The Alhambra Palace

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An ode to Andalusian architecture

The Alhambra is Spain’s – and Europe’s – love letter to Moorish culture, a place where fountains trickle, leaves rustle, and ancient spirits seem to mysteriously linger. Part palace, part fort, part World Heritage site, part lesson in medieval architecture, the Alhambra has long enchanted a never-ending line of expectant visitors. As a historic monument, it is unli-kely it will ever be surpassed – at least not in the lifetime of anyone reading this.

The Alhambra takes its name from the Arabic ‘Al-Qala’a Al-Hamra’ – meaning The Red Castle. The fi rst palace on the site was built by Samuel Ha-Nagid, the grand vizier of one of Granada’s 11th-century Zirid sultans. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the Nasrid emirs turned the area into a fortress-palace complex, adjoined by a village of which only ruins remain today. After the Christian reconquest, the Alhambra’s mosque was replaced with a church, and the Parador de Granada was built. Carlos I, the grandson of the Catho-lic Monarchs, had a wing of the palaces destroyed to make space for his huge Renaissance work, the Palacio de Carlos V.

The rooms in the palace look onto the rectangular pool edged in myrtles, and traces of cobalt blue paint cling to the muqarnas (honeycomb vaulting) in the side niches on the north end. Origi-nally, all the walls were lavishly coloured; with paint on the stuc-co-trimmed walls in the adjacent Sala de la Barca, the eff ect would have resembled fl ocked wallpaper. Yusuf I’s visitors would have passed through this annex room to meet him in the Chamber of the Ambassadors, where the marvellous domed marquetry ceiling uses more than 8000 cedar pieces to create its intricate star pattern representing the seven heavens.

Adjacent to the chamber is the restored Patio de los Leones (Courtyard of the Lions), built in the second half of the 14th century under Mu-hammad V, at the political and artistic peak of Granada’s emirate. But the centrepiece, a foun-tain that channelled water through the mouths of 12 marble lions, dates from the 11th century. The courtyard layout, using the proportions of the golden ratio, demonstrates the complexity of Islamic geometric design – the varied columns are placed in such a way that they are symmetrical on numerous axes.

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