Palaces and Water in the Early Alhambra
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MBI Al Jaber Lecture: “Palaces and Water in the Early Alhambra” by Anna McSweeney

Dr Anna McSweeney, Lecturer in Art History at the University of Sussex
Dr Anna McSweeney, Lecturer in Art History at the University of Sussex

“Palaces and Water in the Early Alhambra” was the final lecture of the 2017/18 MBI Al Jaber Lecture Series and it was presented by Dr Anna McSweeney, Lecturer in Art History at the University of Sussex. The talk was co-hosted with Gingko and was preceded by a short introduction by their Founder and CEO, Dr Barbara Schwepcke, on what they, as a charity, do and what their mission is: bringing East and West together so as to foster cultural dialogue. In addition, Dr Schwepcke spoke of how the Alhambra had been looked after in the recent past and how some elements of it have ended up as part of renowned collections throughout the world.

Dr McSweeney began by touching on how the population of Granada – which in the 11th century used to be no more than a small town, ruled by a newly established dynasty – was mainly composed of refugees, making it a cosmopolitan city and allowing it to grow and develop very quickly. For the same reason, Granada and its buildings, including the Alhambra, were influenced and contributed to by architects with very different views and backgrounds. She then said what the focus of her lecture would be: the Partal, which forms part of the Alhambra complex and used to be considered as part of a larger, partially collapsed construction. The Partal was widely restored in the 1960s and 70s, bringing to light the true nature of this single palatial structure.

Anna stated that it is unlikely that the Partal could have been a residence for the Emir, as there were three other previously constructed buildings for that purpose. The idea of a palace standing on water, as fascinating as that might be, could never suit ceremonial practices. Therefore, it is likely that the Partal might have been designed as a private space, which would have protected the Nasrid rulers inhabiting the Alhambra from being overheard. This was possible thanks to the presence of the front pool, which also suited aesthetic purposes, and the very position of the Partal, overlooking a steep rock wall. Furthermore, the Partal includes of a tower known as ‘El Mirador’ (The Observatory). Consistent with early Andalusian readings that Anna mentioned, towers such as ‘El Mirador’ were employed for surveillance over the court.

Anna concluded her lecture by stating that all of these elements, however, do not always match the various building traditions that developed in the Muslim world. Palaces that seem to be floating on water can be found quite frequently in the history of Islamic architecture (such as the Cuba Palace in Palermo, Sicily) but the style that characterises the Alhambra and the Partal was new to the Muslim world and could be considered typically Andalusian.

The audience raised a number of interesting questions during the Q&A session that followed the presentation. The MBI Al Jaber Foundation, as well as thanking Dr Anna McSweeney for sharing her knowledge about the Alhambra, hopes that you enjoyed our 2017/18 lecture series and that you would like to know more about our next events and talks. Please check our Forthcoming Events page for more information: click here

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