The color of the water is Alhambra

A journey through the importance of water in the Alhambra through art.

Museu de les Aigües

A collaboration with, the Board of the Alhambra and the Generalife and Rafael Pérez Gómez, Universidad de Granada

General view of the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada, Granada (1888) by Henry StanierArt Gallery of New South Wales

The Alhambra is one of the architectural wonders the Andalusian period in the Iberian Peninsula left to us. Erected on top of the city of Granada, it represents the splendor of the Nasrid dynasty who built it. Its relation with water is vital to understand it.

Muḥammad I Ibn al-Aḥmar, in 1238, chose the hill of Sabika to place the city where he would locate his palace, building the Alhambra. The first requirement would be to provide it with abundant water, through the Royal or Sultan's Canal, supplied from the Darro River. 

The Generalife (1898) by Santiago RusiñolOriginal Source: Montserrat Museum

The descendants of Muḥammad I would transform it into the palatine citadel, with new palaces and royal residences. The first was the Generalife, where the Acequia Real (Royal Canal) enters the Alhambra and becomes the axis around which this medieval city is organized.

Generalife Canal by Santiago RusiñolOriginal Source: National Museum of Visual Arts

Image of fainted Bayād (1200)Original Source: Vatican Apostolic Library

Roman civilization is recognized for its great hydraulic engineering to meet the needs of their cities. Andalusia is credited with expanding its use, developing the technology of water. 

Alhambra (2017-01-01/2017-05-31) by Martha ModeritzThe Prince's Foundation

To guarantee water for irrigating agriculture and the gardens, a carefully-calculated network of channels was developed, which crossed the contours and ravines, cisterns, pools, tanks and wells from which water was extracted using animal-powered waterwheels.  

The fountain of youth (1400)Original Source: Patronato de la Alhambra y el Generalife

The practice of Islam introduced water into religious architecture; the baths were placed next to the mosques as well as the basins where ablutions are performed before prayer. The Nasrids are moreover credited with incorporating water into the architecture of their palaces. 

Hall of the Abencerrajes by Francisco Muros ÚbedaOriginal Source: Private Collection

The Nasrid culture introduced water into the architecture of their palaces to improve the thermal comfort of the inhabited spaces by introducing small irrigation ditches, pools and fountains.

The Alhambra (1886) by Adolf SteelOriginal Source: Kunstmuseum

Tribunal of the Alhambra, Marià Fortuny, 1871, Original Source: Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation
Fountain in the Courtyard of the Lions, James Cavanagh Murphy, 1815, Original Source: Private Collection
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Water, as a symbolic decorative element that allows the generation of mental images, creates mirrors with the surfaces of fountains and pools, or with the arrangement of canals and fountains, as in the Court of the Lions.

The Slaughter of the Abencerrajes (1870) by Marià FortunyOriginal Source: Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC)

The Generalife gardens (1909) by Santiago RusiñolOriginal Source: Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC)

Water gives life to gardens, and those of the Alhambra reached the zenith of beauty, converting a walled city into a paradise for the senses. Nasrid architecture is a world reference for having turned its living spaces into a natural landscape.

Hall of the Ambassadors, Alhambra, Granada Hall of the Ambassadors, Alhambra, Granada (1909) by Joaquín Sorolla y BastidaThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Since the ninth century, Sufi masters such as al-Junayd used the saying that "the colour of water is the colour of its vessel" to speak of the believer's heart as a receptacle for the manifestations of Allah. 

Courtyard of the Alberca (1895) by Santiago RusiñolOriginal Source: Private Collection

Thus, as a consequence of the presence of light, the water in the Alhambra takes on the color of the hydraulic installation that contains it, which gives way to a divine epiphany.

Blue pool by José Manuel DarroOriginal Source: José Manuel Darro

To conclude, in the capital of the Kingdom of Granada, the colour of the water is Alhambra.

Canalón (canal / aqueduct) (2022)Original Source: Jaime de Rosendo Serrano

The Alhambra goes beyond Granada and has influenced architects such as Antoni Gaudí. Remarkable similitudes can be apreciated between certain elements present in the Palace of the Lions of the Alhambra and some of Gaudí's works.

Arch of the waterfall in Casa Vicens (1883-1885) by Antoni Gaudí i CornetOriginal Source: ©Institut Amatller d’Art Hispànic/Arxiu Mas

This is the case of Casa Vicens, where the Catalan architect designed the garden waterfall, combining architecture and water to create comfortable spaces. The Gaudí Waterfall is part of the garden of the Museu de les Aigües.

Arch of the waterfall in Casa Vicens (Reconstruction) ((1883-1885) 2019) by Antoni Gaudí i CornetMuseu de les Aigües

Credits: Story

Organized by the Museu de les Aigües. Collaborates: the Board of Trustees of the Alhambra and Generalife. Texts by Rafael Pérez Gómez, University of Granada

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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