Alcazaba of the Alhambra

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Alcazaba is a fortress at the western tip of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Its name comes from the Arabic term al-qaṣabah (القصبة) literally meaning 'the citadel' or kasbah, which became Alcazaba in Spanish. It is the oldest surviving part of the Alhambra, having been built by Muhammad I Ibn al-Ahmar, the founder of the Nasrid dynasty, after 1238 CE. It stands on the site of an earlier fortress built by the Zirid kingdom of Granada in the 11th century CE.


Authors, such as Manuel Gómez Moreno, Leopoldo Torres Balbás, Jesús Bermúdez Pareja and, more recently, Basilio Pavón Maldonado, Antonio Malpica Cuello, and Carlos Vílchez Vílchez, among others, have provided in-depth studies on the subject and bestowed on the Alcazaba the significance that it deserves.

The Alcazaba has a roughly triangular layout, with the peaks of this triangle formed by the Torre de la Vela to the west, the Torre del Homenaje to the northeast, and the Torre Hueca to the southeast. The empty space within the walls of this triangle is occupied by a residential area with urban amenities.

Notable Structures


Broken Tower
The 'broken tower' (Torre Quebrada), originally constructed at the time of Yusuf I. The Torre Quebrada is located at the center of the eastern wall of the Alcazaba-fortress (Hisn). It has a solid structure up to the top line of the wall and from that level up it is made up of two storeys each with five rooms. The crack that gives it its name was due to the sinking of part of its upper section in 1838 CE. This tower is an extension of the primitive Zirid tower that stands within it.


The baths (Baños), located on the west of end of the urban area and adjacent to the Torre de la Vela and the north wall of the fortress, was one of the most important amenities of the district. These were separated from the large cistern by a wide road, or main street, under which a passage way and a channel that joined both constructions crossed. The baths were built at a lower level with respect to the cistern.

The baths (Hammams) were built by Muhammad I for the troops residing in the Alcazaba. They are underneath the square, so their vaults and skylights were originally at the same level with it. The reason for building them underground was to make it easier to maintain their inside temperature. The skylights provided natural light and regulated both the inner temperature and humidity. Being rather small and having a simple structure, they are the oldest ones in the Alhambra. Their typology is the same as that of the 11th-century Bañuelo baths.


Turret Tower
The 'Turret Tower' (Torre del Cubo) has a rounded profile on its outer side, was added in the Christian Spanish period as part of other improvements to provide better protection against the gunpowder artillery of the time. It was built around an existing square tower from the Nasrid period known as the Torre de la Tahona, which formed part of a gate known as Puerta de la Tahona ('Gate of the Flourmill'), which is no longer extant. At present, the Tahona gate cannot be seen because it is hidden by the 16th-century Torre del Cubo, which was built in more modern times to serve as an artillery emplacement. The door that can be seen today is a modern reconstruction of the original. Access to the palaces through it was granted by means of a perforation on the foundations of the Cubo bastion carried out in the 16th century.


Candle Tower
The Candle Tower (Torre de la Vela), a massive square bastion tower, dominates the western tip of the Alcazaba. It was also formerly known as the Torre del Sol ('Tower of the Sun'). The 'Watch Tower' or 'Sentinel Tower' as it is known today, is visible from most of the city and its large terrace allows for commanding views of the area. Inside the tower are four levels of chambers. The chambers feature a central vaulted space surrounded by galleries with brick pillars and more vaulted ceilings. As was typical in other large Nasrid towers (but especially evident here), the chamber of each floor is larger than the one below it, so that the outer walls of the tower become progressively thinner towards the top. This made the upper parts of the tower lighter and gave the tower more structural stability. The original Nasrid-period stairway has not survived and was probably in a different location than the one currently used to climb the tower today.


Primitive Entrance
The traces of the primitive entrance (puerta primitiva) are visible in a horseshoe arch and a brick vault that has been obscured by later enlargements of the wall. The primitive gate of the fortress along with the Torre de la Vela, baths and the water cistern is located at the western end.


Sultana's Tower
The Tower of the Sultana (Torre de la Sultana), also called del Arriate and de los Adarves, was constructed in the 12th century CE during the Almohad period, previously there were no towers on this side. The Torre de la Sultana was erected on the south wall of the Alcazaba, between the 12th and 13th centuries. The architecture of the tower differs completely from those previously built during the Zirid period, regarding both the building techniques that were used and its spatial characteristics. As a matter of fact, it is a hollow structure and has two storeys. It is a defensive tower that connects with the Torre del Adarguero by means of a 2-meter-wide wall. Through a door to the left of its base, it works as a linking element between the parade grounds and the garden of the Adarves. It has a somewhat deformed rectangular base and it is attached to the wall along one of its longer sides. This layout is rare, differing from that of the vast majority of towers of the Alhambra.


Military Barracks
The military barracks (Barrio Castrense) was the area within the walls of the inner fortress, occupied in the Nasrid era by a small residential district. It is known in Spanish as the Barrio Castrense the military barracks of the military quarter. The former structures here no longer stand but their foundations have been excavated and are visible today. A long, narrow street runs down the middle of this area, from east to west, and divides it into two zones. On the north side of the street is an array of about ten to seventeen houses with similar layouts but varying sizes.

These residential quarters conform to typical Andalusi house architecture of the period. They have bent entrances that protect the privacy of the interior. Each house is centered around an interior patio or courtyard with a water element like a fountain or pool, with various rooms arranged around it. Each house had a latrine which was flushed with the help of water from a cistern. These houses were inhabited by the elite guards of the Alhambra, along with their families.[8]: 154 


Tower of Arms
The Arms Tower or the Weapons Tower (Torre de las Armas) was built by the Nasrids, possibly built by Muhammad III, in the course the planning of the urban development on the hill. The tower-gate of the Armas was built in order to communicate the first Alhambra palaces with Granada, reinforce the northern end of the fortress and defend the first direct connection between Granada and the Alhambra. Therefore, this gate resulted from directly from the construction of the first Alhambra palaces, the construction of which is attributed to Muhammad II and Muhammad III.


The entrances to the Dungeons (Mazmorras), are located at various points inside this military enclosure leading to several subterranean chambers, that served as silos and then dungeons. The basement (level 0), was originally used as a storing facility to keep grain, salt and spices, but became a dungeon with the passing of time. The chambers are dome or bell-shaped, with an opening at the top where prisoners were lowered into them. At the bottom, the chambers were divided into sleeping areas by brick walls which radiated outward from the center of the room.


Stables and the Hidalgo Tower
The stables and the Hidalgo Tower (Caballerizas y Torre Hidalgos) are located on the western end of the Alcazaba-Hisn. The stables were originally designed to be larger than the space that can be observed at present, but they had to be refurbished and were made smaller after a landslide on the north slope of the Sabika. According to Gómez Moreno Martínez, they were refurbished once again in the 16th century. Today, the narrow central section of the entrance can still be appreciated, as well as the way in which the horses were kept in two large areas with mangers on both sides, even though the northern space is almost completely destroyed. The primitive entrance to the stables faces the east. On the west side, the stables join the two-storied Torre de los Hidalgos, which was built by the Moriscos and communicates with the stables through the ground floor.

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