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The Alhamra at Granada

James Cavanah Murphy spent the last 12 years of his life preparing notes and drawings for a publication on this Moorish architecture. The resulting book, The Arabian Antiquities of Spain, was only partially published at his death in 1814. Thomas Hartwell Horne added text descriptions to Murphy’s measured drawings, and the whole was reprinted in 1815. Murphy’s careful documentation of the Great Mosque of Cordoba and the Alhambra in Granada are appreciative acknowledgements of the Moors’ artistic achievements.

The Royal Palace and the Fortress of Alhamra at Granada

The Royal Palace and the Fortress of Alhamra at Granada

On looking from the royal villa the spectator beholds the side of the palace of Alhamra, that commands the quarter of the city, called the Albayzin. The massive towers are connected by solid walls, constructed upon the system of fortifications which generally prevailed in the middle ages. These walls and towers follow all the turnings and windings of the mountain; and, previously to the invention of gunpowder and artillery, this fortress must have been almost impregnable.

The situation of this edifice is the most delightfiul and commanding, that can well be conceived. Wherever the spectator may turn his eyes, it is impossible for him not to be struck with admiration at the picturesque beauty and fertility of the surrounding country.

On the north and west, as far as the eye can reach, a lovely plain presents itself, which is covered with an immense number of trees laden with fruits or blossoms, while on the south it is bounded by mountains; whose lofty summits are crowned with perpetual snows, whence issue the springs and streams that diffuse both health and coolness through the city of Granada.

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ELEVATION OF THE ANCIENT GATE OF JUDGMENT.

In this plate we have a nearer view of this noble gate of entrance, and are better enabled to examine its ornaments. The mosaic tiling at the top is about three feet four inches high, and of a pattern that is frequently to be seen in the Alhamra. The inscription beneath it is in flourished Cufic characters, and consists of the motto, twice repeated, which occurs in almost every part of the edifice, ” And there is no Conqueror but God,” Beneath this inscription, upon the key-stone of the arch (which is the second or inner arch of the gate), is sculptured a key, a favourite symbol with the Moslems. The Koran frequently mentions the Key of God, which opens to believers the gates of the world and of religion.

The door of this gate is of palm-tree wood, with iron bolts; and the capitals of the columns are executed in the same style as those which appear in the Lions’ Court.

ELEVATION OF THE ANCIENT GATE OF JUDGMENT.

 

PORCH OF THE GATE OF JUDGMENT.

In addition to the objects described in the preceding engraving, the present plate affords a clear view of the lofty porch of the Gate of Judgment. The crescent form of the arches is seen to considerable advantage: and on the keystone of the first or high arch, is sculptured an open hand; which (as well as the key above noticed) was a favourite symbol with the Mahometans.

PORCH OF THE GATE OF JUDGMENT.

 

ELEVATION OF THE PUERTA DEL VINO.

Whence its name, Puerta del Fino, or the Wine-Gate, is derived, we have not been able to ascertain. The door is of palm-tree wood, with iron bolts; and over the gateway is a dwelling, leading from the guard-house entrance to the palace of the Emperor Charles V.

ELEVATION OF THE PUERTA DEL VINO.

 

CONCERT ROOM OF THE BATHS.

Contiguous to the baths was a lofty saloon.. The columns that support this noble saloon, are of white marble: the mosaics, which are here in the greatest abundance, are uncommonly beautiful, particularly those between the columns, which are black, green, yellow, and white, set in a green border. The roof is covered with tiles, and the woodwork beneath is richly ornamented, especially the three lattices or windows, and the different recesses, whose complex ornaments exceed everything of the kind that has been executed in modern times. The Cufic inscriptions, which are so numerous in this part of the palace, are only repetitions of those described in the preceding plate.

CONCERT ROOM OF THE BATHS.

 

 

ELEVATION OF A SMALL PORTICO NEAR THE CHAPEL.

After leaving the gate of judgment, and before we reach the Plaza de los Algibes, or square of the cisterns, we pass through a gate, which is now converted into a chapel. Adjacent to this chapel is the charming little portico, of which our engraving presents an elevation: it is one of the best finished parts of the palace; the delicate execution of its variegated mosaics, the elegant form of the Cufic characters, which contain the common inscription of the building, (” There is no Conqueror but God,)” the elegant proportion of the pillars, all together present a scene of unrivalled beauty. The window is seen in perspective through the arch; and the prospect from this window is truly grand and picturesque, commanding a view, not only of the villa of Al Generalife, but also over the exuberant Vega or plain of Granada, as far as the distant mountains by which it is circumscribed.

ELEVATION OF A SMALL PORTICO NEAR THE CHAPEL.

 

 

NORTH SIDE OF THE PATEO DEL AGUA, OR GREAT FOUNTAIN.

NORTH SIDE OF THE PATEO DEL AGUA, OR GREAT FOUNTAIN.

 

 

ELEVATION OF THE PORTICO ON THE NORTH SIDE OF THE PATEO DEL AGUA.

ELEVATION OF THE PORTICO ON THE NORTH SIDE OF THE PATEO DEL AGUA.

 

 

A VIEW OF THE SOUTH SIDE OF THE PATEO DEL AGUA.

Nearly in the centre of the palace, stands the noble Court and Fountain delineated in these engravings.

A VIEW OF THE SOUTH SIDE OF THE PATEO DEL AGUA.

 

 

VIEW OF THE COURT AND FOUNTAIN OF LIONS.

After passing through the Court of the Baths, which appears to be the grand exterior vestibule of the palace, we enter another court, by the Spaniards termed Quarto de los Leones, or the Lions’ Court, that which, nothing more elegant can be conceived: it is indeed, the most perfect model of Moorish architecture.

The Lions’ Court is an oblong square, one hundred feet in length, and fifty in breadth; and is surrounded with a corridor of one hundred and twenty-eight columns that support the arches, on which rest the upper apartments of this enchanting palace. A beautiful portico, not unlike the portals of some Gothic churches, projects into this court at each extremity; the stuccoed ceiling of which is executed with equal perfection and elegance. The colonnade is paved with white marble ; and the slender pillars themselves, are of the same material. They are disposed very irregularly, being sometimes single, and at other times in pairs, or clusters of three; but the magnificent coup-d’oeil of the whole is peculiarly pleasing to the eye of the astonished visitor. The columns are about nine feet high, including the base and capital, and eight inches and a half in diameter: the larger crescent arches above them, are four feet two inches in width; and the smaller arches are three feet wide. To the height of five feet from the ground, the walls are ornamented with a beautiful yellow and blue mosaic tiling, with a border containing the often repeated sentence, “THERE IS NO CONQUEROR BUT GOD,” in blue and gold. The capitals of the pillars vary in their designs, each of which is very frequently repeated in the circumference of the Court; but not the least attention has been paid to placing them regularly or opposite to each other.

The arches are further ornamented with a great variety of tastefully designed and exquisitely finished arabesques, in which no trace of animal or vegetable life is to be found, and which are surmounted with the usual inscriptions: and above these arches, an elegantly finished cornice runs round the whole court.

From some remaining fragments of tiles, which are varnished and painted of various colours, and with which the building was originally covered, it should seem, that the roof was anciently more lofty than it now is. In the centre of the court stands the celebrated fountain, whence it derives its name, and which is more clearly delineated in the following engravings. The only thing that disfigures the harmony of this noble Court, is the projecting roof of red tiles, which, according to Mr. Swinburne, was put on by order of M. Wall, formerly prime minister of Spain, under whose administration the Alhamra received a complete repair. In a garden fronting the Court above described, four stones were found some years since, containing the epitaphs of four sovereigns of Granada. That of Abui-l-Hajjaj Yisuf is given at length, accompanied by an English translation, in the ” History of the Mahometan Empire in Spain,” Appendix, No. 15.

VIEW OF THE COURT AND FOUNTAIN OF LIONS.

 

 

ELEVATION OF THE FOUNTAIN OF LIONS.

In the centre of the superb Court, above described, stands the FOUNTAIN OF LIONS : the animals, twelve in number, are, and support on their backs an alabaster bason richly carved and ornamented, out of which rises a smaller bason. While the pipes were kept in good order, a great volume of water was thrown up from the latter; which fell down into the larger bason, and, passing through the lions, issued out of their mouths into the large reservoir, which was of black marble, thus forming a perpetual and refreshing cascade.

From this reservoir, the limpid stream was diffused by means of marble channels through various apartments, and supplied the jets d’eau which were constantly playing there. This noble fountain is supposed to have been executed in imitation of the brazen sea, placed by King Solomon in the Temple at Jerusalem. Some of the stucco-work in this court, as well as in the Pateo del Agua, is a modern and very inferior imitation of the Arabic, being coarse and dirty, and is rapidly mouldering to decay. The ancient work, on the contrary, which is out of the reach of hands, is beautifully white, clean, and sharp. Not a single spider’s web, or insect of any kind, could the author discover in any part of the court; while the stucco work, executed by order of later kings, was covered with cobwebs in various parts. The wooden work of the Arabs also continues free from worms and insects of every kind.

ELEVATION OF THE FOUNTAIN OF LIONS.

 

 

SIDE ELEVATION OF THE LIONS COURT AND FOUNTAIN.

This plate exhibits a correct view of the proportions of the Lions’ Court, together with a section of the Fountain itself. The clumsy shape of the lions presents a striking contrast to the general harmony that pervades the fountain.

SIDE ELEVATION OF THE LIONS COURT AND FOUNTAIN.

 

 

HALL OF THE TWO SISTERS.

FROM the Lions’ Court we pass into the Sala de dos Hermanas or Hall of the Two Sisters, so called from two large and singularly beautiful pieces of marble, which form part of the pavement, and are to be seen on either side of the fountain. They measure fifteen feet in length by seven and a half in breadth, and are entirely free from flaw or stain. The eye is lost in contemplating the rich assemblage of ornaments, which appear in every part of this noble hall.

From the pavement to the beginning of the arches, the walls are decorated with elegant mosaic: the pannels between the arches are filled with a very delicate ornament, which at a little distance has the appearance of a plain mass; and the ceiling, which is carefully preserved from the injuries of the weather, is composed of stalactites in stucco, and is finished in a style of equal elegance. The distribution of the various parts of this noble apartment is truly enchanting. The four balconies above were occupied by musicians; below sat the women; and a jet d’eau in the centre diffused a refreshing coolness through the hall. The windows in the back ground are finished in a similar style, and look into the little myrtle garden of Lindaraxa, which, being neglected like the rest of the palace, is no longer the lovely spot it was in the time of the Arabs.

HALL OF THE TWO SISTERS.

 

 

A PERSPECTIVE VIEW OF THE GOLDEN SALOON, OR HALL OF AMBASSADORS.

This magnificent apartment, by the Arabs termed the GOLDEN SALOON, from the profusion of gold ornaments which it contained, was appropriated to the reception of ambassadors: hence they further called it the Hall of Audience, and from the same circumstance the Spaniards have given it the appellation of the Sala de los Embaxadores, or Hall of Ambassadors.

It is situated in the lofty tower of Comares or Comaresch, is thirty-six feet square, and sixty feet four inches high from the floor to the highest part of the cieling. The walls are, on three sides, fifteen feet thick, and on the fourth side nine ; the lower range of windows is thirteen feet in height.

The grand entrance into this noble hall is through an arched door-way, admirably finished, and embellished with flowers and arabesques in stucco: they were blue and gold, but the gilding is now almost enuciiy erdcnU. r roi mls entrance our view was taken, as affording the best view of this ” Proud Saloon,” as the Arabian writers term it, and which is admirably adapted to the display of Moorish grandeur.

It is generally supposed, that the beautiful stucco-work of the Alhamra was composed of gypsum mixed with whites of eggs and oil.

Over the principal door is an Arabic inscription, which appears to have been executed in a style corresponding to the splendour of the rest of the edifice: it is taken, with the exception of the concluding sentence, from the Koran, Sura, (or chapter) 91, Ayat (or verse) 1-7. On each side of this door is a small niche, in which the Moors left their babouches or slippers, before they entered the royal presence: these niches are likewise decorated with their respective inscriptions.

On entering the Hall of the Ambassadors, the eye is lost in astonishment, at the variety of ornament, the elegance of execution, and exquisite taste, which characterise every part of it: and, if thus superb even in its present deserted state, how resplendent must this “Golden Saloon” have been, when the sovereign, arrayed in all the pomp of Oriental magnificence, assembled his brilliant court to give audience to the representatives of the neighbouring monarchs! by comparing the following description with our plate, the reader may be enabled to form a pretty correct idea of this costly apartment. The whole floor is inlaid with mosaic: the same kind of ornament, but of different patterns, covers every part of the walls, interspersed with flowers and Arabic inscriptions, executed in porcelain with exquisite skill, so as to unite and harmonize exactly with the stucco ornaments which everywhere abound. On the cornices above the mosaics, and beneath the usual inscription, ” there is no God but God,” the piety or superstition of the modern Spaniards has led them to introduce the crucifix: it is however so dexterously inserted as not materially to injure the general effect.

The height and boldness of its arched ceiling are particularly worthy of observation: and the almost innumerable chiligon mosaics, knot and other ornaments, must be seen, to form a tolerable idea of their splendour.

Gold, silver, azure, purple, and ther brilliant colours, all seem to strive which shall appear most conspicuous on the stuccoed facets. Inscriptions occur everywhere, so that the Alhama in general, and this apartment in particular, has not improperly been called a collection of fugitive pieces. Such of these inscriptions and mosaics, as have best survived the ravages of time and neglect, are engraved in some of the following engravings, and by comparing them with the perspective view given in the plate just described, the lover of antiquities may be enabled to form some faint idea of the departed glories and splendours of the Hall of the Ambassadors.

A PERSPECTIVE VIEW OF THE GOLDEN SALOON, OR HALL OF AMBASSADORS.

 

 

SECTION AND ELEVATION OF THE INTERIOR OF THE GOLDEN SALOON.

AFTER the copious description given to the preceding plate, little remains to be added here. We have in this engraving a nearer view of the windows, together with the ceiling, and some of the ornaments. The walls are of pebbles and red-clay intermixed. The height from the floor to the centre of the ceiling is sixty feet four inches, English, and the cieling itself is of a very curious construction: it is composed of strong pieces of wood in admirable preservation, which are keyed and fastened together in such a manner, that, on pressing the feet on the centre of the summit, the whole vibrates like a tight rope. Above the ceiling is the roof, which could not be exhibited in our plate: it is formed of strong scantling of ten inches square deal, and laid close together, with cross braces at the angles. Upon these rafters the bricks are laid, and upon them is a coating of lime, over which the bricks and tiles are placed, that form the exterior of the roof. The windows command a most delightful and extensive prospect. At the foot of the palace, the Darro winds its fertilizing streams: and from this place the view takes in the greater part of the city, together with the verdant mountains which rise above it, and of the charming hill which forms its base.

SECTION AND ELEVATION OF THE INTERIOR OF THE GOLDEN SALOON.

 

 

A FRONT VIEW OF THE PORTICO OF THE GENERALIFFE.

These two plates exhibit a correct view of the symmetry which marks the Portico of the Generaliffe. The inscription, which runs along the top, is the same which has already occurred so frequently, viz. “And there is no Conqueror but God.” The columns are of white marble : all the ornamental work over the arches is composed of limestone, one foot and three quarters thick, and is hollow in the inside, which perforated parts of a deep black. The five circular windows in the middle, are also hollow. The mosaic at the bottom, reaches about four feet from the ground, and has a rich effect.

The colours, which are black, blue, gold, scarlet, and green, have a very rich effect. There are thirty-three steps to the top of the floor over this front: the mezzanino over it, is eight feet two inches in height. It is probable, that this front was formerly like that of the Arcade, with two stones and a mezzanino, in the Pateo del Agua. Just before the author drew the present view, the whole had been white washed!-a barbarous modern improvement, which has completely destroyed the sharpness of the ornaments.

A FRONT VIEW OF THE PORTICO OF THE GENERALIFFE.

 

 

A PERSPECTIVE VIEW OF THE GARDEN OF THE GENERALIFFE.

THIS view is drawn from the spot at the bottom of the canal which waters the garden. It conveys an accurate idea of the place, of the beauty of its architecture, and of the fertility of its vegetation. Nothing can be conceived, better adapted than the gardens of the Generaliffe, to promote the enjoyment of all those refined gallantries and luxuries, for which the Moors were so celebrated.

The gardens are planted in the Chinese style; cypress trees appear in various parts; and many of them, venerable for their age, now afford to the Christian inhabitants of Spain that shelter which they formerly offered to its Moorish sovereigns. A river, the same which supplies the Alhamra with water, runs through these gardens: on each side of its banks trees are planted at intervals, whose tops are joined like arches. In the middle of the gardens is a lofty circular summer-house formed of canes, nearly thirty feet in height, and somewhat resembling a dome. The excellence of these covered ways depends upon their being lofty and spacious. In all the Moorish bowers, which the author has seen, the same rule is observed: they are lofty and spacious, while ours are low and narrow. These broad bowers have a very noble effect: that of the Generaliffe, with the water, is indeed enchanting; it imposes upon the sight, making the space appear longer than it really is. At the side of the gardens is planted the blooming laurel, a tree to which the Moors were extremely partial, while box fences inclose beds of roses. The whole is in perpetual bloom, as most of the trees are evergreens, sheltered on three sides, and exposed to a southern aspect.

The prospect from the windows, which are seen at the end of the Garden in our plate, is truly sublime. Beneath, flows the river Darro; at the foot of the Generalille rises the quarter of the city of Granada, called the Albayzin; and, further on, appears the beautiful, extensive, and fertile Vega, or Plain of Granada, encircled by clusters of dusky mountains.

A PERSPECTIVE VIEW OF THE GARDEN OF THE GENERALIFFE.

 

 

ELEVATION OF THE CASA DE CARBON, OR HOUSE OF CHARCOAL, AT GRANADA.

ELEVATION OF THE CASA DE CARBON, OR HOUSE OF CHARCOAL, AT GRANADA.

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About the Author
Architect, architectural draughtsman and author. James Cavanah Murphy is said to have been born of obscure parentage in Blackrock, Co. Cork, and to have trained as a bricklayer. A talent for drawing brought him to the attention of Sir James Chatterton, who provided the means for him to go to Dublin. In Dublin he became a pupil at the Dublin Society's drawing schools in about 1775. What he did during the next decade is not known. He is said to have been a member of the building committee for the extension of the Parliament House in 1786.(1) On 9 November 1786, shortly before the death of the ailing THOMAS IVORY , he was appointed master of the Society's School of Drawing in Architecture in Ivory's place, but the decision was reversed the following month. His Arabian Antiquities of Spain and A History of the Mohametan empire in Spain were published posthumously in 1816.
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