The History of Alhambra Palace

This last fortress of the eleventh-century Ziridian rulers, was all that existed when the Nasrid ruler Ibn al-Ahmar made Granada his capital, but from its reddish walls the hilltop had already taken its name: Al Qal'a al-Hamra in Arabic means literally "the red fort". Ibn al-Ahmar rebuilt the Alcazaba and added to it the huge circuit of walls and towers which forms your first view of the castle.

The Palace

Within the walls he began a palace, which he supplied with running water by diverting the River Darro nearly 8km to the foot of the hill; water is an integral part of the Alhambra and this engineering feat was Ibn al-Ahmar's greatest contribution. The Palacios Nazaríes was essentially the product of his fourteenth-century successors, particularly Yusuf I and Mohammed V, who built and redecorated many of its rooms in celebration of his accession to the throne (in 1354) and the taking of Algeciras (in 1369).

After their conquest of the city, Fernando and Isabel lived for a while in the Alhambra. They restored some rooms and converted the mosque but left the palace structure unaltered. As at Córdoba and Sevilla, it was Emperor Carlos V, their grandson, who wreaked the most insensitive destruction, demolishing a whole wing of rooms in order to build a Renaissance palace. 

This and the Alhambra itself were simply ignored by his successors and by the eighteenth century the Palacios Nazaríes was in use as a prison. In 1812 it was taken and occupied by Napoleon's forces, who looted and damaged whole sections of the palace, and on their retreat from the city tried to blow up the entire complex. Their attempt was thwarted only by the action of a crippled soldier who remained behind and removed the fuses.

Tales of the Alhambra

Two decades later the Alhambra's "rediscovery" began, given impetus by the American writer Washington Irving, who set up his study in the empty palace rooms and began to write his marvellously romantic Tales of the Alhambra (on sale all over Granada – and good reading amid the gardens and courts). Shortly after its publication, the Spaniards made the Alhambra a national monument and set aside funds for its restoration. This continues to the present day and is now a highly sophisticated project, scientifically removing the accretions of later ages in order to expose and meticulously restore the Moorish creations.

'No one conquers but Allah'

Although the Alhambra is today devoid of furniture, and most of the rich colours of its decoration have worn off, we have been left at least the testimony of its purpose summed up for prosperity by the dynasty's moto, 'wa Ia galiba illa Allah' (No one conquers but Allah), which appears so many times in the decoration of its buildings amidst innumerable religious quotations and poetic lines, as proof of a spirit alive beyond mere material constructions.