Granada Alhambra palace The only medieval palace in the world which has arrived intact to the present day. After visiting many times, one of the things which fascinates me are the intricate details on the walls. As you step inside the Nasrid Palaces you are walking into an elaborate poetry book, lined with beautiful words and phrases.
Did you know that there are 10,000 inscriptions along these historic walls.
I wonder what is the meaning of these inscriptions?
Some inscriptions are beautiful poetry whereas others provide information on construction dates of building within the Alhambra. These writings also give us clues into the functionality of different spaces around the palaces.
Granada Alhambra ´s Intricate Walls
Other inscriptions are phrases such as “There is no victor but Allah” which appears many times. Also recurring words like “happiness” or “blessing” appear often throughout the palace. These words were thought to protect the monarch honoured in each courtyard.
Other phrases appear such as: “Rejoice in good fortune, because Allah helps you” or “Be sparse in words and you will go in peace.”
The men choosing these texts for the palace walls were poets but also politicians. This wall decoration was an elaborate form of political propoganda. These palace officials reflected the authority and power of the Sultan. Visible to anyone entering the rooms at the heart of the Al Andalus kingdom.
Mosaics and Coloured Tiles
As you wander along the maze like corridors of the palace, you will see many walls covered in brightly coloured ceramic tiles. The tiles cover half of the walls. Coloured tiles are of course an Islamic art and now abound in Andalusia due to the regions Arab past. These tiles apart from being decorative, keep walls cooler in summertime and protect them too. The placing of tiles calculated with mathematic precision are pleasing to the onlooker. The mathematics were used in the designs of tile patterns too.
All those centuries ago the colours of the tiles would have been created with these materials:
- Blue – Cobalt
- Purple or Black -Manganese
- Green – Iron
- Red or Green- Copper
- White – Tin
- Yellow – Lead or Antimony
Above the tiles, higher up towards the walls geometrical shapes or poetic inscriptions abound. Towards the top of the walls quotations from the Koran appear, intentionally situated far from the ground.
Water and geometry are the main elements of design used in the Alhambra Granada. Islamic culture does not accept the depiction of human images. Alternatives such as calligraphy plant motifs or geometric forms were used.
Cuarto Dorado, Alhambra Granada
The façade of the Cuarto Dorado has impressive decoration. The walls are golden in a delicate filigree pattern. The detailed shapes are floral and geometric forms. The geometry of the Alhambra is so extensive even mathematicians have analysed the Alhambra. They see the Golden Ratio in parts of the Alhambra´s design.
Despite the ornate appearance of these walls, it doesn´t appear to be a main entrance. This leads to the throne room and into heart of the palace itself.
Although the inscriptions above the door give us a clue. One of them tells us ¨at which the paths split¨ and there is also the throne verse of the Koran there too;
¨His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth,
and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them
for He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory).¨
The Throne Room
The design of this throne room is based of many square shapes. Mathematicians and architects adore this room due to it´s symmetry and precision. Also known as the Hall of the Ambassadors would have looked quite different that how we see it today. The room would have had brightly coloured rugs, beautiful vases and musical instruments around.
In the Alhambra silk was used extensively. They used only the best quality materials for covering walls, cushions and curtains. The silks would have been in sumptuous colours and with intricate patterned designs. This decorative element is one which we can no longer appreciate today.
In this throne room inscriptions are particularly abundant:
¨From me you are welcomed morning and evening
by the tongues of blessing, prosperity, happiness and friendship¨
¨has decorated me with the robes of his glory and excellence
without disguise and has made me the throne of his empire
may its eminence be upheld by the master of divine glory and the celestial throne¨
The intricate carpentry of the ceiling, made from cedar wood was extremely difficult to put into place. This ceiling above the throne was made of 8017 panels in several colours. It symbolizes the seven heavens of Islamic Paradise. The diagonal lines coming from the centre represent the four trees of life.
The ceiling decorated with lots of stars, which were painted to shine like ivory, mother of pearl and silver. Some are 8 pointed stars and others have 16 points.
Most of the room would have been in a dim light, ensuring cooler temperatures. the latticework on the windows allows filtered light into the room. The effect of the light from the windows shone around the throne. This would surround the sultan in diffused light in a dim room creating a position of power and mystery. The throne would be set upon something to give it height too.
The Hall of the Two Sisters
Some rooms have poems written specifically for them, often by the court poet Ibn Zamrak, (1333-1393). The hall of the two sisters is one of those, it´s verse wrapped around the impressive walls.
This room off the Courtyard of the Lions has two huge marble flagstones on the floor. They have the same dimensions on either side of the entrance. This white stone is from the town of Macael in Almeria. I´m sure that it was quite an ordeal moving these huge flagstones almost 200 kilometers in those days.
The ceiling in this room is breathtaking. White plasterwork has been crafted carefully to create a dramatic effect. Known as muqarnas this is one of the best examples of Islam architecture to be seen today. The poem of course mentions this impressive architecture;
The portico is so beautiful that the palace
competes in beauty with the sky.
You dressed it with such an exquisite lamé,
that the loom of the Yemen is forgotten.
¡How many arches are high on its summit,
on the columns that are adorned by the light,
like spheres that turn
above the glowing pillar of the dawn!
The columns are so beautiful in every way,
that their success flies from mouth to ear:
the marble throws its clear light, which invades
the black corner that blackens the shadow;
its highlights iridesce, and one would say that
they are, in spite of their size, pearls.
Walking in history
Learn more about Granada Alhambra and other history with Local experts Cicerone on their Walking Tour around the old town and main historic sites.
El Peinador de la Reina
(This space is not usually open for public visit however I must include it as a contrast from the other walls in the Alhambra Granada)
Built in 1537 for the Queen Isabel after the conquest of the Alhambra Granada. This was known as the Tower of Abu I Hayyay before the conquest of Al Andalus. This room is set high up in the tower and has spectacular views over the river and the city. This open balcony, opposite the Carrera del Darro, was a favourite spot for the Catholic Queen. She enjoyed hearing the voices of the people in the town below. They would of course be speaking arabic….
The walls inside are painted in an Italian style in rich colours. The frescos by Julio Aquiles and Alexander Mayner are of historical interest. They depict the expedition of Charles V to Tunisia in 1535. Scenes show the army´s departure from the port of Gagiliari, their withdrawal and their return to Sicily.
Other paintings include flowers, animals, angels and other decorative motifs. All set on a white or red background. The space is completely covered with paintings and no inch of wall is left blank. Unfortunately the Catholic Queen never got to enjoy this space as we see it today as these frescos were painted between 1539-1546, Queen Isabel died in 1504.
This is just a small review of the thousands of inscriptions on those palace walls.
If you want to read on you may like to discover the other posts in this series> Secrets of the Alhambra:Water
You may also like to know about the Dying Art of Taracea in Granada – Legacy of Al Andalus
Granada Alhambra palace – The Writings on the Wall