Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Public Alhambra: Muhammad V's Contributions - Part II

I haven’t found any reference for the name the Moors once gave the open-air courtyard of the Golden Chamber in Alhambra. The name derives from the 1499 gilded restoration of the room. A different passageway existed in Fatima’s time, possibly evidenced by an eastern-oriented doorway from the Mexuar. Many theorize that ambassadors and other dignitaries waited in the chamber to meet with the rulers of Granada. Of all the most common inscriptions incised along the walls of the Golden Chamber, this one is most repeated: “Victory only comes with God, the Powerful, the Wise,” a verse from the Qur’an.

Muhammad V undertook some of the work evident in the hall between 1367 and 1369, to commemorate prominent victories over his enemies at cities like Jaen (Jayyan), Baeza (Bastah) and most importantly, Algeciras (al-Jazirah al-Khadra). In Moorish times, three windows rather than a central, north-facing one overlooked the city. Medieval visitors would have enjoyed an incredible view of the neighborhood of Albaicin (Al-Bayazin). To the south, the façade indicates two doors, but only one has ever been open to the public. On either side of the doors, a blessing is incised along with carved shells and pine cones. There are latticework windows above, which indicate an upper floor removed by the Catholic Monarchs. Through the Golden Chamber’s open door at the south, visitors enter the façade of the Comares palace via a right-angled corridor with arched alcoves.

I don’t why this section is called the Comares; there was a fortress-city at Qumarich held first by the Ashqilula clan, one- time allies of the Nasrids until Fatima married her paternal cousin Faraj in 1266. Fatima’s father regained Qumarich when he exiled his Ashqilula enemies, but I can’t think of any significance the territory held afterward. The name could also derive from Qamriyya for the stained glass windows, which once existed in the Comares tower, or from Qum`arsh, an Arabic term for “room or seat of the throne.” Whatever the source, Comares is one of the most spectacular spaces in an already stunning place.

At its center is the Courtyard of the Myrtles. At the north the Comares tower remains, but to the south the 1537 Palace of Charles V obliterated any rooms behind the façade. The southern portico has a central door forever closed and two more at the adjoining east and west walls, all topped by a row of eight windows covered by lattice and columns joined by arches above. There is a pool bordered by two series of myrtle bushes. The courtyard likely existed in Fatima’s time, but her grandson Yusuf I, father of Muhammad V, made changes that were not completed before Yusuf’s untimely death in 1354. Muhammad V finished his father’s restoration by 1370. On its eastern side, latticed windows front the courtyard and one door leads to the bathhouse built by Fatima’s son Ismail I. The western wall is its mirror image; through the southernmost door fitted along it, visitors can glimpse the path to the Mexuar that serves as the modern entrance. There are arched alcoves along both walls, some of which give access to other restricted parts of the palace. A poem composed by Ibn Zamrak, one of the ministers of Muhammad V described the courtyard:

“I am like a maidservant whose betrothed desire each other and to whom a crown and diadem have already been given; before me is the mirror, a pool upon whose surface my beauty takes shape.”
More on the Comares tower in the next post.

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