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The Alhambra Palace Essay Sample

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The Alhambra Palace Essay Sample

The Alhambra Palace was one of the greatest architectural wonders of the world when it was created in the 13th and 14th centuries and remains so today. It was the last and most splendid of all the Arabian palaces to be built in Spain during 700 years of Moorish domination. The Moors were vastly superior to their European enemies in all areas of culture and the Alhambra Palace became a glorious symbol of not only their wealth and power but also their unsurpassable artistic and architectural skills. The palace was constructed as both a fortress and royal residence for the sultans after the Christians recaptured Cordoba, which was the former capital of the mighty Western Islamic empire known as El Andalus.

 From the mid-1200s onwards, the Moorish Nasrid Dynasty set about establishing a citadel and palace the like of which the world had never seen before. On the hilltop site of an existing 10th century Arab fortress, the sultans brought together their empire’s greatest minds and most talented craftsmen to fashion an exotic array of exquisitely decorated palaces and courtyards within the walls of a castle designed to withstand the might of the Christian armies. Visit the Alhambra today and you’ll still find a mesmerizing mixture of the most intricate tile work, filigree decoration and mosaics within its royal rooms and shaded courtyards.

A sensual blend of bubbling fountains, dark green pools, white marble floors and enchanting passage ways draw you back through the centuries to a time and place where sultans once ruled and relaxed on silken cushions while naked beauties danced for them (accompanied by blind musicians!) Jewels in the crown of the Alhambra include the legendary Court of the Lions with its famous fountain, the Hall of the Kings and Hall of the Queens, the royal baths and the magnificent Hall of the Two Sisters lavishly decorated with gold and lapis lazuli.

In July and August, the Alhambra Palace is the main venue for the annual International Festival of Music and Dance which attracts some of the world’s top orchestras, flamenco performers and ballet companies. Today, the monument is divided into four main areas: the Palaces , the military zone or Alcazaba , the city or Medina and the agricultural estate of the Generalife. All of these areas are surrounded by woods, gardens and orchards.

“Córdoba’s mosque is one of the earliest and most transportingly beautiful examples of Spanish Muslim architecture.” – Fodor’s Spain The Mezquita (Spanish for “Mosque”) of Cordoba is a beautiful and fascinating building that symbolizes the many religious changes Cordoba has undergone over the centuries. Today, the Mezquita is the cathedral of Cordoba (officially theCathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption), but the vast majority of its art and architecture is the work of Islamic architects, who built it as a mosque in the 8th century. History

The site on which the Mezquita stands has long been a sacred space – it was host to a Roman temple dedicated to Janus and a Visigothic cathedral dedicated to St Vincent of Saragossa before the mosque was constructed in the 8th century. Finally, a cathedral was added inside the mosque by the Christian conquerors in the early 13th century. The construction of the Mezquita lasted for over two centuries, starting in 784 ADunder the supervision of the emir of Cordoba, Abd ar-Rahman I. Under Abd ar-Rahman II (822-52), the Mezquita held an original copy of the Koran and an arm bone of the prophet Mohammed, making it a major Muslim pilgrimage site.

The Mosque underwent numerous subsequent changes: Abd ar-Rahman III ordered a new minaret (9th century), while Al-Hakam II enlarged the plan of the building and enriched the mihrab (961). The last of the reforms, including the completion of the outer aisles and orange tree courtyard, were completed by Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir in 987. When finished, the Mezquita was the most magnificent of the more than 1,000mosques in Cordoba. But Cordoba was subject to frequent invasion and each conquering wave added their own mark to the architecture. In 1236, Cordoba was captured from the Moors by King Ferdinand III of Castile and rejoined Christendom.

The Christians initially left the architecture Mezquita largely undisturbed – they simply consecrated it, dedicated it to the Virgin Mary, and used it as a place of Christian worship. King Alfonso X oversaw the construction of the Villaviciosa Chapel and the Royal Chapel within the structure of the mosque. The kings who followed added further Christian features: Enrique II rebuilt the chapel in the 14th century; a nave was constructed with the patronage of Carlos V, king of a united Spain.

The heavy, incongruous Baroque choir was sanctioned in the very heart of the mosque by Charles V in the 1520s. Artists and architects continued to add to the existing structure until the late 18th century, making the Mezquita an intriguing architectural oddity. In 1931, Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal was the first Muslim to pray in the Mezquita since it was closed to Islam. In 1984, the historic center of Cordoba, including the Mezquita, was made a UNESCO World Heritage site.

What to See

The Mezquita de Cordoba is most notable for its giant arches and its forest of over 856 (of an original 1,293) columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite. These were taken from the Roman temple which had previously occupied the site and other destroyed Roman buildings. The Mezquita also features richly gilded prayer niches. But the Mezquita’s most interesting feature is certainly the mihrab, a domed shrine of Byzantine mosaics built by Al Hakam II (961-76). It once housed the Koran and relics of Muhammad. In front of the Mihrab is the Maksoureh, a kind of anteroom for the caliph and his court; its mosaics and plasterwork make it a masterpiece of Islamic art. Although it does not fit in with the rest of the mosque, the 16th-century Baroque choir is an impressive sight, with an intricate ceiling and richly carved 18th-century choir stalls.

Outside the Mezquita is the Courtyard of the Orange Trees (Patio de los Naranjos), which in springtime is perfumed with orange blossoms and has a beautiful fountain. The Torre del Alminar, the minaret once used to summon the faithful to prayer, has a Baroque belfry. Hardy travelers can climb to the top to catch a panoramic view of Córdoba and its surroundings. Cordoba plays a pivotal role in the history of Jewish life in the middle ages. In the tenth century it became the seat of Jewish learning, scholarship and culture, gradually eclipsing the Babylonian academies of Sura and Pumbeditha. Its preeminence was undoubtedly the result of the grand achievements of one man, Hasdai Ibn Shaprut (915-970).

A doctor, diplomat and scholar, Hasdai served the courts of Caliph Abd al-Rahman III and his successor Hakam II. His meteoric rise to power and influence brought acclaim to the Jewish community. Hasdai’s family wealth made it possible for him to surround himself with Jewish poets, philosophers and scholars. Under his tutelage, the great grammarian, Menahem ben Sharuk (910-970) completed the first dictionary of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic, and launched a systematic investigation into Hebrew grammar. As secretary to the great diplomat, it was Menahem who penned Hasdai’s famous letter to the King of the Chazars. Vying for Hasdai’s favor was Dunash ben Labrat.

He was a merciless critic of Menahem, and the two maintained an intense rivalry throughout the balance of their lives. Ben Labrat’s contribution to Hebrew poetry was the introduction of meter. Hasdai did not neglect the study of the law. He maintained a correspondence with Saadiah Gaon, the head of the Sura Academy and frequently sent money. His generosity earned him the title Resh Kallah, Head of the School. But Hasdai was not content with looking eastward for halachic guidance. He established an academy for Talmud study in Cordoba and purchased copies of the Talmud from the Babylonian communities. Under the guidance of Moshe ben Chanoch, the Cordoba academy flourished, becoming the Andalusian Sura.

The Cordoba Jewish community of Hasdai’s time, situated near the alcazar, southwest of the city, was wealthy and vibrant. But the situation would soon change. In 1013, the Berbers lay seige to Cordoba and the city entered into a process of gradual decline, marked by occasional periods of glory. In later years, another famous native of Cordoba, Moses Maimonides, would flee the city, forced out by the ferocity of Almohade persecutions. In 1236 Cordoba was reconquered by the Christians and the community was labeled a “scandal against Christianity.” Ferdinand and Isabella used Cordoba as their headquarters when they waged war against the remaining Moors in Granada, and the tribunal of the Inquisition established in Cordoba was especially cruel.

Many Conversos were martyred during the 1480’s. In 1483, Jews were exiled from Andalusia. Cordoba plays a pivotal role in the history of Jewish life in the middle ages. In the tenth century it became the seat of Jewish learning, scholarship and culture, gradually eclipsing the Babylonian academies of Sura and Pumbeditha. Its preeminence was undoubtedly the result of the grand achievements of one man, Hasdai Ibn Shaprut (915-970). A doctor, diplomat and scholar, Hasdai served the courts of Caliph Abd al-Rahman III and his successor Hakam II. His meteoric rise to power and influence brought acclaim to the Jewish community.

Hasdai’s family wealth made it possible for him to surround himself with Jewish poets, philosophers and scholars. Under his tutelage, the great grammarian, Menahem ben Sharuk (910-970) completed the first dictionary of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic, and launched a systematic investigation into Hebrew grammar. As secretary to the great diplomat, it was Menahem who penned Hasdai’s famous letter to the King of the Chazars. Vying for Hasdai’s favor was Dunash ben Labrat. He was a merciless critic of Menahem, and the two maintained an intense rivalry throughout the balance of their lives. Ben Labrat’s contribution to Hebrew poetry was the introduction of meter.

Hasdai did not neglect the study of the law. He maintained a correspondence with Saadiah Gaon, the head of the Sura Academy and frequently sent money. His generosity earned him the title Resh Kallah, Head of the School. But Hasdai was not content with looking eastward for halachic guidance. He established an academy for Talmud study in Cordoba and purchased copies of the Talmud from the Babylonian communities. Under the guidance of Moshe ben Chanoch, the Cordoba academy flourished, becoming the Andalusian Sura.

The Cordoba Jewish community of Hasdai’s time, situated near the alcazar, southwest of the city, was wealthy and vibrant. But the situation would soon change. In 1013, the Berbers lay seige to Cordoba and the city entered into a process of gradual decline, marked by occasional periods of glory.

In later years, another famous native of Cordoba, Moses Maimonides, would flee the city, forced out by the ferocity of Almohade persecutions. In 1236 Cordoba was reconquered by the Christians and the community was labeled a “scandal against Christianity.” Ferdinand and Isabella used Cordoba as their headquarters when they waged war against the remaining Moors in Granada, and the tribunal of the Inquisition established in Cordoba was especially cruel. Many Conversos were martyred during the 1480’s. In 1483, Jews were exiled from Andalusia.

Córdoba Synagogue (Spanish: Sinagoga de Córdoba) is a historic edifice in the Jewish Quarter of Córdoba, Spain built in 1315. The synagogue was built in Mudéjar style by architects led by Isaac Moheb. It consists of a courtyard, accessed from the street, which leads to a hallway, followed by the prayer room. On the eastern side of the hall is a staircase that leads to the women’s gallery. The gallery overlooks the prayer room through three decorative arches. The prayer room measures 6.95 x 6.37 m. After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the building was devoted to various functions including a Hydrophobic hospital, a chapel for shoemakers and nursery school.

It was declared a National Monument in 1885. Since then it has undergone several phases of the restoration including that of Felix Hernandez in 1929 and one started in 1977 for the reopening of the building in 1985 to celebrate the 850th anniversary of birth of Maimonides. Other well-preserved, pre-expulsion synagogues can be found in Híjar, Toledo, and Tomar. The Albaicin is a medieval Muslim district of Granada, made up of maze-like streets and narrow little alleyways which have been home to various peoples over the years, giving this part of the city an interesting mixed cultural heritage.

A stroll around the area will also take you through various squares with Mudejar-style churches which used to be mosques during the Muslim period. You will also come across their respective drinking water tanks, such as those at San Cristóbal, San Bartolomé, San Lúis and the Plaza del Salvador, not forgetting the tanks at Las Tomases and El Rey, the largest in the entire city. The wall around the Albaicin dates back to the Nazari period, having been built during the latter half of the 14th century to defend the districts located on San Cristobal Hill. It runs from the Guadix gate, through the Plaza de San Miguel Alto, the Gate of Fajalauza and the San Lorenzo Postern as far as the Elvira gateway.

Jewish Spain

Spain has a long and illustrious Jewish heritage that dates back to the Muslim conquest of 711. There proved to be huge opportunities for Jews to thrive in a Muslim country. Jews contributed to Muslim Spain in a variety of ways, and the two faiths learned from each other, but particularly the Muslims learned from the Jews such things as craftsmanship as Jews were skilled tanners, metalworkers, goldsmiths, silversmiths, and jewellers.

Jews also excelled in the sciences, in particular medicine, and in particular the 10th century physician, Hasdai ibn Shaprut, who was probably one of the most influential people in Spain. Jews also excelled in scholarship, and they satisfied the Muslims hunger for knowledge by translating important Greek and Latin works into Arabic. Conversely, they allowed the rest of Europe to learn from the Muslims by translating Arabic texts into Hebrew and Latin. Not surprisingly then, there is a lot of evidence of the influence that Jews have had in Spain over the centuries.

The Jews thrived during the middle ages, until the time of the Spanish Inquisition in 1478. Many Jews were then forced to convert to Catholicism. In 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella ordered the expulsion of all Jews in Spain. There are still a number of towns that have evidence of Jewish occupation, and the attempts to eradicate them.

Barcelona’s Old City still has a lot of indicators that this was once a thriving Jewish community in the middle ages. For example, the street names include ‘Carrer de Montjuic’ or ‘Jewish Mountain Street’ and there are Hebrew inscriptions from eroded Jewish tombstones on walls. This Juderia is evidence of how the Jews were converted to Catholicism.

Many of the street signs were changed in an attempt to catholicize them. For example, ‘Sant Domenec del Call’, is giving the Jewish Quarter a Catholic patron saint. There are a number of synagogues that survive, but they were built over during the expulsion. In fact, an 11th century example, the Synagogue Mayor, has been restored. It was found under the basement of a 17th century building within the Juderia.

Girona, has one of the best preserved Jewish Quarters in Spain and was once home to Spain’s largest Jewish population. It is also where the Kabbalah was first written down. There is a stunning museum; the Museum of Catalan Jewish History, that continues to have exhibits added to it as they are uncovered after being buried for over 500 years. Near to Girona is the town of Besalu that has one of the oldest mikvahs in Europe, dating back to the 12th century.

Cordoba was another major centre of learning during the Middle Ages. It had also been a capital city under the Romans and the Moors. In the Jewish Quarter there is evidence of the Jews and the Muslims living side by side in a number of the buildings, including a 14th century synagogue that is decorated in an Arab style that dates back to 1315 AD. However, it is most famous as the birth place of Maimonides, who was a great Jewish rabbi and renowned philosopher. He was born around 1135, and died in 1204.

It wasn’t until 1950 that Jews began to return to Spain. Since then, Jewish quarters have grown up in the majority of Spain’s larger towns and cities. Many of them are on the original medieval sites of the old Jewish quarters. You can now see newly built, or renovated synagogues, and thriving Jewish communities that have been rebuilt, after over 500 years of exile, all over Spain. Evidence of the medieval Jews is still being discovered, and it is a part of Spain’s history that is likely to be revealed for many years to come.

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