The Alhambra castle & its 15 Main structures

Best 15 Alhambra Main structures

The Alhambra is a castle and fortress complex located in Granada, Andalusia, Spain. It is one of the most popular monuments of Islamic architecture, one of the best-preserved palaces in the historical Islamic world, and an outstanding example of Spanish Renaissance architecture.

Construction of the complex began in 1238 by Muhammad I ibn al-Ahmar, the first emir of the Nasrids and founder of the Emirate of Granada, the last Muslim state of Al-Andalus. It was built on the hill of Sabika, a promontory in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where Samuel ibn Nagrilah’s fort and palace were located in the 11th century.

The most important architectural movement that gave the palace its final character occurred during the reigns of Yusuf I and Muhammad V in the 14th century. After the completion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492, it became the royal residence of Ferdinand and Isabella (where Christopher Columbus received royal approval for the expedition), and the palace was partially renovated.

History of the Alhambra in Spain

In 1984 the Alhambra was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the Albaicín (or Albaicín) and Generalife Gardens. The Alhambra Palace is located on Sabica Hill, west of the city of Granada and is a strategic point overlooking the entire city of Granada and the plain of Granada (Vega). The irregularly shaped complex is surrounded by defensive walls. The Alhambra covers a total area of 26 acres and has more than a mile of walls, 30 towers and many smaller buildings. The hill of Sabica and the Palatine city is surrounded by mountains, and Arab writers once likened Granada and the Alhambra to a crown and crown respectively.

The Alhambra in Spain
The Alhambra in Spain

The Alhambra includes the Alcazaba, a military base in its heyday where the guards and their families lived; the Palace Quarter, which housed several palaces of the Sultan and his relatives; and the medina, the area where court officials lived and worked. The Generalife Gardens, on the other hand, are located on the slopes of the nearby Hill of the Sun. Generalife included residences and land used for grazing and agriculture and was designed as a holiday destination for the Alhambra-based Muslim royal family.

However, the Alhambra was largely ignored until at least the 11th century, when the Zirid dynasty settled at Alcazaba Kadima (Old Fortress) in Albaycín. To preserve the important Jewish settlements located in the region, Prime Minister Samuel ibn Nagralla repaired and rebuilt the ruins of Sabik and built a palace there for Emir Badis ben Habbs.

Three independent parts of the Nasrid palace

The Nasrid palace is divided into three independent areas. This area includes the Mexuar (for justice and state affairs), the semi-communist part of the palace. The Palace of Comares, the official residence of the Sultan, consists of several rooms surrounding the Myrtle Court (an open area with a large central pond lined with myrtle bushes). Then there is the Palace of the Lions, a private part of the palace for the king, his family and mistresses.

Three independent parts of the Nasrid palace
Three independent parts of the Nasrid palace

The complex of the Alhambra

The Alhambra complex includes many other structures, perhaps the most famous being the Courtyard of the Lions (or Courtyard of the Lions). The courtyard is so named because of the central fountain from which 12 lions spout water.

Other notable buildings include Abenserak Hall, with its stalactite ceiling and legendary site where noble families were said to have been killed, and Hall of Ambassadors, a hall where Muslim emirs (commanders) negotiated with Christian’s envoy.

Construction of Alhambra

The oldest department of the Alhambra is the Alcazaba, a fortress with many towers. Although the Nasrid dynasty fortified the Alcazaba and used it as a military base for the Sultan’s Royal Guard, experts believe the structure was built before Muslims arrived in Granada.

The first historical resume of the Alcazaba (and the larger Alhambra) dates back to the 9th century. They mention a man named Savwar ben Hamdun who took refuge in the Alcazaba fortress due to a civil war between Muslims and Muladis (people of mixed Arab and European descent).

Arabic texts suggest that Savwar ben Hamdun and other Muslims may have started new construction at the fort at that time.

Construction of Alhambra
Construction of Alhambra

Early development of the Alhambra

The Alhambra was not the building project of a single ruler, but the work of successive Nasrid rulers. Mohammed, I strengthened his royal domain by laying the foundation for the Alhambra Palace. He fortified Sabica Alcazaba by building three new towers: Broken Tower, Fortress and Watchtower. He was also able to draw water from the river Darro and establish a royal residence in Alcazaba. Muhammad, I built warehouses or halls for soldiers and low-ranking guards and began building the palace and walls of the Alhambra.

Al-Hamar’s sons and grandsons Muhammad II and Muhammad III, continued their predecessors’ work on the palace and city walls. The last ruler also built the Great Mosque of Alhambra and the public baths. Most of the Alhambra structures known today were built by Yusuf I and Mohammed V.

The End of Islamic Rule in the Alhambra

In 1492, Ferdinand King of Aragon and Isabella Queen of Castile conquered Granada, uniting Spain under a Catholic monarchy and ending centuries of Muslim rule (they were known to Spanish historians as Boabdil, the last Nasrid ruler, Muhammad XII). was ousted). The Alhambra soon underwent many changes.

Charles V, who ruled Spain as Charles I, ordered part of the complex demolished to build a Renaissance palace for himself called the Palace of Charles V. He built the Imperial Chambers, the Queen’s Dressing Room, and the church that replaced the Alhambra Mosque.

The Alhambra, Spain
The Alhambra, Spain

Alhambra at Today

In 1829, American writer Washington Irving settled in Alhambra. He wrote and published, the fairy tale of the Alhambra, a collection of essays and stories about the lavish city.

2009 marks the 150th anniversary of Irving’s death; Alhambra leaders erected a statue of the artist in a park outside the palace to commemorate his role in educating Western audiences about Spanish historical sites and Islamic history.

The Alhambra residual one of the most beautiful historical sites in Spain and is visited by thousands of tourists from all over the world each year.

Restoration and Modern Restoration of Alhambra

Restoration work was carried out by architect José Contreras in 1828 and donated by Ferdinand VII in 1830. After Contreras died in 1847, his son Rafael (died 1890) and his grandson Mariano Contreras (died 1912) continued the business. In 1830 Washington Irving was living in Granada and wrote The Tale of the Alhambra, first published in 1832, which brought international attention to southern Spain and Islamic period monuments such as the Alhambra (which he decorated in New England style) caused it.

During this period, they generally followed the theory of “stylistic restoration,” which favoured the creation and addition of elements to make the monument “complete” but not necessarily consistent with historical reality.

In 1868, a revolution overthrew Isabella II and the government confiscated the Spanish monarchy’s possessions, including the Alhambra. In 1870, Alhambra has declared a National Monument of Spain, and the state provided a budget for its preservation under the supervision of a provincial monuments committee.

The Alhambra castle, Spain
The Alhambra castle, Spain

The architecture of the Alhambra palaces

The decoration of Nasrid palaces and design is a continuation of Moorish (Western Islamic) architecture from previous centuries, but with its character. The combination of elaborate courtyards, water features, gardens, arches of slender columns, intricate stucco and decorative tiles give it a Nasrid architectural quality that has been described as subtle and intimate. Walls were usually built of rammed earth, lime concrete or bricks and covered with plaster, and wood (mostly pine) was used for roofs, ceilings, doors and window shutters.

Top 15 Main structures at Alhambra, Spain

Entrance gates

The main gate of the Alhambra is the biggest Puerta de la Justicia (Gate of Justice), known in Arabic as Bab al-Sharia lit: “Gate of Sharia (Law)”). Main entrance from the south side of the walled complex. They were built in 1348 during the reign of Yusuf I. The gate includes a large horseshoe-shaped arch that leads through a curved passage to a steep ramp.

The Alhambra castle in Spain
The Alhambra castle in Spain


The Alcazaba, or organ, is the oldest part of the Alhambra today. It was the centre of an intricate system of fortifications that protected the area. The tallest tower, the 26 m (85 ft) tall Torre del Homenaje (“Tower of Honor”), served as the complex’s fortress and military command post. It may have been Ibn al-Ahmar’s first residence inside the Alhambra at the time of the complex’s construction.

Nasrid palaces

The royal palace complex consists of three parts from west to east: Mexuar, Comares Palace and Lions Palace. Overall, the palace is also known as Casa Real Vieja (“Old Royal Palace”) to distinguish it from the newer palace built next door during the Spanish Christian era.


Mexuar is the westernmost department of the palace complex. These were similar to the mash was (or meters) of North African royal courts. It was first built as part of a larger complex initiated by Ismail I, including the palace of Comares.


Comares Palace

Comares Palace was the nucleus of a large palace complex begun by Ismail I in the early 13th century and modified and renovated by Yusuf I and Muhammad V in the same century.

Palace of the Lions

The Lion’s Palace is one of the most famous palaces in Islamic architecture and is an example of the pinnacle of Nasrid architecture during the reign of Muhammad V.

Renaissance apartments and courtyards

To the east of the Palace of Lions and the castle of Comares is the Renaissance Christian Annex, mostly built in the 16th century.

Just north of the Lion Palace is the Patio de Lindaraja (Courtyard of Lindaraja), which was originally an open garden but was converted into an indoor garden in the 16th century when new buildings were added around it.

Renaissance apartments and courtyards
Renaissance apartments and courtyards

Partal Palace and gardens

To the east of the Lion Palace and the Renaissance Annex is the Patal Palace, a pavilion on the edge of the Alhambra walls. Built by Muhammad III, the palace has undergone many changes since then, but today it is the oldest surviving palace in Alhambra.

Palace of Charles V

Commissioned by Carlos V, the palace in the centre of the Alhambra was drawn by Pedro Machuca, an architect who studied under Michelangelo in Rome and fell in love with Italian High Renaissance culture and the art world of Raphael and Giulio Romano.

Palace of Charles V
Palace of Charles V

Other Nasrid palaces

The other three major palaces of the Nasrid period were once available but have been badly damaged over the centuries. Excavated residuals of the Palacio del Partal Alto (“Palace of the Upper”), also known as the Palacio del Conde del Tendilla (“The Palace of the Counts of Tendilla”), are today included in the Partal Gardens.

Church of Santa Maria and the Mosque Alhambra

To the east of Charles V’s palace is the Catholic Church of Santa Maria de la Alhambra (“Our Lady of the Alhambra”); the former Alhambra Mosque stands on the site of the Cathedral Mosque of the Alhambra complex.

Baths of the mosque

One of the Alhambra Mosque’s outbuildings, the Bath (Hammam), is today preserved to the east of the church and can be accessed from Main Street. Like other Islamic baths, it provided residents with the means to perform ritual ablutions (beads) for both general hygiene and religious purposes.

Baths of the mosque
Baths of the mosque

Rawda (Nasrid mausoleum)

In the space between the Lion Palace and the former mosque stood the royal tomb of the Nasrids, Rauda. Although the term Pravda means “garden” in Arabic, many historical Islamic cemeteries or graveyards have been known by this name, including the burial grounds of former Umayyad rulers in Córdoba.


The east of the Alhambra and outside the town walls is General, a Nasrid country estate first built by Muhammad second and Muhammad third in the late 13th and 14th centuries. It underwent several modifications by later Nasrid rulers and 16th-century Spanish Christian builders.

Other outlying structures

Today, the main access to Alhambra is through the Alhambra Forest in the southern valley. The external entrance to the forest is through the Puerta de las Granadas (“Pomegranate Gate”), a formal Renaissance gate built in 1536 over the remains of an early Islamic gate.

Other outlying structures
Other outlying structures

The Location of the Alhambra

At the foot of the plateau flows the Darro River, which flows north through a deep gorge. The river separates Sabica from the Albayzin, a Moorish residential area that, together with the Alhambra forms the medieval part of Granada.

Literature in the palaces of Alhambra

Some of the following works are set in Alhambra:

Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra. This is a collection of essays, word sketches and stories. Irving lived in the palace at the time of writing the book and was instrumental in introducing the site to Western audiences.

  • Radwa Ashura’s Granada Trilogy
  • Philippa Gregory’s “Permanent Princess” depicts Catalina, the Infanta of Spain, living in the Alhambra after her parents captured Granada.
  • George Bernard Shaw’s Plays Man and Superman
  • Salman Rushdie’s The Last Breath of the Moor
  • Paulo Coelho’s Novel The Alchemist
  • Seorbo Laszlo Krasnahorkai Below Me
  • Ali Smith’s Chance
  • Amin Maalouf Leo the Africanus, depicting the Catholic monarch’s conquest of Granada.
  • Federico García Lorca’s play The Maiden Doña Rosita, the title character Doña Rosita mentions in the song/speech to the Manola sisters.

The best Hotels near the Alhambra

  • Palacio de Santa Ines
  • Aurea Washington Irving
  • Parador de Granada
  • Hotel Casa Morisca
  • Alhambra Palace Hotel
  • Hotel Casa del Capitel Nazari
  • Shine Albayzin
  • Hotel Casa 1800 Granada
  • Hotel Puerta De Las Granadas
  • Hotel America

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