|This multi-storied complex was once an Alcazaba (fortress), an Alcázar (palace) and a small Medina (city),
all in one. Although there was earlier construction here, most of
what remains was built over a hundred year period from the mid-13th
to the mid-14th century. Each of several successive rulers built his
own palace within the palace complex. The Alhambra is considered the
finest example of Moorish architecture in Spain. It owes much of its
fame, however, to author Washington Irving, who was inspired to
write his famous "Tales of the Alhambra" while actually living in an
apartment in the Alhambra for a few months in 1829. The entire
structure was badly deteriorating when Irving visited it, but
extensive restoration began soon after. Gypsies, who had occupied
the palaces for years, had added to the run-down of the area, and
were eventually evicted from the complex.
We first tried to visit the Alhambra
Palace a year ago, when the four of us decided to make the journey
by car from Nerja, a matter of 60 miles away, taking roughly 90
minutes, passing by Almuñecar and La Herradura before turning inland
towards Granada, City of the Moors.
There had been settlements in
Granada, or Ilbyr as it was then known for many centuries before the
Romans came, named the area Illibris and built a fortress on
Albaicin Hill, where the old Moorish casbah is now found. When the
Moors arrived in the 8th century, they occupied the area along with
the rest of southern Spain. But it was only after the fall of
Cordoba to the Christians in 1256 that Granada became an important
city. The centre of Moorish power was transferred to Granada,
bringing a massive influx of nobles, architects and money which
eventually led to the construction of the Alhambra. Granada was the
only surviving bastion of Islam in Spain until finally the last Arab
king had to relinquish the city to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.
During those intervening two and a half centuries, the city reached
a cultural zenith. The Spanish further enriched Granada with
splendid Renaissance and baroque buildings for nearly another
century before the city's importance began to decline.
The Catholic monarchs Isobel of Castile and Fernando of Aragón entered Granada in 1492 and actually inhabited the Alhambra for a time. They restored some rooms and converted the mosque, but left the palace unaltered. By the 18th Century the Casa Real was used as a prison and in 1812 it was taken and occupied by Napoleon’s forces. They looted and damaged whole sections of the Palace and while retreating tried to blow up the whole complex. A wounded soldier who stayed behind and destroyed the fuses and thwarted the destruction of one of the most visited and admired monuments in the world.