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The Alhambra

Article from the 1911 Encyclopedia

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The Alhambra

The Alhambra

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net; adapted by your Guide

This article offers an in-depth description of the Alhambra fortress. To get a better idea of what it looks like, visit our Alhambra Image Gallery.

ALHAMBRA, THE, an ancient palace and fortress of the Moorish monarchs of Granada, in southern Spain, occupying a hilly terrace on the south-eastern border of the city of Granada. This terrace or plateau, which measures about 2430 ft. in length by 674 ft. at its greatest width, extends from W.N.W. to E.S.E., and covers an area of about 35 acres. It is enclosed by a strongly fortified wall, which is flanked by thirteen towers. The river Darro, which foams through a deep ravine on the north, divides the plateau from the Albaicin district of Granada; the Assabica valley, containing the Alhambra Park, on the west and south, and beyond this valley the almost parallel ridge of Monte Mauror, separate it from the Antequeruela district.

The name Alhambra, signifying in Arabic "the red," is probably derived from the colour of the sun-dried tapia, or bricks made of fine gravel and clay, of which the outer walls are built. Some authorities, however, hold that it commemorates the red flare of the torches by whose light the work of construction was carried on nightly for many years; others associate it with the name of the founder, Mahomet Ibn Al Ahmar; and others derive it from the Arabic Dar al Amra, "House of the Master." (For an account of the period to which the Alhambra belongs, see GRANADA (city) .) The palace was built chiefly between 1248 and 1354, in the reigns of Al Ahmar and his successors; but even the names of the principal artists employed are either unknown or doubtful. The splendid decorations of the interior are ascribed to Yusef I., who died in 1354. Immediately after the expulsion of the Moors in 1492, their conquerors began, by successive acts of vandalism, to spoil the marvellous beauty of the Alhambra. The open work was filled up with whitewash, the painting and gilding effaced, the furniture soiled, torn or removed. Charles V. (1516-1556) rebuilt portions in the modern style of the period, and destroyed the greater part of the winter palace to make room for a modern structure which has never been completed. Philip V. (1700-1746) Italianised the rooms, and completed the degradation by running up partitions which blocked up whole apartments, gems of taste and patient ingenuity. In subsequent centuries the carelessness of the Spanish authorities permitted this masterpiece of Moorish art to be still further defaced; and in 1812 some of the towers were blown up by the French under Count Sebastiani, while the whole buildings narrowly escaped the same fate. In 1821 an earthquake caused further damage. The work of restoration undertaken in 1828 by the architect Jose Contreras was endowed in 1830 by Ferdinand VII.; and after the death of Contreras in 1847, it was continued with fair success by his son Rafael (d. 1890), and his grandson Mariano.

The situation of the Alhambra is one of rare natural beauty; the plateau commands a wide view of the city and plain of Granada, towards the west and north, and of the heights of the Sierra Nevada, towards the east and south. Moorish poets describe it as "a pearl set in emeralds," in allusion to the brilliant colour of its buildings, and the luxuriant woods round them. The park (Alameda de la Alhambra), which in spring is overgrown with wild-flowers and grass, was planted by the Moors with roses, oranges and myrtles; its most characteristic feature, however, is the dense wood of English elms brought hither in 1812 by the duke of Wellington. The park is celebrated for the multitude of its nightingales, and is usually filled with the sound of running water from several fountains and cascades. These are supplied through a conduit 5 m. long, which is connected with the Darro at the monastery of Jesus del Valle, above Granada.

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