The Alcazaba, also known as the old citadel has long been forgotten by writers after the Christian ruling in Granada. It’s one of the oldest buildings of the Alhambra and was used as fortification in the 9th Century. The Alcazaba had several names during its existence. In the past the Alcazaba was named the fortress of Elvira, Granada castle and it’s current name qa’lat al-hambra which means the red castle.
General info Alcazaba
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Towers of the Alcazaba
The Alcazaba has several towers which provides it with a great view of the area to spot possible invaders from a distance. As mentioned, the Alcazaba was used as fortress, which makes the towers of the Alcazaba particularly important for the defence of the building.
Torre del Homenaje
The Torre del Homenaje, also known as The Keep is one of the oldest towers of the Alcazaba. Evidence
suggest that it’s rebuilt by Muhammad I on top of the ruins of the structure dating back to the IX Century. The Tower del Homenaje can be found on the right side when entering the Alcazaba. It’s possible to climb the stairs and get a great view at the top of the tower.
Puerta de las Armas
The Puerta de las Armas is the original gate and entrance to the Alcazaba. The Puerta de las Armas is located next to the Watchtower and was known as The Arms Gate. It has a wide passageway which leads into the Alcazaba or the Nasrid Palaces. When going to the Palaces the visitor had to cross 90 meters with only armor on 1 side. If any bad intentions, archers had plenty of time to prevent an intruder to reach the Palaces unharmed.
The defense of the Alcazaba was very effective since it was only accessible via a very narrow passage. Invaders couldn’t attack on horseback and were exposed by soldiers on top of the wall for a very large distance.
Torre de la Vela
The Torre de la Vela is known as the Watchtower. This is the highest tower in the Alcazaba and gives great views on Granada, Sierra Nevada and the Alhambra itself. The tower is 16 meter by 16 meter, and 27 meter high. The Torre de la Vela was built by Muhammad ben Nesr during the 12th Century as his feudal residence. Climb the stairs to reach the top of the tower. It’s a great place to make some pictures of the area.
The Watchtower was converted into living area’s after the Christian era. Originally the Watchtower was higher than it is today. Several catastrophes, including an earthquake, exploding gun factory and lightning strike made the tower crumble which resulted in the loss of some height.
The most iconic feature of the Watchtower is it’s bell. The bell was used to tell the farmers in the village when their irrigation turns began and ended. It was also used as alarm system. In 1890 the Alhambra caught fire. On that day the bell warned the city of the danger. These days the bell is rang automatically.
Plaza de las Armas
The Plaza de las Armas, or Arms Square, is the central square in the Alcazaba. It still has the layout which features the remains of the early building in the square. There was a bathhouse for the soldiers. There are also foundations which indicate living quarters for commanding officers, armourers and blacksmiths. Beneath the square there are dungeons, water cisterns and rooms where prisoners were held.
Plaza de los Aljibes
The Plaza de los Aljibes is known as the Cistern Square of the Alcazaba. It’s the square in between the Alcazaba and the Nasrid Palaces. Underneath the Plaza de los Aljibes are water cisterns, built by the count of Tendilla. He used the cracked Tower as filter to clear the water. The Plaza de los Aljibes consists of two different wards which date back to different centuries. The inner ward is most likely built during Roman time. After the Christian era the outer walls were built around the inner ward to enhance their defence and provide a structure for artillery. Some canons are still on display on the Square. Now the Plaza de los Aljibes has several amenities for tourists.
Because of Christian threats, the Nasrid dynasty had to defend itself constantly. The strategic fortification buildings like the Alcazaba were key to keep the Christian invaders out. The architects of the Nasrid defenses used the best building methods which they learned from the rich Moorish defense structures in Spain.
Additional defense towers were placed across the wall to ensure water supply. Gates to the complex were built more often inside the towers instead of in the walls itself. This added an additional layer of defense and made it a lot more difficult for invaders to breach the walls. The Nasrid made sloped entrances in their towers to make it even more difficult to get through.
Openings in the floors of the towers made it possible to throw down rocks, boiling oil or fire arrows at the attackers.
Surrounding areas which were initially used for farming were cleared out. In that way there was no shelter for the attackers and nowhere to hide. This made them vulnerable to be attacked from the defenders on the walls.
Another invention was to make a second, lower wall outside the main wall which would slow down any approaching invaders.
Granada City Walls
Granada has an elaborate system of walls surrounding the city to protect itself against invaders. The Alhambra is part of the defense structure of Granada. However, the complex is located outside the city. In the past, the rulers within the Alhambra gates were more afraid of the people living in the city than outside invaders. For this reason the Alhambra stands separate from the city of Granada and can both shield it’s residents from outside invaders and it’s own people in the city who might want to retreat in the Alhambra complex when necessary.
Some walls of Granada date back to Roman times. When the city expanded, the walls expanded with it. Therefore it’s possible to find different wall structures which date back to different centuries. There are several gates that still exist today. Many can be found in the Albaicin area. Gates which
can be still admired today are the Elvira, Monaita, Arco de las Pesas, Hizna Roman and Fajalauza.
The Puerta de los Tableros, or Woodworker’s bridge was used to house the water supply of the Alhambra. In later times the Alhambra would get it’s own water supply.
One of the most famous gates is the Puerta de las Granadas. The Gate of the Pomegranates is located on top of the Cuesta de Gomerez. The street which visitors can take from the center of Granada up to the woods of the Alhambra for their visit. The gate was built in 1526. Walk through it, go up the hill and walk straight to the entrance of the Alhambra.