This is an extract from the Reading Materials in English that are available in the English and Education section of the website of the Liberal Party of  Sri Lanka,

The entire text of Historic Buildings by Goolbai Gunasekara, covering twelve famous constructions, is now available on that website.

The Alhambra in Granada, Spain

The Alhambra is in Granada, Spain. It is situated on a hill overlooking the city and it is one of the most famous examples of Moorish architecture. The Moors conquered Spain in the 8th century AD and ruled it for over 700 years. They brought Islam to a Christian country but they did not force the people to be Muslims. Instead they set about building beautiful palaces and great mosques. They were sophisticated and elegant and, under the Moors, Spain reached a high stage of development in Art, Architecture, Medicine, Science and Law.

The Alhambra was begun in the 10th century and gradually evolved into being a fortress, a palace and a Court. Alhambra means ‘Red Castle’ and the red bricks that were used in certain sections probably gave it this name.

"Honeycomb," "stalactite," or "mocárabe" vaulting in the Hall of the Abencerrajes

In the Alhambra lived the Emirs or Kings of Granada. They made it into the most marvellous of Moorish palaces. European Kings would see it and be rendered speechless by the beauty of its many halls and the stunning visual impact of the decorated walls.

The Muslim religion does not allow human figures to be depicted in art so Muslim artists turned to geometric designs and floral patterns, which they combined with such glorious effect that they have held the imagination of visitors for centuries. Moorish artists also made good use of calligraphy in their designs for decoration.

Court of Lions

The most famous tourist attraction today is the Court of the Lions. Moors loved gardens. As they came from desert lands they also loved water. Being great engineers they diverted water from the hills to feed the city of Granada, and in the Alhambra there are huge pools with many fountains spraying water to create the illusion of coolness. There are also deep canals carrying water to planned gardens. The Moors considered that gardens were an extension of Paradise on earth and the gardens of the Alhambra are truly like Paradise.

In 1829 the writer Washington Irving, an American, visited Spain. He got permission from the Governor of Granada to stay in a tiny apartment in the now deserted Alhambra palace. He was enchanted. To him the Alhambra was the epitome of refinement and elegance. A British writer Samuel Butler said

‘The Moors believe Granada lies

Directly under Paradise.’

One detail of the arabesques.

The Alhambra saw scenes of great cruelty as well as scenes of much romance. In the famous Hall of Ambassadors the Emir Boabdil slaughtered an entire tribe, after having first lured them to the palace by trickery. The Hall of the Sisters is so called because two princesses living in the Alhambra would watch lovers meeting outside their walls, knowing that they would never have the chance to experience such love.

Fountains and flowing water are a common feature around the Alhambra.

In 1492 Moorish rule in Spain ended at last. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella won back the country and threw out the highly educated progressive Moors. Granada was the last city to fall. Emir Boabdil decided not to fight a battle he was bound to lose. He left the city in tears but his decision saved the beautiful Alhambra for us to admire today.

Christopher Columbus was present at the historic scene when Boabdil kissed the hand of Queen Isabella and gave her the keys of the city. His mother watched him weep with no pity. ‘You do well to weep as a woman what you could not defend as a man,’ she said witheringly. And so the Moors sailed back to North Africa never to return. Behind them they left palaces like the Alhambra for the world to marvel at and admire.


Grammar and Vocabulary

  1. Give in your own words the meaning, as used in the passage, of the words or phrases that are highlighted.
  2. To what do the pronouns or other words in italics refer?
  3. Divide the proper nouns in this passage into those that name people, those that name places, and those that describe a special type of place or person. Which proper nouns are used as adjectives? Why are capitals used for the nouns in the last sentence of the first paragraph?
  4. Find nouns that correspond to the underlined adjectives, and use them in sentences to bring out their meaning.
  5. Find three participle phrases in this passage that describe the subject of the sentence in which they occur.

Comprehension and Further Activities

  1. Trace on a map the route by which the Moors arrived in Spain from their origins in Arabia. Mark the countries which are still Islamic.
  2. Mark Granada on your map as well as the capitals of Spain and Portugal, and the port from which Christopher Columbus sailed to discover America.
  3. Debate in pairs whether Boabdil did the right thing in refusing to fight to stay on in Granada.
  4. Discuss in groups the advantages and disadvantages of not being permitted to depict human figures in art.
  5. Write down briefly in your own words the main point of each of the paragraphs in this passage. Which paragraphs deal with the architecture of the Alhambra, and which with the history of the Moors in Spain?
  6. Write a brief description of the palace in which they are living from the point of view of the two sisters described in this passage.
  7. The paragraph about water implies that people love what they do not normally have. Discuss in groups whether this is generally true. On that basis, what would be the characteristic features of a highly admired building in Sri Lanka.