Why the Alhambra is Important to the Culture of Spain

Zoe Sterckx-Ziegler is a student at North Carolina State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Valencia, Spain.

Atop the hill of Al-Sabika lies a tremendous, impressively large and intricate assembly of ancient buildings that overlooks the city of Granada, Spain. The word Alhambra means Red Castle in Arabic, and this palace was called so because of its mostly red walls that used to be vibrant during its younger days. From the high edifices, you can see the wide expanse of Granada, as well as the Albaicín— a district from the city’s medieval Moorish past that consists of winding cobblestone streets, authentic Moroccan restaurants, and popular markets selling various goods.

The Alhambra started primarily as a Muslim military fortress and was named by King Mohammed I in the 13th century, and King Mohammed II-V continued its construction. The great complex consists of an entire mile of walls and thirty towers. The most incredible parts of my experience at the Alhambra were the three palaces, the first being the Comares Palace. Here, look for the intricate carvings etched into almost every inch of stone on the walls and ceilings, and the colorful tile work.

This is the archway to the Comares Palace, the first of the three palaces


In these photos, you can see the intricate stone carvings in the walls and the faded colors that used to be vibrant, from dyes such as lapis lazuli

When you continue walking to the other side of the large rectangular pool in the Court of the Myrtles you can see the entire reflection of the building in the water

The Comares Palace reflected in the Court of the Myrtles

The next building is the Palace of the Lions, with the focal point being an outside terrace that holds in its center a circular fountain that is enclosed by white stone lions. There are also a series of pillars that support the entryway into several intricate chambers with star-shaped ceilings leading up to circular domes.

A dome-shaped chamber in the Palace of the Lions

The final palace is the Partal Palace, which has five arches and is complemented by a long pool with thin bowing fountains along the length of the water. Around the edges of the pool there are short hedges and bright flowers blooming in the surrounding beds.

The pool of the Partal Palace

Being in the Alhambra and having the opportunity to tour inside its walls was an extremely humbling experience. As someone who loves and respects history, just walking along the same floors as Arab kings and Catholic monarchs was particularly rewarding. Arabic culture is still very important in Spain’s history, and the Alhambra is a stunning depiction of it. In addition to the breathtaking architecture, there are countless aromatic gardens bearing every type of plant and flower you can imagine, as well as, yes, pomegranate trees. The city of Granada is aptly named (Granada means pomegranate in Spanish), and the Alhambra just adds to the country’s rich history.

A granada (pomegranate) tree in a garden of the Alhambra
A spectacular view from the fortress

If you ever find yourself in this area of southern Spain, make sure to plan a trip to this wonderful fortress. You won’t regret it.


The world awaits…discover it.


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