134. Alhambra – The Shadow of a Sultanate

I’ve been mulling over this entry for a while now.

How can I even begin to describe the beauty of the Alhambra?

I trudged up the hill to get to the Alhambra well-laden with high expectations, thanks to the years of reading up and romanticizing it in my mind. Yet it still managed to creep up to me and sweep me off my feet.

I knew as I stepped in and began to sink into the depths of its magical charm, it was an irrevocable step towards falling in love.

And like all great loves, it becomes quite a challenge to recount. All you want to remember are the good parts and the feelings evoked within, without necessarily given proper accordance to the other less savoury aspects.

I wanted to give my time in the Alhambra a proper write up, mainly because I want to be able to look back years later and remember it as clearly as possible and I feel I owe the intense experience a well-written reflection. It also goes without saying that I’m writing it to entice as many people as possible, especially Muslims, to get it on their bucketlists, because this place is worthy of a visit, more so than the typical commercialised overrated European destinations.

Where do I start?

I guess a good way would be to attempt to give an overview of the history and significance of the place itself.

As mentioned in earlier posts, Al-Andalus, or Andalucia, used to be a Muslim stronghold. By the mid-900s, Islam reached its zenith in the land, with its capital being Cordoba. Initially ruled by a strong united Umayyad caliphate, it broke up into numerous small (warring) states called taifas which fell to the Christian Reconquistas one after another in the 1000s. By mid 1240s, only the emirate of Granada remained under Muslim rule.

The Alhambra, a ‘pearl set in emeralds’ as described by poets, was the palace fortress of the emirs of Granada.

After a series of civil wars and a line of weak leadership, Granada eventually fell to the Christian monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. It was in the Alhambra that the humiliating treaty of handing over the city was signed.

On January 2nd, 1492, the treaty took effect and the Spanish army entered Granada and officially took possession of the last Muslim state of al-Andalus. Christian soldiers occupied the legendary Alhambra palace that morning. They hung the banners and flags of Spain’s Christian monarchs from the walls, signifying their victory. At the top of Alhambra’s tallest tower, they erected a giant silver cross, telling the terrified people of Granada below that the forces of Christendom had been victorious over the Muslims of al-Andalus. Muslims were too fearful to venture outdoors, and the streets were deserted.

Sultan Muhammad was exiled, and on his way out of Granada, he stopped at a mountain pass to look back at Granada and began to cry. His mother was unimpressed with his sudden remorse and scolded him, “Do not cry like a woman for that which you could not defend as a man.”


I’d always found that quote from the emir’s mother disconcerting. It contains so much depth and meaning within it. Imagine your mother chiding you like that. Ahhh but it is so so so true. The last emir’s greed and weak political prowess eventually led to the fall of one of Islam’s greatest caliphate. One can’t help but feel aggravated by it. Yet everything happens for a reason.

It is an exceptionally powerful reminder, for me at least, that everything is a gift from Allah and it may be taken away anytime.

No calamity occurs on earth nor in yourselves but it is inscribed in the Book of Decrees before We bring it into existence. Verily, that is easy for Allah.

In order that you may not grieve at the things over that you fail to get, nor rejoice over that which has been given to you. And Allah likes not prideful boasters.

Surah Hadid: 22-23

There are moments when I walk around the complex when I notice not the restored parts, but the dilapidated crumbling parts of the Alhambra. Therein lies much more history than in the beautified facades and interiors. In those rundown areas often overlooked by the undiscerning visitor, there are more untold stories and signs of what once was.

Maybe it’s just queer fascination on my part. Yes, there are parts of the Alhambra which just blows me away with their beauty and extravagance, some even bringing tears to my eyes (I’m not kidding), but I constantly find myself venturing off to these places of untold stories.

It gives permission to my imagination to run all over the place – to wonder how the women of the palace used to stroll through these places, how the emirs used to admire the city sprawled below them, how the servants used to keep up the place…

Yes, these are the kind of things running through my mind whenever I go to places of historical significance. >.<

Now, have I enticed you enough? (:

I’ll be approaching the subject matter from various angles inshaAllah, from personal recounts of emotions and realisations, to historical facts of buildings to well, just lots of pictures.

I’m aiming to put up at least one post a day so hopefully, that keeps up!

6 thoughts on “134. Alhambra – The Shadow of a Sultanate

  1. MashaAllah, i stumbled upon your Spain entries and I have to agree with you! I was there for my honeymoon last year and till today, I’m still reeling over the magic of Andalusia. It’s definately a must-visit-again place! ❤

  2. Pingback: 209. Inside Cordoba’s Mezquita-Cathedral | Raise your sights.

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  5. salam sister,
    i’m amazed by your travels, masyaAllah! i plan to travel myself once i’m done with school! your extensive knowledge on the history of islam and what you’ve seen, mirrors what i want to see for myself. any advice on better to prepare myself for these travels? or are there any books you could recommend for me to read before going to these magnificent places, that hold deep, rich islamic history?

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