Aljaferia Palace

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The Aljafería Palace (قصر الجعفرية), Palacio de la Aljafería is a fortified medieval palace built during the second half of the 11th century CE in the Taifa of Zaragoza in al-Andalus, present day Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain. It was the residence of the Banu Hud dynasty during the era of Abu Jaffar Al-Muqtadir. The palace reflects the splendor attained by the Taifa of Zaragoza at its height. It currently houses the Cortes (regional parliament) of the autonomous community of Aragon.


The name Aljafería is first documented in a text by al-Yazzar as-Saraqusti (active between 1085 and 1100 CE).

The structure is the only conserved large example of Spanish Islamic architecture from the era of the taifas (independent kingdoms). The Aljafería, along with the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba and the Alhambra, are the three best examples of Hispano-Muslim architecture and have special legal protection. In 2001 CE, the original restored structures of the Aljafería were included in the Mudéjar Architecture of Aragon, a World Heritage Site.


circa 1145 CE

Northern Moorish-Taifa Era Halls
The construction of the palace, mostly completed between 1065 and 1081 CE, was ordered by Abú Ja'far Ahmad ibn Sulaymán al-Muqtadir Billah, known by his honorary title of Al-Muqtadir (the powerful one), the second monarch of the Banu Hud dynasty, as a symbol of the power achieved by the Taifa of Zaragoza in the second half of the 11th century CE. The sultan himself called his palace "Qasr al-Surur" (Palace of Joy) and the throne room in which he presided over receptions and embassies "Majlis al-Dahab" (Golden Hall).

Along the north wall is the most important complex of buildings built in the Banu Hud period, including the Throne Room or Golden Hall and the small private mosque. The floors of the royal rooms were marble with an alabaster plinth. The capitals were alabaster, except some that reused marble of the earlier Caliphate period. These rooms were surrounded by a band of epigraphic decoration with Kufic characters reproducing Quran surahs that alluded to the symbolic meaning of the ornamentation. The surahs corresponding to these inscriptions have been deduced from the surviving fragments. In two of these calligraphic reliefs can be found the name of Al-Muqtadir, which date the first phase of construction of the palace to between 1065 and 1080 CE. They say "This [the Aljafería] was ordered by Ahmed al-Muqtadir Billáh".

circa 1145 CE

Courtyard of Isabela
The Courtyard of Santa Isabel takes its name from the birth of Elizabeth of Aragon, who was the Queen of Portugal, circa 1282 CE. It is an open, landscaped space that unified the whole Taifal palace. The north and south porticos faced it, and there were probably rooms and outbuildings (smaller separate building such as a shed or barn that belongs to a main building) to the east and west.

The original pool to the south has been conserved, whereas the one to the north was covered with a wood floor in the 14th century. The restoration tried to give the courtyard its original splendor, and for that a marble floor was arranged in the corridors that surround the orange and flower garden. The arcade (inspect) that is seen looking towards the south portico was restored by molding the original arches in the National Archaeological Museum of Madrid and in the Zaragoza Museum. According to Christian Ewert the arches nearer the noble zones (Golden Hall and Mosque) tended to more closely follow the Córdoban tradition. Like the rest of the building, the courtyard was rebuilt in the 20th century based on archaeological finds.

circa 1145 CE

The entire complex was surrounded by a twenty metre wide moat crossed by two drawbridges on the east and north flanks. It was added in 1593 CE.

circa 1145 CE

It is located on the eastern side of the access portico that serves as an antechamber to the oratory. In its interior, it houses a mihrab in the southeast corner, oriented in the direction of Mecca, as in all mosques except the one of Córdoba. Located at the eastern end of the entrance portico to the Golden Hall, it is a small mosque or private oratory that would have been used by the monarch and his courtiers.

circa 1145 CE

Chapel and Courtyard of San Martín
The Chapel of San Martín incorporates the sides of the northwest corner of the wall, to the point that one of its towers was used as sacristy and gave its name to the courtyard that gives access to the Taifal enclosure.

The structure, of Gothic-Mudéjar style, consists of two naves of three sections each, facing to the east and supported by two pillars with semicolumns attached in the middle of the faces of the pillar, whose section is recalled in the quadrilobed design that shelters the shield of arms of the King of Aragon in the spandrels of the portal, from the first decade of the 15th century CE.

circa 1145 CE

Western Facade and Neo-Gothic Fortifications
A complete transformation of the structure into barracks took place in 1772 CE at the initiative of Charles III of Spain. All the walls were remodeled to a style that can still be seen on the western wall, and the interior spaces were used as living quarters for soldiers and officers. A large parade ground was set up in the western third of the palace with the rooms of the different companies surrounding it. The renovations were made with simplicity and functionality, following the rationalist spirit of the second half of the 18th century and reflecting the practical purpose for the area. The only further change was in 1862 CE when Isabella II of Spain added four Gothic-Revival towers, of which the ones located in the north-western and south-western corner still stand today.

circa 1145 CE

Troubadour Tower
The tower, the oldest part of the Aljafería, is a defensive structure, with a quadrangular base and five levels which date back to the end of the 9th century CE, in the reign of the first Banu Tujib, Muhammad Alanqur, who was appointed by Muhammad I of Córdoba, independent Emir of Córdoba.

Its lower part has vestiges of the beginning of the heavy walls of alabaster ashlar bond masonry, and continues upwards with a plank lining of simple plaster and lime concrete, a lighter substance for reaching greater heights. The exterior does not reflect the division of the five internal floors and appears as an enormous prism, broken by narrow embrasures. Access to the interior was through a small, elevated door that was only reachable with a portable ladder. Its initial function was military.

The first level conserves the 9th century CE building structure with two separate naves and six sections separated by two cruciform pillars and divided by lowered horseshoe arcs. In spite of their simplicity, they form a balanced space and could be used as baths.

The second floor repeats the same spatial scheme as the first and contains the remains of 11th century CE Muslim masonry. There is evidence that in the 14th century CE something similar happened to the appearance of the last two floors, of Mudéjar style, whose construction was due to the construction of the palace of Peter IV of Aragon, which is connected with the Tower of the Troubadour by a corridor, and would have been used as a keep. The arches of these structures already reflect its Christian structure, because they are slightly pointed and support flat wooden roofs.

Its function in the 9th and 10th centuries CE was as a watchtower and defensive bastion. It was surrounded by a moat. It was later integrated by the Banu Hud family in the construction of the castle-palace of the Aljafería, constituting one of the towers of the defensive framework of the outside north wall. During the Spanish Reconquista, it continued being used as a keep and in 1486 CE became a dungeon of the Inquisition. As a tower-prison it was also used in the 18th and 19th centuries CE, as demonstrated by the numerous graffiti inscribed there by the inmates.

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