Il più dello spazio è occupato da un bel palazzo che era dei Re Mori; che in vero è molto bello, et fabricato sontuosissimamente, si de marmori fini, come di ogn'altra cosa; (..) vi è una gran corte o patio al modo Spagnolo, molto bella e grande, circondata da fabrica intorno, ma da una parte ha una torre singular e bellissima che chiamano la Torre di Comares, nella quale vi sono alcune sale e camere molto buone con le finestre fatte molto gentil e commodamente, con lavori moreschi assai eccellenti, si nelli muri come nel cielo degli alloggiamenti. (Most of the space is occupied by a fine palace of the Moorish Kings; it is really very nice and lavishly provided with good marbles and other decorations; (..) there is a large courtyard or Spanish patio, finely designed and surrounded by buildings with on one side a unique and beautiful tower which they call Torre de Comares, in which are halls and rooms with well designed windows and excellent Moorish decorations, both on the walls and in the ceilings).
Andrea Navagero, Venetian Ambassador to Spain - Il Viaggio fatto in Spagna (1526)
I hope to give the curious a satisfactory idea of the Moors' manner of building, distributing, and adorning public edifices. The Alhambra of Granada is an unique example and its excellent preservation affords an opportunity of studying all the details of the Moorish designs and ornaments. (..) On my first visit I confess I was struck with amazement as I stept over the threshold to find myself on a sudden transported into a species of fairy land. The first place you come to is (..) an oblong square with a deep basin of clear water in the middle. (..) Round the court runs a peristyle paved with marble; the arches bear upon very slight pillars in proportions and style different from all the regular orders of architecture.
Henry Swinburne - Travels through Spain in the Years 1775 and 1776 in which several monuments of Roman and Moorish architecture are illustrated.
Alcazar is the Spanish word indicating a Moorish castle or palace, but it is rarely used in connection with these palaces which are known as Nasrid Palaces, because they were built in the early XIVth century by members of the Nasrid dynasty who ruled the Emirate of Granada from 1230 until 1492.
Patio de los Arrayanes: details
The porches at the ends are more like grotto work than any thing else I can compare them to. Swinburne
I can scarce credit my senses, or believe that I do indeed inhabit the palace of Boabdil, and look down from its balconies upon chivalric Granada. As I loiter through these Oriental chambers, and hear the murmur of fountains and the song of the nightingale; as I inhale the odor of the rose, and feel the influence of the balmy climate, I am almost tempted to fancy myself in the paradise of Mahomet, and that the plump little Dolores is one of the bright-eyed houris, destined to administer to the happiness of true believers.
Washington Irving - Tales of the Alhambra - 1851 Revised Edition based on an 1829 journey
Time and the dry air of Spain have used Alhambra gently, treating it like a beautiful woman. What must it once have been! Peter Martyr, an Italian of taste, thus wrote when he entered it in the train of the Gothic conquerors in 1492: "Alhambram, (..) qualem Regiam! unicam in orbe terrarum crede!" (Alhambra, What a Royal Palace! I believe it is unique in the whole world!).
Richard Ford - A Handbook for Travellers in Spain - 1855
From the court you go through a long passage to the hall of ambassadors which is magnificently decorated with innumerable varieties of mosaics and the mottos of all the kings of Granada. (..) The ceilings and walls are incrustated with fret work in stucco so minute and intricate that the most patient draughtsman would find it difficult to follow it unless he made himself master of the general plan. This would facilitate the operation exceedingly for all this work is frequently and regularly repeated at certain distances and has been executed by means of square moulds applied successively and the parts joined together with the utmost nicety. In every division are Arabic sentences of different lengths most of them expressive of the following meanings "There is no conqueror but God" or "Obedience and honour to our Lord Abouabdallah". The ceilings are gilt or painted and time has caused no diminution in the freshness of their colours though constantly exposed to the air. The lower part of the walls is mosaic disposed in fantastic knots and festoons. A work so new to me, so exquisitely finished and so different from all I had ever seen, afforded me the most agreeable sensations which I assure you redoubled every step I took in this magic ground. Swinburne
The square of the lions is paved with white marble, and has a portico quite round it, sustained by one hundred and
twenty-six slender alabaster columns, which are placed by twos and threes; in the middle is a bason, supported on the backs of
twelve lions, which are represented as large as the life (?), with their heads in front, though very clumsily sculptured: out of this bason rises a pedestal which sustains a smaller bason, containing a tube, from whence issues a jet d' eau; the lions likewise spout water out of their mouths: the whole of this fountain is of white marble.
Richard Twiss - Travels through Portugal and Spain, in 1772-1773
Quarto de los leones or apartment of the lions is an oblong court one hundred feet in length and fifty in breadth environed with a colonade seven feet broad on the sides and ten at the end. Two porticos or cabinets about fifteen feet square project into the court at the two extremities. The square is paved with coloured tiles, the colonnade with white marble. The walls are covered five feet up from the ground with blue and yellow tiles disposed chequerwise. Above and below is a border of small escutcheons enamelled blue and gold with an Arabic motto on a bend signifying "No conqueror but God". (..) Not the smallest representation of animal life can be discovered amidst the varieties of foliages, grotesques and strange ornaments. About each arch is a large square of arabesques surrounded with a rim of characters that are generally quotations from the Koran. Over the pillars is another square of delightful filigree work. Higher up is a wooden rim or kind of cornice as much enriched with carving as the stucco that covers the part underneath. Over this projects a roof of red tiles the only thing that disfigures this beautiful square. This ugly covering is modern put on by order of Mr Wall, the late prime minister, who a few years ago gave the Alhambra a thorough repair. In Moorish times the building was covered with large painted and glazed tiles of which some few are still to be seen. Swinburne
The columns that support the roof and gallery are of white marble very slender and fantastically adorned. They are nine feet high including base and capital and eight inches and an half diameter. They are very irregularly placed, sometimes singly, at others in groups of three, but more frequently two together. The width of the horse shoe arches above them is four feet two inches for the large ones and three for the smaller. (..) The stucco laid on the walls with inimitable delicacy, in the ceiling is so artfully frosted and handled as to exceed belief. The capitals are of various designs, though each design is repeated several times in the circumference of the court but not the least attention has been paid to placing them regularly or opposite to each other. Swinburne
Fountain of the Lions
In the center of the court are twelve ill made muzzled lions; their fore parts smooth, their hind parts rough, which bear upon their backs an enormous basin out of which a lesser rises. While the pipes were kept in good order a great volume of water was thrown up that falling down into the basins passed through the beasts and issued out of their mouths into a large reservoir where it communicated by channels with the jet d eaux in the apartments. This fountain is of white marble embellished with many festoons and Arabic distichs thus translated "Seest thou not how the water flows copiously like the Nile", "This resembles a sea washing over its shores threatening shipwreck to the mariner", "This water runs abundantly to give drink to the lions", "Terrible as the lion is our king in the day of battle", "The Nile gives glory to the king and the lofty mountains proclaim it", "This garden is fertile in delights God takes care that no noxious animal shall approach it", "The fair princess that walks in this garden covered with pearls augments its beauty so much that thou may'st doubt whether it be a fountain that flows or the tears of her admirers". The lions (..) show that the Granadine princes, as well as some of the oriental caliphs who put their own effigy on their coin, ventured now and then to place themselves above the letter of the law. Swinburne
According to the description by Swinburne, the fountain had a second smaller basin (it opens in another window) which can be seen in many old prints and photos and perhaps was an addition to the original fountain. Today the twelve lions no longer support the basin; they (or similar ones) are believed to have decorated the house of Yusuf ibn Nagrela, an XIth century Jewish poet and courtier of Granada and to represent the tribes of Israel, but other sources suggest they are a symbol of the twelve zodiacal months.
Passing along the colonade and keeping on the south side you come to a circular room used by the men as a place for drinking coffee and sorbets in. A fountain in the middle refreshed the apartment in summer. The form of this hall, the elegance of its cupola, the cheerful distribution of light from above and the exquisite manner in which the stucco is designed, painted and finished exceed all my powers of description. Every thing in it inspires the most pleasing voluptuous ideas yet in this sweet retreat they pretend that Abouabdoulah (Boabdil) assembled the Abencerrages (a rival family) and caused their heads to be struck off into the fountain. Our guide with a look expressive of implicit faith pointed out to us the stains of their blood in the white marble slabs which is nothing more than the reddish marks of iron water in the quarry or perhaps the effect of being long exposed to the air. Swinburne
A soft mysterious light reigns through the place, admitted through small apertures (lumbreras) in the vaulted ceiling. The traces of ancient elegance are still to be seen. (..) The prevailing obscurity and silence have made these vaults a favorite resort of bats, who nestle during the day in the dark nooks and corners, and on being disturbed, flit mysteriously about the twilight chambers, heightening, in an indescribable degree, their air of desertion and decay. Irving
A portal in the Hall of the Abencerrages
Staying at the AlhambraIt is a common and almost indispensable point of politeness in a Spaniard to tell you his house is yours. "This house is always at the command of your Grace." In fact anything of his which you admire is immediately offered to you. It is equally a mark of good breeding in you not to accept it; so we merely bowed our acknowledgments of the courtesy of the Governor in offering us a royal palace. We were mistaken however. The Governor was in earnest. "You will find a rambling set of empty, unfurnished rooms," said he; "but Tia Antonia, who has charge of the palace, may be able to put them in some kind of order, and to take care of you while you are there. If you can make any arrangement with her for your accommodation, and are content with scanty fare in a royal abode, the palace is at your service." We took the Governor at his word, and hastened up (..) to negotiate with Dame Antonia. All went smoothly. The good Tia Antonia had a little furniture to put in the rooms, but it was of the commonest kind. We assured her we could bivouac on the floor. She could supply our table, but only in her own simple way; we wanted nothing better. Her niece, Dolores, would wait upon us; and at the word we threw up our hats and the bargain was complete. The very next day we took up our abode in the palace, and never did sovereigns share a divided throne with more perfect harmony. Irving
She is the Dona or Tia Antonia of Washington Irving, and, with her niece Dolores and Mateo Ximenez, will live immortalized by his ingenious pen. As we lived with these ladies two summers we can vouch historically that the Tia Antonia was cross and crabbed, Dolores ill-favoured and mercenary, and Mateo a chattering blockhead; out of such worthies genius has made heroes and heroines, for the power of romance can gild the basest metals. Ford
Hall de Dos Hermanas: (left) ceiling; (right) a wall with a balcony for the musicians; the image used as background for this page shows a tile decoration of its floor
Opposite to the Sala de los Abencerrages is the entrance into the Torre de las dos hermanas or the tower of the two sisters so named from two very beautiful pieces of marble laid as flags in the pavement. (..) The first hall is the concert room where the women sat, the musicians played above in four balconies. In the middle is a jet d' eau. The marble pavement I take to be equal to the finest existing for the size of the flags and evenness of the colour.(..) The walls up to a certain height are mosaic and above are divided into very neat compartments of stucco all of one design which is also followed in many of the adjacent halls and galleries. The ceiling is a fretted cove. To preserve this vaulted roof as well as some of the other principal cupolas the outward walls of the towers are raised ten feet above the top of the dome and support another roof over all by which means no damage can ever be caused by wet weather or excessive heat and cold. Swinburne
The conical ceilings in the Alhambra attest the wonderful power and effect obtained by the repetition of the most simple elements; nearly 5000 pieces enter into the construction of the ceiling of Las dos Hermanas; and although they are simply of plaster, strengthened here and there with pieces of reed, they are in most perfect preservation. Ford
Mirador (hall with a view) de Daraxa (perhaps from Dar Ayxa, house of Ayxa, mother of Boabdil)
This section exceeds all the rest in profusion of ornaments and in beauty of prospect which it affords through a range of apartments where a multitude of arches terminate in a large window open to the country. In a gleam of sunshine the variety of tints and lights thrown upon this enfilade are uncommonly rich. (..) I shall finish this description of the Alhambra by observing how admirably every thing was planned and calculated for rendering this palace the most voluptuous of all retirements, what plentiful supplies of water were brought to refresh it in the hot months of summer, what a free circulation of air was contrived by the judicious disposition of doors and windows, what shady gardens of aromatic trees, what noble views over the beautiful hills and fertile plains. No wonder the Moors regretted Granada, no wonder they still offer up prayers to God every Friday for the recovery of this city which they esteem a terrestrial paradise. Swinburne
The Alhambra possesses retreats graduated to the heat of the weather, among which the most peculiar is the almost subterranean apartment of the baths. This still retains its ancient Oriental character, though stamped with the touching traces of decline. At the entrance, opening into a small court formerly adorned with flowers, is a hall, moderate in size, but light and graceful in architecture. It is overlooked by a small gallery supported by marble pillars and moresco arches. An alabaster fountain in the centre of the pavement still throws up a jet of water to cool the place. (..) Beyond this hall are the interior chambers, still more retired. Irving
The Artesonado ceilings, the shutter
and door marqueterie works, resemble
those in the Alcazar of Seville. The
patterns, although apparently intricate,
are all reducible to the simplest geometrical rules. Ford
The last royal residents were Philip V. and his beautiful queen, Elizabetta of Parma, early in the eighteenth century. Great preparations were made for their reception. The palace and gardens were placed in a state of repair, and a new suite of apartments erected, and decorated by artists brought from Italy. The sojourn of the sovereigns was transient, and after their departure the palace once more became desolate. Irving
The palaces we visit today are the result of an extensive work of restoration and reconstruction which was aimed at recreating their assumed aspect in 1492.
This small building is detached from the main palace and most likely it was the first residence of the Emirs of Granada on the Alhambra hill. After the Christian conquest of the city it became a private property and it was radically modified. When the Spanish State acquired it in 1891 from Arthur von Gwinner, a German banker, it looked like an ordinary house. Its original structure and decoration were entirely hidden by additions. Von Gwinner was allowed to remove a wooden dome from its tower (it is now in the Pergamon Museum of Berlin - it opens in another window). It is highly unlikely that Palacio del Partal was ever preceded by the current large basin, but its presence contributes to making a fine postcard.
The grand mosque of the Alhambra
stood near; it was built in 1308 by
Mohammed III., and is thus described
by Ibn-al-Khatib: It is "ornamented
with Mosaic work, and exquisite tracery of the most beautiful and intricate patterns, intermixed with silver
flowers and graceful arches, supported
by innumerable pillars of the finest
polished marble; indeed, what with
the solidity of the structure, which
the Sultan inspected in person, the
elegance of the design, and the beauty
of the proportions, the building has
not its like in this country; and I
have frequently heard our best architects say that they had never seen or
heard of a building which can be
compared to it." This, continues
Gayangos (a Spanish historian), was in very good preservation until the ruthless occupation of
Sebastiani, when it was entirely destroyed. Ford
Horace François Bastien Sébastiani was a French general who conquered Granada during the Peninsular War and in 1811 was forced out of it. The baths of the mosque were incorporated into a house which was not affected by Sebastiani's decision to destroy the mosque and other monuments of the Alhambra.
Plan of this section (see its introductory pages):
|Andalusia||Almeria Antequera Baelo Claudia Carmona Cordoba Granada Italica Jerez de la Frontera Medina Azahara Ronda Seville Tarifa|
|Castile||Archaeological Park of Carranque Castillo de Coca Olmedo Segovia Toledo Villa La Olmeda|
|Catalonia||Barcelona Emporiae Girona Tarragona|