Generalife, Granada

The Generalife was a summer palace and country estate of the Nasrid rulers of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus. It is located directly east of and uphill from the Alhambra palace complex.

Based on the oldest decorations studied in the palace, the Generalife was most likely constructed by Muhammad II (r. 1273–1302) at the end of the 13th century, or possibly by Muhammad III (r. 1302–1309) at the beginning of the 14th century. The Generalife is one of the oldest surviving Moorish gardens. However, the present-day gardens today date from various changes and creations made since the 16th century, after the beginning of Spanish Christian rule in Granada, and up to the 20th century.

The present-day site

The Generalife today includes a mix of original Nasrid-period elements as well as extensive modern elements (especially in the appearance of the gardens). The walkways are paved in traditional Granadian style with a mosaic of pebbles: white ones from the River Darro and black ones from the River Genil.

The outer gardens

The Generalife gardens occupy three large terraces on the hillside, each measuring about 35 meters wide by 250 meters long. The two lower terraces, on the southwest side, are occupied by market gardens and orchards. Known today as Las Huertas, these gardens have served this purpose since the 14th century. The highest terrace is occupied by the Jardines Nuevos ("New Gardens"), a series of 20th-century gardens that form the main approach to the historic palaces today. The southern part of this garden area was designed by Francisco Prieto Moreno and finished in 1951. It includes walls formed by trimmed cypress trees and a large cruciform pool inspired by Islamic/Moorish gardens, along with other decorative plants. An open-air theatre was also added here in 1952. The northern part of the gardens, which features a rose bush labyrinth, was designed by Leopoldo Torres Balbás in 1931.

The main palace

The Generalife Palace itself stands on a fourth terrace above and north of the outer gardens. Several smaller garden terraces also climb the hillside above this, with some auxiliary buildings located. The core of the palace complex is centered on the Patio de la Acequia ("Courtyard of the Water Canal"), the largest structure. The courtyard is about four times as long as it is wide, measuring 12.8 meters by 48.7 meters. It is entered via a smaller courtyard, the Patio de Polo, on its south side, which in turn is accessed through another minor courtyard, known as the Dismounting Courtyard. The word acequia is derived from the Arabic word al-saqiya, meaning a water canal or water supply. The building is arranged around a long interior courtyard, occupied by a garden that is split into four equally elongated flowerbeds. This type of garden with a four-part division has its historical roots in the Persian chahar bagh-type gardens, a model which spread westward across the Islamic world and is also found in the various riyad gardens of Al-Andalus and the Maghreb. Between these, along the courtyard's long axis, runs a water channel or pool lined on either side with water jets spouting water across the pool. On the courtyard's short axis is a paved path. In the middle of this path, in the axial center of the courtyard, is a paved platform, which originally would have had its own central fountain. Today, two fountains, consisting of a low round water basin with a central spout, are located at the north and south ends of the water channel. Aligned with the middle of the courtyard is also a small belvedere or mirador (lookout) chamber that projects outward from the western wall of the garden. The square chamber measures 3.98 meters per side and its interior is decorated with carved stucco. This is probably the earliest known mirador in Nasrid architecture, establishing a feature that appeared in many subsequent palaces.

The Patio de la Acequia is framed by pavilion-like structures at its north and south ends. To the south, the Pabellón Sur ("South Pavilion") is a two-floor structure with a portico fronting its courtyard side and is less well-preserved than the north pavilion. The north pavilion was originally called Majlis al-Akbari (meaning roughly "the Main Hall") or Majlis al-'As'adi ("the Fortunate Hall") in Arabic. is preceded by a portico of five arches with a larger central arch. The arches feature richly-carved stucco decoration with a sebka motif and bands of cursive Arabic inscriptions. Behind the arches is a roofed gallery space covered by a wooden ceiling of octagonal coffers. This gallery leads to another chamber, known as the Salón Regio (Royal Chamber), via a stucco-decorated entrance of three arches. The chamber is covered by another wooden ceiling. The arches and upper walls in the chamber are covered with more stucco decoration, including an upper frieze of muqarnas (or mocárabes) sculpting. In the middle of the northern side of the chamber is a tower incorporating a mirador chamber with more intricate stucco decoration. This mirador provides views of the Albaicin from windows on three sides.

Directly above Patio de la Acequia, on its northeast side, is the Patio de la Sultana or Patio del Ciprés de la Sultana ("Courtyard of the Sultana" or "Courtyard of the Cypresses of the Sultana"). Occupied by pools, gardens, and paved paths, this courtyard's current design and construction date from after the Nasrid period. The arcaded structure on its north side was built between 1584 and 1586.

The Water Stairway and the upper gardens

Above the Patio de la Sultana in turn is the celebrated Water Stairway or Escalera del Agua, a four-flight staircase whose balustrades on either side are carved with water channels that run along their top and along the entire length of the staircase. The flights of the stairway are interrupted by small circular terraces or landings in the middle of which are fountains. At the top of the stairway is a small 19th-century pavilion known as the Romantic Pavilion (Pabellón Romántico). Next to the Stairway and to the Patio de la Sultana is the High Gardens or Jardines Altos, arranged across several terraces climbing up the hillside. At the southeast end of the gardens and of the main palace structure is the Paseo de las Adelfas ("Walk of the Oleanders"), which today is the path used by visitors to exit the Generalife.

This text is based on a Wikipedia article written by contributors under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

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