanish people.
Different paths for different people
In Alhambra, different social classes did not cross paths. Nowadays, you can stroll around freely, unless there are special paths set up in advance.
But back in the day, each social class had its own set way of approaching the sultanate. That is how they didn’t cross paths. There was a special corridor for the cleaning staff, one for the scribes, one for administrations, and an entrance for the sultan and his family. The last one was called the Royal Court Walk.
They do shared the same space, but without mixing.
Math and the palace
Another amazing fact and feature of the Alhambra palace is math. Back in the day, engineers and architects were mesmerized by math. Math precision is amazing in the palace. The tilework in the palace is pure symmetry. Not a single corner fails to adhere to some mathematical principles.
This was designed to represent Allah’s grandeur on Earth. It had to be perfect. Yet, there is one mistake invisible to the untrained eye. Why? Because only God can do perfect. So, aiming for total perfection was considered to be a defiance of God.
An ancient cooling system
We talked about the ancient antiseismic architecture, but the palace also had an ancient cooling system. As you enter one of the courts, the court of Myrtles, you will find the goldfish pool.
Moorish people built this one to provide cooling for the interiors. It was also a symbol of power and stands out from all the others pools in the palace.
This one is made of marbles and surrounded by a sunken garden.
Ferdinand and Isabella were the first Spanish monarchs in it
The first Europeans, and Spanish monarchs to live in the palace were King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella through the Christian conquest.
The Spanish conquered the Palace in 1492, ending the rule of the Muslims and unifying Spain under the Catholic monarchy.
The family rebuilt the palace by adding more structures and introduced a renaissance touch to the architecture. The one Christian monarch to live there was King Charles V in 1526. He too added some touches, building another Palace in Renaissance style which was left unfinished after the Morisco rebellion in Granada.
Monument of the world
The Alhambra Palace has been named a public monument in 1870. Built many centuries ago, it tells a story of history of the area.
In 1984, the Alhambra and the Generalife were collectively designed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.