Alhambra - Nasrid Palaces, Granada
The Patio of the Lions (Patio de los Leones) is probably the most famous place of the Alhambra. It is so called because of the twelve lions that throw jets of water and which are part of the fountain in the middle of the patio.
Visitors have no access to the central part of the patio; they are kept by a barrier on the sides under the gallery.
A ginger cat shares the patio with the twelve lions that don't really look lion like. I suspect that the sculptor never saw a real lion.
The figurative representation is rare in the Islamic world so that these animal figures are exceptional. Actually it seems that these lions are prior to the time that the Alhambra was built. They are from the 11th century and were located in a palace belonging to a Jewish vizier. They were probably given to the Sultan by the Jewish community of Granada.
The ginger cat on my photo is drinking water from one of the marble channels, which start inside the pavilions and have jets that send water to the central fountain. They symbolize the four rivers of paradise.
Islamic architecture is shown here in all its beauty.
A five minute stroll through a few more interior rooms soon led us to the Sultan's private living area around the Patio de los Leones, located next door to Patio de Arrayanes. The trouble was, as can be seen by the small fountain enclosed by a large glass-box, the famous statues of lions supporting the water fountain had all been removed for maintenance!
These rooms were built in the 1360s surrounding the 120-ft (35-m) long 'Courtyard of the Lions' and its water fountain. The first two photos show a few of the 124 beautifully carved slender columns that support the arches surrounding the patio. Unlike the previous patio, this one only has a few small trees to provide a touch of greenery.
The bowl of the fountain that still remained for our visit normally is supported on the backs of the twelve lion statues, however we just had to imagine them. Originally, the fountain served as a clock by means of a mechanism that made water flow out of each of the lions in sequence. However, after Granada fell to the Christians in 1492 someone had the bright idea to take it apart but could not figure out how to put it together again!
Located next door to the Mexuar is the impressive water-filled Patio de Arrayanes, named for the densely-leafed rows of Myrtle hedges that adorn both sides of the pool. In addition to just simply looking beautiful, the pool of water also provided some cooling from the hot sun as well as reflecting the suns rays into some of the darker corners of the surrounding alcoves and windows. Once again those Moorish arches are used for effect. The second photograph shows how closely the buildings are packed in the Alhambra, with the walls and roof-top of Palacio Carlos V actually sticking above the Patio de Arrayanes.
After walking the length of the pool we turned for a view in the opposite direction where the Throne Room is located and from which we had entered the area. However, our early morning visit combined with brilliant sunshine resulted in too much contrast for a decent shot (3rd photo). We managed to recover from that disappointment by looking skyward from the patio (4th photo)!!
FINALLY it was our appointed time to see the Nasrid Palace, the highlight of the Alhambra. We headed over a little bit before our slotted time and already the masses had gathered and were pushing and shoving. We finally figured out where the individual ticket line was and 20 minutes later we squeezed our way into the Nasrid Palace past the remaining hordes of tour groups pushing to get in (I became quite skilled at the art of a well placed elbow on this trip!).
You'll start your visit to the Nasrid Palace in the Mexuar, built in the 14th century as council chambers and a waiting area for people wishing to visit the emir (Sultan). The public would likely not have been allowed past this point in the day of the Moors but since we've paid our 10E admission, we're allowed to continue on
The room has been altered since the time of the Moors, it was converted into a chapel in the 16th century so you will see design details that are both Muslim and Christian. The lavishly decorated prayer room has a nice view of the Darro River.
From the Mexuar patio you arrive at the Comares Palace, which was built during the reign of Yusuf 1 and continued by his son, Mohammed V in the 14th century. The ornamentation here is similar to the Mexuar but on a much more elaborate scale. The palace is built around possibly the best-known landmark in the Alhambra, the Myrtle Patio. This patio immediately reminds one of the Taj Mahal, albeit on a far smaller scale, and is indeed very graceful and harmonious. The squat tower of the Comares overshadows it and the northern entrance is shaded by a wonderful gallery with elegant pillars and arches supporting a riot of latticelike, decorative plasterwork. In this patio, the scrum of people was at it's most intense as everybody jostled for space to take a photo of the reflected palace in the courtyard pool. I wasn't as impressed with this patio as I thought I would be. It's much smaller than photographs suggest and the shrubbery is boxy and uninspiring. I preferred the quieter courtyards I glimpsed through windows with orange trees, cypresses and clumps of aromatic greenery, neatly arranged around burbling water.
The photo shows the northern entrance to the Myrtle Patio with the reflection of the Comares tower and pillars . I tried hard to get a picture without other people in it but short of throwing some of my fellow snappers in the water, this was quite impossible. I've included another photo also, one of a courtyard glimpsed from the Palace of the Lions. I think this illustrates the point of contrast I've drawn between the Myrtle Patio and the smaller enclosed gardens in the palace.
A narrow passage connects the Myrtle Patio with the neigbouring Patio and Palace of the Lions. This for me, was the most beautiful and most interesting of all the palaces. The patio is completely surrounded by galleries containing even more stunningly decorated plasterwork than any we'd seen up to this point. The arches here are narrower than in the Myrtle patio and supported by pairs of slender pillars. The pattern is continued right around the whole courtyard in a rhythmic fashion which almosts seems like a piece of music. The atmosphere is graceful and feminine and it is perhaps not a coincidence that off this area was the harim, home to the wives and concubines of the Nasrite rulers. In the centre of the patio is the even more famous Lions Fountain, with no less than 12 kings of the jungle spouting out watery serenades. During my visit the lions weren't home and the fountain was boxed in but hopefully they have returned by now.
Off the patio are several rooms which are opened to the public and it is here more than anywhere else that you get some impression of the actual lives lived at the Alhambra.Two of these, the Sala de Los Abencerrajes and the Sala de las dos Hermanas, I will describe in the next tip.
We had been exploring the various royal rooms and patios for almost an hour by the time we made it to the Jardin de Linaraja, a sort of interior garden enclosed on three sides by rooms for the Royal family. In this case, because it was built between 1526-38, after the fall of Granada to the Christians, it served Emperor Charles V and his family. The various arcades surrounding the shrubbery below were removed from other parts of the Alhambra by the Emporer to have this little residence constructed.
I'm an outdoors type of guy so it was nice to see some shrubbery decorating the garden, consisting of tall cypresses as well and orange and acacia trees. Lower to the ground were trimmed box bushes and the Jardin was rounded off with nice central marble fountain that had been moved from the Patio del Mexuar that we had earlier passed through.
We also had a quick look at the adjoining rooms noted for briefly being the home of American author Washington Irving, before we continued onward to the interesting looking Palacio del Partal.
This room on the northern side of the Lions Patio leads on to another of the Alhambra viewing spots, the Mirador ( Belvedere ) de Daraxa. This little room with a view was frequented by the Sultana in residence and the name translates as 'eyes of the Sultana'. Outside is one of the wonderful courtyards I referred to earlier, a real Arabian Night's dream of a secret garden. Inside the Sala de las Dos Hermanas you can anticipate major neck cricks as you bend backwards to admire the domed ceiling. The honeycomb effect is at its strongest here and there are more than 5000 of the little fragments which make up the stalactite dome. These rooms were the domain of the women who lived out of sight and out of mind except of course when their services were required.
On the opposite side of the courtyard is another room of great interest, the Sala de Los Abencerrajes. This one had a slightly more grisly function as the room where 16 princes of the household of Abencerraje were executed. This however is not refeflected in the decoration and the ceiling here is the most complex and ornate in the entire Alhambra. Directly underneath the stalactite dome was a fountain which reflected the glory above and into which the heads of the unfortunate princes were reputedly tossed.
The photos show various angles of the ceilings in these two rooms.
Sala de Dos Hermanas is one of the rooms that opens onto the Patio de los Leones and is reputed to be the "ultimate example of Spanish Islamic architecture" because of its intricately carved ceiling. We took a look ourselves at the delicate work involved in finishing the eight-sided dome, with its small windows allowing in just enough light to show off this work of art.
The honeycomb effect of the roof-top stonework detail was amazing as the Moorish artists must have gone all-out on this one! Many of the rooms (including this one) or patios we had passed through served as places where the Sultan's harem could have some freedom to relax away from prying eyes, as was the custom.
From the Palacio de Comares, you move through to the Palacio de la Leones (Palace of the Lions), not surprisingly my favorite part of the Nasrid Palace, I am a Leo after all ;-) Built in the 14th century under Mohammed V, it was said to house the Royal Harem and would have been the most private part of the Palace. The Palace surrounds the Patio de los Leones (Patio of the Lions), the fountain of which is the most well known image of the Palace.
The Palacio de la Leones is supposed to symbolize Islamic paradise, divided into 4 parts by rivers (water channels) that meet at the fountain. The courtyard is lined with 124 marble columns.
The hall with the most interesting history in this part of the Palace is the Sala de los Abencerrajes on the southern side of the Palacio. It was here that the Abencerraj family, rivals of the last emir, Boabdil, who invited them to a banquet and then had his guards kill them right in the middle of it. Seems I've heard similar stories, the one I remember involved Vlad the Impaler who lit his guests on fire, it's a wonder anyone ever accepted dinner invitations!!!!
The Sala de los Abencerrajes does not really translate into English very well, the best that can be done is The Hall of the Abencerrajes. What's a 'Abencerrajes' when one is at home then, is probably your next question.
The Abencerrajes were a politically powerful family towards the end of the period that the Moors lived in Spain. You might think they would be pleased to have their family name given to a Hall in the sultans palace, but I suspect that under the circumstances they would not.
The second to last Sultan of Granada (Abu'l Hassan) had a favourite wife, Zoraya. One day he caught her in the garden in the arms of the chief of the Abencerraje clan. In revenge, he murdered 16 princes of this clan in this very room, hence the name. I've no idea what he did to Zoraya though.
There is yet another small fountain in this room, which has rust stains around it. Apparently popular belief is that these rust stains are actually still traces of the blood from the murders that took place in this room.
Anyhow, I still haven't got to the most interesting part of the present day room. If you forget to look up, you will miss out. The ceiling is one of the most impressive you will see anywhere. Apparently the geometry of it was inspired by Pythagoras' Theorem.
After walking through a garden area, we first arrived at a building known as the Mexuar, whose construction was completed in 1365 and served as a sort of council chamber by the ruling Sultan where he could hear requests from his subjects or meet with his officials. This was our first real glimpse into the world of the Moorish rulers, who built the Alhambra in an elaborate fashion to give viewers an impression of power and wealth, even as their grip on Spain was beginning to falter.
The arched windows in the building (now known as the Nasrid-style) were quite fascinating, with this horseshoe form of architecture having been adapted by the Moors from its first use by the Visigoths of southern Europe at around 500 AD. It was the Visigoths who ruled this part of Europe until their defeat by the Moors in 711 AD. The Moors paid the same attention to architectural detail when it came to doors, with the last two photos showing some of the intricate stonework that was involved in making them appear impressive as well. We did not have much time to linger here because our guide was hurrying us a long a bit as we started the tour.
The internal walls of many of the rooms in the Alhambra are covered with highly decorated tiles, which have geometrically repeating themes.
These tiles are so popular, that it is very common to see modern reproductions inside peoples houses in the South of Spain (Andalusia). Although Spain is a very Christian country these days (although not as strict as in Franco's times!), the people of Andalusia are very proud of their Moorish heritage, and this is reflected in many things. The food in particular is still very Moorish in parts.
This palace was built for the Moorish Nazaries monarchs and has been completely designed in moorish style. Pay attention to the spectacular patios, roofs, pillars, etc.
Be prepared that it will constantly be crowded here. What you can do best is enter more or less in the middle of your half hour entrance timeslot. Most people of your timeslot are already well ahead of you and you will still be ahead of the newcomers. But don't expect to make many pictures here without busloads of fellow tourists on them.
The Nasrid Palaces, fall roughly into three parts : firstly, the Mexuar, where the sultans gave audiences and administrative business was carried out; then the Comares Palace and Courtyard of the Myrtles which was the royal residence and lastly, the Lions Palace and courtyards, off which are the private rooms such as the baths and the quarters of the Harim. The Sala de Mexuar was the large council room and it is here that you get your first taste of the intricate stucco decoration, the glazed tiles, the graceful pillars and arches and all the other features of this finest surviving example of a Moorish palace. At the end of the long room is a 'Belvedere' or viewing point which used to be an oratory facing Mecca. Mecca is not visible from here but there are wonderful views over the Albaicin so now it's a gallery for photographers. You leave the Mexuar via the courtyard, and this courtyard with it's fountain in the middle and arched windows with ornamental brown grilles is about as Moorish as you will get on the continent of Europe.
The photos show the wall of the Comares facade in the Mexuar courtyard and the Albaicin framed by the Mexuar belvedere windows. The main photo gives a detailed look at some of the stunningly intricate ornamentation and the brown and beige colour scheme which predominates here.