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A view of the Generalife from the Alhambra in Granada, Spain

A view of the Generalife from the Alhambra


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 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)

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)
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

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)

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
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.

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

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