Explore Alhambra Palace Architecture and Design

Alhambra Architecture

A stunning example of Islamic architecture, every corner of the fortress of Alhambra is beautiful. Located on the magnificent Sierra Nevada of Granada, Spain, the Alhambra has a history that dates back to 889 AD. It was home to many Nasrid rulers throughout history and went through different modifications to become what it is today. The Alhambra is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Spain due to its stunning architecture that attracts over 3 million people every year. 

Planning to visit Spain anytime soon? Add Alhambra in Granada to your itinerary and explore its beauty with your own eyes.

Alhambra Palace Architecture & Design | Quick Overview

Alhambra Architecture

Official Name: The Alhambra

Status/Function/Attraction Type: Palace and Fortress Complex

Location: C. Real de la Alhambra, s/n, 18009 Granada, Spain

Founded: Between 1238 and 1358

Area: 700–740 m (length), 200–205 m (width), and 142,000 m2 (total area)

Architectural Style: Islamic and Renaissance 

Main Architects: Yusuf I and Mohammed V

Who Designed Alhambra

The Nasrids are considered the main architects of Alhambra, particularly Yusuf I and Mohammad V.

Alhambra Architecture

Yusuf I

Born in 1318, Yusuf I ascended the throne in 1333 after the death of his brother, Muhammed IV. The reign of Yusuf I suffered many losses, particularly in the military and territory. But his reign developed literature, architecture, medicine, and law in the Emirate of Granada. He built many buildings inside the Alhambra, including additions to the Comares Palaces, and Tower of Justice, along with Madrasa Yusufiyya inside Granada city. Yusuf I's contributions to the Alhambra and the empire make him among the most successful rulers in Emirate history when it comes to cultural development.

Alhambra Architecture

Muhammad V

Born to Yusuf I's slave Butayna, Muhammad V is perhaps the most credited in Emirate history for completing the Alhambra palace. He faced a lot of difficulties getting onto the throne as he was not pure blood, but he ruled the kingdom for five years from 1354-1349 and then again from 1362-1391. Mohammad V added the Palace of the Lions and the Mexuar inside the Alhambra, thus completing the palace and fortress.

Alhambra Architecture

Alhambra Palace Architecture & Design

The main architectural style of Alhambra is Islamic architecture, with lingering elements of Spanish Renaissance architecture. Distinct frescoes, arches, columns, tile decorations, and sculpted stuccos can be seen across the palace and different buildings within the fortress. This style of architecture is common in all Nasrid palaces. However, the Alhambra is more grand and beautiful when compared to other palaces built during this era. 

The palace has a fountain at its centre, and the ventilation system was designed keeping all seasons in mind. The rooms on the upper floors were smaller and enclosed, making them suitable for use during winter. 

Many walls of the Alhambra were decorated with stucco, tiles, wood carvings, motifs, and inscriptions. You will find many Arabic verses written on the walls by poets of the Emirate court. The palace was painted in primary colours of red, blue, and gold, with other colours being used in the background for balance.

Structure of Alhambra

Alhambra Architecture

The Alhambra was made using three key raw materials - clay, aggregate, and lime. The aggregate used was mostly made of metamorphic rocks and mud. Overall, the construction materials used made the palace light and adjusted according to the climate. During summers, the interiors of the palace would be pleasant while during winters, the walls would trap the heat. 

Wood was also used in different places, especially in the ceilings and formwork. Gypsum and plaster were used to give the walls a rich appearance, covering up the mud and clay.

The arches were carved out of huge marble slabs and were placed on the windows, gates, and entrances of the palace. Arches were quite common in Moorish architecture and an integral part of the aesthetic of the palaces.

Stages of Construction of Alhambra

1232-1273: Muhammad I set the foundation stones for the Alhambra, building the Royal Canal, the fortress, and the Alcazaba within the Alhambra walls. 

1273-1302: Muhammad I built the Generalife during this period. It was a leisure palace for the Nasrid rulers, with many gardens and fountains. 

1303-1309: Muhammad III started the construction of the Partal and the Torre de las Damas Mosque and reformed the Royal Bath. 

1314-1325: Ismail I, the Nasrid ruler during this period, made modifications to the Generalife and constructed the Mexuar. 

1333-1354: Most of the palace and fortress were built during the rule of Yusuf I. Tower Cadi, Tower of Comares, the Gate of Justice Puerta de las Armas and the Captive were all built during this period.

1354-1391: Muhammad V took his father's vision for Alhambra further and built Puerta del Vino and Palacio de Comares during this reign.

1392-1408: Muhammad VII made further additions to the Alhambra with the Tower of Princesses. 

The Exterior of Alhambra

The Alhambra has many structures towards the exterior that are just as stunning as the interiors. You can see the architecture more distinctly from the outside and marvel at the brilliance of Nasrid rulers.

Alhambra Architecture

Entrance Gates

There are many entrance gates to the Alhambra. Puerta de la Justicia (Gate of Justice) is the main entrance gate built by Yusuf I. It is located towards the south of the Alhambra complex and has steps built in such a way that the defenders of the fortress could spot intruders from a distance and defend the palace walls. A hand with five fingers is carved on the entrance, which symbolizes the five principles of Islam. Puerta del Vino (Wine Gate), Puerta de las Armas (Gate of Arms), Puerta del Arrabal (Arrabal Gate), Puerta de los Siete Suelos (Gate of Seven Floors), and Puerta de las Granadas (Gate of the Pomegranates) are the other entrance gates to the Alhambra.

Alhambra Architecture

Place of the Cisterns

Plaza de los Aljibes, or the Place of the Cisterns, acts as a divider between the Alcazaba and the Nasrid palaces. It gets its name from a cistern that was commissioned after the conquest of 1492. It made the pathway between the Alcazaba and the Nasrid palaces elaborate. Iñigo López de Mendoza y Quiñones, a Spanish nobleman of the House of Mendoza, commissioned the cistern.

Alhambra Architecture

Torres Bermejas

The Vermilion Towers are located to the south of Puerta de las Granadas. It is not clear who commissioned these towers but remains from the early 8th century were found here. It is believed Muhammad I lived here for some time before shifting to the palace. An artillery bastion was added to the Torres Bermejas in the 16th century, during the Christian Spanish era.

Alhambra Interior

Alhambra Architecture
Alhambra Architecture
Alhambra Architecture

Palace of Charles V

Pedro Machuca, a renowned Spanish architect, designed the Palace of Charles V, which was commissioned by Charles V in 1527. The architectural style of the palace is Renaissance or Roman style. It was built to symbolise the victory of the Catholic monarchs over the Nasrid dynasty. The Alhambra museum is now located inside the Palace of Charles V, which has many artefacts discovered inside the Alhambra. The Fine Arts Museum of Granada is also inside the palace.

Alhambra Architecture

Alhambra Mosque

Muhammad III commissioned the Alhambra Mosque, which is now almost in ruins. After the Catholic conquest, the Church of Santa María de la Alhambra was constructed over the site. Constructed between 1581 and 1618, Juan de Herrera and Juan de Orea designed the church while it was completed by Ambrosio Vico. The centrepiece of Our Lady of Sorrows is carried around the city of Granada during Christmas.

Alhambra Architecture

Rawda

The Nasrid mausoleum, called Rawda, is the final resting place of many Nasrid rulers. The insides of the mausoleum were reserved for the rulers and noblemen, while the open space towards the outer side was kept for the rest of the population. Many tombs were discovered here between the 19th and 20th centuries. However, most of the graves were found to be empty because the last sultan of Granada, Muhammad XII, moved the remains of his ancestors to an unknown site.

Alhambra Architecture
Alhambra Architecture

Baths of the Mosque in Alhambra

Muhammad III built the baths of Alhambra mosque that were meant for traditional bathing before entering the mosque, as is common with Islamic traditions. Over the years, the baths deteriorated but were rebuilt in the 20th century. There were private bath areas reserved for the sultan. Men and women together were not allowed inside the baths. People of the same sex were allotted at a time. The baths had different rooms, including changing rooms, frigidarium (cold rooms), and caldarium (hot rooms). The floors were made of marble, while the walls were decorated with tiles and stucco.

Alhambra | A Peek into Islamic History

Alhambra Architecture

The Alhambra was home to powerful kings of the Nasrid dynasty. From stunning architecture to interesting facts about their lives, you can learn a lot about Granada at the Alhambra. Book a tour now and make your trip to Spain an enriching experience.

Frequently Asked Questions About Alhambra Palace Architecture

Q. What is the style Alhambra palace architecture?

A. The Alhambra palace architecture is based on the Islamic and Spanish Renaissance styles.

Q. Who designed Alhambra?

A. Many Nasrid rulers have contributed towards building the Alhambra, but Yusuf I and Muhammad V are the ones who are most credited with the design.

Q. Why is Alhambra palace architecture famous?

A. Alhambra architecture is famous because of its intricate design dating back to the 14th century, which has many beautiful decorations over the walls, columns, and gates. It offers stunning views of Granada city.

Q. Why is Alhambra architecture famous?

A. Alhambra is spread over a land area of 35 acres. The Alhambra site is about 700–740 m (2,300–2,430 ft) in length and about 200–205 m (660–670 ft) at its greatest width. It extends from west-northwest to east-southeast and covers an area of about 142,000 m2 or 1,530,000 sq ft.

Q. What was Alhambra inspired by?

A. The early Nasrid rulers wanted to build a fort in Granada to protect the city from intruders.

Q. When was Alhambra built?

A. The Alhambra was built between 1238 and 1358, with modifications happening till the 16th century.

Q. How old is Alhambra?

A. Built in the 13th century, the Alhambra is more than eight centuries old.

Q. What's inside Alhambra?

A. The Alhambra has many palaces, gardens, churches, baths, towers, and mausoleums.

Q. What is on the exterior of Alhambra?

A. There are many entrance gates, Place of Cisterns, and Torres Bermejas on the exterior of Alhambra.

Q. What is part of the interior of Alhambra?

A. The Palace of Charles V, Alcabaza, Generalife, Nasrid Palaces, the Santa María de la Alhambra, and Rawda are parts of the interior of Alhambra.

Q. How big is Alhambra?

A. The Alhambra is spread across 26 acres of land in total, including all the structures inside and outside the fortress.

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Alhambra Architecture

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