You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
Sierra Nevada and Pico de Mulhacen seen from the Granada to Almeria train
The wind was very loud, but
the air warm and pleasant, though the
snow lay in view along the top of that
high ridge of mountains called, from their
covering of snow, Sierra Nevada.
Henry Swinburne - Travels through Spain in the Years 1775 and 1776 in which several monuments of Roman and Moorish architecture are illustrated.
The Sierra Nevada is the pride and delight of Granada; the source of her cooling breezes and perpetual verdure; of her gushing fountains and perennial streams. (..) These mountains may be well called the glory of Granada. They dominate the whole extent of Andalusia, and may be seen from its most distant parts. The muleteer hails them, as he views their frosty peaks from the sultry level of the plain; and the Spanish mariner on the deck of his bark, far, far off on the bosom of the blue Mediterranean, watches them with a pensive eye, thinks of delightful Granada, and chants, in low voice, some old romance about the Moors.
Washington Irving - Tales of the Alhambra - 1851 Revised Edition based on an 1829 journey
Sierra Nevada has a number of peaks above 3,000 meters (9,800 ft), with Pico de Mulhacen reaching 3,480 m (11,415 ft), the highest European mountain outside the Alps and the Caucasus Mountains.
We proceeded down a valley, and
over some heath and forest land, till we came in view of the plain and city of Granada.
Beautiful beyond expression even in
its winter weeds, what must it be when
decked out in all the gaudy colours o£
spring ? (..) Granada stands on two hills at the foot of the Sierra Nevada where two small rivers join their waters. Many affirm it to be called so from the resemblance its position bears to a pomegranate when ripe; the two hills to represent the bursting skin and the houses crowded into the intermediate valley the pips. This is a very favourite opinion and seems to be adopted by the nation which gives a split pomegranate for its arms and places it upon every gate or ornamented post in the streets and public walls. (..) The ancient palace of the Alhambra and the Torre Vermeja crown the double summit of the hill between the rivers; the other hill is covered with the Albaycin. (..) This ancient fortress and residence of the Mahometan monarchs of Granada derives its name from the red colour of the materials that it was originally built with Alhambra signifying a red house. Swinburne
The day was without a cloud. The heat of the sun was tempered by cool breezes from the mountains. Before us extended the glorious Vega (fertile lowland). In the distance was romantic Granada surmounted by the ruddy towers of the Alhambra, while far above it the snowy summits of the Sierra Nevada shone like silver. (..) To the traveller imbued with a feeling for the historical and poetical, so inseparably intertwined in the annals of romantic Spain, the Alhambra is as much an object of devotion as is the Caaba to all true Moslems. How many legends and traditions, true and fabulous, how many songs and ballads, Arabian and Spanish, of love and war and chivalry, are associated with this Oriental pile! It was the royal abode of the Moorish kings, where, surrounded with the splendors and refinements of Asiatic luxury, they held dominion over what they vaunted as a terrestrial paradise, and made their last stand for empire in Spain. Irving
Ascend to the Albaicin, and visit the church of San Nicolas for the view of the Alhambra, and there are few panoramas equal to it in the world.
Richard Ford - A Handbook for Travellers in Spain - 1855
The Moorish Kingdom of GranadaThe country about Granada was so alluring, the situation so striking and the salubrity of its air so universally celebrated that the victorious Saracens soon were induced to turn their arms that way. It was taken by the forces of Tariq in 715. (..) In 1236 the first king of Granada became tributary to St. Ferdinand king of Castile and paid him one moiety of all his revenues; (..) he even assisted that prince in his conquest of Seville. I cannot give you a more distinct idea of this kingdom than by a translation of a passage in an Arabic manuscript in the library of the Escurial intitled "The History of Granada" by Abi Abdalah ben Alkalhibi Absaneni written in the year of the Hegira 778 which answers to the year of Christ 1378. It begins by a description of the city and its environs nearly in the following terms: "The city of Granada is surrounded with most spacious gardens where the trees are set so thick as to resemble hedges, yet not so as to obstruct the view of the beautiful towers of the Alhambra which glitter like so many bright stars over the green forests. The plain stretching far and wide produces such quantities of grain and vegetables that no revenues but those of the first families in the kingdom are equal to their annual produce. (..) Beyond these gardens lie fields of various culture at all seasons of the year clad with the richest verdure and loaded with some valuable vegetable production or other; by this method a perpetual succession of crops is secured and a great annual rent is produced which is said to amount to twenty thousand aurei. Adjoining you may see the sumptuous farms belonging to the royal demesnes wonderfully agreeable to the beholder from the large quantity of plantations of trees and the variety of plants. These estates occupy an extent of twenty miles square; for the purpose of taking care of and working them are kept numbers of able bodied husbandmen and choice beasts, both of draught and burden. In most of them are castles, mills and mosques. Great must be the profit upon these royal farms arising from consummate skill in husbandry assisted by the fertility of the soil and the temperature of the air. Many towns remarkable for the number of their inhabitants and the excellence of their productions lie dispersed round the boundaries of these crown lands. The plain contains also large tracts of meadow and pasture villages and hamlets full of people, country houses and small dwellings belonging to one person or to two or three copartners. I have heard the names of above three hundred hamlets in the environs of Granada within sight of the city walls." Swinburne
On the very brow of the hill hanging over the city stand the towers of the bell; a group of high square buildings which now serve for prisons. Swinburne
Ascend the Torre de la Vela by its narrow staircase. Here, as an inscription records, the Christian flag was first hoisted by the Cardinal Mendoza and his brother. (..) The Torre de la Vela is so called, because on this "watch tower" hangs a silver-tongued bell. (..) It is heard on a still night even at Loja, 30 m. off, and tender and touching are the feelings which the silver sound awakens. This bell is also rung every January 2, the anniversary of the surrender of Granada; on that day the Alhambra is visited by crowds of peasantry. Few maidens pass by without striking the bell, which ensures a husband, and a good one in proportion as the noise made, which it need not be said is continuous and considerable. Ford
Boabdil, the Last King of GranadaIn 1484 Abilhassan having put away his wife Ayxa and taken to his bed Fatima, a Grecian slave surnamed for her beauty Zoraya or the morning star, the disgraced Sultana made her escape from the Alhambra and raised a rebellion in favour of her son Abouabdoulah (Boabdil). The old king was forced to fly for refuge to Malaga to his brother El Zagal. (..) About the same time the young king was routed and taken prisoner by the Castillians at Lucena being the first Arabian prince led into captivity by the Christians. Abilhassan was restored but Ferdinand of Aragon, husband to Isabella of Castile set the son at liberty with a view of fomenting their civil dissensions and thereby facilitating the conquest of their kingdom. El Zagal soon quarrelled with the old king and drove him into exile where he died soon after in misery and despair. Abouabdoulah or the young king, was the lawful monarch, but his uncle El Zagal (..) endeavoured to put him out of the way by assassination. The plot was discovered, the nephew's party prevailed and El Zagal rather than submit to his own relation from whom he had no right to expect mercy went over and delivered up all his possessions to Ferdinand. The Spanish monarch immediately summoned Abouabdoulah to fulfil the conditions of the treaty upon which he had obtained his liberty. These were to deliver up Granada as soon as Almeria, Guadix and Baca should be in the hands of the Spaniards. This contingency was now come to pass. It was not natural to suppose the Moor would submit tamely to his utter ruin, therefore Ferdinand who had foreseen his refusal laid siege to Granada. After nine months blockade for the completing of which he built a new town called Santa Fe he obliged the Moorish king to surrender. Ferdinand and Isabel made their triumphant entry on the 2nd of January 1492. Abouabdoulah in his way to Purchena, the place appointed for his residence, stopped on the hill of Padul to take a last farewell look of his beloved Granada. The sight of his city and palace to which he was then about to bid an eternal adieu overcame his resolution; he burst into a flood of tears and in the anguish of his soul broke out into the most bitter exclamations against the hardness of his fate. The Sultaness Ayxa his mother upbraided him for his weakness in the following terms: "Thou dost well to weep like a woman over the loss of that kingdom which thou knewest not how to defend and die for like a man". This prince was the last Moor that reigned in Spain where their empire had subsisted seven hundred and eighty two years. Swinburne
The Alcazaba seen from Torre de la Vela and behind it the hill with the Generalife gardens
The royal palace forms
but a part of a fortress, the walls of which,
studded with towers, stretch irregularly round
the whole crest of a hill, a spur of the Sierra
Nevada or Snowy Mountains, and overlook the
city; externally it is a rude congregation of
towers and battlements, with no regularity of
plan, nor grace of architecture, and giving little
promise of the grace and beauty which prevail
The palaces and towers of the Alhambra were built mainly in the XIIIth and XIVth century.
Torres Bermejas from Torre de la Vela (left) and from Albaicin (right)
After Puerta de Las Granadas we found ourselves in a deep narrow
ravine, filled with beautiful groves, with a steep
avenue, and various foot-paths winding through
it, bordered with stone seats, and ornamented
with fountains. To our left we beheld the
towers of the Alhambra beetling above us; to
our right, on the opposite side of the ravine, we
were equally dominated by rival towers on a
rocky eminence. These, we were told, were
the Torres Vermejos, or Vermilion Towers, so
called from their ruddy hue. No one knows
their origin. They are of a date much anterior to
the Alhambra: some suppose them to have been
built by the Romans. Irving
Evidence of some ancient buildings has been unearthed on the Albaicin hill; they might have belonged to Municipium Florentinum Iliberitanum, a town which is mentioned by many Roman sources and is recorded in Spanish episcopal councils until the VIIth century. Its exact location is debated. Granada was founded in ca 1010 to be the capital of a small taifa (emirate) after the fall of the Caliphate of Cordoba.
(left) Torre de los Picos; (right) the said tower, Palacio del Partal and the Nasrid Palaces with Torre de Comares (see another image from a slightly different viewpoint in the introductory page)
To the north of the hill stands a huge heap of as ugly buildings as can well be seen, all huddled together seemingly without the least intention of forming "one habitation" out of them. The walls are entirely unornamented, all gravel and pebbles daubed over with plaster by a very coarse hand, yet this is the palace of the Moorish kings of Granada, indisputably the most curious palace within that exists in Spain, perhaps in Europe. Swinburne
Continuing lower down is the Moorish postern Gate, La Torre del Pico, but the machicolations (after which the tower is named) are of the time of the Catholic sovereigns. (..) From this gate a path, crossing the ravine, leads up to the Generalife. Ford
The appearance of the Alhambra is that of an old town exhibiting a long range of high battlemented walls interrupted at regular distances by large lofty square towers. These have one or two arched windows near the top and a precipitate slope from the bottom into a dry ditch. The whole is built with round irregular pebbles mixed with cement and gravel. Some parts are covered and smoothed over with a thick coat of plaster. Swinburne
The Alhambra is girdled with walls and towers. Many of these, exquisitely ornamented, formed the detached residences of favourite sultanas, royal children, and great officers. (..) La Torre de las Infantas, once the residence of the Moorish princesses, now of squalid poverty; to the left are two other towers, called those of del Candil and de las Cautivas; the latter contains elegant arches and delicate stuccoes. Ford
Continuing to the rt. is the corner
tower, de la Agua; here an aqueduct,
stemming the most picturesque ravine,
supplies the hill with water. The retreating French invaders blew up this and the
next tower, and had they succeeded, as
they wished, in destroying the aqueduct, the Alhambra would have become
again a desert. Ford
Ford makes reference to Horace François Bastien Sébastiani, a French general who conquered Granada during the Peninsular War. In 1811, when he was forced out of it, he ordered the destruction of several parts of the Alhambra, including its mosque.
Just before you stands the present principal entrance into the castle; a square tower built by the king Jusaf Abuhagiagi in 1348 as an inscription informs us. From its being the place where justice was summarily administered it was styled the Gate of Judgment. You pass through it under several arches, each of which is more than a full semicircle resting upon a small impost, the ends of the bow being brought towards each other in the form of a horseshoe. On the key stone of the outward arch is sculptured the figure of an arm, the symbol of strength and dominion; on that of the next arch is a key embossed, the armorial ensign of the Andalusian Moors. Above it the wall of this partition is covered with a beautiful blue and gold mosaic in the middle of which they have placed an image of the Virgin Mary. Swinburne
Those who pretend to some knowledge of Mohammedan symbols, affirm that the hand is the emblem of doctrine, the five fingers designating the five principal commandments of the creed of Islam. (..) The key, say they, is the emblem of the faith or of power. Irving
The inscription over the inner doorway records its elevation and the name of the founder. It ends "May the Almighty make this [gate] a protecting bulwark, and write down its [erection] among the imperishable actions of the just." Ford
Puerta del Vino: western (left) and eastern (right) sides
On the right hand of the Plaza de los Algibes (cisterns) is a solitary gateway, formerly the entrance into some of the outward quadrangles thrown down by Charles the fifth to make room for his superb palace. Swinburne Si entra in un bellissimo giardino d'un palazzo chè piu all'alto sul monte, detto Gniahalarife. Anchora che non sia molto gran palazzo, è però molto ben fatto e bello di giardini e acque, è la più bella cosa che habbi vista in Spagna. (I entered into the beautiful garden of a palace which stands higher up on the hill, known as Gniahalarife. Even though it is not a very large palace, it is very well designed with gardens and fountains and it is the finest thing I saw in Spain).
Returning to the Plaza de los Algibes, is an isolated Moorish tower, La Torre del Vino, built in 1345 by Yusuf I. Observe the elegant Moorish arch, and the Azulejos (..) This oratory was first turned into a temple of Bacchus when the Alhambra had a privilege of introducing wine; now it is sacred to Cloacina Granadina (the gate was used as an urinal). Ford
Generalife: (left) Jardines Bajos; (right) Patio de la Acequia (irrigation canal)
Andrea Navagero, Venetian Ambassador to Spain - Il Viaggio fatto in Spagna (1526)
We stopped at the Generaliph which was the residence of the sultan in April and May; it now belongs to the Conde de Campotejar, a Genoese nobleman of the name of Grimaldi descended in the female line from the royal family of Granada. The remains of the building are scarce worth looking at for the noblest halls and best finished work are almost entirely demolished. The things yet existing that claim attention are the following: the double hedge of royal myrtle above fifteen feet high, a row of cypresses of prodigious height and bulk (the servant pointed out a little recess behind them where the sultana was accused of having committed adultery), great abundance of water running through all the little courts, but the grand jet d' eau are no longer kept in repair. Swinburne
Si entra in un bellissimo giardino d'un palazzo chè piu all'alto sul monte, detto Gniahalarife. Anchora che non sia molto gran palazzo, è però molto ben fatto e bello di giardini e acque, è la più bella cosa che habbi vista in Spagna. (I entered into the beautiful garden of a palace which stands higher up on the hill, known as Gniahalarife. Even though it is not a very large palace, it is very well designed with gardens and fountains and it is the finest thing I saw in Spain).
Generalife: (left) main building; (right) view towards Albaicin
High above the Alhambra, on the breast of the mountain, amid embowered gardens and stately terraces, rise the lofty towers and white walls of the Generalife; a fairy palace, full of storied recollections. (..) The proprietor, however, dwells in a foreign land, and the palace has no longer a princely inhabitant. Yet here is every thing to delight a southern voluptuary: fruits, flowers, fragrance, green arbors and myrtle hedges, delicate air and gushing waters. Irving
The baying of the dog and
the tinkling of a guitar, indicating life
there, increase the desolation of the
Alhambra. Then in proportion, as all
here around is dead, do the fancy and
imagination become alive, the halls
and courts seem to expand into a
larger size: the shadows of the cypresses on the walls assume the forms
of the dusky Moor, revisiting his lost
home in the glimpses of the moon,
while the night winds, breathing
through the unglazed windows and
myrtles, rustle as his silken robes, or
sigh like his lament over the profanation of the infidel and the defilement
of the unclean destroyer. Ford
Plan of this section (see its introductory pages):
|Andalusia||Almeria Antequera Baelo Claudia Carmona Cordoba Granada Italica Jerez de la Frontera Medina Azahara Ronda Seville Tarifa|
|Castile||Archaeological Park of Carranque Castillo de Coca Olmedo Segovia Toledo Villa La Olmeda|
|Catalonia||Barcelona Emporiae Girona Tarragona|