The moors called it Al Qal'a al-Hamra, the “red castle”, and the Alhambra of Granada in southern Spain stands magnificently against the Sierra Nevada, its walls glinting red underneath the sun. Built in the 9th century by Ziridian rulers, and later on taken over and expanded the by the Naserite Emir Muhammed Al-Ahmar, the Alhambra was a city, a fortress, and a palace, all at once.
It has been home to royal families, Franciscan monks, and Napoleon's troops. Thieves and tramps even took over for some time in the 18th and 19th centuries and left it in ruins. The Spanish government declared the Alhambra a national monument, and began restoring the “fairy palace of the Moors,” as American novelist Richard Ford put it, back to its former glory. No space in the Alhambra is left untouched; the place is rich in wood carvings, Arabic poems engraved in calligraphy, and mocárabe arches, peculiar Arabic ornamentation that resemble stalactites.
Within the Nasrid Palaces is a maze of features that include the Queen's Dressing Room with its perfume burner, frescoes, and balconies. The Hall of Beds is where people undressed before coming inside the Baths. Legend has it that the emir would come here and throw an apple to the wife he wanted to spend the night with.
The Palace of the Lions was built by Mohammed V and is a testament to Nasrid Art. There are thirteen towers in the complex. The southern Justice Tower serves as an entrance, where an engraved marble hand, a symbol for the Koran, was believed to ward off the evil eye. The bell at the Watch Tower is an important part of life in Granada, as it was used to warn against danger, or signal the time for the farmers to water their crops. Today, it is treated as a charm against spinsterhood; young girls ring the bell on festive occasions to guarantee that they find a mate.
The Secano, or Unirrigated Land, is a large section on the eastern side of the Alhambra, and is so-named because the irrigation channels were destroyed in the 16th century. Remnants of Arab and Christian buildings can be seen here.