Beauty That Lies Within
The Alhambra is a complex of Islamic palaces built for the last Muslim emirs in Spain and the court of the Nasrid dynasty. Moorish poets once described it as a “pearl set in emeralds” because of the color of its buildings and the green woods that surround them. The complex had three parts: palace, fortress and harem.
The entrance to the Nasrid Palace is almost undetectable. Hidden in the shadows of the neighboring Palace of Charles V, it is hardly noticeable at all. Unassuming and austere from the outside, it never reveals the beauty that lies just on the other side of its simple, wooden front door. Like most of Islamic architecture, the grandeur of this palace is in its interior.
Image: The sun sets on the Alhambra in Granada, Spain; Will Clayton, Flickr
Situated on a hill overlooking the city of Granada, the Nasrid Palace is just one of the monuments in the Alhambra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its story began in 711, when Muslim armies crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and conquered the nation of Spain. At its height, as many as 40,000 people lived and worked in this capital of the Nasrid Kingdom. The Alhambra complex was constructed in its current location by a sultan in the 13th century. The site was chosen because a hilltop enclave would be easy to defend and the complex would be surrounded by irrigated land where Muslim farmers could put their knowledge of water systems to work.
For more than 250 years the “red fortress” served as palace, fortress, harem and royal residence to the Moorish rulers of Granada. It is said to be the greatest expression of Spanish-Muslim art and architecture. In fact, on the walls inside the Alhambra you will found the inscription: “Nothing in life could be more cruel than to be blind in Granada.”
The complex is celebrated for its dramatic use of exquisite plastering and lacy filigree, showcased exceptionally in the Hall of the Two Sisters. You’ll also note that almost everywhere in the Alhambra there is a soothing murmur of water, a result of the elaborately tiled pools, fountains and channels that are an integral part of the Islamic design.
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