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La Alhambra

Architecture and History

Story by Nicholas Alfaya November 19th, 2017

Overview

The Alhambra is a palace and fortress located in Granada, Spain. It was originally built in 899 AD as a small fortress but was later rebuilt and renovated by the Muslims in the 13th Century. After the reconquest of Spain by the Catholics, it was converted into the royal court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Later on in 1526 AD, Charles V built a new royal palace within the grounds that was more fitting for the Catholics. This radical change of ownership and development of the Alhambra allows for you to see many different styles of architecture and decorations that were used by both the Catholics and the Muslims.

Ruins of the Alhambra

Upon first entering the Alhambra, you notice many destroyed buildings and foundations of buildings that are no longer there. This was a direct cause of the French bombing the fortress during Napoleon's conquest of Spain in the 1800s.

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Destroyed weapons tower

In this picture you can see what is left of the tower that housed some of the munitions for the french. This is interesting because upon conquering Granada, the French wanted to blow up the entire fortress. They lit explosives and one brave French soldier went back to prevent the explosives from going off to preserve the Alhambra and its beauty. In order to trick the French army, he allowed for the explosives in the munitions tower to go off and make a loud explosion to make the French think the entire fortress was destroyed. His name is displayed on a wall as a token of gratitude towards the french soldier.

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gate of wine

This is a very well known part of the Alhambra known as the "gate of wine". It was a gate in the inner wall pf the fortress that the wine would pass through to let the soldiers drink on occasion for enjoyment. The style of the gate is very typical of the Muslims as it bowed out towards the top and was a bit narrower towards the bottom.

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first entrance

Upon entering the original Muslim palace, you encounter this beautifully decorated entrance. This style shown was very typical of the Muslims and you can see it throughout the Alhambra. These decorations required meticulous carving and craftsmanship that took a very long time to complete.

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Muslim Columns

This type of column is very typical in the Alhambra and you can see them throughout the palace. The Arabic etched on the columns and walls in this particular room consisted of all 99 names of Allah.

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Muslims Ceramic tiling

The Muslims were experts when it came to ceramics and colors of tiles. In this photo you can see how vibrant and bright the colors of the tiles are to this day even though they are over 600 years old. The Muslims got these colors by heating up certain minerals and elements such as tin and cobalt. It was a very tedious process but the finished product made it worth the time. You can also see some of the Arabic writing of the 99 names for Allah at the top of the photo.

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Doorway towards throne room

Another example of the tiles and colors used by the Muslims can be seen here. If you look closely you can see that the colors above the doorway are much more vibrant than the bottom of the picture. This is caused from people constantly touching the tile which caused it to fade. Also the bottom is not original and was replaced many times because often times, visitors will break off pieces to bring home as souvenirs, which is quite shameful.

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Throne room

This is the throne room where the Muslim kings would receive visitors. The middle gate was where the King sat and the two gates on the sides were for his servants. The windows behind the throne made it difficult for the visitors to see the King. This was a sign of power and also was designed to make the visitors feel inferior.

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View from entrance to throne room

This is the view from the main entrance of the public part of the palace where the visitors of the king would enter. The reflecting pool was another symbol of power to make the palace look even larger and also acted as a barrier for the visitors. Instead of walking straight towards the king and looking him in the eyes, they had to walk around the reflecting pool to reach the throne room.

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Fountain of Lions

The fountain of lions is one of the most famous pieces of the Alhambra. It was a gift given to one of the Muslim kings at the time and the system used for the water to flow was very advanced. The king at the time did not like the fountain so much so he had it placed in the private part of the palace so no visitors could see it. Also in this area of the palace, water flows freely through passages on the ground to each of the bedrooms of the king and his family.

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hall of the abencerrajes

This room is located opposite the sala de las dos hermanas and is a perfect square. You can also see the outline of the 8 pointed star which is typical in Muslim culture. This type of architecture is known as "stalactite vaulting" due to its honeycomb look and is a very typical style of the Moors.

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Ceiling of the king's wife's room

The Muslim Kings of Granada did not share a room with their wives however their wives were given what is considered the best room in the palace. It is the largest and has views overlooking the city. The ceiling pictured here is right above where the bed would have been and is stained glass. Even after at least 600 years the colors are as bright as ever which really highlights the craftsmanship and quality the Moors showed in their structures. You can also see the honeycomb ceiling is used again in this room.

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palace of cHarles v

This is a Renaissance building that was requested by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. He gave the job to Spanish architect Pedro Machuca whose style and views were not viewed highly at the time. The building is a square but upon entering, there is a large, circular courtyard which makes it look almost like a coliseum. The style used my Machuca was Mannerism which was in its early stages in Italy at the time. The palace never housed a monarch and did not have a roof until 1957, over 400 years after it was constructed.

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exterior art on palace

This is located next to the doors of the palace of Charles V and was very interesting. In the carving you can see the two pillars of Hercules which are an important symbol of Spain. also depicted are the winged victory figures and angels which are burning the flags of Spain's enemies. This is a typical symbol of power and success on the battlefield for Spain.

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interior courtyard

Pictured here is the interior courtyard of the palace and as you can see it allowed for a lot of light to enter. The interior roof of the first floor was arched like a dome all the way around and many architects criticized Machuca's vision because they deemed it impossible to have a circular structure like this with a curved roof going all the way around due to weight distribution being an issue. Machuca disregarded this because he studied in Rome and saw the Pantheon so he knew it could be done. It is unknown how he accomplished this feat today, however, this is considered one of Machuca's masterpieces.

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Conclusion

The Alhambra was an amazing place to visit and I was taken back at how well preserved most of it was. The combination of both Muslim and Catholic features tells a story of the history of the Alhambra and Spain in general. Another very prevalent feature was the amount of water running through the palace which symbolized power as well. The runoff from the mountains is so constant that the Kings allowed it to flow freely to show how much water they had. You can also see the styles change as time passed for example in the gardens of the Alhambra, the Muslim garden was very practical and consisted of fruits and vegetables. The French garden on the other hand consisted of flowers and decorative shrubbery that was perfectly cut and neatly kept. So many different cultures and ideologies crossed through the Alhambra and left their marks which is what makes it such a special place in Spain to visit and witness in person.