The Great Islamic Heritage of Granada One Must Experience

Islamic Heritage: Alhambra Palace, Granada, Andalusia

The current Islamic Heritage remains in Spain witness of the impact left by the Islamic Era in Andalusia (711-1492 AD). It left its indelible traces in the overall Hispanic culture. It impregnated most thoroughly the Iberian Peninsula´s landscape, but also its culture and the style of life of its people.

Islamic Heritage: Granada (غرناطة)

Granada (Arabic: غرناطة) is the capital city of the province of Granada. It is located on the underside of  the Sierra Nevada mountains, at the junction of four rivers. These are the Darro, the Genil, the Monachil and the Beiro.

Muslims ruled most of the Iberian Peninsula´s territories since the early 8th century. From the 9th to the 10th century, Granada was under the Caliphate of Córdoba. During this period, the whole region, including Granada was one of the most prosperous and advanced in Europe. Al-Hambra is perhaps the most renowned architectural jewel that Muslims left to the posterity in Granada. However, the Islamic legacy is much wider than Al-Hambra.    

 Be that as it may architecture, philosophy, astronomy, jurisprudence, or mathematics and science, the Arabo-Islamic footprints remain still today visible everywhere. Poetry, literature, music, and Flamenco dance flourished as never before elsewhere. Granada was the very center of power and progress while the rest of Europe still lived in the darkness of the so-called western Middle-age.

Al-Hambra Palace (Arabic: الحمراء, Al-Hamrā)

Islamic Heritage: Al-Hambra Palace, decoration, Granada, Andalusia
Islamic Heritage: Al-Hambra Palace, decoration Granada, Andalusia

Al-Hambra comes from the Arabic (الحمراء, Al-Hamrā)that mean “red”, the red color or the red one. Here, most probably, it meant the “Red Palace”, by reference to the red bricks of the palace´s outer wall. Built first in 889 CE as a fortress on the remains of earlier Roman fortifications, the ruins were rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Arab Nasrid emir Mohammad ben Al-Ahmar, (Arabic: احمر, Ahmar, the Red), who began the original palace, including its outer walls that became later, in 1333, the royal palace of Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada.

Al-Hambra Palace complex reflects still today the splendor and refinement of the Islamic Architecture and design of that time in Andalusia and Spain. It was designed in the Nasrid style, the last flourishing Islamic Art Style in the Iberian Peninsula. The same style greatly influenced the Maghreb until today, and the contemporary Mudejar Art, which is a mixture of western elements and Islamic forms.

Arabic poets of the same era described Al-Hambra Palace as “a pearl set in emeralds”, by allusion to the color of its buildings and the woods around them. The site´s mountainous emplacement obviously influenced the palace complex´s overall design. The garden (Alameda de la Alhambra) was planted mainly with Mediterranean fruit trees as pomegranate, roses, oranges, citrus trees, olives, and myrtles.

World Islamic Heritage Site Since 1984

Islamic Heritage: Al-Hambra, decoration, Granada, Andalusia
Al-Hambra, decoration, Granada, Andalusia

Al-Hambra became in 1984 a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is, nowadays, the most visited monument in Spain with an average of 2,5-3 million visitors per year. The Palace displays one of Spain´s historically and artistically most significant Islamic architecture and design art. The famous Lion Fountain has now finally returned to the palace´s notorious patio, after a decade of restoration.

The patios, the Palacio de Generalife, the water garden with its wonderful decorative landscape design, form along with Al-Hambra Palace a fascinating and extremely beautiful ensemble. The Palacio de Generalife (Arabic: جَنَّة الْعَرِيف‎ Jannat al-Arīf), usually translated as “Architect’s Garden”, served as an extension of Al-Hambra Palace. It used to be as a recreation and relaxation place, but later also as the summer palace or residence of the Nasrid rulers in Granada.

While you are at Al-Hambra Palace, you will have the privilege to enjoy spectacular panoramic views. From the palace, open out sensational viewpoints to the neighboring ancient quarter of Al-Baicín, to Spain´s highest mountains of Sierra Nevada and to the city of Granada.

Islamic Heritage: Al-Baicín /Albaicín or Albayzín (Arabic: البائسين)

Islamic Heritage: Albaicín, Albayzín, Granada, Andalusia
Islamic Heritage: Albaicín, Albayzín, Granada, Andalusia

Al-Baicín or Albayzín (Arabic: البائسين, al-bāʾisīn, “the miserable”, in plural) is one of the oldest centers of the Islamic popular culture in Granada. It includes Al-Hambra, the Realejo (formerly, the Jewish quarter), and the Arrabal de Bib-Arrambla, most probably, Bab-Arramla, meaning the “Gate of Sand”, in the lower part of the city. Al-Baicín has preserved its original architectural layout and its old charm of the Medieval Era. It still charms with its narrow streets, old, beautiful mosaic fountains, traditional whitewashed houses, and stunning small plazas all over the area neighboring Al-Hambra Palace.

Al-Baicín is the ideal place to discover the Moorish-Islamic architecture, left from what is commonly known as the Medieval Age in Europe. In 1994, Al-Baicín officially entered the list of the World Heritage Site as the extension of the monuments of Al-Hambra and the Generalife.

El Bañuelo or Baño del Nogal(Arabic: حمام الجوزة, Hammam al-Yawza)

The Bañuelo or El Bañuelo (a diminutive of Spanish baño “bath”), also known as the Baño del Nogal (“Bath of the Walnut”) or Hammam al-Yawza, is a preserved historic hammam (Islamic bathhouse) in Granada. It is located in Al-Baicín quarter of the city, on the banks of the Darro River. It served as a bathhouse up until the 16th century. In the 20th century, it underwent numerous restorations by Spanish experts and is now open as a tourist attraction.

Bathhouses (hammams) of this type were a common feature of Muslim cities across the Muslim world, serving both a social and religious purpose. They served the general purpose of hygiene as well as being a place for socialization. The Bañuelo/hammam is traditionally dated back to the time of the Zirids Taifa kingdom based in Granada in the 11th century.

The New Mosque of Granada

New mosque 2003 Granada, Andalusia
Islamic Heritage: New mosque 2003 Granada, Andalusia

The new Mosque of Granada was finally inaugurated in 2003 on the summit of the neighborhood of Al-Baicín, after almost 500 years of interruption. The mosque stands again near the Church of San Salvador and the Church of San Nicolás. The Church of San Salvador itself rose on the site of the Great Mosque of Al-Baicín. The Society for the Return of Islam in Spain purchased the site in 1981, but it took many years for the plans to be approved.

The mosque’s initial funding was supplied by Sheikh Abdalqadir as-Sufi al-Murabit who envisioned providing Granada’s new Spanish Muslim community with a mosque. Additional funding came from few Muslim countries as Malaysia, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. In 1991 the CIE (Comunidad Islámica en España) hired the architect Renato Ramirez Sanchez to design the mosque. In the 1990s, however an intense and passionate debate took place over the design of the mosque´s minaret and the construction, finally, started almost a decade later in 2001. The mosque now serves about 500 believers.

The Mosque of Granada includes 3 elements that typically characterize ancient mosques overall environment design, the prayer hall where the Salat/prayer service is held, and Islamic studies center or a Madrasa, usually, including a library section and learning space or class and a recreation garden with its traditional Andalusian style mosaic fountains and local Mediterranean, mainly fruit plants as pomegranate, orange, olive, citrus, etc. The whole having an impregnable views on Al-Hambra Palace, Al-Baicín and the Sierra Nevada.