While the fortress was originally built in the ninth century by Sawwar ben Hamdun during the fighting between Muslims and the Muladies, the building was in poor repair thanks to the civil war ravaging the Caliphate of Cordoba that Granada was part of at the time, and proved insufficient in keeping their enemies from overrunning them. In fact this castle was largely ignored until the eleventh century when renovations of the ruins were first attempted by a vizier of the Zirid Dynasty. But it wasn’t until Mohammed ben Al-Hamar (1238-1273) that the royal residence was moved to the fortress. Typical of the last Muslim Emirs in Spain, the palace was often described by Moorish poets as “a pearl set in emeralds” and despite neglect, willful vandalism, and some ill-judged restorations, has remained relatively unchanged by the Byzantine style that rose to prominence after their reign. However as the years passed and the complex changed hands, additional buildings have been erected on the site which involved the demolition of existing building, and even the park saw renovation when the Duke of Wellington in 1812 had a dense wood of English elms planted.
Borrowing elements from over eight centuries of Muslim rule in the region, the Almohad’s grid of rhombuses, or the Almoravid’s palm to name a few, the Nasrid Dynasty freely used these stylistic elements in unique combinations along with their own innovations such as stilted arches or stalactite ceiling decorations, making the Alhambra one of the few remaining examples left of the Andalusian style developed by this dynasty. The interior decorations as a rule were comprised of Arabic inscriptions manipulated into geometrical patterns, while painted tiles were predominately used as paneling for the walls. Utilizing the mountainous site the sprawling complex spans, technologies like gravity-powered fountains were incorporated into the design and can be found throughout the extensive park located on the Alhambra’s grounds, while all of the rooms open onto central courtyards and brilliant vistas overlooking the adjoining valleys. And while the different Muslim rulers who have lived in the complex have each been responsible for their own additions to the palace, the expansions were done uniformly as each sought to add to the overall aesthetic and function of the Alhambra while the exterior was otherwise left plain and unremarkable.