The Albayzin

Map & Guide of The Andalusi Albayzin

By Antonio Almagro, Antonio Orihuela y Carlos Sánchez; with the collaboration of de José Sandoval, Elvira Martín, Ignacio Zúñiga, Francisco Urbistondo, Javier Abadía.
Granada : Escuela de Estudios Árabes, El Legado Andalusí, 1995
Translation: Spanish, English, French and Arabic

The urban development of the andalusi Albayzin



The ancient settlement from which the city of Granada originated was located in the central and highest part of the district known today as the Albayzin. An Iberian population settled at the site in the 7th century BC. Its primitive name was the origin of Illiberis or Iliberri, a city which ranked as a latin municipality after the year 45 BC.
At the beginning of the 8th century, the Muslim conquerors most likely found a city in decadence, following the Visigothic period during which building was scarce. The ancient name was arabicized as Ilbira, but the new rulers established the capital of the cora or province in Madinat llbira, at the foothills of Sierra Elvira, some 10 kilometers away. In the meantime, the central area, or perhaps all of what was once Iliberri, became known as Hisn Garnata or Qal’at Garnata (Castle or Citadel of Granada).

Shortly after the beginning of the civil war (1009-1031), which ended in the disintegration of the caliphate of Cordova, a group of Zirid berbers, led by Zawi b. Ziri established an autonomous government in the province of llbira. Rather than settling in Madinat llbira, however, they decided to restore the ancient Roman-Visigothic city. After rehabilitating existing fortifications, they continued to expand, particularly into the western and southern sectors. The first of these sectors extended from Bab al-Unaydar (Gate of Erilla or Monaita) to Carril de la Lona, where the Bab al-Asad (Gate of the Lion) stood, and of which only one tower has been preserved. Here, the boundary descended from behind the Church of San José to the Cuesta de San Gregorio. The southern limit came very near the present-day Calle San Juan de los Reyes, where a tower still stands, opposite the church of the same name. The boundary then continued in a northerly direction to join the ancient wall of Calle Guinea, near another existing tower. Towards the east, in the Placeta del Abad, incorporated in the Convent of the Tomasas, a tower remains which must have been a part of the Bab al-Bunud (Gate of the Flags). Thus, the Qasabat Garnáta (Alcazaba or “fortress” of Granada) was built. Inside the fortification was the alcázar or “palace” of the Zirid emirs.

The successors of Zawi turned the capital of his taifa kingdom into a great city, Madinat Garnata (City of Granada). The expansion was carried out towards the plains, with a perimeter of walls which, from the Monaita gate, continued on toward the Elvira gate and, from this point, surrounded the rest of the medina, crossing over to the other side of the river and then ascending to a fortress located where the Alhambra stands today. The boundary then descended once again along the river to connect with the coracha (wall descending to a river for water supply) of the primitive enclosure, through the gate – bridge called Bab al-Difaf (Gate of the Panels).

In 1090, the Almoravids overthrew the last Zirid emir, ‘Abd Alah, and established the capital of al-Andalus in Granada. The urban development entailed the construction of arrabales or outlying “suburbs” such as the al-Bayyazin (the Falconers, later transformed into the word “Albayzín”) to the north, al-Ramla (the Arenal, “sand-covered area”), to the southwest and al-Fajjarin (the Alfareros, or “potters”) to the southeast. As it became necessary to create a passageway from the Alcazaba to the suburbs of the Albayzín an opening was made, the Bab al-Ziyada (New District Gate), later known as the (Puerta Nueva or Puerta de las Pesas, “New Gate” or “Gate of the Weights”). These suburbs were probably not surrounded by walls at that time. However, the district Ajsaris (Axares), situated between the ancient area of the Alcazaba, the Cuesta del Chapiz, the Darro River, and the coracha was most likely walled in.

In 1238, Muhammad ibn al-Ahmar established the capital of the Nasrid emirate in Granada and began to construct a walled palatine city in the Alhambra. This was later to become the new political and administrative center whose relationship with Granada was to be limited to its western border, where the Qasabat al-Hamra’ was located (Alcazaba of the Alhambra). Since then, the ancient Zirid citadel, devoid of its political power, but conserving its military strength, became known as al-Qasaba al-Qadïma (Old Alcazaba).

The presence of migrating Muslims from frontier areas and the need for an improved defense system would have provoked the enclosure of the suburbs. The wall of the Albayzín, constructed during the middle of the 14th century, ran from the Cuesta del Chapiz, where it joined that of the Ajsaris district, bordering the Darro River upstream toward San Miguel Alto and down toward the Bab Fayy al-Lawza (Gate of Fajalauza). The wall continued down to the Postigo de San Lorenzo (Gate of San Lorenzo), ending up at the Gate of Elvira. Upon the completion of the Nasrid era, the urban complex formed by the Albayzín district, the Old Alcazaba, the Ajsaris district, and the area located at the western side of the coracha, became known generically as the “Albayzín”, a denomination which has been maintained to the present.

After the conquest of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs, the area became segregated, the Castilians settling in the lower part of the city, and the Mudejars remaining in the Albayzín. Subsequent to the revolt of the Albayzin’s residents in 1500, and upon the stifling of the uprising, the population lost its rights and was forced to convert to Christianity, thus becoming Moriscos. This new situation produced a fusion of art elements and techniques, mixing the Nasrid tradition with new styles, first Gothic and then Renaissance. Approximately 25 dwellings and other important remains have been conserved from this epoch, although only a dozen of the homes have been restored.

The rebellion and war of the Moriscos in 1568-1570 had repercusions in the Albayzín district, as many of the houses were abandoned and eventually destroyed after the population’s expulsion. Thereafter, parcels were grouped together, giving rise to the expansion of the surviving dwellings. These were surrounded with the characteristic flower – vegetable garden, forming the type of house known today by the name of Carmen.


This monumental gate was the main entrance to the city of Granada. A 17th century engraving shows that an archway existed at the entrance of the Calle Elvira, which was most likely a first door constructed in the 11th century, to which others were added later for defense purposes. The passageway became a powerful defense complex, and the major part of its exterior was preserved. After the still visible archway, there was an opening at which point the potential attackers who tried to
pass through were assailed. The gate itself, which was set back in regards to the façade, was destroyed at the beginning of the 19th century. Behind this door there was an interior patio with recesses along the sides where the guards were stationed. In front of the exterior gate, there was another door which provided access to the district of the al-Bayyazin through the Alhacaba. To the right, however, through the old 11th-century gate, was the beginning of the Calle de Elvira, the main artery of the medina. The structures which are still existing today are of concrete of lime and stone with a simulated bond of large ashlars, which may be seen at the northern side. They most likely date back to the mid-14th century.


This gate provided access to the area known as the old Alcazaba, the original nucleus of the Islamic city of Granada, and is flanked by a tower of rubblework between rows of bricks. The exterior and only existing door has a double arch, between which the opened leaves remained in line with the jambs. The arches present horizontal rows of stones to the springing point of the arch, and are made of stone from La Malahá with limestone imposts and a rectangular frame around each archway. Behind the door there was a patio surrounded by walls, through which, to the right and through another gate (which no longerexists) one entered into the alcazaba.


The tower of the church of San José and the cistern are all that remain of an ancient mosque called al-Murabitin or “mosque of the hermits”. The tower has a large window with a horseshoe arch and loopholes used to light the interior staircase that ascends in a spiral direction around a square central block wich is shaped like the tower. The real bond with which the tower is constructed is disguised by another apparent one that is carved with a more regular type of bond – a characteristic feature of 11th century constructions. The tower is also surmounted by a brick belfry of Christian construction.


As in the majority of the aljibes or “cisterns” in the Albayzin, this one was supplied with water from the Acequia de Aynadamar (Channel of Aynadamar) (Saqiyat ‘Ayn al-Dama’), which brought water from the Fuente Grande, located in the village of Alfacar, 10 kilometers away from Granada. This
cistern must have belonged to an old mosque which was torn down in 1528 and over which the San Miguel Bajo church was built. It has a capacity of 90m3 and consists of a kind of bent passageway covered with a half barrel vault, and a large hall covered by four half barrel vaults sustained by a central pillar. The exterior façade has a pointed horseshoe arch with a rectangular frame which is supported by two Roman columns. Its construction is attributed to the 13th century.


The Nasrid royal family mansion denominated Daralhorra (Dar al-Hurra) owes its name to the honorific titles used in addressing Muslim princesses, hence its translation as “House of the Sultana,” or “of the Queen”. It is situated within the grounds of the Old Alcazaba, probably on the lot once occupied by the 11th century alcázar of the Zirid king, Badis. Fatima, the wife of Muley Hacén and mother of Boabdil, is said to have lived in the house, whose construction most likely dates back to
the mid-15th century. After the surrender of Granada, the Catholic Monarchs founded the religious convent of the Franciscan nuns, which carries the name of Santa Isabel la Real, in her honor. Fortunately, the Nasrid mansion was conserved with few modifications within the northern wing of the conventual residence, until the time it was acquired by the government in the 1920’s.
The building itself occupied a site of 357 m2, not including the area destined to the vegetable and flower gardens. It is structured around a rectangular patio of a north-south orientation. It has a small pool, rooms on all four sides of the courtyard and porticos on the two smaller ones. At these latter two were located the main halls, which were double in height, whilst in the others there were two floors of secondary rooms. Its two most outstanding features are the existence of an upper floor over the hall of the northern side, with its access gallery, and the miradors situated in the center of both halls on this same side.


The aljibe or “cistern” is located at the end of Calle Larga de San Cristóbal, next to the church of the same name which was built over the old Mosque of the Saria ( Yami’ al-Saria’), whose name came from Saria or “esplanade”, a site where great religious celebrations were held outdoors. Upon
the walling in of the Albayzin in the 14th century, this large area was to be constructed, giving rise to the Saria district. The cistern may be reached by a stairway leading down to a pentagonal-shaped area situated below ground level. The exterior presents a monumental façade with a slightly pointed horseshoe arch that has horizontal rows of stones up to the level at which the arch springs. There is then a half barrel vault over the entrance, which frames a semicircular arch at the beginning of  the vault above the nave. It has a capacity of 13 m3.


The Gate of San Lorenzo, located in a recess of the city’s outermost enclosure which surrounded the district of the al-Bayyazin, follows the characteristic pattern of the Islamic door with its staggered entrance and double door leading to a central patio or hall, as in this case, used to house the guard’s
quarters. Similar to the Gate of the Weights, it is constructed in a tower made of concrete of lime and soil, although in this case it lacks in ashlar elements, as its arches are made of brick. As all of the outermost area, its construction most likely dates back to the era of Yusuf I, mid- 14th century.


Situated near the Darro river and earlier known as the “Walnut Baths”, the structure may be considered the prototype of the public Muslim bath. Its entrance had a patio and outbuildings used by the establishment’s keeper. A narrow doorway leads to a hall used traditionally as a dressing room,
which is vaulted as is the rest of the construction, and which also presents the characteristic starred and octagonal skylights used for lighting and ventilation. Next comes a long hall with dividers which served as a cold room, from which an axial door leads to the warm room, the largest of all. There is a central covered area with a cloister vault and galleries on three sides over horseshoe arches with splendid capitals, most of whichwere borrowed from earlier constructions. The hot room has a
similar layout to that of the cold room, but it also provides access to the areas where the basins used for bathing were located. A central opening which was originally closed provides access to the oven room and the attendants’ area where thefire was kept burning. The floor of the hot room has the
characteristic inferior hypocaust for the circulation of the furnace refuse which heated the floor and walls. It has been fairly well-preserved thanks to its solid lime mortar construction.


The Maristán of Granada, a hospital founded by Muhammad V in 1367, was located in the Axares district  (Ajsaris). It occupied a rectangular site of 1015 m2, with building blocks and porticos  surrounding the courtyard, arranged in twostoreys. The central patio had a large pool. The staircases
were located in the center of the two longest sides. The wings were divided into small square rooms of 6 m2 which were interconnected and which had direct access from the porticos and galleries. The brick pillars and the bolsters situated above them follow the same building technique used earlier in the Alhóndiga Nueva or “New Fundaq” (a store place for goods and a dwelling for merchants), known as the Corral del Carbón. Since the beginning of the 16th century, the Maristán was used as a coin mint, Casa de la Moneda, afterwards housing a variety of institutions up until the 19th century, at which time it  presented a modified and deteriorated state. In 1843, an unfortunate year in Granada, as it was the very one in whichthe Alcaiceria was burnt to the ground, the city hall of Granada
authorized the demolition of the Maristán. This was never completed, however, due to the fact that the southern side of  the construction was attached to other smaller buildings. The edifice was subsequently reconstructed as a neighborhood residence, which was partially torn down in 1984. Archeological excavations later revealed a large part of the southern wing, the wall foundations of the other three, as well as the pool. Likewise it has been shown that the Maristán was built with elements from an earlier Islamic building, perhaps an alhóndiga.


Near the baths, on the opposite side of the Darro river, we find the remains of a tower with the arch spring through which the wall running from the Alhambra to the Old Alcazaba crossed over the river. The door, made with small finely-carved ashlars has notches and vertical grooves which supported the portcullis and floodgates. In the center of the jamb we see a walled door which joined two staircases inside the tower. The stairways led to the river where water was collected. The gate’s
structure and decorative elements would classify it as a construction from the 11th century.


The denominated Nasrid House of Zafra owes its name to the fact that it was donated by Hernando de Zafra, along with other properties, to the Convent of the Dominican Nuns of Santa Catalina de Sena in 1527, hence its also being known as the “Convent of Zafra”. The house was preserved within the convent until its acquisition by the municipality of Granada in 1946. It sits on a trapezoidal lot of 383 m2. It is structured around a rectangular patio, in the center of which lies a pool with a marble circular fountain at its northern side. Its layout is characteristic of the more stately Nasrid houses, with two porticos located on the smaller sides and facing each other. Behind these porticos are found the house’s main halls. The upper floor has the same layout. However, in its first stage of construction, which may be dated back to the 14th century, the patio must have been almost square in shape, presenting porticos with five openings and rooms only in the northern, southern, and western sides. The original dwelling must have had a single floor in the northern and southern sides. The deterioration of the porticos, especially of the southern one, and the need to support an upper floor of later construction would have led to the elimination of the outer openings, attaching thus rooms onto the eastern side and extending those of the western side. Likewise, the columns of the southern portico would besubstituted, thus trimming the arch springs.


Known also as the Puerta Nueva (New Gate), this access to the area of the Old Alcazaba must have been in some way connected to the neighboring door of Hizna Román, forming a system of walls and antewalls which today is difficult to identify due to the presence of adjoining buildings. The door archway is made of stone from La Malahá and follows the characteristic 11th century layout with horizontal rows of stones to the real springing point of the arch which is surrounded by a rectangular frame. Further beyond is a twisted passageway covered with brick half barrel vaults in the straight sections and sail vault in the angled area. The entire construction is situated within a tower built with hard concre concrete of lime and soil.


This gate opened between two thick concrete towers and had a straight vaulted passageway. The jambs of the arches and other unique elements were of flagstone from La Malahá, kept in place by a stretching bond alternating with various headers. A section of the door passageway is now occupied by a small chapel while the exterior part is found within the patio of a house. The layout of the stretching bond and the headers seems to indicate that the structure is one of the oldest visible elements found in Granada’s Islamic fortifications, mos likely dated from the 11th century.


This is the most outstanding of the single nave cisterns of Granada. It is situated in the enclosure of the Old Alcazaba and has a capacity of 50 m3. It is divided into two sections, the first covered with a cloister vault and groined vault, and the second with a half barrel vault. It has a beautiful façade with a horseshoe arch made of brick, from which the glazed tiles which once decorated its spandrels have disappeared. It is attributed to the 14th century, the most flourishing period of Nasrid.


At the intersection of the street of the Porteria de la Concepción and the street of Zafra, there is a simple-structured door which might have belonged to a small mosque or neigh-borhood oratory. Nothing has been conserved of its interior, since it currently forms part of the convent of Santa Catalina de Sena, also known as the “Convent of Zafra”. It has a slightly pointed arch and is enclosed by a rectangular frame over which is laid out a simulated lintel of alternating projecting and re-cessed bricks. Above, there is a decorative frieze with two starred panels which would have provided the frame for an inscription which is no longer visible. It was undoubtedly constructed during the Nasrid period.


Practically hidden by the church of San Juan de los Reyes and other nearby constructions, this minaret converted into a belfry is a good example of a 13th century construction, decorated with panels of blind arches extended in a network of lozenges (sebka), with distinct designs on each side. Above each of these panels runs a border of interlaced design with 16-sided star-like polygons. The minaret has a square floor plan and an interior ramp which ascends in a spiral direction around a square central block.


The main mosque of the Albayzín was probably constructed at the end of the 13th century or beginning of the 14th century as part of the extension to the outlying district of the Old Alcazaba. Its oratory hall, which was torn down in order to build the present-day church of El Salvador, had marble columns which supported pointed horseshoe arches. The mosque’s original patio, which is adjoined to the church and entered from the Calle Panaderos, has been preserved. It presents perimetric arcades with pointed horseshoe arches over pillars of brick or stone which are arranged in the Almohad style. The double side galleries allow us to imagine what the oratory hall must have been like, of which these were a continuation.


This small dwelling conserves the charm of the 16th century domestic architecture of the Granadan Moriscos. It is developed around a patio with rooms on three sides but with a portico and gallery only on the northern side, before the main halls. The original entrance was from the Calle Yanguas, through a small garden, although today’s access is from the Cuesta del Chapiz through a recently added lot. Its carpentry displays a mixture of ornamental elements, including Nasrid, Gothic, and Renaissance features which characterize Morisco architecture. The main hall of the upper floor conserves all of the characteristic elements of the Nasrid multi-purpose room: almatraya, a square of tiles situated on a pavement floor near the door, alacenas or “cupboards” along the walls on each side of the entrance arch, and alcobas or “alcoves” with flat ceilings at the ends of the room. The central area is covered with a wooden structure of four slopes and three pairs of tie beams wich were decorated with paintings. The house has a small pool at the center of the patio and a cistern with a beautiful façade.


The house is situated within the residential district denominated during the Muslim period as Ajsaris, later called “Axares”, and eventually known by the name of the parish church to which it belongs, San Pedro. The house occupies a plot of 221 m2, and has a façade which faces the street and three party walls. It is structured around a rectangular patio of a north-south orientation, which has a pool at its center. It has porticos of three arches, supported by columns, before the main halls on the smaller sides together with lintels and pillars on the other two sides. The eastern side has recently been closed. The upper floor has the same structure as the lower with a perimetric wooden gallery, except on the western side where there are six brick arches. Its typological features and Nasrid elements, such as the columns and corbels sustaining the eaves seem to indicate that it is a Nasrid house from the 15th century to which the upper floor was added during the Morisco period.


The houses are situated on a large site adorned with an orchard and flower gardens located at the corner of the Cuesta del Chapiz and Camino del Sacromonte, the old road to Guadix, on the southeastern border of the district once called Barrio de la Blanca (Harat al-Bayda’). Although the denomination of the “Casa del Chapiz” is most commonly used in the singular form, the plural is more precise, as the name refers to two different houses with distinct origins. The southern house seems to have been constructed over the remains of a 14th century Nasrid palace which would have occupied a plot of 860 m2, and was part of a large almunia. Part of the floor plan has been conserved, as well as some of its elements which were borrowed when the house was rebuilt at the beginning of the 16th century by the Morisco Lorenzo el Chapiz. The traditional type of rectangular patio surrounded by four flights of rooms and porticos of five arches on the smaller sides was used in its construction. Similarly, Chapiz’s brother-in-law, Hernán López el Feri, built the other house which was smaller in size and most likely of a new floor plan desing, with wooden galleries on all four sides. Both of these dwellings constitute an unsurpassable model for understanding the process of typological evolution which took place in the Nasrid domestic architecture from its period of maturity to what might be considered its final phase in the 16th century, the Morisco period. In 1932, Torres Balbás completed restoration work of these houses in order to install the recently created Escuela de Estudios Arabes (School of Arab Studies – CSIC).
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