Decoration in the Alhambra

© RicardMN Photography

© RicardMN Photography

Decoration detail in The Courtyard of the Lions, in the Alhambra Palace, Granada, Andalusia, Spain.

The Courtyard of the Lions (Spanish: Patio de los Leones – Arabic: بهو السباع‎) is the main courtyard of the Nasrid dynasty Palace of the Lions, in the heart of the Alhambra, the Moorish citadel formed by a complex of palaces, gardens and forts in Granada, Spain. It was commissioned by the Nasrid sultan Muhammed V of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus. Its construction started in the second period of his reign, between 1362 and 1391 AD.

The Palace of the Lions, as well as the rest of the other new rooms built under Muhammad V, like the Mexuar or Cuarto Dorado meant the beginning of a new style, an exuberant mixture of Moorish and Christian influences that has been called Nasrid style. During the period that Muhammad V was ousted as sultane of Granada by his stepbrother, Abu-l Walid Ismail, he discovered in exile a host of new aesthetic influences that were not in the language of his predecessors, not even in his own first contributions to the enrichment of the Nasrid palaces of the Alhambra. In Fes he saw the Almoravid mosque of Qarawiyyin, built by Andalusian architects. The splendor of the decorations, specially the profuse use of the muqarnas that had once decorated the palaces and mosques of Al-Ándalus, stunned the ex-sultan, as did the ruins of the Roman city of Volubilis, where he could directly examine the classical orders, Roman ornamentation and, above all, the disposition of the Roman ‘impluvium’; the Roman ruins at Volubilis were particularly well preserved since they had been abandoned for a period of time in the Middle Ages and later constructively re-used as a necropolis. Muhammad became an ally of his personal friend, the Christian king Pedro I of Castile, who helped him to regain the throne and defeat the usurpers. Meanwhile, he was also astonished with the construction of the palace of Pedro I, the Alcázar of Seville, built in Mudéjar style by architects from Toledo, Seville and Granada. The influence of this Mudéjar style of King Pedro in the future Palace of the Lions was going to be decisive, especially the structure and disposition of the Qubba rooms along two axis of the ‘Patio de las Doncellas’ (“Courtyard of the Maidens”).

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