Consisting of 3 parts; namely The Royal Palace, which is the most famous; the gardens of Generalife; and the fortress of Alcazaba, this palace was designed to be an impenetrable fortress from outside, with the interior being an exquisite paradise displaying perfect harmony between the intricate architecture and the gardens beyond.
The Royal Palace is made up of three parts; The Mexuar, the point where traditionally visitors would enter; the Serallo, consisting of a selection of attractive rooms and courtyards; and the Harem, the centrepiece of which is the famous Lions' Court.
The Mexuar, where the sultans used to conduct their daily administration and business, leads on to understated Patio of the Golden Room, from where the reigning sultan would often sit and grant an audience to his subjects. Unlike the modestly decorated Mexuar, the Serallo was decorated on a somewhat grander scale due to it being used as the reception area for distinguished guests. The 140 foot long court known as the Patio de los Arrayanes (Patio of the Myrtles), lined with myrtle bushes from where it derives its name, has a pond set into the pavement, in which live numerous goldfish.
Reflected in the pond are the imposing walls of the Torre de Comares (Comares Tower) which houses the Salón de los Embajadores (Hall of the Ambassadors) the largest and finest room in the Alhambra. The room is a perfect square topped by an exquisitely carved wooden dome. When Boabdil signed the treaty to surrender the city of Granada to the Catholic Rulers, Ferdinand and Isabel, he did it in the Salón de los Embajadores. The great room was also the setting for the discussion between Christopher Columbus and King Ferdinand, whereby Spain’s ruling monarchs gave their support to the explorer’s voyage ultimately leading to the discovery of the Americas on October 12th 1492; a date which continues to be celebrated as a public holiday in Spain and South America.
During the reign of Muhammad V, in the second half of the 14th century, the beautiful Palace of the Lions was built. In his Tales of the Alhambra, the acclaimed writer Washington Irving said of the Lions' Court: "It is impossible to contemplate this scene, so perfectly Oriental, without feeling the early associations of Arabian romance, and almost expecting to see the white arm of some mysterious princess beckoning from the gallery, or some dark eye sparkling though the lattice. The abode of beauty is here as if had been inhabited but yesterday."
The palace was named after the Fountain of the Lions, situated in the courtyard where twelve lions, carved from white marble, support an alabaster basin on which is inscribed a poem describing, not only the complex hydraulics of the fountain, but also how it is only respect for the sultan that restrains the lions from venting their fury.
The Harem is home to the Sala de los Abencerrajes (Hall of the Abencerrajes), somewhat dubiously named after the legend of the 16th century massacre that took place there leaving the tribal chiefs of the North African Abencerrajes Tribe dead.
Also in the Harem is the Sala de las dos Hermanas (Hall of the Two Sisters) noted for its domed ceiling made up from 5000 carved prisms creating a honeycomb effect in the Moorish style of "stalactite vaulting" and the Sala de los Reyes (Hall of the Kings and sometime referred to as the Hall of Justice), the name being derived from the painted ceiling, depicting ten people, possibly sultans or judges from the Nasrid dynasty.