By: Madhiha Taseen

The Alhambra (or Qal’at al-Hamra), translated as ‘red fort’, is a UNESCO site located in Granada, Andalucia, Spain. It was listed in 1994 as a world heritage site and is perhaps one of the most famous examples of Islamic art. There is no such palace architecture in the world as the Alhambra. It has also marked the end of medieval Islamic culture on the Iberian Peninsula.

Although its history goes as far back as 860 AD, the Alhambra palace was built by the Nasrid Dynasty between years 1232 to 1492. They became the last Moorish kingdom of Spain after 7 centuries of Muslim rule in Southern Spain. After the Christian Reconquista in 1492, the site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Impressed by the inscriptions of the Alhambra, they immediately began their own based on Renaissance tastes, but this was never completed. While exploring the Alhambra, these European changes can easily be differentiated.

After centuries of decay and pillage, it is still primarily intact, and has undergone extensive restoration in recent years. The buildings feature shaded patios, covered walkways that pass from well-lit interior spaces onto shaded courtyards, sun-filled gardens all enlivened by the reflection of water, and intricately carved stucco decoration as calligraphy was a major art form.

There are over 1000 Arabic inscriptions adorning the ceilings, columns, and walls of the Alhambra. Less than 10% was found to be poetry and verses in the Quran. The rest was made of boastful slogans, pious wishes, and clever aphorisms such as “Be sparing with words and you will go in peace” (that was directed to visitors) and “Rejoice in good fortune, because Allah helps you.”

The most common inscription (over hundreds) is the Nasrid motto – “There is no conqueror, but Allah”. This is ironic considering the Nasrid’s planned to remain at the Alhambra forever, but were eventually conquered themselves. The next most common message are single words like “perpetual happiness”, which are thought to be expressions of divine wishes for the Muslim rulers.

A visit to the Alhambra will further reveal massive honeycomb-like structures on ceilings.  There are also indications of various colours that have faded away. The Alhambra tiles are remarkable in that they contain nearly all, if not all, of the seventeen mathematically possible wallpaper groups. This is a unique accomplishment in world architecture. One could never imagine the levels of sophisticated planning required to undergo such a massive project and what it might have looked like after its full completion.

Without a doubt, it is highly recommended to visit the Alhambra. A stunning palace of art and design that its pictures can only do partial justice for.


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