Spain’s architectural masterpieces: The Al Hambra Palace in Granada and the Great Mosque in Cordoba through the Lens of Muslim Harji
By MUSLIM HARJI
1. Al Hambra – A Breathtaking Gateway to Muslim Civilizations in Europe
On October 9, 1998, Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, presented the eighth cycle of the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture at the Al Hambra Palace in Granada, Spain, one of the most well-known Islamic monuments in the West.
Speaking at the Award Ceremony, Mawlana Hazar Imam said that the ceremony, like other preceding ceremonies, was being held in a setting that was in the very best tradition of Islamic Architecture. He explained how “skill, knowledge and vision in the realm of architecture were once a hallmark of Islamic civilisations, and central to the identity of their peoples.” He thanked and credited all those responsible for beautifully presenting and maintaining the Palace’s buildings and gardens. He added that it was indicative of their respect for culture and architecture.
His Highness the Aga Khan and His Royal Majesty the King Juan Carlos presenting his certificate to Professor Charles Correa, architect winner for the Vidhan Bhavan project (India) at the 1998 Aga Khan Award for Architecture held in the Alhambra Palace. Photo: AKDN/Jose Torres.
Just slightly less than 20 years later, in July 2018, my wife Nevin and I would find ourselves at the doorsteps of Alhambra. The celebration of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee was a momentous event in the lives of millions of Ismailis around the world. The Jubilee Celebrations peaked in the “world’s friendliest country”, Portugal, where more than 40,000 Ismailis from around the world gathered in Lisbon for the week long celebration from July 5, which culminated with a Grand Darbar on July 11, 2018. We decided to be part of this historical event. Please see my photo essay Joyful photos from His Highness the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
We also added Spain to our itinerary, where we visited Alhambra as well as the great mosque in Cordoba. I hope you enjoy these photos.
Before falling into the hands of Christian monarchs Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand in 1492, Andalusia was governed by Muslim caliphs for more than seven centuries. Under Muslim leadership, art, architecture, and learning thrived and flourished. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
The Court of the Lions remains the centerpiece of the Alhambra, a pleasure palace for the Nasrids. Tracing its roots to early Islamic gardening, the courtyard is divided into four parts, each one symbolizing one of the four parts of the world. Each part is irrigated by a water channel, symbolizing the four rivers of Paradise and meeting in a central fountain. The site is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage List and minted in Spain’s 2011 limited edition of 2 € Commemorative Coins. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
Hall of the Ambassadors. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
The Alhambra’s most celebrated structures are the three original royal palaces. These are the Comares Palace, the Palace of the Lions, and the Partal Palace, each of which was built during 14th century. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
The Salón de los Embajadores is directly off the Court and is the largest enclosed room in the Alhambra. In this room, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand gave Christopher Columbus their blessing on his voyage, ultimately leading to his “discovery” of the “new world.” The room’s ornate walls and decorated ceilings show incredible detail and effort. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
The incredible archways, Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
Moorish architecture at its best. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
Ceiling, Hall of the Kings, Alhambra. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
The incredible archways and pillars are typical of the style of Moorish architecture. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
Islamic calligraphy adorns the walls. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
Islamic decoration makes frequent use of geometric patterns, developed over the centuries. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
Islamic calligraphy and tile work have stood the test of time, enduring more than 700 years. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
The Court of the Myrtles in the Nasrid Palaces at the Alhambra. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
Alhambra Palace with perfect reflection. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
Alhambra Palace Garden. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
2. Cordoba: The Mezquita
The crowning achievement of Islamic art in Spain is the Great Mosque of Córdoba. For three centuries, this building was the focal point of Muslim life in the city and inspired countless artists and intellectuals. The poet Muhammad Iqbal, for example, described it as having “countless pillars like rows of palm trees in the oases of Syria”, while the people of al-Andalus said that its beauty “was so dazzling that it defied description”.
The mosque is regarded as one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture, one of the oldest structures still standing from the time Muslims ruled Al-Andalus in the late 8th century. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
It’s impossible to overemphasize the beauty of Córdoba’s great mosque, with its remarkably serene and spacious interior. One of the world’s greatest works of Islamic architecture, the Mezquita hints, with all its lustrous decoration, at a refined age when Muslims, Jews and Christians lived side by side and enriched their city with a heady interaction of diverse, vibrant cultures. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
The Hypostyle Hall (or the hall filled with columns). Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
The expansive prayer hall seems magnified by its repeated geometry. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
The focal point in the prayer hall is the famous horseshoe arched mihrab or prayer niche. A mihrab is used in a mosque to identify the wall that faces Mecca—The mihrab in the Great Mosque of Cordoba is framed by an exquisitely decorated arch behind which is an unusually large space. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
Above the mihrab, is an equally dazzling dome. It is built of crisscrossing ribs that create pointed arches all lavishly covered with gold mosaic in a radial pattern.The Great Mosque of Cordoba is a prime example of the Muslim world’s ability to brilliantly develop architectural styles based on pre-existing regional traditions. Here is an extraordinary combination of the familiar and the innovative, a formal stylistic vocabulary that can be recognized as “Islamic” even today. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
In 1236, Ferdinand III of Castile reconquered Córdoba and had the Mezquita reconsecrated as a church. Alfonso X oversaw the construction of the Capilla Villaviciosa and the Capilla Real, both located within the mosque. The minaret was converted to the cathedral’s bell-tower. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
Today it is impossible not to lament the destruction of the mosque’s original integrity, but it must be conceded that if the building had not been converted to a cathedral, it would not have been spared the destruction of the Spanish Inquisition, which hunted down “heretical” structures as well as people and saw to it that they were eradicated. The tinkering that went on at the Mezquita until the 18th century undoubtedly saved it. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
Muslims were expelled or exterminated in the Inquisition that followed, but the legacy of the Moors is seen throughout Andalusia, Spain’s southern tier, in its language, palaces like the Alhambra, and food.
Muslim and Nevin Harji in Granada, Spain with the Alhambra Palace in the background. Photo: © 2018 Muslim Harji.
Date posted: November 1, 2018.
Special thanks to the Aga Khan Museum/Lonely Planet/Rick Steves/WWW/Wikipedia/Khan Acedemy/Puffle adventures/for travel advice, safety, bibliography, photo captions & notes.
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For profile of Muslim Harji and links to his essays, please click Contributors.