The Alhambra (Arabic: الحمراء = Al-Ħamrā; literally "the red one"; the complete name is "Qal'at al-Hambra", which means "The red fortress") is a palace and fortress complex of the Moorish rulers of Granada in southern Spain (known as Al-Andalus when the fortress was constructed), occupying a hilly terrace on the southeastern border of the city of Granada.
Once the residence of the Muslim rulers of Granada and their court, the Alhambra is now one of Spain's major tourist attractions exhibiting the country's most famous Islamic architecture, together with Christian 16th century and later interventions in buildings and gardens that marked its image as it can be seen today. Within the Alhambra, the Palace of Charles V was erected by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in 1527.
The literal translation of Alhambra "red fortress" derives from 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 now seen today are reddish.
The first reference to the Qal’at al Hamra was during the battles between the Arabs and the Muladies during the rule of the ‘Abdullah ibn Muhammad (r. 888-912). 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 eleventh century, when its ruins were renovated and rebuilt by Samuel ibn Naghralla, vizier to the King Bādīs of the Zirid Dynasty, in an attempt to preserve the small Jewish settlement also located on the Sabikah hill. However, evidence from Arab texts indicates that the fortress was easily penetrated and that the actual Alhambra that survives today was built during the Nasrid Dynasty.
Ibn Nasr, the founder of the Nasrid Dynasty, was forced to flee to Jaén in order to avoid persecution by King Ferdinand and his supporters during attempts to rid Spain of Moorish Dominion. After retreating to Granada, Ibn-Nasr took up residence at the Palace of Bādis in the Alhambra. A few months later, he embarked on the construction of a new Alhambra fit for the residence of a king. According to an Arab manuscript 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 northeast quadrant forming a royal quarter, two circuit towers, and numerous bathhouses. 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.
The Muslim rulers lost Granada and Alhambra in 1492 without the fortress itself being attacked when King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile took the surrounding region with overwhelming numbers.
The decorations within the palaces typified the remains of Moorish dominion within Spain and ushered in the last great period of Andalusian art in Granada. With little influence from the Islamic mainland, 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 display of stylistical resorts that had been created and developed during eight centuries of Muslim rule in the Peninsula as the Calliphal horse-shoe arch, the Almohad sebka or the Almoravid palm, and unused combinations of them, beside novelties as the stilted arches and the capitals of muqarnas, among others. The isolation with the rest of the Islam, and the commercial and political relationship with the Christian kingdoms also influenced in the space concepts. Columns, muqarnas and stalactite-like ceiling decorations, appear in several chambers, and the interiors of numerous palaces are decorated with arabesques and calligraphy. The arabesques of the interior are ascribed, among other kings, to Yusef I, Mohammed V, and Ismail I.
Damage produced in Later Era 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 V (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 has never been 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, while the whole building narrowly escaped the same fate. Napoleon had tried to blow up the whole complex. Just before his plan was carried out, a soldier who secretly wanted the plan of Napoleon — his commander — to fail, defused the explosives and thus saved the Alhambra for posterity. In 1821, an earthquake caused further damage. The work of restoration undertaken in 1828 by the architect José Contreras was endowed in 1830 by Ferdinand VII; and after the death of Contreras in 1847, it was continued with fair success by his son Rafael (d. 1890) and his grandson. Designed to reflect the very beauty of Paradise itself, the Alhambra is made up of gardens, fountains, streams, a palace, and a mosque, all within an imposing fortress wall, flanked by 13 massive towers.
Moorish poets described it as "a pearl set in emeralds," in 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 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 miles) long, which is connected with the Darro at the monastery of Jesus del Valle, above Granada.
In spite of the long neglect, willful vandalism and sometimes ill-judged restoration which the Alhambra has endured, it remains 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, in ground-plan, quadrangular, 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 added onto 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 make add to the aesthetic and functional complexity. In every case, the exterior is left plain and austere. Sun and wind are freely admitted. Blue, red, and a golden yellow, all somewhat faded through lapse of time and exposure, are the colours chiefly employed.
The decoration consists, as a rule, of stiff, conventional foliage, Arabic inscriptions, and 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 largely popular during the Reconquista, a period of history in which the Christian kings reconquered Spain from the Muslims.
The Alhambra resembles many medieval Christian strongholds in its threefold 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 northwest. That is all massive outer walls, towers and ramparts are left. On its watchtower, the Torre de la Vela, 25 m (85 ft) high, the flag of Ferdinand and Isabella was first raised, in token of the Spanish conquest of Granada on January 2, 1492. 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, or Alhambra properly so-called; and beyond this, again, is the Alhambra Alta (Upper Alhambra), originally tenanted by officials and courtiers.
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 Judiciaria (Gate of Judgment), a massive horseshoe archway surmounted by a square tower and used by the Moors as an informal court of justice. The hand of Fatima, with fingers outstretched as a talisman against the evil eye, is carved above this gate on the exterior; a key, the symbol of authority, occupies the corresponding place on the interior. A narrow passage leads inward to the Plaza de los Aljibes (Place of the Cisterns), a broad open space which divides the Alcazaba from the Moorish palace. To the left of the passage rises the Torre del Vino (Wine Tower), built in 1345 and used in the 16th century as a cellar. On the right is the palace of Charles V, a smaller Renaissance building.
The Royal Complex consists of three main parts: Mexuar, Serallo, and the Harem. The Mexuar is modest in decor and houses the functional areas for conducting business and administration. Strapwork is used to decorate the surfaces in Mexuar. The ceilings, floors, and trim are made of dark wood and are in sharp contrast to white, plaster walls. Serallo, built during the reign of Yusef I in the 14th century, contains the Patio de los Arrayanes. Brightly colored interiors featured dado panels, yesería, azulejo, cedar, and artesonado. Artesonado are highly decorative ceilings and other woodwork. Lastly, the Harem is also elaborately decorated and contains the living quarters for the wives and mistresses of the Arabic monarchs. This area contains a bathroom with running, hot and cold water, baths, and pressurized water for showering. The bathrooms were open to the elements in order to allow in light and air. The Harem also features representations of human forms, which is forbidden under Islamic law. The Christian artisans were most likely commissioned to design artwork that would be placed in the palace and the tolerant Muslim rulers allowed the work to stay.
The present entrance to the Palacio Árabe, or Casa Real (Moorish palace), is by a small door from which a corridor connects to the Patio de los Arrayanes (Court of the Myrtles), also called the Patio de la Alberca (Court of the Blessing or Court of the Pond), from the Arabic birka, "pool". The birka helped to cool the palace and acted as a symbol of power. Because water was usually in short supply, the technology required to keep these pools full was expensive and difficult. The aim of the pools was to give the impression that the pool had mystical powers because it never evaporated, making them form a good opinion of their leader. This court is 42 m (140 ft) long by 22 m (74 ft) broad; and in the centre, there is a large pond set in the marble pavement, full of goldfish, and with myrtles growing along its sides. There are galleries on the north and south sides; that on the south is 7 m (27 ft) high and supported by a marble colonnade. Underneath it, to the right, was the principal entrance, and over it are three windows with arches and miniature pillars. From this court, the walls of the Torre de Comares are seen rising over the roof to the north and reflected in the pond.
The Salón de los Embajadores (Hall of the Ambassadors) is the largest in the Alhambra and occupies all the Torre de Comares. It is a square room, the sides being 12 m (37 ft) in length, while the centre of the dome is 23 m (75 ft) high. This was the grand reception room, and the throne of the sultan was placed opposite the entrance. It was in this setting that Christopher Columbus received Isabel and Ferdinand's support to sail to the New World. The tiles are nearly 4 ft (1.2 m) high all round, and the colours vary at intervals. Over them is a series of oval medallions with inscriptions, interwoven with flowers and leaves. There are nine windows, three on each facade, and the ceiling is decorated with inlaid-work of white, blue and gold, in the shape of circles, crowns and stars. The walls are covered with varied stucco works, surrounding many ancient escutcheons.
The Patio de los Leones (Court of the Lions) is an oblong court, 116 ft (35 m) in length by 66 ft (20 m) in width, surrounded by a low gallery supported on 124 white marble columns. A pavilion projects into the court at each extremity, with filigree walls and light domed roof. The square is paved with coloured tiles, and the colonnade with white marble; while the walls are covered 5 ft (1.5 m) up from the ground with blue and yellow tiles, with a border above and below enamelled blue and gold. The columns supporting the roof and gallery are irregularly placed. They are adorned by varieties of foliage, etc.; about each arch there is a large square of arabesques; and over the pillars is another square of filigree work. In the centre of the court is the Fountain of Lions, an alabaster basin supported by the figures of twelve lions in white marble, not designed with sculptural accuracy, but as symbols of strength and courage.
The Sala de los Abencerrajes (Hall of the Abencerrages) derives its name from a legend according to which the father of Boabdil, last king of Granada, having invited the chiefs of that line to a banquet, massacred them here. This room is a perfect square, with a lofty dome and trellised windows at its base. The roof is decorated in blue, brown, red and gold, and the columns supporting it spring out into the arch form in a remarkably beautiful manner. Opposite to this hall is the Sala de las dos Hermanas (Hall of the two Sisters), so-called from two white marble slabs laid as part of the pavement. These slabs measure 50 by 22 cm (15 by 7½ in). There is a fountain in the middle of this hall, and the roof —a dome honeycombed with tiny cells, all different, and said to number 5000— is an example of the so-called "stalactite vaulting" of the Moors.
Among the other features of the Alhambra are the Sala de la Justicia (Hall of Justice), the Patio del Mexuar (Court of the Council Chamber), the Patio de Daraxa (Court of the Vestibule), and the Peinador de la Reina (Queen's Robing Room), in which there is similar architecture and decoration. The palace and the Upper Alhambra also contain baths, ranges of bedrooms and summer-rooms, a whispering gallery and labyrinth, and vaulted sepulchres.
The original furniture of the palace is represented by the vase of the Alhambra, a specimen of Moorish ceramic art, dating from 1320 and belonging to the first period of Moorish porcelain. It is 1.3 m (4 ft 3 in) high; the ground is white, and the enamelling is blue, white and gold.
Of the outlying buildings in connection with the Alhambra, the foremost in interest is the Palacio de Generalife or Gineralife (the Muslim Jennat al Arif, "Garden of Arif," or "Garden of the Architect"). This villa probably dates from the end of the 13th century but has been restored several times. Its gardens, however, with their clipped hedges, grottos, fountains, and cypress avenues, are said to retain their original Moorish character. The Villa de los Martires (Martyrs' Villa), on the summit of Monte Mauror, commemorates by its name the Christian slaves who were forced to build the Alhambra and confined here in subterranean cells. The Torres Bermejas (Vermilion Towers), also on Monte Mauror, are a well-preserved Moorish fortification, with underground cisterns, stables, and accommodation for a garrison of 200 men. Several Roman tombs were discovered in 1829 and 1857 at the base of Monte Mauror.
"En los Jardines del Generalife", first movement of Manuel de Falla's Noches en los Jardines de España, and other pieces by composers such as Ruperto Chapí (Los Gnomos de la Alhambra,1891) Tomás Bretón and many others are included in a stream called by scholars "Alhambrismo".
In pop and folk music, Alhambra is the subject of the Ghymes song of the same name. The rock band, The Grateful Dead, released a song called Terrapin Station on the 1977 album of the same name. The song itself was a series of small compositions penned by Robert Hunter and put to music by Jerry Garcia, a lyrical section of this Terrapin Station "suite" was called Alhambra.
In September 2006, Canadian singer/composer Loreena McKennitt performed live at the Alhambra. The resulting footage premiered on PBS and was later released as a three-disc DVD/CD set entitled Nights from the Alhambra.
British composer Julian Anderson's Alhambra Fantasy (1999–2000), commissioned by the London Sinfonietta, was influenced by the architecture of the Alhambra Palace. In two sharply contrasting sections the work relates different facets of the Alhambra – the first, rough and energetic, is related to the building of the Palace itself, dominated by the sounds of hammering and banging on percussion. Short counterpointed and juxtaposed motifs create, for some, the impression of a mosaic. The second section evokes the beautiful landscape of the Vega. The composer is careful to point out that he has not written programmatic music, although his concern is with the splendour of the palace itself, its place in the landscape and its relevance to the complex and turbulent history of the region.
In 1976, filmmaker Christopher Nupen filmed "The Song of the Guitar" at the Alhambra. It was an hour long program featuring the legendary Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia. It is now available on DVD.
M. C. Escher's visit in 1922 inspired his following work on regular divisions of the plane after studying the Moorish use of symmetry in the Alhambra tiles.