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Moorish poets described it as "a pearl set in emeralds", an allusion to the colour of its buildings and the woods around them. The park Alameda de la Alhambrawhich is overgrown with wildflowers and grass in the spring, was planted by the Moors with roses, oranges, and myrtles ; its most characteristic feature, however, is the dense wood of English elms brought by the Duke of Wellington in Most of the palace buildings are quadrangular in plan, with all the rooms opening on to a central court, and the whole read its present size simply by the gradual addition of new quadrangles, designed on the same principle, though varying in dimensions, and connected with each other by smaller rooms and passages.
Alhambra was extended by the different Muslim rulers who lived in the complex. However, each new section that was added followed the consistent theme of "paradise on earth". Column arcades, fountains with running water, and reflecting pools were used to add to the aesthetic and functional complexity.
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In every case, the exterior was left plain and austere. Sun and wind were freely admitted. Blue, red, and a golden yellow, all somewhat faded through lapse of time and exposure, are the colors chiefly employed.
The name Alhambra means the red one or the red castle, which refers to the sun-dried bricks that the outer wall is made of.
The decoration consists for the upper part of the walls, as a rule, of Arabic inscriptions-mostly poems by Ibn Zamrak and others praising the palace-that are manipulated into geometrical patterns with vegetal background set onto an arabesque setting "Ataurique". Much of this ornament is carved stucco plaster rather than stone. Metal was also not present very mainly.
The palace complex is designed in the Nasrid style, the last blooming of Islamic Art in the Iberian Peninsula, that had a great influence on the Maghreb to the present day, and on contemporary Mudejar Art, which is characteristic of western elements reinterpreted into Islamic forms and widely popular during the Reconquista in Spain. The "Al-" in "Alhambra" means "the" in Arabic, but this is ignored in general usage in both English and Spanish, where the name is normally given the definite article.
It is a place where artists and intellectuals had taken refuge as the Reconquista by Spanish Christians won victories over Al Andalus. The Alhambra integrates natural site qualities with constructed structures and gardens, and is a testament to Moorish culture in Spain and the skills of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian artisans, craftsmen, and builders of their era.
The literal translation of Alhambra, "the red female ," reflects the color of the red clay of the surroundings of which the fort is made. The buildings of the Alhambra were originally whitewashed ; however, the buildings as seen today are reddish. In one particularly fierce and bloody skirmish, the Muladies soundly defeated the Arabs, who were then forced to take shelter in a primitive red castle located in the province of Elvira, presently located in Granada.
According to surviving documents from the era, the red castle was quite small, and its walls were not capable of deterring an army intent on conquering. The castle was then largely ignored until the eleventh century, when its ruins were renovated and rebuilt by Samuel ibn Naghrelavizier to the emir Badis ben Habus of the Zirid Dynasty of Al Andalus, in an attempt to preserve the small Jewish settlement also located on the natural plateau, Sabikah Hill.
A few months later, he embarked on the construction of a new Alhambra fit for the residence of a sultan.
This year, Abdallah ibn al-Ahmar climbed to the place called "the Alhambra" inspected it, laid out the foundations of a castle and left someone in charge of its construction The design included plans for six palaces, five of which were grouped in the northeast quadrant forming a royal quarter, two circuit towers, and numerous bathhouses. During the reign of the Nasrid Dynasty, the Alhambra was transformed into a palatine city, complete with an irrigation system composed of acequias for the gardens of the Generalife located outside the fortress.
The creation of the Sultan's Canal solidified the identity of the Alhambra as a palace-city rather than a defensive and ascetic structure. The hydraulic system includes two long water channels and several sophisticated elevation devices to bring water onto the plateau.
The decoration within the palaces comes from the last great period of Andalusian art in Granada.
With little of the Byzantine influence of contemporary Abassid architecture,  artists endlessly reproduced the same forms and trends, creating a new style that developed over the course of the Nasrid Dynasty. The Nasrids used freely all the stylistic elements that had been created and developed during eight centuries of Muslim rule in the Peninsula, including the Caliphate horseshoe archthe Almohad sebka a grid of rhombusesthe Almoravid palm, and unique combinations of them, as well as innovations such as stilted ars and muqarnas stalactite ceiling decorations.
Structurally, the design is simple and does not evince significant innovation.
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While artistically pleasing it was until the reconquest structurally ad hoc and reliant on the skills of subject artisans and workers.
Columns and muqarnas appear in several chambers, and the interiors of numerous palaces are decorated with arabesques and calligraphy.
However, the muqarnas in the Lions' Courtyard at Alhambra have different configurations from their original designs, which might have been altered by repairs. After the Christian conquest of the city inthe conquerors began to alter the Alhambra.
The open work was filled up with whitewashthe painting and gilding effaced, and the furniture soiled, torn, or removed. Philip V - Italianised the rooms and completed his palace in the middle of what had been the Moorish building; he had partitions constructed which blocked up whole apartments.
Over subsequent centuries the Moorish art was further damaged, and in some of the towers were destroyed by the French under Count Sebastiani. After the death of Contreras init was continued by his son Rafael died and his grandson.
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According to the site's current architect, Pedro Salmeron Escobar, the Alhambra evolved organically over a period of several centuries from the ancient hilltop fortress defined by a narrow promontory carved by the river Darro and overlooking the Vega or Plain of Granada as it descends from the Sierra Nevada.
This crude earthiness is counterpointed by the startling fine alabaster white stucco work of the famous interiors. Due to touristic demand, modern access runs contrary to the original sequence which began from a principal access via the Puerta de la Justicia Gate of Justice onto a large souq or public market square facing the Alcazaba, now subdivided and obscured by later Christian-era development.
All of this was subservient to the great Tower of the Ambassadors in the Palacio Comareswhich acted as the royal audience chamber and throne room with its three ard windows dominating the city.
The rest of the plateau comprises a number of earlier and later Moorish palaces, enclosed by a fortified wallwith thirteen defensive towers, some such as the Torres de la Infanta and Cattiva containing elaborate vertical palaces in miniature.
Similarly, the Assabica Valley, containing the Alhambra Park, lies on the west and south, and, beyond this valley, the almost parallel ridge of Monte Mauror separates it from the Antequeruela district. Another ravine separates it from the Generalifethe summer pleasure gardens of the emir.
Escobar notes that the later planting of deciduous elms obscures the overall perception of the layout, so a better reading of the original landscape is given in winter when the trees are bare. The Alhambra resembles many medieval Christian strongholds in its threefold arrangement as a castle, a palace and a residential annex for subordinates.
The alcazaba or citadel, its oldest part, is built on the isolated and precipitous foreland which terminates the plateau on the northwest. All that remains are its massive outer walls, towers and ramparts. Beyond the Alcazaba is the palace of the Moorish rulers, The Nasrid Palaces or Alhambra proper, and beyond this is the Alhambra Alta Upper Alhambraoriginally occupied by officials and courtiers.
Access from the city to the Alhambra Park is afforded by the Puerta de las Granadas Gate of Pomegranatesa triumphal arch dating from the 15th century.
A steep ascent leads past the Pillar of Charles V, a fountain erected into the main entrance of the Alhambra.
This is the Puerta de la Justicia Gate of Justicea massive horseshoe archway surmounted by a square tower and used by the Moors as an informal court of justice. The hand of Fatimawith fingers outstretd as a talisman against the evil eyeis carved above this gate on the exterior; a key, the symbol of authority, occupies the corresponding place on the interior.
A narrow passage leads inward to the Plaza de los Aljibes Place of the Cisternsa broad open space which divides the Alcazaba from the Moorish palace. To the left of the passage rises the Torre del Vino Wine Towerbuilt in and used in the 16th century as a cellar. On the right is the palace of Charles Va smaller Renaissance building, to construct which part of the Alhambra, including the original main entrance, was torn down.
The Mexuar is modest in decor and houses the functional areas for conducting business and administration. Strapwork is used to decorate the surfaces in Mexuar.
The ceilings, floors, and trim are made of dark wood and are in sharp contrast to white, plaster walls. Serallo, built during the reign of Yusuf I in the 14th century, contains the Patio de los Arrayanes Court of the Myrtles. Artesonado are highly decorative ceilings and other woodwork. Lastly, the Harem is also elaborately decorated and contains the living quarters for the wives and mistresses of the Arab monarchs.
This area contains a bathroom with running water cold and hotbaths, and pressurized water for showering. The bathrooms were open to the elements in order to allow in light and air.
The birka helped to cool the palace and acted as a symbol of power. Because water was usually in short supply, the technology required to keep these pools full was expensive and difficult. Underneath it, to the right, was the principal entrance, and over it are three windows with ars and miniature pillars. From this court, the walls of the Torre de Comares are seen rising over the roof to the north and reflected in the pond. This was the grand reception room, and the throne of the sultan was placed opposite the entrance.
The grand hall projects from the walls of the palace, providing views in three directions.
In this sense, it was a "mirador" from which the palace's inhabitants could gaze outward to the surrounding landscape. Over them is a series of oval medallions with inscriptions, interwoven with flowers and leaves.
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There are nine windows, three on each facade, and the ceiling is decorated with white, blue and gold inlays in the shape of circles, crowns and stars. The walls are covered with varied stucco works, surrounding many ancient escutons.
Alhambra was extended by the different Muslim rulers who lived in the complex. However, each new section that was added followed the consistent theme of "paradise on earth". Column arcades, fountains with running water, and reflecting pools were used to add to the aesthetic and functional complexity. In every case, the exterior was left plain and austere. Sun and wind were freely admitted.
A pavilion projects into the court at each extremity, with filigree walls and a light domed roof. The columns supporting the roof and gallery are irregularly placed. They are adorned by varieties of foliage, etc.
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In the centre of the court is the Fountain of the Lions, an alabaster basin supported by the figures of twelve lions in white marble, not designed with sculptural accuracy but as symbols of strength, power, and sovereignty. Each hour one lion would produce water from its mouth. This praises the beauty of the fountain and the power of the lions, but it also describes their ingenious hydraulic systems and how they actually worked, which baffled all those who saw them.
The Sala de los Abencerrajes Hall of the Abencerrages derives its name from a legend according to which the father of Boabdilthe last sultan of Granadahaving invited the chiefs of that line to a banquet, massacred them here. The roof is decorated in blue, brown, red and gold, and the columns supporting it spring out into the arch form in a remarkably beautiful manner.
Opposite to this hall is the Sala de las dos Hermanas Hall of the two Sistersso-called from two white marble slabs laid as part of the pavement.
There is a fountain in the middle of this hall, and the roof - a dome honeycombed with tiny cells, all different, and said to number - is an example of the "stalactite vaulting" of the Moors.