Nasrid Palaces – A Shining Example of Moorish Art and Architecture
Known for the grandeur and unique Islamic art, the Palacios Nazaríes (Nasrid Palaces) is a complex of interconnected palaces built by the Nasrids, a powerful Moorish dynasty that ruled the Emirate of Granada over a period of 260 years. Besides using the palaces as their residences, the Nasrid rulers used them to conduct the state business, including the administration and meeting with the local and foreign dignitaries.
Located on the northern end of the Sabika Hill, the Nasrid Palaces are the most popular tourist attractions in the Alhambra. The opulence and lavishness of the palaces make visitors feel like they are in a paradise on earth.
To visit the Nasrid Palaces, you need tickets, and depending on the season, you may have to buy them well in advance. Besides the Nasrid Palaces, the Alhambra has many impressive monuments, including the Alcazaba, Partal Gardens, and Medina. The Generalife is not considered part of the Alhambra because it is located on a different hill on the other side of the ravine separating them. However, 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.
While the exterior of the palaces appears to be an unimpressive jumble of buildings (See the image), the well-designed and exquisitely decorated interiors are impressive works of art.
The palaces consist of highly decorated rooms arranged in a quadrangular fashion with a court in front. Some courts have fountains with running water, and the others have reflecting pools or gardens. The rooms have finely carved ceilings, some with mocárabes (Read Note 1 below). The doorways and windows are arched, and the walls around them are embellished with arabesques (Read Note 2 below) and Islamic calligraphy.
The palaces evolved gradually over the years during the Nasrid rule. During this era, many rooms were added, extended, and removed. Once the Christian rulers took over the Alhambra, they too remodeled and renovated the palaces, but fortunately maintained its original Moorish character by keeping the basic structures, and most of its architectural elements, and beautiful decorations.
Palacio del Mexuar – Mexuar Palace
The Maxuar palace is one of the first palaces to be built in the Alhambra and changed the most. The building of the original place took place during the reign of Ismail I (1314 – 1325), the fifth ruler of the Nasrid dynasty, who usurped the direct descendant of the founder and created the second Nasrid dynasty. Later, a significant rebuilding of this palace occurred during the reign of Muhammad V (1354–1359, 1362–1391), the eighth ruler of the Nasrid dynasty.
During the Christian era, An explosion in 1590 destroyed most of the western part. As a result, there is very little left from the original palace. Nobody is sure how the original building looked like; What you see now is a small portion of the original on the eastern part.
The Maxuar Palace is where the visitors enter the Nasrid Palaces. The images below show a part of the main hall. Supporting the ceiling of this hall are the four pillars, each of which is surmounted by the corbels at the top. The image on the right shows the wall and the corbels on the eastern part of this hall. As you can see, the beam and wall are ornate with arabesques and Islamic calligraphy. The beautifully decorated wooden ceiling is from the Christian era and is a great example of Mudéjar art (Read Note 3).
Palacio Comares – Comares Palace
The construction of this palace began during the reign of Yousef I (1332-1354), the seventh ruler of the Nasrid dynasty, and completed by his son Mohammed V (1354–1359, 1362–1391). Once completed, it became the official residence of the emirs.
The Comares Palace consists of the following:
- Patio de los Arrayanes – Court of the Myrtles
- Rooms and Halls surrounding the Court of the Myrtles
- Cuarto Dorado – Gilded Room and the patio
- Royal bath
Cuarto Dorado – Gilded Room
The Gilded Room is located next to the Maxuar Palace.
As you can see from the image on the left, the walls are ornate with arabesques and Islamic calligraphy. The room has doorways with arches and finely-carved decorative windows above the arches. The Nasrid Palaces have many rooms in this style of decoration.
As you can see from the image on the right, the wooden ceiling is recessed and engraved with beautiful gold-colored patterns. The room got its name because of these gold-colored decorations.
The Gilded Room ceiling is an excellent example of Mudéjar art, which is a blend of Islamic and Christian art created mainly by Christian artisans.
Patio de los Arrayanes – Court of Myrtles
The Patio de los Arrayanes (Court of the Myrtles) is a quadrangular court with a pool surrounded by well-trimmed hedges of myrtle bushes (hence the name Court of the Myrtles). Situated at the northern and southern and ends of the pool are the fountains, and behind the fountains are the corridors, each with seven exquisitely embellished arches.
The image on the left shows a view of the north corridor with the Comares Tower behind it. The image on the right shows a view the south corridor with a gallery on the upper floor, which has seven arches, just like the floor below. As you can see, the middle arch of the corridors is higher than the other six.
Located west of the Court of the Myrtles is the Gilded Room (Cuarto Dorado), and east is the Palace of the Lions. The visitors enter the Court of the Myrtles through the Gilded Room and walk east to enter the Hall of the Mocarabes of the Palace of the Lions.
Palacio de los Leones – Palace of the Lions
Built by Mohammed V (1362 – 1391), the Palace of the Lions is the most impressive part of the Nasrid Palaces. The palace building reached its crescendo during his rule.
This map shows the recommended path for the visitors to navigate in the Palace of the Lions. It is on display at the Court of the Lions corridor.
Here is the list of rooms and halls:
A. Sala de los Mocárabes – Hall of the Mocárabes
B. Patio de los Leones – Court of the Lions
C. Sala de los Abencerrajes – Hall of the Abencerrajes
D. Sala de los Reyes – Hall of the Kings
E. Sala de las Dos Hermanas – Hall of the Two Sisters
F. Mirador de Lindaraja – Viewing Windows of Lindaraja
Patio de los Leones – Court of the Lions
Commissioned by the Mohammed V and built in the second part of the 14th century, the Court of the Lions is a masterpiece of Moorish architecture in Spain.
As you can see from the image, the Court of the Lions is a rectangular court surrounded by arched corridors, behind which are the four famous halls of the Nasrid Palaces. Located west of the court is the Hall of the Mocárabes, north is the Hall of the Abencerrajes, east is the Hall of the Kings, and south is the Hall of Two Sisters.
At the center is a fountain built with sculptures of 12 lions and a dodecagon-shaped (12-sided polygon) basin is resting above them. The Court of the Lions got its name because of these 12 lions.
Sala de los Mocárabes – Hall of the Mocárabes
Located west of the Court of the Lions, the Sala de los Mocárabes is a hall with an oval-shaped ceiling previously covered with a dome of the Mocárabes. It got its name because of this dome, which was dismantled after an explosion in the 16th century. Check the map of the Palace of the Lions for its location.
Although this hall is beautifully decorated, it is less glamorous than the other three halls that surround the Court of the Lions . The visitors to the Court of the Lions enter this hall before walking to the other halls in the Palace of the Lions.
The image shows a part of the ceiling depicting the court of arms of the Nasrid dynasty.
Sala de los Abencerrajes – Hall of the Abencerrajes
Located north of the Court of the Lions, the Hall of the Abencerrajes is ornate with beautiful geometric designs on its walls and ceiling. It has a central hall and a corridor with two archways. The image shows a sidewall with two beautifully decorated arches on the doorway leading to a corridor.
The Hall of the Abencerrajes owes its name to the legend of the Abencerrajes, a warrior clan from North Africa. According to this legend, 30 of them were assassinated in this room by the orders of the Sultan of Granada, who suspected a member of the clan was having an affair with one of the ladies of the royal family. However, there is no historical or archaeological evidence to support the occurrence of this event. Read more on this legend: Cypress Tree and the Legend of the Abencerrajes
The view above the central hall is especially stunning. As you can see from the image, the ceiling looks like a honeycomb constructed with small and colorful cells of different geometric shapes, including triangles and rectangles. Such honeycomb structures are called dome of the mocárabes (similar to muqarnas of Persian origin). Below the roof and covering the entire hall is a deck whose balustrades form a hexadecagon (a polygon with 16 sides).
Sala de los Reyes – Hall of the Kings
Located east of the Court of the Lions, Sala de los Reyes (Hall of the Kings) is one of the most interesting halls in the Nasrid Palaces, mainly because of the three paintings on its ceiling (see the images below). It is also known as the Justice Hall.
At the center of this rectangular-shaped hall is the main room flanked by two bedrooms on the sides. Connecting the main hall to the bedrooms are the exquisitely decorated double arch doors.
A corridor separates this hall and the Court the Lions, and the three beautifully decorated arched doorways connect this corridor to the hall.
The image above shows a view of the ceiling of the Hall of the Kings. It looks like a honeycomb constructed with small and colorful cells of different geometric shapes, including triangles and rectangles.
The images show the three paintings on the ceiling of the Hall of the Kings. These were painted on a sheepskin leather sheet and attached to an oval-shaped wooden vault of the ceiling.
The lower painting depicts the first ten kings of the Nasrid dynasty. The Hall of the Kings got its name because of the this painting. The other two painting depict everyday life and fighting and hunting scenes Although the paintings depict the legends of the kings of the Nasrid dynasty, they were most likely painted by the Christian painters during the reign of Mohammed VII (1395 – 1410 CE) or Yusuf III (1410 – 1424 CE).
Sala de las Dos Hermanas – Hall of Two Sisters
Located south of the Court of the Lions, the Hall of Two Sisters is ornate with beautiful geometric designs on its walls and ceiling.
Just like the Hall of Abencerrajas, the ceiling of this hall has the dome of the mocárabes, however, the design is different. The small colorful cells are organized to form concentric geometrical shapes.
Below the roof and covering the entire hall is a deck whose balustrades form an octagon. The wall is also highly decorated, and there is a niche in the wall with a beautiful arch.
As you can see from the image, the outermost shape is almost a circle and enclosed within this circle is a hexadecagon (a polygon with 16 sides). Enclosed within this hexadecagon is an octagon (a polygon with 8 sides), and within this octagon, there are many concentric shapes. Below the roof and covering the entire hall is a deck whose balustrades form an octagon. It is a delight to the eyes to view these mesmerizing geometric designs.
Mirador de Lindaraja – The Viewing Windows of Lindaraja
The image shows a beautiful view captured from the Hall of Two Sisters. At the far end of the image is the Mirador de Lindaraja (Mirador de Daraxa), and at the near end is the Sala de los Ajimeces (Hall of the Ajimeces). These two halls are located east of the Court of the Lions.
As you can see from the image, a beautifully decorated arched door from the Sala de los Ajimeces leads to the Mirador de Lindaraja. Just like the other halls in these palaces, the walls are filled with arabesques and Islamic calligraphy, and the ceiling is decorated with mocárabes.
With its two beautifully decorated arched windows, the Mirador de Lindaraja provides a spectacular view of the gardens outside the Patio of the Lindaraja. However, the mirador (lookout) is now closed to the visitors.
The Patio de Lindaraja (Court de Lindaraja) – also known as the Jardines de Daraxa (Garden of Daraxa) – is a square-shaped patio enclosing a lovely garden on all four sides. Each side has a portico with arched columns made of marble and a gallery upstairs. This image was captured from one of the galleries.
At the center of the garden is a beautiful marble fountain, which dates back to 1626, and the basin was first at the Patio del Cuarto Dorado (Patio of the Gilded Room). The garden has several pentagon-shaped bushes and tall trees, including cypress, orange, and acacia.
Note 1: Mocárabes are unique to Islamic architecture in Andalucian Spain and are similar to Muqarnas (which is of Persian origin). They are decorative elements consisting of recurring geometrical patterns, which appear like honeycombs. Typically used in vaults, mocárabes are a symbolic representation of the cave where Prophet Muhammad received his revelation.
Note 2. Arabesque is a repetitive pattern of foliage or geometrical designs found in decorations of Islamic architecture.
Note 3: The term Mudéjar refers to the Moors who stayed in the Iberian Peninsula after the Christian retook the land ruled by the Moors.
—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
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