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Islamic power began to enter the Iberian Peninsula in 711. Moorish armies from North Africa invaded Spain and defeated the Visigoths. Most of the Iberian Peninsula was under Islamic Moorish control for the following two or three centuries, and the Moors continued to hold some territories in Spain up to the end of the 15th century. The Moors brought their Islamic culture, art, religion and architecture to Spain, and mixed with the Jewish, Roman, and Visigothic styles. Cordoba was a center of world culture, and one of the largest and most glorious cities on the planet. While significant monuments of Moorish architecture remain in Cordoba, Seville, Málaga, Carmona, Jaén, and Almería, the most impressive remaining Moorish palace is the Alhambra Palace in Granada.

Alhambra exterior illuminated by lights


The city of Granada is located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the Alhambra Palace is built on the top of the hill which on the eastern edge of the old city. The Alhambra gets its name from the Arabi al-qal’a al-hamra’, which means “red citadel”, so named because the stone in the walls has a reddish color to it. The Nasrid king Muhammad II (ruled 1273-1302) ordered the construction of an irrigation system to bring water from a mountain stream down to the hill top. He also ordered a strong wall built to encircle the hill top, enclosing a space of about 720 meters in length and 220 meters in width. Most of the celebrated rooms and courts date to the 14th and 15th centuries, as construction was especially concentrated during the reigns of Mohammed V (ruled 1345-1359 & 1362-1391) and Yusuf III (1408-1417).

Alhambra after sunset


On the northwest corner of the palace, there is a military fortress, Alcazaba, which was built in 880 AD. It is the oldest remaining part of the Alhambra. The most important and tallest place in the fortress is the Torre de la Vela (the watch tower) where you can get a splendid view of Granada, and enjoy gazing down into the the Cathedral and Albayzin district.

Alcazaba in Alhambra.


The view across the patio, Machuca, stretches from the Alcazaba toward the Mexuar and other Nasrid Palace structures. Mexuar, this council chamber was for bureaucratic and judicial use. It was completed in 1365.

Mexuar in Alhambra.


The Patio of the Myrtles (Patio de los Arrayanes): named after the myrtle bushes growing on both sides of the pool.

Court of Myrtle in Alhambra.


The Alhambra contains outstanding examples of typical Moorish architectural features: honeycomb, horseshoe arches, geometric pattern tiles, hollow carvings and decorative Quranic verses on the walls and ceiling. There are fountains, or pools which reflect the building.

Muqarnas: A traditional architectural decoration in Iran and Islamic culture, a three dimensional structure, shaped like honeycomb or stalactite. They are use for domes, doorways, and niches.

Muqarnas in Alhambra.


Court of the Lions (Patio de las Leones): It is the location of the harem, where the cloister is surrounded with 124 marble columns and combined with beautiful Muqarnas vaulting. Inside this courtyard, a fountain with 12 stones lions was built during Mohammed V’s reign. From the fountain stretches out four different directions, each has a small canal connected to the corridors of a small pool. This small canal is a symbol of the “River of Heaven.”

Court of Lions in Alhambra.


Court of the long pond (The patio de la Acequia) : Whether a stroll in the garden or the palace, the design of the water element plays an important role in the Alhambra.

Court of long pond in Alhambra.


Beautiful Kufic calligraphy

Kufic script in Alhambra.


Another example of calligraphy

Another font of calligraphy in Alhambra.


Palace of Emperor Carlos V: this Renaissance-style palace is different from other buildings in the Alhambra palace, as it is the dominant Christian building designed and constructed not too long after the Christian Spanish conquest of Granada. It was designed by Pedro Machuca, an architect who studied under Michelangelo.

Palace of Emperor Carlos V in Alhambra.

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