What secrets does the Alhambra keep - a legacy of Islamic rule in Spain
What secrets does the Alhambra keep - a legacy of Islamic rule in Spain

Alhambra - the name itself seems to invite you on an extraordinary fairytale journey. A Moorish fortress on the territory of modern Spain, rebuilt many times, outliving all its inhabitants, covered with legends and gloomy rumors, has fascinated poets, composers and mere mortals for many centuries …

Old image of the Alhambra

In the eighth century, in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, on the territory of modern Spain, Arab and Berber conquerors founded a province that was part of the Umayyad Caliphate. The main residence of the Berber rulers, or Moors, was Granada. Here, at the top of a rocky plateau, on the site of an ancient dilapidated fortress, a large-scale architectural ensemble of the Alhambra was erected. Alhambra is translated from Arabic as "red castle". This name has two interpretations - utilitarian and romantic. Of course, everything can be attributed to the specific color of the brick, but the assumption that the castle became red from the light of torches that burned during construction sounds much more interesting.

Top view of the architectural and park complex of the Alhambra

The first mentions of the Alhambra date back to the end of the ninth century. Two hundred years later, the fortress was annexed to an autonomous residential quarter, and in the first half of the thirteenth century, the Caliph of Granada, Muhammad ibn Nasr, ordered to strengthen the castle and add several towers to it. The heirs of the Caliph continued his work to rebuild the Alhambra. Initially, the rulers lived in the part that is now called the Alcazaba - then it became an exclusively defensive structure.

The oldest part of the Alhambra

The Nasrid Palace, the most beautiful part of the Alhambra, is home to true masterpieces of Islamic art and reminders of the fortress's dark history. The walls of the Kamares Palace are lined with wonderful tiles, the Myrtle Courtyard is a charming man-made oasis, in the Lviv Palace you can see beautiful sculptures, magnificent ornament on the walls, carved calligraphic compositions with quotes from the Koran - and … a shell with terrible traces resembling rust. Here, according to legend, the blood of the executed Moorish rulers flowed down.

Palace of the Nasrid

It is difficult to say which of the premises of the complex is superior to the others in beauty, but traditionally the Hall of Two Sisters wins the palm. Whoever these mysterious sisters are, today their kinship is symbolized by slabs of white marble installed in the hall. The hall is famous for its honeycomb dome, which is considered the largest stalactite vault in the history of Arab architecture.

Ornament in the Hall of the Two Sisters

The all-powerful Moorish caliphs ordered to change the course of the river around the hill where the castle is located, and as a result, storage and bath facilities appeared, which made it possible to survive the long blockade. The Alhambra, with all its grace, with its stone lace and exquisite carved calligraphy, was nevertheless built as a well-equipped citadel. One of the main mysteries of the Alhambra is the vast underground labyrinths, which, according to legend, would give the ruler a chance to hide from his pursuers. Even today, there are cases when tourists (and local residents) became hostages of a gloomy labyrinth - they owe their salvation to the sensitive hearing of the staff of the museum and exhibition part of the Alhambra. Nevertheless, numerous arches, courtyards, turrets and passages give the Alhambra that lightness that does not allow to call it a fortress.

Ornaments in the interiors of the Alhambra

Changing the riverbed gave the Moors not only baths and places for ritual ablutions. The gardens of the Alhambra are filled with fountains, artificial backwaters, streams and water cascades. Here the great caliphs rested from business and painful reflections. The most intimate and serene atmosphere reigns in the Lion's Yard, where twelve stone lions froze around the fountain.

Lion's courtyard

On one of the fountains there is an inscription: “Look at the water and look at the reservoir, and you will not be able to decide whether the water is calm or the marble is flowing”. Each window of the Alhambra offers magnificent views of the sea, the Sierra Nevada mountains and lush gardens within the complex.

Artificial reservoir in the Alhambra

Granada remained under Moorish rule until the fifteenth century. By this time, the castle-fortress "overgrown" with magnificent decor and gardens, acquired a truly oriental splendor, but … Its further fate was sad. There is some irony in the fact that the first Christian mass, held after the liberation of Granada from Muslims, was held in the Alhambra, in a mosque that turned into the Temple of Santa Maria. After the reconquest, Spanish Christian monarchs sought to destroy all traces of Islamic rule in Spain. Many buildings of the complex were razed to the ground or significantly rebuilt, decorative elements were badly damaged, even the original plaster was painted over. The Christian innovation was the palace of Charles V, built in an unexpectedly Renaissance style.

A picturesque corner in the garden of the Alhambra

However, even today above the Pomegranate Gate one can read the inscription: “Praise God. There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet. There is no other authority than God.”Until the nineteenth century, the Alhambra, which had ceased to play the role of a government seat, gradually collapsed. Then the Osorio dynasty of architects was engaged in its restoration, but not very successfully. The restorers did not bother to study the historical descriptions of the Alhambra and basically just came up with decorative elements based on their own ideas about Arab architecture. And only in the XX century, the architect Leopoldo Balbas took up the restoration of the historical appearance of the Alhambra. For a long time and carefully he studied all the available evidence of historians and archaeologists, as well as old descriptions, correspondence, poetry, containing references to the fortress, which later allowed him to carry out a large-scale reconstruction of the "pearl of Granada". Today, the Alhambra is a museum dedicated to Islamic culture in Spain and a beautiful park and garden complex. The "Emerald Pearl of Granada", sung in poetry and songs, attracts crowds of tourists today.

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