The Alhambra - Casa Real

The Alhambra and the backdrop of the magnificent Sierra Nevada mountain range

by Lawrence Bohme

Perhaps the most beautiful part of the famous Alhambra in Granada, Spain, the construction of the palaces (called Casa Real Vieja, "old Royal House or Palace") dates back to the 14th century and is the work of two great kings: Yusuf I and Muhammed V.

It is comprised of several palace groups with a series of courts and structures surrounding them which were born out of transitory or ornamental necessity. Since the 16th century these "Nasrite alcázares" (palaces) have been designated the "Casa Real Vieja" (Old Royal House) in order to distinguish them from the Christian buildings.

The Alhambra contains the three divisions usually found in a Moslem palace, including a reception salon and the royal apartments Chamber of the Lions. This spectacular chamber is the work of Muhammed V and illustrates the most beautiful possibilities of Granada Moslem art. Throughout this chamber a subtle air of femininity and daintiness is sensed, in keeping with the function of these private apartments, devoted to the placid enjoyment of home and family life.

The Court of the Lions is characterised by its profound originality, a harmonious merging of East and West. It has been compared to a grove of 124 palm trees, most with double columns, around the oasis of the central fountain with its twelve lions. The twelve-sided marble fountain rests upon the backs of the lions. Water, so essential as a decorative element acquires here an exceptional importance. It ascends and spills from the basin, which has been compared with the 'sea of bronze' of Solomon's Temple, to the mouths of the lions, from which it is distributed throughout the courtyard. A lovely "qasida" (ode) by Ibn Zamrak circles the rim of the basin.

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Four large halls border the courtyard. The first, entering from the Court of the Myrtles, is the "Sala de los Mozárabes", whose name is perhaps derived from the three stalactite arches which form the entrance to the Court of the Lions. To the south is the "Sala de Abencerrajes", famous in legend with a gateway decorated with "lazo" (ornamental knots). Light penetrates the hall through 16 graceful fretwork windows. On the east side is the "Sala de los Reyes" which is unusual and resembles a theatrical set, divided in three sections which correspond to three lovely porticos, separated by double arches of "mozárabes" (stalactites).

North of the Court of the Lions is the "Sala de las Dos Hermanas", so called because of the two large marble flagstones flanking the central fountain and spout. The adjoining hall is the "Sala de los Ajimeces" with two balconies overlooking the Garden of Daraxa. Between these two balconies is the "Mirador de Daraxa", dressing room and bedroom of the Sultana and a delightful retreat in this secluded section of the palace, in the style of a bay window or mirador.

The last hall gives access to the "Peinador de la Reina", also called the Tocador. An open gallery and an airy little tower, it was once designed as the residence of the Empress Isabel and later of Isabel of Parma. Some restored frescoes portray scenes of Charles V's expedition to La Goleta. In the Christian Alhambra Within the Alhambra enclosure there are also monuments which are exclusively Western. For example, in the "Jardines de los Mártires" there was once a monastery of the barefoot Carmelite order.

The Church of St Mary is built upon the site where the royal mosque formerly stood. The Monastery of St Francis, which is now a parador, was erected upon an Arab palace and has the additional merit and sentimental value of having housed the temporary sepulchre of the Catholic Monarchs - Ferdinand and Isabella, until their transfer to the "Capilla Real". Palace of Charles V The Palacio de Carlos V or "Casa Real Nueva" as it is better known, was commissioned by the Emperor in an endeavour to emulate the Palace of the defeated Moslems and also to provide for himself a habitable residence. Construction was started in 1527 under the direction of Pedro Machuca, who had studied with Michelangelo in Italy. The palace is built in the form of a square and comprised of two main parts: the first, in Tuscan style, and the second with Ionic pillars.