Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Alhambra, Granada Spain- The Red Palace

Alhambra Granada SpainAlhambra Granada Spain

Something odd in Spain!

Alhambra (means ‘the red’ in Arabic) is in Granada in Southern Spain, the name may make one to think that it may be located in Turkey or Saudi Arabia. The Alhambra Palace Complex has passed through turbulent times of the Europe and there are many historical events behind its construction, reconstruction, additions and finally to its change in to a museum of exquisite Islamic arts and architecture. In the middle age (between the 1st and 10th centuries) Spain and its surrounding areas were in turmoil as the Semitic Religions playing different games (most of them bloody) for adding maximum numbers to their respective groups as well as doing everything for the elimination of the others.

On the edge of the sword!

Alhambra Granada Spain Alhambra from the "Mirador de San Nicolás" in the Albaycin of Granada.

Romans; that called the shots during the reign of Augustus Caesar colonized Spain along with neighboring regions and formed ‘Hispania’. Visigoths from the Germanic regions were there with Christianity. Muslims from Africa rose as a major power after the weakening of the Roman Empire. Paganism of Rome was crumbling before the new wave of Semitic Religions. Christianity of Visigoths and Islam from Arabs all struggled for supremacy; in between them were some pockets of Jews finding it hard to survive. Religious persecutions became the order of the day, human blood flowed like river. Conversions and re-conversions at the edge of the sword prevailed. By 5th AD major parts of Spain fell in to the hands of Muslims and that spell lasted up to the 10th Century AD until the return of ‘reinforced’ Christianity. The Alhambra is a product of this period.

And quietly flows the Darro!

The River Darro which flows beside the Alhambra was a case point, its initial name was Aurus (meaning gold as its sand contained traces of gold and small-scale gold extractions were taking place there), when Arabs took over the land they ‘converted’ the river and named it as ‘Hadarrb’, lately Christians took over the reign and re-Christened the ‘Muslim’ river in to a Christian river and named it ‘Dauro’. This river is presently known as ‘Darro’. If the fate of and ‘innocent’ river is this what would be that of historical monuments. The changes of rulers had corresponding changes in the Alhambra, many additions, many desecrations and many modifications.

The original Qal’at al Hambra

The Muslim rulers known as the Moors engaged in massive conversion of Christians and Pagans in to Islam; these new converts to Islam were known as Muladis; the Muladis grew in strength and power and finally drove out the Moors who were forced to take shelter in the original Qal’at al Hambra (the red fort) they used it as residence as well as court. At that time Alhambra was a medium sized building. Enemies easily entered in the fort and destroyed it. This building lied there in the state of ruins; ignored by all for centuries.

Second and the third births

Alhambra Granada Spain The Court of the Lions, a unique remain of islamic animal statues.

Samuel Ibn Naghrallah Vizier (top official under Muslim rulers) to King Badis of the Zirid dynasty rebuilt it with red-clay; which also got eventually destroyed. It was Nasser of the Nasrid Dynasty who finally built the structure that stands intact today. The Nasrid Dynasty was established by Ibn Nasser found asylum in Granada running away to avoid persecution from King Ferdinand in early 13th century.

A palatine city

The architecture adopted by Nasrid was different from the Umayyad style that existed here before (The Cordova Mosque is a typical Umayyad Style structure), Nasrid got the entire complex transformed in to a palatine city with six palaces (four of them royal residences), an advanced irrigation system known as acequias (al saqiya in Arabic for community water supply), numerous bath-houses and all paraphernalia required for a royal city.

Not an inch to spare

Alhambra Granada SpainFountains and flowing water are a common feature around the Alhambra

Not even an inch is spared from artworks, arches were made only for aesthetics, walls covered with expensive and enchanting ceramics and ornate plasters, coverings made of wooden frames carved so beautifully. As in the case of typical Muslim palaces walls are adorned of calligraphy depicting poems. ‘Zawi ben Ziri’ (founder Nasrid dynasty), Allah Aqbar (meaning god is the victor), etc. The decorative elements frequently used are inter lacing vegetative forms with nets of rhombuses (net-shaped carvings known as ‘jallies) as human figures are taboo, Now let us see some of the individual items

The Column

The Alhambra is creditable with unique styling the column on which it is built is a cylindrical shaft with molded concave base and decorative rings at the top. Its capital is divided in to two; the first one is cylindrical it has a prism with round base with ornate carvings.

The Hall of ‘Abencerraejes’ is decorated with arches and marble floors, it is said that the knight of Abancerrjes was beheaded at this hall and hence the name. There are markings on the floor said to be the blood stain of the knight. No one is sure which knight was beheaded and who ordered for it.

Hall of Two Sisters has the name denoting two marble stones placed in it. It was built by Mohammed 5 and includes bed chambers, gardens, emperor’s chamber and porticos connecting them together.

Comares Palace; the official residence of the king, has several rooms surrounded by Court of Myrtles. All rooms have galleries with porticos, this complex include Hall of the Boat and the Hall of Ambassadors. Its walls are decorated with holy-verses.

Court of the Myrtles; one of the most beautiful structures of the complex made of pure white marble, with a pond that reflects the building it stands in contrast to the lush green myrtle bushes and hence its name (this building has got different names in different times).

Mexuar including tower and a gallery is believed to be built by Nasrid but it had undergone several modifications and its original shape has become hard to guess. It is so named as the architect Michuka lived in it during the construction.

The Oratory; located behind the Mexaur has arches and walls with inscriptions and verses from Qur’an. This hall suffered extensive damages in an explosion and renovated in 1917.

Gilded Room (Cuarto Dorado); it is part of the Comares Palace and got its name for its painted Mudejar style and coffered ceiling. It has highly decorated walls and is connected to the Mexaur with a little arch. Patio of the Gilded room was renovated in 1943 and fountain reinstalled as per the exact original design.

Bath complex

The bath complex is comprised of many chambers typical to Arabic style big bath tub alone are provided and no swimming pool. There is provision for cold, hot as well as steam baths. The first to come is the ‘frigiderium’ with large cold water basin, ‘tepidarium’ (provided at the central hall) with warm water and finally a ‘caldarium’ for steam bath. Inside the hall there is a copper boiler in which water is boiled and piped to the required basin by underground pipes. Remnants of these pipes are still visible.

The Royal bath; What a royal bath!

The Royal Bath; is built at the east of the Comares Palace, with a fountain in the middle surrounded by columns. The Hall of Beds was the place to undress before bath with an open side for the emperor to watch. The lady who catches his attention had gets an apple thrown at her as a mark of her approval. With the apple she gets the privilege to spend that night with the emperor. Such a throw with emperor’s apple was rare chance to that lady as the harem is filled with numerous ‘wives’ and only lucky ones get a chance to spend one night with the emperor!

Evolution of styles

Alhambra Granada Spain A room of the palace and a view of the Court of the Lions.

If the Darro River had to carry many names with change of rule; the shape of the palace also has undergone changes in accordance with the change of the rulers. First names were Arabic then came Spanish names. Some of the names mentioned above are just English translations of the Spanish names. The Islamic artists living cut off from the mainstream Islamic arts slowly evolved in to a separate entity by name ‘the Andalusian’ artists. Most of the Islamic traits got transformed and a new style specific to the region of Andalusia which remains as the uniqueness of Alhambra structures.

The Christian era

By the beginning of the 15th century whole scenario changed Granada became the seat of the Christian Arch Bishop! The Moors were expelled and those Muslims who stuck to Islam fled to Africa. Charles V established a university in Granada and a court in Alhambra. The renaissance and the Baroque deleted the Islamic remnants from the landscape. There were tremendous activities of construction, churches were made in fashionable designs, facades, canvasses, sculptures all were started dotting the entire city-scape.

French occupation and after

The French occupation was not as sweet and almost all the original structures were destroyed, nothing came up to replace what was lost. Even the expulsion of the French could not usher the old charm of the city as revolutions and revolts were regular. Only by the end of the 19th century a building boom that followed could add something to make the city’s charm. At present Granada remains as a modern city with sparkling gems of the yesteryears with well restored monuments. Its main dependence is on the students who flock to the 450 years old University as a center of excellence.

1 comment:

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