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Alhambra: Medina

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

Archaeological site of the Abencerrajes Palace


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

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

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

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

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 – 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
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

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