The Alhambra Layout An Overview
Pedro Salmeron Escobar, the architect, tells us that the Alhambra layout evolved organically. Taking a period of several centuries from the ancient hilltop fortress to what remains today. Defined by the river Daro and overlooking the Vega or Plain of Granada. The view descends from the Sierra Nevada.
Alhambra is about 740 metres long and 205 metres at its widest point. It extends from the northwest to southeast. The Alhambra covers an area of about 142,000 square metres.
To the west is the citadel called the Alcazaba, a strongly fortified position built to protect the original post-Roman districts of Iliberri, now ‘Centro’, and Gárnata al-yahūd (‘Granada of the Jews’, now Realejo, and the Moorish suburb of El Albayzín.
The Red Earth
The red earth from which the fortress is constructed is a granular aggregate held together by a medium of red clay which gives the resulting layered brick- and stone- reinforced construction (tapial calicastrado) its characteristic hue and is at the root of the name of ‘the Red Hill’.
The Water System
This crude earthiness is counterpointed by the startling fine alabaster white stucco work of the famous interiors. Meltwater from the ‘Snowy Mountains’ is drawn across an arched vault at the eastern tip of the Torre del Agua (‘Water Tower’) and channeled through the citadel via a complex system of conduits (acequia) and water tanks (los albercones) which create the celebrated interplay of light, sound and surface.
Due to touristic demand, modern access runs contrary to the original sequence which began from a principal access via the Puerta de la Justicia (‘Gate of Justice’) onto a large Souq or public market square facing the Alcazaba, now subdivided and obscured by later Christian-era development. From the Puerta del Vino (Wine Gate) ran the Calle Real (‘Royal Street’) dividing the Alhambra along its axial spine into a southern residential quarter with mosques, hamams (bathhouses) and diverse functional establishments. The greater portion, occupying the northern edge, was occupied by several palaces of the nobility with extensive landscaped gardens commanding views over the Albayzin, all of which were subservient to the great Tower of the Ambassadors in the Palacio Comares which acted as the royal audience chamber and throne room with its three arched windows dominating the city.
The Palacio de Los Leones
The private internalised universe of the Palacio de Los Leones (Palace of the Lions) adjoins the public spaces at right angles (see Plan illustration) but was originally connected only by the function of the Royal Baths, the “Eye of Aixa’s Room” serving as the exquisitely decorated focus of meditation and authority overlooking the refined garden of Lindaraja/Daraxa toward the city.
The Darro River
The river Darro passes through a ravine on the north and divides the plateau from the Albaicín district of Granada. Similarly, the Assabica valley, containing the Alhambra Park on the west and south, and, beyond this valley, the almost parallel ridge of Monte Mauror, separate it from the Antequeruela district. Another ravine separates it from the Generalife, the summer pleasure gardens of the Emir. Escobar notes that the later planting of deciduous elms obscures the overall perception of the layout such that a better reading of the original landscape is given in winter when the trees are bare.
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