The Alhambra, one of the most visited historic sites in the world, was the fortified palatine city of the Nasrid rulers of Granada. The complex's architectural and decorative programs have remained relatively intact since the fourteenth century, and as such are an important source of information about medieval Islamic palace architecture and its connections to classical and Mediterranean traditions.
Founded by the first Nasrid sultan, Muhammad I, who came to power in 1232, the complex underwent frequent additions and changes during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Its walls enclosed a fortress, baths, mosques, industries, and a number of palaces and gardens.
The extant palaces are the Partal Palace, built during the reign of Muhammad III (r. 701/1302-708/1309), the Palace of the Myrtles built during the reigns of Isma'il I (r.713/1314-725/1325), Yusuf I (r. 733/1333 - 755/1354), and Muhammad V (r. 755/1354 - 760/1359, 763/1362-793/1391), and the Palace of the Lions, built during the reign of Muhammad V. The names by which these units of the Alhambra are known are recent inventions and have no relation to the original names.
The palaces of the Alhambra are famous for their rich decorative programme, exemplified by elaborately carved stucco, intricate glazed tile dadoes and woodwork (especially complex muqarnas vaults) and an extensive cycle of poetic inscriptions that are intimately connected to the architecture.
In 1492 the Spanish Catholic Kings conquered the Nasrid kingdom and appropriated the Alhambra complex. In the first half of the sixteenth century Charles V built a palace within its walls, necessitating some destruction of the Nasrid palaces, gardens and burial grounds to accommodate the new structure.
Restoration of the palaces of the Alhambra, which continues into the present, was begun during the nineteenth century, when the complex captured the imaginations of artists and writers associated with the Romantic movement.
Dickie, James. 1981. "The Alhambra: Some Reflections Prompted by a Recent Study by Oleg Grabar." Studia Arabica et Islamica : Festschrift for Ihsan Abbas on his sixtieth birthday. ed. Wadad al-Qadi. Beirut: American UP, 127-49.
ibid. 1992. "The Palaces of the Alhambra." al-Andalus : the art of Islamic Spain . Ed. Jerrilynn D. Dodds. New York: MMA. 135-51.
Fernandez Puertas, Antonio. 1997. The Alhambra. 2 v. London : Saqi Books.
Lundström, Marie-Sofie. "Experiencing the Alhambra, An Illusive Site of Oriental Otherness." In International Journal of Islamic Architecture, Volume 1, Number 1, pp. 83-106, edited by Mohammad Gharipour, Bristol: Intellect, 2012.
Two travellers, the French romantic poet and novelist Thophile Gautier (1811–72) and the Finnish naturalist painter Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905), both visited the Alhambra palace in Granada: Gautier in 1840, Edelfelt in 1881. Their accounts of the palace are strikingly similar, although forty years separate their travels; written several years later, Edelfelt's narrative is imbued with a romanticism related to Gautier's. The aim is to show that the ambiguity of Gautier's and Edelfelt's statements of the Alhambra is due to their romantic preconceptions. I will compare their experiences by analysing what they saw during their journeys and how it was expressed in their texts; Gautier published his Voyage en Espagne in 1843, while Edelfelt's impressions are recorded in his letters to his mother. The result is that the Alhambra represented a dream world, which in many senses did not live up to the visitors' expectations. While Gautier was in constant search for the authenticity of the place, Edelfelt was deeply touched by the magnificence that met him in a labyrinth of fabulous beauty. However, the preconceived mental image they both held resulted in an experience that in many ways fell short of the idea they had formed of it in advance.