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The Astonishing Islamic Heritage of Granada You Must See

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. Most thoroughly, this impregnated the Iberian Peninsula´s landscape, but also its culture and the style of life of its people.

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.

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 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.      

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

Islamic Heritage: Al-Hambra Palace, Granada, Andalucia, Spain
Al-Hambra Palace interior, Granada, Andalucia, Spain

Al-Hambra comes from the Arabic (الحمراء, Al-Hamrā) that mean “red” color or red one. Here, most probably, it meant the “Red Palace”, that refers to the red bricks of the palace´s outer wall. The palace was first built in 889 CE as a fortress on the remains of earlier Roman fortifications. In the mid-13th century, the Arab Nasrid emir Mohammad ben Al-Ahmar, (Arabic: احمر, Ahmar, the Red), rebuilt it. Later in 1333, the building became the royal palace of Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada.

The Palace complex reflects the splendor 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 and the Mudejar Art, which mixes western elements to Islamic forms.

Arabic poets of the same era described Al-Hambra Palace as “a pearl set in emeralds”. This makes 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 and flowers. Such as pomegranate, roses, oranges, citrus trees, olives, and myrtles.

World Islamic Heritage Site Since 1984

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

The patios, the Palacio de Generalife and the water garden unveil a wonderful decorative landscape design. Along with Al-Hambra Palace, they form a fascinating and extremely beautiful ensemble. The Generalife served as an extension of Al-Hambra Palace. Usually translated as the “Architect’s Garden”, it comes from the (Arabic: جَنَّة الْعَرِيف‎ Jannat al-Arīf). The building suite with the garden used to be a recreation and relaxation space. Later as the summer palace or residence of the Nasrid rulers in Granada.

From Al-Hambra, you can enjoy a spectacular panoramic view over Al-Baicín, the Sierra Nevada mountains and the city of Granada.

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

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

Al-Baicín (Arabic: البائسين, al-bāʾisīn, “Miserable”, plural) is the oldest center of 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. The ancient quarter 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 and traditional whitewashed houses.

This is is the ideal place to discover the Moorish-Islamic architecture, left from the Medieval Age in Europe. In 1994, Al-Baicín joined Al-Hambra and Generalife onto the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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

The Bañuelo refers also to the Baño del Nogal (“Bath of the Walnut”) or Hammam al-Yawza. It is a well preserved historic hammam (Islamic bathhouse) in Granada. Located in Al-Baicín, on the banks of the Darro River, this unique building served as a bathhouse up until the 16th century. In the 20th century, the Bañuelo 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. They served both a social and religious purpose. The Bañuelo is dated back to the time of the Zirids Taifa kingdom based in Granada in the 11th century.

The Mosque of Granada

New Mosque of Granada, opened in 2003, Granada, Andalusia, Spain
New Mosque of Granada, 2003, Granada, Andalusia, Spain

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. It now stands again near the Church of San Nicolás and that of San Salvador. The latter 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.

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.