Battles and Bombs: The Palace of Alhambra

History Facts

Where: Albayzin, Granada, Spain
When: 11th century
History: Royal conquest of the Moors and defused attempt at Napoleonic conquest
Go There For: Sumptuous, elegant Moorish architecture


The Al-hambra with views across Granada

The Alhambra is located in the Albayzin, or Arab Quarter of Granada. It was originally built as a fortress in the 11th century but was transformed by the Nazrids into a sumptous palace for the Sultan. It’s one of the best examples of Moorish architecture in the world.

What’s the history here?

When the Moors came up from Africa in the 8th Century they successfully occupied Southern Spain for over 700 years, and developed the most cultured society of medieval Europe. In 1013 Granada became their seat of power and was the last region in Spain to fall to Christianity.

In 1491, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella liberated Granada from the Moors. They laid siege to the town and Boabdil of the Moors eventually decided to surrender. It is said that part of the reason he gave up Granada without a fight was to avoid the destruction of his precious Alhambra.

Boabdil signed his surender in the Salon de Embajadores at Alhambra in 1492. Later that year, King Ferdinand met here with Columbus in the very same room to discuss new trading plans for the Far East.

When Napoleon‘s troops invaded Granada and seized the Alhambra, the General intended to blow up the palace. So the story goes, his plans were hampered by a wounded soldier who had been left behind in the palace. The courageous man succeeded in diffusing the bomb single handedly, and thus saved this beautiful building for future generations.

The Alhambra’s remarkable beauty has not always been appreciated by the Spanish. Carlos V made his own addition to the palace in the incogrous Renaissance style. When American author Washington Irving visited Alhambra and fell in love with the architecture and history he wrote Tales of the Alhambra, a collection of storeis which brought this now popular tourist site to the world’s attention.

Architectural detail of the Al-hambra

What’s there to see and do?

There are always queues of tourists outside Alhambra, but it is possible to purchase a ticket a day in advance from any branch of the Banco Bilbao in the city. Three sections of the palace are open to the public, the Mexuar (courts of justice), The Serallo where the sultan would wecome guests and foreign dignitaries and the Hareem, the private part of the palace on the Sultan and his family were allowed to enter.

A top tip is book in for the night visit, it’s spectacular.


City of Alhambra
Business and tourism website of the city


Alhambra, Michael Jacobs & Francisco Fernandez; Frances Lincoln 2000
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Tales of the Alhambra – Washington Irving.
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By Susi O’Neill