La Giralda: A harmonious blend of Moorish and Renaissance architectural styles

The magnificent campanile of the Seville Cathedral

When you look at the Giralda, it is hard to imagine that it is a product of two entirely different cultures. The lower half is part of the minaret built in the 13th century by the Almohads – a Moorish dynasty originated from North Africa. The upper half is a Renaissance style bell tower built in the 16th century by the Christians, who took controls of Seville after the Reconquista. Despite the differences in architectural styles and religious traditions, the bell tower appears to be a seamlessly integrated harmonious structure, and is reflective of the multi-cultural aspects of Spain.

Giralda means ‘one that turns’ in Spanish. The decorative bronze sculpture placed at the top, which rotates with the wind and acts as a weather vane, is responsible for the name. It depicts a young woman holding a cross, symbolizing the victory of Faith.

Islamic Section – Highly ornate Moorish minaret

Giralda exterior
Giralda exterior

The minaret part of the tower appears to use two types of construction: Ashlar stone in the base and brick exterior in the rest. Richly decorated arched windows and balconies adorn the brick exterior on all four sides of the tower. They allow light and air into the interior.

Mounted on top of the original minaret was a hemispherical dome, and placed above it was a stack of three bronze spheres of decreasing size, crowning it with a crescent moon. The dome and spheres remained in place until an earthquake destroyed them in 1365.

Each side of the tower measures 45 ft at the street level. The foundation below the street level is a bit wider and is about 20 ft deep. Most of the stones used on the foundation and the base came from the existing Roman structures, including a wall nearby. The minaret segment of the tower is about 165 ft high.

The interior of the minaret consists of chambers at the center and ramps around them built with enough space to allow people and horseback riders to climb the tower. There are a total of 35 ramp segments, starting at the entrance and ending near the Christian part of the Giralda. The image below shows a segment (i.e., number 23) with the original flooring. As you can see, the ramp is big enough for people to walk comfortably, and the path is lit by the light that passes through the window situated on the right side.

A ramp segment of the Giralda, the bell tower of the Seville Cathedral
A segment of the ramp

Christian Section – Bell tower with Victory of Faith at the top

Giralda upper part
Giralda upper part

In the 16th century, Seville was flourishing, thanks to the trade with the New World conquered by the Conquistadors. With an enormous wealth in hand, the cathedral chapter entrusted the work of building a magnificent bell tower for the Seville Cathedral to Hernan Ruiz II in 1558. He was an ingenious architect who had already built other structures in the Seville cathedral. It took him ten years to complete the addition to the bell tower.

Overlaid on top of the original minaret are the four stories built with the Renaissance style architecture. The transition to the new addition is smooth, and onlookers hardly notice the difference. The size (includes width and height) of the stories decreases with height. The bottom two floors are square-shaped, and the top two are circular.

The first story sits perfectly on top of the minaret and appears as though it is a continuation of it. Built with bricks, stones, and ceramics, it serves as a bell-chamber housing 24 bells, eight on each side. The exterior is highly ornate with columns, round windows, and an arch in the middle of each side. The bells hang between the pillars. Mounted above the corners are the bronze flower vases with lilies.

The second story has two levels. In 1765, a Franciscan Friar named José Cordero installed a beautiful bell in the upper level of this story, and it became the 25th bell of Giralda. The third story is circular, and the fourth looks like a jar and is named “La Tinaja” (The Jar).

El Giradillo

Sitting above the fourth floor is a dome that acts as a pedestal for a magnificent bronze sculpture of a young woman holding a cross, symbolizing the victory of Faith. This sculpture is known as El Giradillo because it rotates with the wind and acts like a weather vane.

The woman in the statue is holding the cross with the right hand and the foliage with the left. The semi-oval plate attached to the lower part of the cross helps to point El Giradillo in the direction of the wind. As mentioned before, this rotating behavior is responsible for Giralda’s name, which means ‘one that turns’ in Spanish.

El Giradillo is about 13 ft high and rests on a pedestal that is 10 ft high. It was cast in bronze by Bartolomé Morel in 1568 using a model most likely built by Juan Bautista Vázquez el Viejo, who was also responsible for the reliefs on the Chapter house dome. The model for the cast was based on a painting by Luis de Vargas. A duplicate of El Giradillo is in front of the Puerta del Principe.

Panoramic views

If you take the Seville Cathedral tour, it culminates with the climbing of the Giralda, first walking on the ramps of the minaret and then taking the flight of steps to the belfry, the last stop. As you climb the minaret part, you can stop at the balconies to view the surroundings. Once you reach the belfry, you can go around all the four sides and get a 360 view of the historic city of Seville. One of the spectacular views you see is of the Seville Cathedral itself.

Patio de los Naranjos (Courtyard of the Orange Trees) located on the north side of the Seville Cathedral
Patio de los Naranjos – Courtyard of the Orange Trees

The image shows an aerial view of the Patio de los Naranjos, a garden of orange trees, enclosed by the structures belonging to the Seville Cathedral complex, which are, the northern facade of the Seville Cathedral on the left, Iglesia del Sagrario in the middle, and a gallery on the right.

The small tower in the middle of the right side (i.e., north) gallery belongs to the Puerta del Perdón (Door of Forgiveness), a gate through which visitors enter the Patio de los Naranjos from the Calle Alemanes. The gallery on the east side (not visible) houses La Bibliotheca Colombina, a library that holds the private book collection of Fernando Colón, the second son of Christopher Columbus. Both Fernando Colón and Christopher Columbus were interred in the Seville Cathedral.

The Patio de los Naranjos used to be the courtyard of the Almohad mosque once stood in this space. The only thing that remains of the courtyard from that era is the fountain where the worshipers performed ritual ablutions, i.e., washing of feet and hands before entering the mosque.

The Patio de los Naranjos is now used by the visitors to gather and relax before and after the tour of the Seville Cathedral.

A panoramic view from the belfry of the Giralda in Seville, Andlusia, Spain
A panoramic view from the belfry of the Giralda

The image shows the eastern end of the Seville Cathedral. The dome with the roof lantern is above the Capilla Real. Below the cathedral is the La Plaza de la Virgen de Los Reyes, and behind it is the Real Alcázar and the adjoining gardens. The Guadalquivir River is in the far end of the image.

Related Pages
Seville Cathedral: An awe-inspiring architectural marvel
Sala Capitular – The Chapter House of the Seville Cathedral
Sacristía Mayor – The Main Sacristy of the Seville Cathedral
Las Setas of Seville – A modern artistic structure in a historical city

Copyright © 2020 – 2021 by YatrikaOne. All rights reserved.

Alhambra: Medina

Medina – The Bustling Nasrid City

The Alhambra was a self contained citadel in the Nasrid period. The city, known as the Medina, served the daily needs of the palace and the people working there. It was a bustling city with shops, industrial houses, public baths, mosques, and residential quarters. The residential quarters provided housing for the common people, including artisans and civil servants, and the nobility. The ruins of the original Medina are on the eastern end of the Alhambra.

The main street of the city, known as Calle Real (Royal Street), ran from the east end of the Alhambra to west side near Puerta del Vino (Wine Gate). A part of that trail still exists and other Christian era structures were built.

Most of the original Nasrid structures in the Medina are now gone. The Christian kings who took over the Alhambra built structures over them. Napoleon, who occupied the Alhambra from 1808 to 1812, blasted many of them while retreating. What remains now are the foundations of some structures and some restored buildings.

Here are some the monuments that existed along Calle Real:

Puerta del Vino (Wine Gate)

Built during the reign of Muhammed III (1302 – 1309), the third ruler of the Nasrid dynasty, the Puerta del Vino (Wine Gate) is a gateway inside the walls of the Alhambra and served as the entrance to the city. Although it is one of the oldest buildings in the Alhambra, it did not undergo a lot of restoration. So, it still retains its original characteristics.

The Wine Gate has two similar facades, east facing, and west-facing. The decorations on these were updated during different periods. The image on the left shows the east-facing facade, i.e., facing the Carlos V Palace, and the image on the right shows the west facade, i.e., facing the Alcazaba.

As you can see from the images, the door has a horseshoe shaped point arch. As with the other decorations in the Alhambra, mathematics played a vital role in creating beautiful art in the decoration of the Wine Gate facade. The design of the facade is symmetrical about the vertical axis. The beam above the arch has several parallelogram-shaped bricks that are placed at regular intervals and slanted outwards, creating an illusion that this funnel-shaped structure is holding the balcony above in the east facade.

Both the facades have twin windows on the upper floor. The friezes of Islamic calligraphy surround these windows on the eastern one. The rectangular frames decorated with arabesques and Islamic calligraphy are on either side of these windows.

The middle brick in the beam above the arch on the west facade has the figure of a key engraved in it. It is an Islamic symbol whose meaning is not fully understood. It could mean that the key is a symbol of power that opens and closes the gates of heaven. The panel above the beam has an inscription in Arabic, and above it is a balcony with twin windows

Archaeological site of the Abencerrajes Palace

Archaeological site of the Abencerrajes Palace in the Alhambra, Granada, Spain
Archaeological site of the Abencerrajes Palace

The image shows the archaeological site of the Abencerrajes Palace located in the upper area of the Alhambra. According to historians, a beautiful palace with the characteristics of Nasrid architecture and art once existed in this place.

As mentioned before, Napoleon was responsible for the destruction of buildings in this site. Upon his defeat in 1812, he ordered his retreating troops blew up the palace, including the Torre de Abencerrajes (Abencerrajes Tower).

The site was abandoned after the destruction. However, this changed in the 1930s when the restoration of the Alhambra started. After the discovery of artifacts of the Nasrid era around this area, the archaeologists took a keen interest in this site and started excavating different parts of the palace. The significant excavations took place in 1957, 1990, and 1991. The ruins you see are the results of the excavation and some restoration.

Rooms of the Abencerrajes Palace
Rooms of the Abencerrajes Palace

Before the destruction, the palace was known as the Palacio de la Contaduría (Accounting Palace) because the Christian kings gave this area to the senior accountant of the Royal Council in 1501.

The Abencerrajes Palace was attached to the Alhambra wall on the south side and had multiple rooms on the east-side. Next to them and parallel to the wall, there was a court with a pool. Calle Real, the main road of the Medina, ran in front of the palace.

Torre de los Abencerrajes (Abencerrajes Tower)

Ruins of the Abencerrajes Tower in the Alhambra, Granada, Spain
Ruins of the Abencerrajes Tower

The image shows the ruins of the Abencerrajes Tower.

As mentioned before, Napoleon was responsible for the destruction of this tower. The ruins you see are what remained after this destruction.

The tower is on the thick defensive wall that surrounds the Alhambra. As you can see from the image, there are steps to the adarve (the path on the flat top of the wall), which connects it to other towers on the wall.

Puerta de los Siete Suelos – Door of the Seven Floors Tower

Puerta de los Siete Suelos - Door of the Seven Floors Tower -
Puerta de los Siete Suelos – Door of the Seven Floors Tower

Just like the Puerta de la Justicia, this used to be an external entrance to the Alhambra in the Nasrid period. However, the original gate was also destroyed by the retreating Napoleon’s troops in 1812. The structure shown in the image is the restored gate based on the pictures drawn by people, including Washington Irving. It is built on the south side of the wall that surrounds the Alhambra and is located east of the ruins of the Abencerrajes Palace.

The gate got its name because of the belief that it had seven floors below the ground. However, the excavation of this site led to the discovery of only two underground floors.

The gate also has an interesting legend associated with it. According to this legend, Boabdil, the last Nasrid ruler of Granada, left the Alhambra through this gate after his surrender to the Christian kings. Before surrendering, he made a deal with the Christian kings to close the gate forever.

Parador de San Francisco – A Former Nasrid Palace and Franciscan Monastery

Parador de San Francisco - A Former Nasrid Palace and Franciscan Monastery in the Alhambra, Granada, Spain
Parador de San Francisco – Convent of San Francisco

Located near the eastern end of the Alhambra, this building used to be part of a Nasrid palace built in the 14th century. After the Christian kings took over the Alhambra, it was converted sometime in the 16th century into a Franciscan convent to fulfill a promise Queen Isabella made to build a shrine for St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Orders. In the ensuing years, many Christian kings were interred in the chapel of the monastery.

After a considerable remodeling of the interiors, it was converted into a Parador, a luxury hotel run by the Government of Spain. The architecture and decoration of its interiors are now a mixture of Nasrid, Christian, and modern styles. The hotel is also called the Parador de Granada.

Related Pages
Alhambra
Palacios Nazaríes – Nasrid Palaces – A Shining Example of Moorish Art and Architecture
Los Jardines del Partal – The Gardens of the Partal
Alcazaba – A Formidable Fortress of the Nasrids
Alhambra – Christian-Era Monuments
Alhambra – Outer Monuments
Generalife – Heavenly Gardens of the Nasrids

Copyright © 2020 – 2021 by YatrikaOne. All rights reserved.

Alhambra: Outer Monuments

Pedestrian Path to the Alhambra Entrance

A site map of the Alhambra located near the city of Granada in Spain
A site map of the Alhambra and Generalife

The Alhambra monuments are on top of the Sabika Hill, and there are two pedestrian paths to the main entrance from the foot of this hill. The path explained here is via the Puerta de Las Granadas (Gate of the Pomegranates). If you are walking there from the city center, take the Cuesta de Gomérez Street from the Plaza Nueva to arrive at this gate.

Note that another entry point is via Cuesta del Rey Chico, but the entry via the Puerta de Las Granadas is more interesting because of the monuments along this path. The distance from the Plaza Nueva to the Alhambra monuments via this gate is about 3/4 of a mile.

The image shows a site map of the Alhambra and Generalife placed near this gate.

The paved road from the gate to the main entrance goes uphill, and as you walk up, you encounter the Alhambra forest on both sides. After walking a few hundred feet from the gate, the roads fork into two; The right path goes to the Crimson Towers, the Manuel de Falla Auditorium, and the left path leads to the Alhambra. As you walk further, you arrive at the Washington Irving monument. A few feet from there, you climb the flight of steps to reach the Pillar of Carlos V. Then you go via the Puerta de la Justicia (Gate of Justice) to arrive at the Alhambra.

Once you are at the top, you can see monuments belonging to both the Nasrid and Christian eras. The Nasrid era monuments include Puerta del Vino (Wine Gate), Alcazaba, and Palacios Nazaríes (Nasrid Palaces). The Christian era monuments include Palacio de Carlos V (Charles V Palace) Santa Maria de Alhambra and Church of St. Mary of the Alhambra.

Monuments along the Pedestrian Path

As mentioned before, there are several interesting monuments along the pedestrian path to the Alhambra entrance. Here is a brief description of these monuments.

Puerta de Las Granadas (Gate of the Pomegranates)

The first monument you see is the Gate of the Pomegranates, and as mentioned before, it is an entry point located at the foot of the Sabika Hill. It is a Roman-style arched gate built in 1526 to commemorate the visit of Carlos V (1500 – 1558), Holy Roman Emperor, and also King of Spain, Germany, and Italy. The architect of this gate is Pedro Machuca, who also built the Palacio Carlos V (Charles V Palace), one of the famous Christian-era buildings at the Alhambra.

As you can see from the image, the door has a lintel and pediment. Situated above the lintel is a sculpture of a two-headed eagle covering the coat of arms of Carlos V, and on top of the pediment are the sculptures of three opened pomegranates, the reason why the gate got its name. This gate replaced the one existed from the Nasrid era, some remnants of which are visible on the right side, i.e., a small arch.

The image on the right side shows the back facade of this gate. Embedded on the wall on the left side is a small tombstone etched with words that pays touching tribute to Alhamar, the founder of the Alhambra. It was installed in 1932 as part of the ceremonies commemorating the 7th centenary of the founding of the Emirate of Granada. The author of these beautiful poetic words is Francisco Villaespesa Martín (1877 – 1936), a famous Spanish poet and writer, who had close ties to Granada.

Tombstone that pays tributes to Alahmar, the founder of the Alhambra mouted on a wall near the Gate of the Pomegranates in Granada, Spain
Tombstone that pays tributes to Alahmar and glorifies the Alhambra

Here is a rough English translation of these poetic words written on the plaque:
To Alahmar, the most distinguished man of the house of NASAR, the founder of the Alhambra. Because you surpassed the limits of Time and space by making all the beauties of nature pale when by creating the wonders of this citadel to gird the glory and immortality of the divine temples of the distinguished and unique city, you receive the moving tribute from Granada and with it the admiration and respect of the world.

The cry of your banished children who, even in the solitude of the desert, in the light of the stars, dream of the paradise of your enchanted halls.

Do not fear the ravages of time or the fickleness of fortune, because your overflowing zeal was eternalized in the marvel of these enclosures.

Even though the shadows of these walls may not last, their memory, which will always be everlasting, will remain as the only possible refuge of dreams and art.

And then the last nightingale, who flutters over the world, will make its nest and sing chants of farewell amongst the glorious ruins of the Alhamabra.

Statue of Washington Irving

The next important monument you see on the path is the bronze statue of Washington Irving (1783–1859), a celebrated American author and a great admirer of the Alhambra.

Statue of of Washington Irving installed by the side of the pathway leading to the Alhambra in Granada, Spain
Statue of Washington Irving

He visited Granada in 1829 and lived on the premises of the Nasrid Palaces located inside the Alhambra. He authored one of his famous books, Tales of the Alhambra, which is a collection of essays, stories, and sketches related to the Alhambra, some of which were inspired by the legends and stories passed down through generations of families residing in Granada. Beside being an author, he was an American ambassador to Spain from 1842 to 1846.

This statue was installed in 2009 to commemorate Washington Irving’s 150th death anniversary. The plaque at the bottom says “Washington Irving 1783 – 1859” and the pedestal says “Hijo de la Alhambra” (Son of the Alhambra) as he wanted to call himself. The Alhambra forest is behind the statue. The following is one of his famous quotes on the Alhambra:

 “Perhaps there never was a monument more characteristic of an age and  people than the Alhambra; a rugged fortress without, a voluptuous palace  within; war frowning from its battlements; poetry breathing throughout  the fairy architecture of its halls.”

Carlos V Pillar

Carlos V Pillar
Carlos V Pillar

The image shows a beautifully decorated wall located next to the Puerta de la Justicia and below the artillery pieces in front of the Palacio Carlos. As you can see, the wall has three distinct levels of carvings. The bottom level is about Granada. The middle and top levels are about Carlos V, Holy Roman Emperor, who commissioned this wall.

Carved at the bottom level are the three masks, which, according to experts, represent the three rivers of Granada, Darro, Beiro, and Genil. Representing Granada is a pomegranate growing on a tree branch carved on each of the two pilasters in the middle. Note that Granada means pomegranate in Spanish.

At the center of the middle level is an inscription in Latin about Carlos V. The semi-circular block on the top level has his coat of arms enclosed by a double-headed eagle, which represents the Hapsburg Empire. The four medallions carved on sides of this circular block have reliefs depicting scenes from Greek mythology.

Puerta de la Justicia – Gate of Justice

Puerta de la Justicia (Gate of Justice)
Puerta de la Justicia (Gate of Justice)

Commissioned by Yusuf I (1333-1353), the seventh Nasrid ruler of the Emirate of Granada, and completed in 1348, the Gate of Justice is a tower built as an entrance to the Alhambra.

As you can see from the image, there are two doors, one behind the other. The outer door leads to the inner one, which is much smaller. Both of them have a horseshoe type of arches above the doors.

At the center of the circular frieze above the outer door is a marble figure of a hand inset into the frieze. The lintel of the inner door has an inscription written in Arabic. Above the inscription is a niche with the statue of the Virgin Mary with Infant Jesus, which is a duplicate of the original installed in 1501, which is currently on display at the Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) in the Palacio Carlos V – Charles V Palace.

Related Pages

Related Pages
Alhambra
Palacios Nazaríes – Nasrid Palaces – A Shining Example of Moorish Art and Architecture
Los Jardines del Partal – The Gardens of the Partal
Alcazaba – A Formidable Fortress of the Nasrids
–- Medina, the Bustling City
Alhambra – Christian-Era Monuments
Alhambra – Outer Monuments
Generalife – Heavenly Gardens of the Nasrids

Copyright © 2020 -2021 by YatrikaOne. All rights reserved.

Generalife

Heavenly Gardens of the Nasrids

Located on the Cerro del Sol (Sun Hill), a hill adjoining the Alhambra, the Generalife is a complex consisting of beautiful gardens, orchards, and a palace used by the Nasrid kings as a leisure residence, especially during summer. Derived from the Arabic word Jannat al-‘Arīf, Generalife means an architect’s garden. Inspired by the Persian gardens of the medieval period, Muhammed II (1273 – 1302), the second king of the Nasrid dynasty, built the Generalife complex as his summer residence. Muhammed III (1302 – 1309), the second king, and Ismail I (1314- 1325), the fourth king, extended and improved the palaces and gardens.

The Generalife provides a panoramic view of the Alhambra and Granada area. Although the palaces in Generalife are not as ornate as the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra, they still retain the charm of Moorish art. The courtyards have pools with fountains and water canals.

The palaces and gardens underwent significant restorations in the 20th century. The walkways, which were built as part of these restorations, are paved with beautiful mosaics created with black and white pebbles. The black ones are from the River Genil, and the white ones are from the River Darro. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 along with the Alhambra and Albaicín district.

Visiting the Generalife

As mentioned before, the Generalife complex is on a hill next to the Alhambra, and separating them is a ravine, which has a bridge that provides access to the Generalife. It takes about an hour to visit the gardens and courtyards of the Generalife. You can combine the Alhambra visit with the Generalife because it is at a walkable distance.

There is a path that leads to the Generalife from the Alhambra. Once you visit the Nasrid Palaces, you come out via the Gardens of Partal, which has signs directing to the Paseo de las Torres (Tower’s walk). Follow these signs, and as you walk, you will see several Nasrid era towers. You then cross the bridge over the ravine and reach the Auditorium at the Generalife. A walkway leads to the lower gardens area, and you start the Generalife visit there.

Lower Gardens

A view of the gardens of the Generalife in Granada, Spain
A view of the lower gardens

The image shows an area known as the Lower Gardens the Generalife located on the slope of a hill next to the Alhambara in Granada, Spain. It is Area K in the map of the Alhambra and Generalife.

At the center of the image is a pebbled walkway that leads to the Generalife Palace and the upper gardens. The Generalife complex has many similar walkways paved with beautiful mosaics created with black and white pebbles. The black ones are from the River Genil, and the white ones are from the River Darro. The walkways are a 20th-century creation built as part of the restoration of the Generalife.

The area on the right side of the walkway is an arable land used by the Nasrids to grow vegetables and fruits. It serves the same purpose even today. As you can see, the agricultural terrace on the right has orchards and vegetable patches.

The area on the left side is used for decorative purposes and has beautifully-trimmed cypress trees. It is a delightful experience to walk under the arches of the cypress trees. See the image below. Although these gardens make a great impression with visitors, they are also a modern creation built as part of the renovation of the Generalife, and nobody is sure how they looked in the Nasrid era.

Generalife Palace

The walkway from the lower gardens leads to the Generalife Palace, which has two important courts, which are:

  1. Patio de la Acequia (Court of the Irrigation Channel
  2. Patio de la Sultana (Sultana’s Court or Courtyard of the Cypress).

Patio de la Acequia – Court of the Irrigation Canal

The Patio de la Acequia is a rectangular court with pavilions on all four sides. The image below is captured from the northern pavilion. On the far end of the image is the southern pavilion with two floors. The pavilion on the right (i.e., west side) is ornate and provides a beautiful view of the Generalife gardens and the Alhambra.

Patio de la Acequia (Court of the Irrigation Canal), a part of the Generalife Palace in Granada, Spain
Patio de la Acequia (Court of the Irrigation Canal)

As the name suggests, the court has an irrigation canal, which runs through its center. Built in the Nasrid period, it provided water for the exotic plants in the court. On its sides are the narrow terraces with water sprouts spurting water into the canal, creating a beautiful display of semi oval-shaped water jets crossing each other.

The hedges of myrtle bushes run along the outer edges of the terraces. The beds used for cultivating flower plants, bushes, and fruit trees are on both sides of the canal. The Nasrids imported some of these plants, including a variety of rose bushes and jasmine creepers, from different parts of the world, choosing them for the colorfulness and fragrance of their flowers. The plants with their colorful flowers and a pleasant aroma created a delightful atmosphere in the court.

The image on the left shows highly ornate pavilion with large arched windows surrounded by Islamic calligraphy. As you can see, they provide a beautiful view of the gardens.

The image on the right shows the sunken wooden ceiling of a pavilion on the west side of the Patio de la Acequia. This is a great example of Mudéjar art, a style of decoration originated in Moorish Spain and is a fusion of Islamic and Christian art. There are many rooms in Nasrid Palaces and Generalife with ceilings decorated with Mudéjar art.

Patio de la Sultana – Sultana’s Court

Patio de la Sultana (Sultana's Court) in the Generalife, Granada, Spain
Patio de la Sultana (Sultana’s Court)
Pond with a fountain in the Patio de la Sultana (Sultana's Court) in the Generalife, Granada, Spain
Pond with a fountain in the Patio de la Sultana (Sultana’s Court)

The image shows the Patio de la Sultana (Sultana’s Court) located adjacent to the Patio de la Acequia (Court of the Irrigation Canal).

The court has a water-filled ditch surrounding the rectangular platform. At the center of this platform is a square pond in the middle flanked by two garden patches, each surrounded by a hedge of myrtle bushes. There is a basin with a fountain at the center of the pond. As you can see from the image, several water sprouts on the platform and the corridors are spurting water, creating semi oval-shaped water jets.

Cypress Tree and the Legend of the Abencerrajes

Cypress tree of the Abencerrajes Legend Fame standing in the Patio de la Sultana of the Generalife Palace in Granada, Spain
Cypress tree of the Abencerrajes legend Fame standing in the Patio de la Sultana

Standing on the eastern side of the court is the dried-up tree trunk of a cypress tree, which experts believe was alive during the Nasrid period and lived for 600 years. A popular legend is centered around this cypress tree, and because of this legend the court is also known as the Patio del Ciprés de la Sultana (Sultana’s Cypress Tree Court).

As you can see from the image, there is also a small plaque next to the tree trunk. The Spanish text in the plaque refers to this cypress tree to describe the story that is central to the Legend of the Abencerrajes.

The plaque says :

Cuenta la leyenda que este ciprés de la sultana fue testigo de la amorios de un Caballero Abenceraje y la esposa de Boabdil

Here is a rough translation:

Legend has it that this Cypress Tree of the Sultana was a witness to the love affair of an Abencerraje Knight and Boabdil’s wife.

According to the legend, Moryama (Maryam bint Ibrahim al-’Attarthe), the wife of Muhammad XII (known as Boabdil, the last Sultan of Granada), had an affair with a knight belonging to the Abencerrajes, a warrior clan fiercely loyal to the Nasrids. The lovers used to meet underneath the shade of this cypress tree in the moonlight.

Plaque describing the Abencerrajes legend in the Patio de la Sultana (Sultana's Court) in the Generalife Palace, Granda, Spain
Plaque describing the Abencerrajes legend in the Patio de la Sultana (Sultana’s Court)

A courtier eventually discovered their secret and revealed it to the Nasrids. Enraged by the affair, Boabdil ordered the killing of the members of the Abencerrajes clan. He invited them for a meeting at his palace. The unsuspecting members accepted the invitation and gathered in a hall. While they were waiting for the king, his guards closed the doors of the hall and assassinated as many as 30 of them.

Although there is no historical or archaeological evidence to prove that this event ever took place, the fascinating story of romance and the palace intrigue has caught the imagination of people and helped to keep the mystique of the Alhambra alive.

The hall where the alleged killings took place became known as Sala de los Abencerrajes (Hall of the Abencerrajes), which is a part of the Palace of Lions in the Nasrid Palaces, located in the Alhambra.

Upper Gardens

Patio de la Sultana Staircase in the Generalife, Granada, Spain
Patio de la Sultana Staircase
Escalera del Agua - Water Stairway in the Generalife, Granada, Spain
Escalera del Agua – Water Stairway

A staircase on the south end of the Patio de la Sultana leads to the upper gardens of the Generalife. The image shows the arched gateway above that staircase. As you can see, there are two lion statues atop this gateway.

Besides numerous gardens, the upper level of the Generalife consists of the Escalera del Agua (Water Stairway), Mirador Romántico (Romantic Viewpoint), and Casa de los Amigos (House of Friends).

The image shows part of the stairway know as the Escalera del Agua (Water Stairway) situated in the upper gardens of the Generalife.

The stairway consists of three levels of steps. At the end of each level is a circular-shaped terrace with a fountain at its center. Built atop the wall on each side of the stairway is a narrow canal with the water flowing down. The shade from the trees in the surrounding gardens and the water running in the canals keep the place cooler and make the uphill walk pleasant for visitors.

Mirador Romántico - Romantic Viewpoint - Obseravtory located at the highest point on the Generalife, Granada, Spain
Mirador Romántico – Romantic Viewpoint

In the Nasrid era, this stairway led to a small oratario (oratory or prayer hall) that existed at the upper end of the stairway, which happens to be the highest point of the Generalife. The royals used this stairway to climb up to the oratario to pray and then relax watching the panoramic view of the surrounding areas.

A small observatory known as the Mirador Romántico (Romantic Viewpoint), which is shown in the image, replaced the oratory in the 19th century. The structure does not fit well with the rest of the buildings in the Generalife because it is not a Nasrid-era building. Built in 1836 by Don Jaime Traversa, the administrator of the Generalife at that time, Mirador Romántico is a neo-gothic style building.

Related Pages
Alhambra – A gem among Stones
Palacios Nazaríes – Nasrid Palaces – A Shining Example of Moorish Art
Los Jardines del Partal – The Gardens of Partal
Alcazaba – A Formidable Fortress of the Nasrids
Alhambra – Outer Monuments

Copyright © 2020 – 2021 by YatrikaOne. All rights reserved.

Alhambra: Alcazaba

Alcazaba – A Formidable Fortress of the Nasrids

Located strategically on the western end of the Sabika Hill, the Alcazaba is a fortress used by the Nasrid rulers to defend the Alhambra, the center of power of the Emirate of Granada. Because of its hilltop location, many kingdoms that came before them built fortifications in this site. Experts believe that even a Roman fortification existed here.

Realizing the importance of the strategic location, Mohammed I (1238–1273), the founder of the Nasrid dynasty, decided to build a fortress over a structure that already existed since 889 CE. He made it his residence and oversaw its construction. The version of the fortress he built consisted of three towers, Torre Quebrada (Broken Tower), Torre del Homenaje (Tower of Tribute), and Torre de la Vela (Tower of Vigil), all of which are still standing.

After the fall of the Nasrids, the Christian kingdoms used it for defensive purposes. Later, like all other structures in the Alhambra, it fell into disrepair after long neglect. The major restoration work started in the 19th century and continued until the early 20th century.

Entrance and Plaza de Los Aljibes

The structure shown in the image is the east-facing facade of the wall on the east side. This wall has a small door in the middle used by visitors to enter the fortress. Above the entrance is Torre Quebrada, also known as the Broken Tower, and to its right is the Torre del Homenaje, also known as the Keep. As mentioned before, these two are the original towers of the Alcazaba.

Alcazaba Entrance and Plaza de Los Aljibes located at Alhambra in Granada, Spain
The Alcazaba Entrance and Plaza de Los Aljibes

The open space in front of the eastern wall is known as the Plaza de Los Aljibes (Plaza of the Cisterns) because of the cisterns built there by the Christian kings soon after they took over the Alhambra. When they were no longer useful, public space was created by filling them up and planting some trees and bushes. As you can see from the image, the open space in front of the Alcazaba wall is full of people who are sitting and relaxing.

The Plaza de Los Aljibes has also been a venue for numerous cultural events. The image below shows a plaque written in Spanish embedded into the exterior of the eastern rampart. It lists the important events that took place in the Plaza de Los Aljibes.

A plaque on the Alcazaba wall
A plaque embedded into the Alcazaba wall

Here is the list:
1922 – Concurso de Cante Jondo – The Cante Jondo contest for Flamenco singers
1927 – Autos Sacramentales – These are religious dramas unique to Spain that are played during the feast of Corpus Christi
1952 – Primer Festival de Música y Danza – The First Music and Dance Festival
1976 – XXV Aniversarios del Festival – 25th Anniversary of the Festival held in 1952

The plaque was installed in 1976 to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the first Music and Dance Festival held in 1952.

Towers on the Eastern Wall

Eastern part of the Alcazaba located at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain
The eastern part of the Alcazaba

The image shows a view of the west-facing facade of the eastern wall as seen from the Torre del Vela. As you can see from the image, the Torre Quebrada is in the middle and Torre del Homenaje to its left. The small semi-circular structure next to the Torre del Homenaje is the Torre del Cubo.

The area in front of the eastern wall is called the Plaza de las Armas (which is explained in the next section). Behind the eastern wall is the Palacio Carlos V (Charles V Palace) and to its right is the Iglesia de Santa María de la Alhambra (Church of St. Mary of the Alhambra). Just below the hill on the far end are the buildings belonging to the Generalife.

Torre del Homenaje located on the northeast corner of Alcazaba at Aljambra in Granada, Spain
Torre del Homenaje

As you can see from the image, Torre del Homenaje is a robust square-shaped tower with battlements (parapet with openings at regular intervals) and merlons (construction that projects upwards) on all four sides of its terrace. This strategically located tower was used for both defensive and offensive purposes. The crenels (space between the merlons) were used for mounting the guns and embrasures (vertical slits) below the battlements used for observation.

Because of its location, Torre del Homenaje provides a vantage point for the surveillance of the Alhambra and the surrounding areas. Mohammed I lived there in the beginning and oversaw the construction of the Alcazaba.

Plaza de las Armas – The Garrison of Alcazaba

Plaza de las Armas - The Garrison of Alcazaba located on the western part of Alhambra in Granada, Spain
The Plaza de las Armas – The Garrison of Alcazaba

Although Plaza de las Armas means Plaza of the Weapons, it actually refers to an interior area of the fortress consisting of military quarters and storage facilities for weapons and other supplies needed for the defense of the Alhambra.

The ruins consisting of the foundation walls that you see in the image belonged to the Barrio Castrense, which is a Nasrid-era residential area consisting of houses occupied by the military commanders and soldiers stationed in the Alcazaba. As you can see, each house has an entrance, a central hall and other rooms, and a lavatory. One of the houses is larger than the others, and it most-likely belonged to the head of the garrison. It also has a small pool at the center. It is believed that Mohammed I, the founder of the Nasrid dynasty, moved his residence from the Torre del Homanaje to this house after its construction.

Torre de la Vela – The Tower of Vigil

Alcazaba - Torre de la Vela and Plaza de las Armas
The Torre de la Vela and Plaza de las Armas

Located on the western part of the Alcazaba, Torre de la Vela, also known as the Watch Tower, is an iconic structure that provides a 360-degree panoramic view of the surrounding areas. As mentioned before, it is one of the three towers built by Mohammed I.

With four floors and a terrace, it is the tallest tower in the Alcazaba. It also has three underground floors and a dungeon. The iconic bell tower on the terrace was not part of the original construction. The Christian kings, who took over the Alhambra, installed the bell to warn residents living in the surrounding areas of attacks and other emergencies. The tower got its name because of this bell. Velar in Spanish means to keep vigil. So, the Torre de la Vela is a tower that keeps vigil.

Terrace of the Torre de la Vela located on the western part of the Alcazaba at Alhambra in Granada, Spain
The Torre de la Vela terrace with a bell and flags

The tower sustained severe damages due to a variety of catastrophic events, including an explosion and earthquake, occurred during the post Nasrid period. It included the ripping off of the original battlements and breaching of part of the tower.

The image below shows a spectacular view of the snow-clad Sierra Nevada Mountains, as seen from the terrace of the Torre de la Vela. In Spanish, Sierra means mountain range, and Nevada means snowfall. As the name suggests, a lot of snow falls in these mountains. Because of the abundance of snow, they have become a popular tourist attraction, especially with skiing enthusiasts. .

Sierra Nevada Mountains - A view from Torre de la Vela of Alcazaba located at Alhambra in Granada, Spain
Sierra Nevada Mountains – A view from the Torre de la Vela

Related Pages
Alhambra
Palacios Nazaríes – Nasrid Palaces – A Shining Example of Moorish Art and Architecture
Los Jardines del Partal – The Gardens of the Partal
Medina, the Bustling City
Alhambra – Christian-Era Monuments
Alhambra – Outer Monuments
Generalife – Heavenly Gardens of the Nasrids

Copyright © 2020 – 2021 by YatrikaOne. All rights reserved.

Alhambra: Gardens of the Partal

Located between the Medina (i.e., city) and the Nasrid Palaces, the area covered by the present Gardens of the Partal was mostly residential during the Nasrid era. Because of the convenient location, the people who worked in the palaces lived there. Medina, which had shops, baths, and mosques, was nearby and met their daily needs. 

After the Christian kings took over the Alhambra, the houses and other buildings in this area fell into disrepair. A major restoration of the Alhambra took place from 1923 to 1936, during which period this area became an archaeological site. Excavations of this site led to the discovery of numerous Moorish houses and even a palace attributed to Yusuf III. The gardens in this area are a modern construction and were part of the restoration that in the 1930s.

The Gardens of the Partal consists of few buildings near the Nasrid Palaces and the gardens built on the slopes north of the upper Alhambra. The two main buildings in this area are 1. Torre de las Damas (Tower of the Ladies) 2. Oratorio del Partal (Oratory of the Partal).

Torre de las Damas (Tower of the Ladies)

Torre de las Damas (Tower of the Ladies), a building with an open portico located in the Partal Gradens, Alhambra, Granada, Spain
Torre de las Damas (Tower of the Ladies)

Built sometime between 1302 and 1309 CE during the reign of Muhammed III, the Torre de las Damas (Tower of the Ladies), which used to be called the Partal, is one of the oldest buildings in the Alhambra. Partal means portico in Arabic. The Gardens of Partal got its name because of this building.

It had many modifications and renovations done to it over the years, but eventually, it was neglected and fell into disrepair. Fortunately, it underwent a significant restoration in 1924, and the beautiful building you see now is the result of that restoration.

As you can see from the image, the Tower of the Ladies consists of a tower, a hall, and an open portico. Resting on the marble pillars of the portico are the five arches. Only the middle arch, which is higher than the other four, belonged to the original building.

The image on the left shows the ceiling of the portico of the Tower of the Ladies. As you can see from the image, the ceiling has several repetitive geometrical patterns, including many recessed octagons, arranged symmetrically with a deeply-recessed multi-angled niche at the center.

The beautifully decorated wooden ceiling shown in the image is a delight to watch and is a great example of Mudéjar art, a style of decoration originated in Moorish Spain and is a fusion of Islamic and Christian art. There are many rooms in Nasrid Palaces and Generalife with ceilings decorated with Mudéjar art.

The image on the right shows the hall behind the portico of the Tower of the Ladies. As you can see from the image, it offers a great view of the city of Granada.

Oratorio del Partal

An interior view of the Oratory, a building located in the Partal Gradens, Alhambra, Granada, Spain
Interior of the Oratory showing the mihrab

The image shows an interior view of the Oratorio del Partal (Oratory of the Partal), a small building next to the Tower of the Ladies. Attributed to Yusef I (1333-1354), the seventh and one of the most prominent ruler of the Nasrid dynasty, the Oratory was a house of prayer, which was used by the sultan for namaz (prayer). It was first restored in the 1930s, then again in 2017 to the present form.

As you can see from the image, the highly decorated wall has a niche, known as mihrab, oriented towards the Kaaba of Mecca. The upper part of the mihrab has a beautiful arch surrounded by a square border carved with Islamic calligraphy. Beautifully carved arabesques fill the space between the arch and this border. The wall above the mihrab has two decorative windows, and surrounding it are arabesques and Islamic calligraphy.

Note: Arabesque is a repetitive pattern of foliage or geometrical designs found in decorations of Islamic architecture.

Also seen in the image is part of the ceiling, which is ornate with finely-carved wooden panels. It is also an example of Mudéjar art mentioned above.

Gardens

Built on the slopes north of the upper Alhambra and east of the Nasrid Palaces, the gardens consist of several terraces with reflecting pools, fountains, flower beds, and nicely trimmed hedges of bushes enclosing plants and trees.

The image on the left shows a terrace on the west side of gardens. At the far end is the Iglesia de Santa María de la Alhambra (Church of St. Mary of the Alhambra), and to its right is Palacio Carlos V (Charles V Place).

On the right, a low brick wall with a white plaque is part of the remnants of Palacio de Yusuf III (Yusuf III Palace). The archaeological excavation in the 1930s led to the discovery of this palace. Based on the type of construction and the artifacts found in the site, experts attributed it to Yusuf III (1408-1417), the thirteenth ruler of the Nasrid dynasty. However, experts also believe that a much older construction attributed to Muhammad II (1273-1302), the second ruler, existed in this site, and the Yusuf III Palace was a modified version of that building.

The image on the right shows a terrace on the north side of the gardens. As you can see from the image, the Tower of the Ladies is at the far end.

Related Pages
Alhambra
Palacios Nazaríes – Nasrid Palaces – A Shining Example of Moorish Art and Architecture
Alcazaba – A Formidable Fortress of the Nasrids
Medina, the Bustling City
Alhambra – Christian-Era Monuments
Alhambra – Outer Monuments
Generalife – Heavenly Gardens of the Nasrids

Copyright © 2019 – 2021 by YatrikaOne. All rights reserved.

Alhambra

Located on top of the Sabika Hill and overlooking the picturesque city of Granada in southern Spain, the Alhambra is one of the most fascinating historical sites in the world. It is home to monuments belonging to two dominant, but distinct cultures of the world, i.e., Islamic culture from North Africa and Christian culture from Europe. Built side-by-side, these monuments are a testament to Spain’s strong multi-cultural roots. Along with the nearby Albaicín area and the Generalife, the Alhambra became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984.

Derived from an Arabic word al-qal’a al-hamra, which means the red one, the name Alhambra most-likely referred to the red fortress that existed on the current Alcazaba site. As some Moorish poets put it, the Alhambra was a pearl set of emeralds. At its peak, with the lavish palaces and sprawling gardens, it was like a heaven on earth. The Alhambra now presents a glimpse of its past glory, showcasing the grandeur and beauty of its edifices.

The Alhambra is unique in various ways. To name a few, the usage of mathematics in architecture and decoration and showcasing of Islamic art in a strongly Christian country. The mesmerizing patterns on the walls and ceilings are a blend of mathematics and art. The Alhambra was the inspiration for the development of many modern mathematical concepts.

The Alhambra is a massive complex of fortresses, palaces, towers, and gardens covering an area of 26 acres. The River Darro flows in the north, and the Sabika Valley lies in the south. Because of its strategic location, many variations of fortifications existed in the Sabika Hills, starting from the Roman period. However, it was largely forgotten until Muhammed I, the founder of the Nasrid dynasty and the Emir of the Kingdom of Granada, realized its strategic importance and started building forts and palaces in the 13th century. Later, Yusuf I made it a royal palace, and it remained so until the Reconquista captured it.

Although the Nasrids were an Islamic dynasty with strong roots in North Africa, they often allied with the Christian kings during the Reconquista. During their rule, the relationship between Christians and Muslims was mostly amicable. Granada was the last Islamic bastion to fall the Reconquista, and it was bloodless. The Nasrids employed a lot of Christian artisans to build and decorate the edifices. As a result, a blend of Christian and Islamic art evolved in the Alhambra.

Pedestrian Path to the Alhambra

A site map of the Alhambra located near the city of Granada in Spain
A site map of the Alhambra and Generalife

The Alhambra monuments are on the hilltop. If you are going there on foot, there is a well-paved pedestrian path starting at the Puerta de Las Granadas (Gate of the Pomegranates) located at the foot of the Sabika Hill. If you are walking from the city center, take the Cuesta de Gomérez Street from the Plaza Nueva to arrive at this gate. The distance from the Plaza Nueva to the Alhambra monuments via this gate is about 3/4 of a mile.

Note that there is another entry point via Cuesta del Rey Chico. However, the Gate of the Pomegranates is much more interesting because of the monuments along the way. 

The image shows an area map of the Alhambra and Generalife placed near this gate.  The pedestrian path from the gate to the main entrance is a paved road and goes uphill. As you walk up, you encounter the Alhambra forest on both sides. After walking a few hundred feet from the gate, the roads fork into two; The right path goes to the Crimson Towers, the Manuel de Falla Auditorium, and the left path leads to the Alhambra. As you walk further, you arrive at the Washington Irving Monument. A few feet from there, you climb a flight of steps to reach the Pillar of Carlos V. Then you go via the Puerta de la Justicia (Gate of Justice) to arrive at the Alhambra.

For detailed information on the monuments along the pedestrian path, check this page: Alhambra – Outer Monuments.

Alhambra Monuments

Once you reach the top, you can view the monuments from both the Nasrid and Christian periods. The Nasrid-era monuments include the Puerta del Vino (Wine Gate), Alcazaba, Palacios Nazaríes (Nasrid Palaces), and Gardens of the Partal. The Christian-era monuments include Palacio Carlos V (Charles V Palace), and Iglesia de Santa María de la Alhambra (Church of St. Mary of the Alhambra).

The image shows a magnificent view of the Alhambra buildings with the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This view was captured from the Generalife located on the hill adjacent to the Alhambra.

An external view of the Alhambra from the Generalife
An external view of the Alhambra from the Generalife

On the far left (i.e., south) is the Iglesia de Santa María de la Alhambra (Church of St. Mary of the Alhambra). The squarish building next to it is the Palacio Carlos V (Charles V Palace).

At the far end (i.e., west) is the Torre de la Vela, a tower with a bell and flags located at the west end of the Alcazaba. In front of it are the Torre del Homenaje and Torre Quebrada. The tower on the far right is the Tower of Mohammed.

At the near end (i.e., east) is the Gardens of the Partal with Torre de las Damas (Tower of the Ladies) and Oratario on the right and attached to the wall.

Behind the Gardens of the Partal and between Palacio Carlos V and Tower of Mohammed are the buildings belonging to the Nasrid Palaces that include Mexuar, Comares Palace, and Palace of Lions.

Nasrid Era – The Golden Age of the Alhambra

During the Nasrid period, the Alhambra was a self-contained citadel with a defensive wall around it, and within this wall, there were three main areas.

  1. Royal Residences – Now known as the Nasrid Palaces, these were the residences of the sultan where he and his close relatives lived and conducted the state business. These are were built in the slopes on the northern part of the hill.
  2. Alcazaba – This was the fortress made of ramparts and watchtowers. It also provided housing for the troops stationed here to defend the royals. It occupies the western end of the Sabika Hill.
  3. Medina – This is the city that served the needs of the people in the palaces and the military. It was on the south side and covered the area on the upper part of the hill. Not much is left of the city now because many Christian era monuments were built in this area, and Napoleon’s retreating troops, who occupied the Alhambra from 1808 to 1812, blew up part of it in 1812 when they withdrew from Granada.

Nasrid Palaces

Located on the northern end of the Sabika Hill, the Nasrid Palaces is the most popular tourist attraction in the Alhambra. To visit the Nasrid Palaces, you need to buy tickets, and depending on the season, you may have to buy them well in advance. Besides the Nasrid Palaces, the Alhambra has many impressive attractions, including the Alcazaba, Partal Gardens, and Medina. Although the Generalife, which is located on a different hill on the other side of the valley, is not considered part of the Alhambra, most tourists visit it after the Alhambra tour because of the easy access from the Alhambra. The Nasrid Palaces visit lasts about two hours, and you can complete the entire Alhambra and Generalife tours in half a day.

The Nasrid Palaces consist of three main palaces, which are: Palacio del Mexuar, Palacio Comares (Comores Palace), and Palacio de los Leones (Palace of the Lions). The visit starts at the entrance near the north facade of the Palacio Carlos V and ends at the Partal Gardens.

Read More: Palacios Nazaríes – Nasrid Palaces – A Shining Example of Moorish Art