Though its origins of both the Alhambra and Generalife are confused, there are clear remains from the 9th century, the Alhambra’s most brilliant creations date from the Nasrid Empire and the reign of Carlos V, between the 13th and 16th centuries.
In its palaces, from the window of the mirador de Daraxa to the mottled stone columns of the Carlos V palace, everything in this complex is designed, planned and executed with only the thought of perfection in mind. This perfection may approach that of the Koran or Sunna or find itself closer to the Neo-Platonism of the Renaissance. In the Alhambra, an Islamic world is sustained over classical thought, a fact not only perceptible in the symbolic order of the emperor’s palace; the Lion Court (Patio de los Leones) also represents a monastic cloister, organized according to the Golden section, the most highly classical of all proportions
Naturally, there are different ways of interpreting the Alhambra: the visitor may, for example, separate each one of its component elements, gardens and palaces. However, it is surely more revealing to approach its mystery as one who enters an unknown city, uncovering its gates, walkways, streets and buildings, elements of an organism which functions with the sophistication and power of those who dwell within it.
From the city, the Alhambra’s presence on the hill symbolizes nothing other than the splendour that the kingdom once attained, the dominant social order that governed it: the monarchs who inhabited the most beautiful of spaces, a paradise Islam promised to its people. For that reason, the Alhambra would represent both acropolis and paradise. Set apart and distant, yet ever present, the granadinos climbed up to the Alhambra when they sought something from power, even if they could merely enter the Mexuar, the palaces’ public area. The rest, as we all know, is a labyrinth into which only the prince and his rank could accede: from the mathematical and cabalistic decoration of its tiles and plasterwork to the movement of the stars in the honey-combed muquarnas of the sala de los Abencerrajes.
Carlos V understood it all to perfection and repeated the pattern in a palace, squared to the four cardinal points, in which the emperor’s force could best manifest itself in an inscribed circle, the symbol of divine power. If doubts remain, the facade’s decoration should recall the work of Hercules, a myth with whom the emperor would often associate.
High above the palaces one finds a place where our dreams merge with water in the most beautiful of the world’s gardens, the Generalife. Yannat al-arif from the Nasrid era, is the epitome of rest and relaxation, a summer palace situated on the slopes of the so called Cerro del Sol. In reality, the most impressive part of this complex are the gardens themselves since the buildings, intended for private use, are hardly comparable to the rest of the Nasrid palaces. However, the masterpiece of the gardens is an architectural construction where dreams merge with water; a magnificent stairway down which water eternally flows. Whether it be the entrancing ripple of its fountains, everpresent but never monotonous, or the freshness resplendent in the rectangular Patio de Acequia and others, or the light that is filtered or reflected within, here water awakens our senses.