The Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra

The Nasrid Palaces were the residence and seat of power of the Moorish Nasrid Dynasty in Spain. Granada, with its southern location, was the last stronghold of the Moors on the Iberian Peninsula, as the Christian reconquista proceeded from north to south. The Moors left Granada in 1492, but rather than being destroyed, the Alhambra was largely preserved perhaps because Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand were enchanted with its beauty.

The architects and builders of the Alhambra used complex geometry in design. The spatial layout and ornamentation in the Palaces, especially the Palace of the Lions, shows evidence of harmony, precision, and balance. The set of three interconnected buildings is the following: the Mexuar, the Comares Palace, and the Palace of the Lions. The most interesting parts of the palace complex were built in the mid to late 14th century: The Gilded Room, Court of Myrtles and Court of the Lions.

The Alhambra complex today is not what it had been several centuries ago. Tourism increased after the publication of Washington Irving’s book “Tales of the Alhambra”. Indeed nineteenth-century tourists were known to chip off pieces of of tile and stucco from the Alhambra buildings to take them home as souvenirs. Some of these pieces have ended up in museums outside of Spain. Today, the interiors are devoid of the rich carpets, cushions, and hangings that would have furnished them.

I toured the Nasrid Palaces in March 2019. The weather was fine on the day of my visit despite an occasional light misting of rain (so I used only my waterproof iPhone Xs camera for photography). Strictly timed and limited entry assured that there was little crowding inside the venue. Tickets allow a 30-minute window for entering, which means that you are not allowed to go in until the exact time indicated on the ticket, and I presume up to 30 minutes afterwards.

The Nasrid palaces abut each other without forming a well-integrated unit, so developing a cognitive map of the spatial layout of the buildings was difficult. I had little sense of where I was exactly while touring the palaces, though I came with an idea of the general layout. When preparing my subsequent blog post, I felt the need to read, and repeatedly view websites and maps, as I wanted to be accurate in labelling photos. If I am in error on any of them please let me know. In the end, I conclude that going back to visit would be a good idea, since I think that I understand the fantastic palace architecture much better now.

The Mexuar

The Mexuar Room

This utilitarian space was for meetings and public business. The room was later modified, including a new ceiling and floors and by the addition of a wooden gallery. Meetings were punctuated by respites for prayer in the Oratory or Prayer Room at the far side of the Mexuar Room. You can see the Oratory beyond the wooden gallery.

This is me in the Mexuar Room.

The Oratory (Prayer Room)

Note the heavenly vista that can be seen through the windows.

The Courtyard of the Golden Room

The beautiful filigree on the exterior wall of the courtyard drew my appreciative attention. It is probably here, seated on a throne between the two doors, that the Monarch held audience.

The Golden (Gilded) Room

Comares Palace

Court of the Myrtles

This courtyard lies at the center of the Comares Palace, with chambers surrounding the courtyard. This is a very good architectural design for a hot climate. The Comares Tower can be seen in the background.

Caligraphy as ornamentation

Sala de La Barca (The Room of the Boat)

This was a waiting room where those expecting to meet with the Caliph had to cool their heels.

Note the mocárabe, honey-comb ceiling in the archway, an important transitional space.

Sala de Embajadores

This chamber is the tallest. It is located in the Comares Tower of the Comares Palace. Columbus presented his plan for crossing the Atlantic to the Catholic monarchs of Aragon and Castile here.

Palace of the Lions

This palace was the private living space of the royal family.

Abencerrajes Hall

Note the eight-pointed honeycomb or stalactite ceiling (known as “mocárabe”) above eight squinches in the roof. Squinches allow placing of a round dome onto a square space.

Court of the Lions

The Fountain of the Lions is rendered in white marble and alabaster.

Note the ubiquitous water feature in the rectangular-shaped Courtyard of the Lions.

Hall of the Kings

This is where feasts and dances were held.

Mocárabe ceiling in the Hall of the Kings

Hall of the Two Sisters

Two huge slabs of rock make up the floor of this chamber. These are the “sisters”.

Hall of the Ajimeces

This room is located in between the Hall of the Sisters and the Mirador of Daraxa.

Linderaja Belvedere (Mirador de Daraxa)

Notice the low placement of the windows, which reflects the use of rich carpets and cushions for seating, rather than taller pieces of furniture.

Beautiful caligraphy

Washington Irving’s Room

This is the room in which Washington Irving wrote the “Tales of the Alhambra”.


Irwin, R. (2004). The Alhambra. London: Profile Books.

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