10 Interesting Alhambra Facts You Should Know Before Visiting

The Alhambra Palace is one of the most famous attractions in Spain, embodying diverse cultural and artistic traditions within its walls.

It is one of the best-preserved buildings in Islamic Spain and has also seen redevelopment in the style of Spanish Renaissance architecture.

Given so much history around this Spanish monument, there are various fascinating facts and stories about it. 

Yet we won’t make it a history lesson on Alhambra; there are some  Alhambra fun facts to spice it up as well. 

So, join us as we uncover some facts you should know before packing your rucksacks.

1. The Vermillion Castle

Yes, that’s what the Alhambra means in Arabic -“red” or “ vermillion.

Its name derives from the Arabic moniker al Qal’at al-Hamra, which translates as the Vermillion Castle.

The castle’s Moorish makers named it after the colors of its towers and the vermillion walls of the Alhambra.

2.  It was Built on Roman Ruins 

Before the Moors constructed a palace there, Visigoths and even Romans had built defensive fortifications on the plateau overlooking Granada.

However, after the decline of the Roman empires, these forts fell into disuse and ruin.

Later, in 889 CE, a smaller fort was built there, replacing the Roman fort that once stood there.

3.  It had Different Entry Points for Different Classes

During the Sultanate era, different classes of people had their own designated walkways to approach the castle. 

This prevented mixing among the various classes that lived or worked in the Castle. 

The cleaning staff had their corridor, and the scribes had another entrance.

The Sultan and his royal family had their entrance, known as the royal court walk.

4. Alhambra is Not a Single Building

Instead, it is a collection of palaces, bathhouses, gardens, and fortifications.

The initial design of Alhambra included six palaces, numerous baths, two towers and an irrigation system, known as ‘acequias,’ that removed dependence on rainwater. 

Later, successive Sultans and Christian emperors added newer and grander palaces and gates to outdo their predecessors.

5. It’s Walls Can Speak

 One of the most fascinating Alhambra facts lies in its walls- they do speak!

The castle’s walls are exquisitely detailed with inscriptions. These are poems and verses from the Quran.

Check “Reading the Alhambra” by Jose Miguel Puerta to learn more about them.

6. Alhambra’s Wall Decorations are not of Stone!

Yes, and that’s one of the most surprising facts about the Alhambra. 

To a casual onlooker, the decorations on the upper part of its walls may appear to be stone, but they are actually Stucco (plaster)!

There are similar designs and decorations on the ceiling, which is wooden. 

Also, masons used tile mosaics as paneling for the aches and columns.

7. Alhambra’s Hydraulic System Was Scratchbuilt 

A fascinating fact about Alhambra is its water supply system’s construction- it was built from scratch.

When the palace was built, there was no water in the vicinity. Native inhabitants had to fetch water in buckets from the hills. 

Yet water was significant for living in the palace and for the orchards at Generalife Gardens.

Hence, the Moorish Sultans constructed Acequia Real, drawing fresh water from the nearby Darro River.

This powered the Palace’s splendid fountains and watered its orchards. 

Even today, parts of this 6km canal can be seen in the Generalife’s Patio de la Acequia, so don’t forget to pay a visit to this medieval wonder!

8. Alhambra has an ancient Cooling System!

The Court of the Myrtles has an eye-catching Goldfish pool that visitors mustn’t miss. It was constructed to cool the palace’s interiors and to symbolize the Sultan’s power.

This pool is different from other pools because a sunken garden surrounds it, adding a layer of greenery as well.

9.  It Escaped Destruction Multiple Times!

Yes, one of the most shocking facts about Alhambra is that the palace was close to destruction at various times.

First, when the French Army occupied Spain in 1810-12, they also occupied Alhambra in the Peninsular War.

Following their retreat and eventual defeat, the French tried and succeeded in blowing up eight towers of the palace. Later, the Spanish had to diffuse the remaining powder charges. 

Again, in 1890, a fire destroyed parts of the Alhambra. The North Gallery in the Court of Myrtles and the Room of the Boat sustained serious damage. 

The damages Alhambra faced and subsequent restorations (stretching over a century) highlight the need to preserve cultural heritage from human and natural disasters.

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10.  A Palace without a Roof!

An Alhambra fun fact that’d amuse readers is about the Palace of Charles V.

In 1527, King Charles V ordered its construction, but the palace remained incomplete even after his death. 

The Palace’s construction was slow and expensive, and it remained without a roof for a long time!

In 1967, the palace’s restoration added a new roof, thus completing it! 

About the author

Harshitha’s heart lies where greeny mountains meet stretches of beach. She believes getting lost is the best way to explore

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