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© Encarni Novillo
© Encarni Novillo
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An Introduction to Granada’s Stunning Moorish Architecture

Picture of Mark Nayler
Updated: 12 June 2018
Southern Spain was under Arabic rule for some 700 years, between the 8th and 15th centuries. Great examples of Moorish architecture dating from this period therefore abound all over Andalucia, but nowhere are they as impressive as in Granada. Moorish-themed buildings pop up all over town, particularly in the oldest parts, but these are the monuments and the neighborhood that today best represent a crucial period of Granada’s long history.

The Alhambra

The most famous and impressive architectural relic from this period of its history is Granada’s formidable Alhambra palace, which sits at the top of the verdant Darro valley and looks out over Albaicín, the old Arabic quarter of the city.

The fobidding outer walls and towers of Granada´s great Moorish fort, the Alhambra; courtesy of Encarni Novillo
The forbidding towers of Granada’s great Moorish fort, the Alhambra | © Encarni Novillo

The Alhambra’s main attractions are the Nasrid palaces, which feature some of the most beautiful Moorish interiors you are ever likely to see – largely unchanged after almost a thousand years – the Generalife (or summer palace) and, in the middle of it all, the palace built by Charles V in the 15th century to assert the new dominion of Catholicism over Islam.

Intricate tile mosaics adorn the interior walls of the Alhambra´s Nasrid palaces, MCAD Library, flickr
Intricate tile mosaics adorn the interior walls of the Alhambra’s Nasrid palaces | © MCAD Library/Flickr

The Alhambra’s position at the top of the steep Darro valley meant it was a superb location from which to defend the city against Christian invaders. For this reason, Granada was the last great Moorish city in Andalucia to be seized in 1492 by dual Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella.

One of the most famous of the Alhambra´s stunning internal courtyards; MCAD Library, flickr
One of the most famous of the Alhambra’s stunning internal courtyards | © MCAD Library/Flickr

Old city wall

It wasn’t just because of the presence of the mighty Alhambra that Granada was so difficult to capture from its Moorish rulers. The original city wall, large sections of which are still intact today, also provided a robust defence against rampaging Christian armies. The countryside above the Gypsy quarter of Sacromonte is the best spot for a view of the largest remaining part, which runs down the hillside dividing Albaicín (the old Moorish quarter originally at the city’s outer limit) and Sacromonte. Some of what used to be Albaicín’s principal entrances also survive and are particularly interesting examples of Moorish architecture: the most notable of these are The Arco Elvira, at the end of the shabbily-charming Calle Elvira, and the archway that leads into the lively Plaza Larga in Albaicín.

A Part of Granada’s old city wall and a former principal entrance to Albaicín
A Part of Granada’s old city wall and a former principal entrance to Albaicín | © Encarni Novillo

Albaicín

Nowhere else in Granada is there such a rich collection of beautiful Moorish residential architecture than in Albaicín, the old Arabic quarter on the other side of the valley from the Alhambra.

Albaicín, Granda´s old Arabic quarter, as seen from the Alhambra; Teacher Traveler, flickr
Albaicín, Granda’s old Arabic quarter, as seen from the Alhambra | © Teacher Traveler/Flickr

One of the most attractive buildings in Albaicín can be found near Plaza Larga (itself home to some exquisite Arabic mosaics on building exteriors), on Calle Panaderos. Its entrance is particularly striking, as can be seen below.

Courtesy of Encarni Novillo
Granada | Courtesy of Encarni Novillo
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Arabic Baths

Tucked away underneath a private house on the beautiful Carrera del Darro are the oldest and best-preserved Arabic baths in Spain. The Banuelo dates from around the 11th century and its elegant Moorish archways and domed ceilings are still amazingly intact after a thousand years. Undoubtedly, after the Alhambra, this is the greatest surviving instance of Moorish architecture in Granada.

The Banuelo of Granada, 31 Carrera del Darro, Granada, Spain, +34 958 22 97 38

Granada´s

Granada’s Banuelo – the oldest surviving Arabic baths in Spain | © Oyvind Holmstad/Flickr