Like many forms of large-scale architecture, the construction of Alhambra took place in stages over many centuries and under many rulers, both Christian and Muslim. This lesson focuses on the ninth through 14th centuries. This period largely covers the beginnings of Alhambra and the muqarnas vault construction from the 14th century. Alhambra is located just west of the city of Granada in Spain.
The timeline below highlights the period covered in this lesson.
Many ancient buildings were lost to modern times as they were destroyed by conquering civilizations. Alhambra, however, is different. This palace fortress is important because it is essentially a time capsule of preserved Nazarid palaces that were built within it. It was preserved even after the Christian reoccupation of Spain.
Alhambra gives us an impression of what royal life was like in Islamic Spain under the Nazarids, who were the last Arabian Muslim dynasty in Spain. They lost their hold on the Iberian Peninsula with the final battle of Granada in 1492.
EXAMPLEHere is an image of Alhambra:
It was originally constructed as a strategic military fortress with a high vantage point in view of the city. Eventually palaces were built for the Nazarid rulers inside the walls of Alhambra, some of which still exist today, even after the reconstructions that took place after ownership switched from Muslim to Christian.
One of the most impressive buildings within Alhambra is the Palace of the Lions and the Courtyard of the Lions that resides within it. It is a beautiful marble courtyard, circled by a colonnade with horseshoe-style arches above which were the chambers where the sultan’s wives lived.
The Courtyard of the Lions draws its name from the unusual fountain perched upon 12 stone lions, and it is decorated with a poem by the famous Islamic poet, Ibn Zamrak. As people traveled through the arches, they would be led to the Hall of the Abencerrajes and Hall of Two Sisters, where the poet Ibn Zamrak is responsible for other poetic inscriptions within the muqarnas vault.
EXAMPLEBelow is an image of the Courtyard of the Lions and the fountain from which the courtyard draws its name.
The Hall of the Abencerrajes is in front of the Hall of Two Sisters, within which is the famous muqarnas vault. Muqarnas are stalactite architectural elements that hang down from the ceiling and were likely intended to reflect the sunlight coming into the room, creating abstract patterns. The effect is an ethereal and heavenly quality that contrasts sharply with the military solidity of the outer fortress.
EXAMPLEHere is an image of the muqarnas vault:
Source: THIS WORK IS ADAPTED FROM SOPHIA AUTHOR IAN MCCONNELL.