Arts & Tradition

Granada’s Majestic Alhambra

Larger than life: Art that inspires us through the ages
BY Ariane Triebswetter TIMEOctober 31, 2022 PRINT

In the historic city of Granada, in the autonomous community of Andalusia, Spain, the charming streets and steep hills are filled with the scent of tapas and the sound of flamenco music, all of which rise to the Alhambra palace, a majestic Moorish fortress above the city.

What American author Washington Irving called “the abode of beauty” in his “Tales of the Alhambra” (1832) is a magnificent complex of medieval and Renaissance residential palaces and courtyards within a walled fortress. Built between 1238 and 1358, the fortress is composed of three restored palaces, all constructed in the 14th century: the Partal Palace, the Palace of the Lions, and the Comares Palace, which are all connected by paths, gardens, and courtyards.

Although located in Western Europe, the Alhambra’s splendid architecture is Islamic, with decorated arches, columns, frescoes, geometrical patterns, enchanting gardens, painted tiles, vaulted ceilings, water features, and highly ornamented walls. The Alhambra is elegant yet vibrant with its exquisite color palette, complexly decorated surfaces, and layering of different ornamental elements. The architecture features carved wooden ceilings, ceramic mosaics, and plasterworks, reflecting the Moorish artistic tradition to cover all surfaces with intricate ornaments. The exceptionally ornate interior spaces contrast with the courtyards, which have plainer walls.

Besides being filled with artistic beauty and incredible architectural features, the Alhambra is a place full of stories. The walls literally carry words with their calligraphic decoration. Cursive and Kufic poems by famous poets of the court of Granada ornate the magnificent walls.


DO NOT USE Comares Palace Alhambra
The Comares Palace is elegant and formal, as shown in this close-up. The façade is highly decorated, leaving no bare space. Here, nothing is left to chance; all details are covered, from the arched windows to the painted ceramic framed doors. (Takashi Images/Shutterstock)


DO NOT USE Court of the Myrtles Alhambra
This covered patio area is the focal point of the Comares Palace. This courtyard is 140 feet long by 74 feet wide and is commonly known as the Court of the Myrtles. It has typical Islamic elements with the large pool of water reflecting the palace’s raised facade, the arches, and the white marble of the pavement, which contrasts with the pond and the symmetric myrtles. (Marques/Shutterstock)


Epoch Times Photo
An overview of the Hall of the Ambassadors, a 37-foot square room in the Comares Tower and the largest room in the Alhambra. This throne room contains some of the most diverse architectural and decorative elements of the complex, such as the double-arched windows, the arched lattice windows on high walls, intricate geometric details on the walls, the ceramic tiles, and complex carved stucco motifs with calligraphy and patterns. (BearFotos/Shutterstock)


Epoch Times Photo
One of the most famous sights of the Alhambra is the Courtyard of the Lions in the Palace of the Lions. The oblong court is surrounded by an ornate gallery with stucco filigree walls and a wooden domed ceiling supported by 124 white slender marble columns. In the center of the court is an alabaster basin, surrounded by 12 white marble lions, which symbolize strength and courage. (Pani Garmyder/Shutterstock)


Epoch Times Photo
Across the Courtyard of Lions is the Hall of the Kings, a space divided into a series of arches and alcoves leading up to a vaulted ceiling. It has beautiful geometric patterns and stucco walls, characteristic of Moorish architecture. Once again, the simplicity of the exterior contrasts with the richly decorated interior. (Sopotnicki/Shutterstock)


Epoch Times Photo
A closer look at the beautiful intricate ceiling of the Hall of the Kings shows the star motif that’s common in Islamic architecture. It’s decorated with carved and painted stucco. This is an example of vaulted muqarnas, a method of ornamented vaulting using three-dimensional, honeycomb-like decorative elements. (MrFred/Shutterstock)


Epoch Times Photo
The Partal Palace is one of the oldest structures in the Alhambra. It’s also known as the Portico Palace because of the portico formed by the five-arch arcade on the side of the pool. Behind the Moorish structure is a view of charming Granada. (trabantos/Shutterstock)


Epoch Times Photo
A magnificent garden for a magnificent complex. Just outside of the Alhambra is a Nasrid-era country estate called the Generalife (from the Arabic “Jannat al-arifa,” meaning “paradise” or “garden”), which features a number of ornamental gardens. Here we have one of the most beautiful Generalife gardens: a long patio with two rows of water fountains and a water channel symbolizing purification. (Jurgen Scheffer/Shutterstock)


Epoch Times Photo
The Renaissance left its mark on the Alhambra’s architecture, as seen in the courtyard of the unfinished Palace of Charles V, which he began building the Alhambra in 1527. Here the geometric circular courtyard within the rectangular residence is typical of Renaissance architecture, a 15th-century European style that focused on the revival of Classical culture and forms such as columns and symmetry. (Santi Rodriguez/Shutterstock)
Ariane Triebswetter is an international freelance journalist, with a background in modern literature and classical music.
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