Learn/ Educators/ Curriculum Resources/ Art of the Islamic World/ Unit Five: Courtly Splendor in the Islamic World/ Chapter One: Court Arts of Islamic Spain/ Nasrid Rule in Spain (1232–1492)

Nasrid Rule in Spain (1232–1492)

View of the Court of the Lions, Alhambra

Fig. 22. View of the Court of the Lions, Alhambra, Granada, Spain, 1354–91

By the thirteenth century, only one Islamic kingdom remained in Spain, the Nasrids of Granada (1232–1492). In spite of geographic gains by northern forces elsewhere, the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula flourished as an intellectual and artistic center as it had two centuries earlier under the Spanish Umayyads. The Nasrids built a palace in their capital, Granada, around an existing hilltop fortress, which came to be known as the Alhambra (from the Arabic word for red, hamra, referring to the color of its outer stone walls).

The Alhambra quickly became the most recognizable symbol of Islamic civilization in Spain. Its decoration is the result of a synthesis of preexisting local Spanish traditions and artistic influences from neighboring Christian regions, North Africa, Iran, and other areas of the Near East. This distinct Nasrid style is known for its slender columns, colorful geometric tilework, horseshoe arches, carved plaster walls with lacelike patterns and Arabic inscriptions, extensive use of muqarnas (small, honeycomblike niches used to decorate architectural surfaces), and four-part gardens (fig. 22). Known as Moorish, this style was used by Muslims and Christians alike in fourteenth-century Spain (see, for example, the similarities between the Alhambra [fig. 22] and the Christian King Pedro's Alcázar of Seville). The style eventually reached as far as Russia, England, Germany, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, and the Americas as travelers' accounts of the Alhambra spread around the world. Nasrid rule in Spain ended in 1492, but the Christian conquerors from the North continued to use the Alhambra palace, and adapted many Andalusian forms and styles into their own visual culture (see, for example, the Museum's sixteenth-century Spanish ceiling).

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