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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.

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 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

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

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

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

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.

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 the Torre de la Vela

Related Pages
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

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