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Cities and Gardens of Muslim Spain

Antonio Almagro and Luis Ramón-Laca

This introduction has been edited for style. Read and download the original essay (PDF).

Almería (al-Mariya)

Alcazaba of Almería Aerial view of the Alcazaba of Almería.

According to al-Udri’s account, the taifa king al-Mu’tasim built a palace in the Alcazaba, for which a canal and a well provided water.Luis Seco de Lucena Paredes, “Los palacios del taifa almeriense al-Mu‘tasim,” Cuadernos de la Alhambra 3 (1967): 15–20. It had a great reception hall to the north and, to the south, a wide orchard in which were cultivated fruits of outstanding quality. In the twelfth century, the palace and the garden were reorganized first by the Almohads, who added a mirador room inside a tower to the north, and subsequently by the Nasrids.Felix Arnold, Der islamische Palast auf der Alcazaba von Almería (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2008).

Hieronymus Münzer, who traveled across Spain in 1494 and 1495, recorded “a beautiful valley” between the towns of Tabernas and Almería, “with riverbanks home to fields and orchards containing palms and olive, fig, and almond trees.” He also noted an aqueduct that brought water to Almería from a spring about a mile away. As he approached the city, he glimpsed “the most beautiful orchards with walls, baths, towers, and acequias built in the Moorish style.”Hieronymus Münzer, Viaje por España y Portugal, 1494–1495, trans. J. López Toro (Madrid, 1951), 29.

According to Münzer, the Great Mosque Garden was a vast square garden with lemon and other trees, paved with marble and with a fountain in the middle.Münzer, Viaje, 29.

From the period after Muslim domination of al-Andalus, the monasteries founded by Ferdinand V of Aragón and Isabella I of Castile probably all had orchards. The Monastery of Santo Domingo had baths and an orchard with an area of 12 tahúllas (13.4 ha), the Convent of La Trinidad was located in the Huerta del Rey (King’s Orchard), and that of Santa Clara included a number of existing orchards and houses.Antonio Gil Albarracín, “Las órdenes mendicantes como agentes urbanos: fundación de conventos y transformaciones urbanas en el oriente andaluz,” VII Coloquio Internacional de Geocrítica. Los agentes urbanos y las políticas sobre la ciudad (Santiago de Chile, 24-27 de mayo 2005) and Cristina Segura Graíño, El libro del repartimiento de Almería (Madrid: Universidad Complutense, 1982), 78. At the Monastery of Santo Domingo, Münzer recorded “beautiful and vast orchards with many palm trees, once possessions of the richest Muslim families.” Part of the Santo Domingo orchards were buried by a wall erected in 1575, and the rest disappeared under new neighborhoods.Maria del Mar García Guzmán, “Bienes habices del convento de Santo Domingo de Almería (1496),” Estudios de Historia y de Arqueología Medievales 2 (1982): 29–42.

Córdoba (Qurtuba)

The Alcázar Viejo (Old Alcázar) was built by the Ummayads, who ruled al-Andalus from 756 to 1031, and was destroyed by the Berbers in 1013 during the sack of Córdoba. It occupied the area between the Mosque, the river Guadalquivir, the Arroyo del Moro (Moor’s Stream), and the Jewish quarter. According to the historian al-Maqqari (ca. 1578–1632), there were actually several alcázar inside the Old Alcázar:

  • al-Qasr al-Hayr (Enclosing Alcázar),
  • al-Qasr al-Kamil (Perfect Alcázar),
  • al-Qasr al-Mudjaddad (Renewed Alcázar),
  • al-Qasr al-Rawda (Garden Alcázar),
  • al-Qasr al-Zuhur (Alcázar of the Flowers),
  • al-Qasr al-Ma‘shiq (Lovers’ Alcázar),
  • al-Qasr al-Mubarak (Blessed Alcázar),
  • al-Qasr al-Rustak (Alcázar of Rustak),
  • al-Qasr al-Surur (Joy Alcázar),
  • al-Qasr al-Tadj (Crown Alcázar), and
  • al-Qasr al-Badi‘ (New Alcázar).

Al-Maqqari informs us that water was channeled from the mountains and spilled into lakes, ponds, fountains made of Roman marble, and pools of different shapes  and made of gold, silver, and silvered copper. During Isabella’s reign, the garden had pathways and a pavilion called the Çenadero de la Reyna (Queen’s Evening Dining Room), as well as orange trees, vines, a waterwheel, and a pool used for irrigation. The gardeners were still Moors at the end of the fifteenth century.Rafael Domínguez Casas, Arte y etiqueta de los Reyes Católicos: Artistas, residencias, jardines y bosques (Madrid: Alpuerto, 1993), 99. Large groves and several towers and buildings, although partly in ruins, can be seen in the superb drawing by Anton van den Wyngaerde dated 1567. Richard L. Kagan, Ciudades del siglo de oro: Las vistas españolas de Anton van den Wyngaerde (Madrid: El Viso, 1986), 257–60.

Nuevo Alcázar of Córdoba Nuevo Alcázar of Córdoba.

The Alcázar Nuevo (New Alcázar) was built on the Old Alcázar plot during the reign of Alphonse XI of Castile (1312–1350).Pierre Dubourg-Noves, “Le style gothique français et les Alcazars chrétiens de Seville et de Cordove (XIIIe siècle),” in Actes du 9e Congrés National des Sociétés Savantes: Pau 1969 (Paris: Bibliothèque nationale, 1971), 165–85. The Patio Morisco (Morisco Courtyard), a cross-shaped garden with marble pools and flowerbeds framed by acequias lined with blue and green glazed tiles, was unearthed during excavations undertaken in the 1950s.Leopoldo Torres Balbás, “Patios de crucero,” Al-Andalus 23 (1958): 183–86.

Christians in the thirteenth century may have introduced olive, palm, and, especially, orange trees to the Great Mosque Courtyard; it is known today as the Patio de los Naranjos (Orange Trees Courtyard). Notably, mosque courtyards with trees or other vegetation, including those seen in Almería and Granada by Münzer in the years following the Christian conquest, were only found in al-Andalus. Leopoldo Torres Balbás, La Mezquita de Córdoba y la ruinas de Madinat al-Zahra (Madrid: Editorial Plus-Ultra, 1952), 22.

Al-Munyat al-Rusafa (Arruzafa) was built in 756 by ‘Abd al-Rahman I (731–788) and burned in 1010 by the Berbers. Its only remaining trace is its toponym in the Parador Nacional de la Arruzafa. This clearly refers to an ancient Byzantine site in northern Syria, Sergiopolis, that lay 40 km south of the river Euphrates. This was known to Muslims as al-Rusafa, and was where ‘Abd al-Rahman I lived with his grandfather, the caliph Hisham (691–743). Muslim chronicles say that ‘Abd al-Rahman I had a beautiful palace there with a large garden for which he imported exotic plants and beautiful trees from many regions.Emilio García Gómez, “Algunas precisiones sobre la ruina de la Córdoba omeya,” Al-Andalus 12 (1947): 274, 28081; Leopoldo Torres Balbás, “Los contornos de las ciudades hispanomusulmanas,” Al-Andalus 15, no. 2 (1950): 44954; Julio Samsó, “Ibn Hisam al-Lajmi y el primer Jardín Botánico en al-Andalus,” Revista del Instituto Egipcio de Estudios Islámicos en Madrid 135-141 (1981–1982): 13637.

Al-Munyat al-Na‘ura (Waterwheel Orchard) was located southwest of Córdoba, probably on the first meander of the Guadalquivir in a place known as the Cortijo del Alcaide. According to al-Maqqari, its orchards were irrigated by a pipe that ended in a pool, over which there was a lion covered in pure gold. The water entered through its hindquarters and poured out through its mouth.Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Maqqari, The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain, trans. P. Gayangos (London: Printed for the Oriental translation fund of Great Britain and Ireland, sold by W. H. Allen and co., 1840–43), 1:241. A team led by Félix Hernández excavated the area in 1957 and found a courtyard with soil made of white marble, water pipes, a sewage system, and the remains of rooms. The excavations plan were unfortunately lost.Rafael Castejón. “Excavaciones en el cortijo El Alcaide. ¿Dal al-Naura?” Al-Mulk 1 (1959–1960): 161–66.

The Cortijo Alamiriya is located 9 km west of Cordoba at the foot of the mountains. The palace has been identified with al-Munyat al-Rummaniyya, based on a caliphal text recording that the slave Durri offered it as a gift to al-Hakam II. Antonio Arjona Castro, Anales de Córdoba musulmana, 711–1008 (Córdoba: Monte de Piedad y Caja de Ahorros de Córdoba, 1982), 162. The pool, a remarkable piece of Ummayad ashlar work with a capacity of 4,000 cubic meters, was filled with water taken from the Guadarromán stream. Ricardo Velázquez Bosco found the remains of a summer house, now lost, that stood at the top of three terraces sloping down toward the Guadalquivir.Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, Arte del califato de Córdoba: Medina Azahara y Alamiriya (Madrid: Imprenta artística de J. Blass y cía, 1912) 20–24. The upper terrace now has orange trees and the lower two are used for grazing bulls.

Upper Terrace of al-Madinat al-Zahra Upper Terrace Garden of al-Madinat al-Zahra‘

The construction of al-Madinat al-Zahra’ (Medina Azahara) in the place called al-Djabal al-‘Arus (Bride’s Hill), located on the southern slope of the Sierra, began in 936 during the reign of ‘Abd al-Rahman III (912–961) and continued during the reign of his son al-Hakam II (961–976). It was burned in 1010 by the Berbers. The town was organized on three terraces descending toward the river Guadalquivir and occupied a surface of 115 ha, of which only five percent has been excavated. Although in ruins, the terraces were still visible in the twelfth century: al-Idrisi referred to gardens and orchards in the middle terrace.Al-Idrisi 1901: 212. He was probably referring to the Upper Garden, the ceremonial garden where ambassadors were received, and to the Lower Garden, most likely the caliph’s private garden. According to al-Maqqari, the Upper Garden pools, which may have held up 1,000 cubic meters of water, were used to raise fish.Al-Maqqari, Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain, 1:238.

Little is known about the other palaces mentioned in the Muslim chronicles, such as al-Munyat al-Nasr (Nasr’s estate), al-Munyat ‘Abd Allah, al-Munyat ‘Adjab, al-Munyat al-Mugira, al-Munyat al-Mushafiyya, al-Munyat Zubayr, a palace called Dimashq (Damascus), and al-Qasr al-Farisi (Persian Alcázar). Evariste Lévi-Provençal, L’Espagne musulmane au Xème siècle: Institutions et vie sociale (Paris: Larose, 1932), 225. Archaeological remains have been found at Quintos, including the Cortijo de Rabanales, Cortijo el Castillo, and Cortijo Turruñuelos, where aerial pictures show a buried, cross-shaped structure with dimensions of 500 m by 375 m. Over a period of just two years beginning in 978, the powerful hajib Almanzor built al-Madinat al-Zahira (Flourishing Town) to emulate al-Madinat al-Zahra’. It was burned in 1009, and its location is unclear, although, according to Ibn Hazm, the route that began at the Arroyo Pequeño to the east of Córdoba ended in the alley that led to the town.ʻAli b. Ahmad Ibn Hazm, El collar de la paloma, trans. E. García Gómez, 3rd ed. (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1971), 200. It has been suggested that the Cortijo del Arenal in the Pago de Tejavana was the main center of the town.Leopoldo Torres Balbás, “Al-Madina al-Zahira, la ciudad de Almanzor,” Al-Andalus 21, no. 2 (1956): 353–59.

Granada (Garnata)

Navagero entered Granada through the neighborhood known as the Albaicín, where he saw “a most beautiful mosque with a delightful garden with lemon trees.”Andrea Navagero, Viaje por España, 1524–1526, trans. A. M. Fabié (Madrid: Turner, 1983), 409. He refers here to the former Albaicín Mosque, whose courtyard is preserved in the Colegiata del Salvador (Savior Collegiate Church). He records that in the courtyard of another mosque there was an olive tree bigger than a holm oak.

According to Ibn al-Jatib, in addition to vineyards and gardens, there were one hundred orchards in the environs of the Alhambra in the fourteenth century.Francisco Simonet, Descripción del Reino de Granada: Sacada de los autores arábigos, 711–1492, new ed. (Granada: Imp. y lib. de Reyes y hermano, 1872), 47, 53. By the mid-sixteenth century, according to Medina, there were eight hundred. Pedro de Medina, Libro de grandezas y cosas memorables de España (Seville: E[n] casa d[e] Dominico de Robertis, 1549), fol. 142r. Most of the houses of Granada had orchards and gardens with orange trees, lemon trees, citrons, laurels, myrtles, fruit trees, herbs, and flowers; indeed, the city was home to at least four thousand flower and fruit gardens.Bermúdez de Pedraza, Antigüedad y excelencias de Granada (Madrid: Luis Sanchez, 1608), fols. 22v–23r. All houses had a water supply—the most important had three or more fountains—and all had at least a piece of an orchard, an orange tree, or a vine around the patio and fountain. Others had gardens on their flat roofs, which were covered by vines and embellished with flowerpots, orange trees, roses, and cypresses, as well as all sorts of herbs and carnations. After the conquest of Granada, and especially after the expulsion of the Moriscos, some noblemen managed to acquire very large plots where they built (or in many cases probably rebuilt) houses surrounded by orchards and gardens. José Tito Rojo, “Permanencia y cambio en los jardines de la Granada morisca (1492–1571): Los cármenes y el paisaje urbano,” in Felipe II: el Rey íntimo; Jardín y Naturaleza en el siglo XVI (Aranjuez: Sociedad Estatal para la Conmemoración de los Centenarios de Felipe II y Carlos V, 1998): 421-46; idem, El carmen de la Victoria: un jardín regionalista en el contexto de la historia de los cármenes de Granada (Granada: Universidad de Granada, 2000); and Jose Manuel Barrios Rozúa, ed., El Albaicín: Paraíso cerrado, conflicto urbano (Granada: Diputación Provincial de Granada, 2003). Large masses of trees, towers, and enclosures are seen in the several drawings of the town by Anton den Wyngaerde.Kagan, Ciudades del siglo de oro, 269–75. This type of semirural urban property received the name carmen, from the Arabic karm, i.e. vineyard. Carmenes continued to be built between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, giving the exotic image the Albaicín enjoys today.

Patio de la Acequia in the Generalife Patio de la Acequia in the Generalife

The well-known al-Djannat al-‘Arif (Generalife) was built during the reign of Muhammad II (1273–1302), and was later enlarged by Muhammad III (1302–1309) and Isma‘il I (1313–1325). ts construction therefore predates that of the Alhambra. The Generalife was more a country house than a palace, and its orchards (the Colorada, Grande, Fuentepeña, and Mercería) remain in cultivation.Jesús Bermúdez Pareja, “El Generalife después del incendio de 1958,” Cuadernos de la Alhambra 1 (1968): 14. The original access route is a narrow and sloping alley that begins in front of the Torre de los Picos (Tower of the Peaks). The French writer Théophile Gautier saw this entrance in use in the nineteenth century.Théophile Gautier, Viaje por España, 2 vols., trans. E. de Mesa (Madrid, 1920) 1:81–82. The route terminated at the Patio del Apeadero (Dismounting Yard), where the podiums used to help riders step down and the drinking trough for the animals are still present. In the Patio de la Guardia (Guard Courtyard), a narrow staircase led to the Patio de la Acequia (Acequia Courtyard), which followed the same layout seen in other courtyards of the Alhambra but was more elongated. According to Navagero, the acequia was surrounded by myrtles and orange trees and there was a gallery with more myrtles below.Navagero, Viaje por España, 47–48. There was another courtyard “surrounded by hedges with a large and beautiful fountain that threw water more than ten fathoms into the air.”For a recent palynological study of the courtyard, see Manuel Casares Porcel, José Tito Rojo, and O. Socorro Abreu, “El jardín del Patio de la Acequia del Generalife: II. Consideraciones a partir del análisis palinológico,” Cuadernos de la Alhambra 39 (2003): 87–107. Crossing the Patio del Ciprés de la Sultana (Sultaness’ Cypress Courtyard), which was transformed in the Baroque era, there still stand the Escalera del Agua (Water Stairs). Its Spanish name was documented in 1572, when the stairs were repaired: “las fuentes que dizen la escalera del agua.” Carlos Vílchez Vílchez, El Generalife (Granada: Proyecto sur de ediciones, 1991).

The Partal Garden in the Generalife, 1964 The Partal Garden in the Generalife, 1964.

The famous al-Madinat al-Hamra’ (Alhambra) was built on a strategic spur of a hill known as Sabika overlooking Granada. The construction of the Acequia Real (Royal Acequia) in the middle of the thirteenth century delivered water to the site from the river Darro. As noted by Torres Balbás, continuous irrigation over the centuries allowed this dry and sterile hill to be transformed into the superb Alhambra groves and Generalife orchards. The Alhambra began to be used as the court seat from the second quarter of the thirteenth century, although its palaces were mainly renovated during the fourteenth century. During the period of Muslim rule, there were several palaces (cuartos): the Comares Palace, built at the initiative of Yusuf I (1333–1354); the Palace of the Lions, built by Muhammad V (1354–1359 and 1362–1391); the Partal Palace, built by Muhammad III (1302–1309); and a palace, today in ruins, built by Yusuf III (1408–1417). All these palaces were independent of one another (indeed, the passage used today between the Comares and Palace of the Lions did not exist in the Middle Ages), but all followed a similar layout based on a rectangular courtyard with arcades along the shorter sides. Antonio Orihuela Uzal, “Los inicios de la arquitectura residencial nazarí,” in Casas y palacios de al-Andalus, siglos XII y XIII, ed. J. Navarro Palazón (Barcelona: Lunwerg, 1995), 228. In an account dated 1362, Ibn al-Jatib tells us that the entrance to the mašwar was through a courtyard (today known as the Machuca Courtyard), which had a roofed gallery and a pavilion that extended beyond it as if suspended over the town. From there, one could hear the murmur of the water of the Alhambra’s pools and even the sound of people coughing in the town. In the middle of the courtyard, the strangely shaped pond can still be seen. It was originally flanked by two fountains and by two lions of gilded copper that spilled water through their mouths. Emilio García Gómez, ed. and trans., Foco de antigua luz sobre la Alhambra: Desde un texto de Ibn al-Jaṭīb en 1362 (Madrid: Instituto Egipcio de Estudios Islámicos en Madrid, 1988) and Angel López López and Antonio Orihuela Uzal, “Una nueva interpretación del texto de Ibn al-Jatib sobre La Alhambra en 1362,” Cuadernos de la Alhambra 26 (1990): 121–44.

The Comares Palace was organized around a patio traditionally known as the Patio de los Arrayanes (Court of the Myrtles) or the Patio de la Alberca (Court of the Pond). Navagero records it as having slabs of very white, fine marble, some of them huge, as well as a pond beside which were two “beautiful hedges of myrtle and some orange trees.”Navagero, Viaje por España, 46.

The twelve lions supporting a Nasrid-era fountain in the central courtyard gave the Palace of the Lions its name. There is evidence that it once had vegetation. In 1502, Antoine de Lalaing recorded six orange trees growing in the corners, although this has been a point of some controversy.Luis-Prosper Gachard, Collections des voyages des souverains des Pays-Bas (Brussels: F. Hayez, 1874–1882): 1:206 and Enrique Nuere Matauco, “Sobre el pavimento del Palacio de los Leones,” Cuadernos de la Alhambra 22 (1986): 87–93. From a windowed balcony known as the ‘Ayn Dar ‘A’iša (Mirador de Lindaraja; Eye of ‘A’iša’s House), one could contemplate the gardens below. An inscription in the plaster identifies the window as a “joyful eye, the pupil of Muhammad which opened to the garden.”Emilio Lafuente y Alcántara, Inscripciones árabes de Granada (Madrid: Imprenta nacional, 1859), 140. Gardeners were brought from Valencia after 1492 to repair the Alhambra orchards, especially those below the Torre de Comares (Comares Tower) and those next to the baths, confirming the presence of gardens in this area.Domínguez Casas, Arte y etiqueta, 454. In 1494, there was a purchase of 140 orange trees from Palma del Río to plant in the orchards of the Alhambra.Domínguez Casas, Arte y etiqueta, 100, note 493 According to Herrera, the myrtles of the Alhambra and Generalife were pruned into the shape of chairs and other elegant forms, Alonso de Herrera, Obra de Agricultura, ed. J. Martínez Carreras (Madrid: [Ediciones Atlas], 1970), 135. and, in 1565, the Flemish botanist Carolus Clusius (Charles de l’Écluse) recorded the same cultivar of myrtle (a Betic wide-leaved myrtle, Myrtus bætica latifolia domestica) in other Moorish gardens of Granada, always around the pools.Carolus Clusius, Rariorum plantarum historia (Antwerp: Ex Officina Plantiniana, apud Joannem Moretum, 1601), 65 and Luis Ramón-Laca Menéndez de Luarca, “Plantas cultivadas en los siglos XVI y XVII en la Alhambra y el Generalife,” Cuadernos de la Alhambra 35 (1999): 49–55.

The palace built in the Alhambra by Yusuf III was transformed after the conquest of Granada into the residence of the count of Tendilla, the first governor (alcaide) of the Alhambra, and then again in the twentieth century by Torres Balbás. Luis Ramón-Laca Menéndez de Luarca, “Pedro Machuca y el Marqués de Mondéjar,” Reales Sitios 162 (2004): 42–53. According to Münzer, the count of Tendilla lived in the Moorish style, inviting Münzer to sit on silk carpets and offering him preserves and other delicacies before showing him the gardens with their lemon trees, myrtles, ponds, and marble floorwork.Münzer, Viaje, 37 and  C. Brothers. “The Renaissance Reception of the Alhambra: The Letters of Andrea Navagero and the Palace of Charles V,” Muqarnas 11 (1994): 79–102.

Abencerrajes Palace Virtual reconstruction of the courtyard of the Abencerrajes Palace.

In the Alhambra, there were also gardens, which were still visible in eighteenth-century architectural plans, in the Abencerrajes Palace and in the Convent of San Francisco, founded by Ferdinand and Isabella on a Nasrid palace that included a courtyard similar to that of the Generalife.Orihuela Uzal, “Inicios de la arquitectura residencial nazarí.” There was also a garden in the mausoleum of the Nasrid sultans (Rawda).Felix Arnold, “Das Grab im Paradiesgarten zum Mausoleum der Nasridischen Sultane auf der Alambra,” Madrider Mitteilungen 44 (2003): 426–54.

The ruins of al-Dar al-‘Arusa (Daralharoza; Bride’s House) are found at the Cerro del Sol (Sun Hill), which overlooks the Alhambra. Due to the lack of springs in the area, it depended on a complicated system to draw water from the river Darro. An acequia went straight into the Cerro del Sol and two interlinked waterwheels raised the water 60 m to a great pool (albercón), 35 m long by 7 m wide by 2 m deep (nearly 500 cubic meters). A siphon system delivered water to the Daralharoza Palace across a small valley. The palace was probably abandoned in the fifteenth century, as the ambassador of Venice Andrea Navagero saw it in ruins around 1525.Leopoldo Torres Balbás, “Dar al-‘Arusa y las ruinas de palacios y albercas granadinos situados por encima del Generalife,” Al-Andalus 13, no. 1 (1948): 185–203. The area was excavated between 1933 and 1936 by Leopoldo Torres Balbás, who found the remains of a palace organized around a courtyard with a pond in the middle. In the baths, there was a white marble fountain decorated with glazed tiles (today kept at the Alhambra Museum).

Al-Dishar (Alijares) was located at the site of the modern cemetery, where the palace’s pond is still visible. Navagero, who saw the palace in ruins amidst myrtle hedges and ponds, recorded the beauty of its views towards the vega.Navagero, Viaje por España, 49.

Navagero noted myrtles and orange trees in the garden of the Cuarto Real de Santo Domingo, which during the Muslim era belonged to the kings of Granada.Navagero, Viaje por España, 49. The excavation undertaken in the 1990s unearthed a garden formed by a fountain, an octagonal pool, and two symmetrical flowerbeds. Antonio Almagro Gorbea and Antonio Orihuela Uzal, “El Cuarto Real de Santo Domingo de Granada,” in Casas y palacios de al-Andalus, siglos XII y XIII, ed. J. Navarro Palazón (Barcelona: Lunwerg, 1995), 241–53 and Orihuela Uzal, “Inicios de la arquitectura residencial nazarí.”

Al-Qasr al-Sayyid (Alcázar Genil) was built by the sayyid Ishaq b. Yusuf in 1218 and later transformed during the Nasrid era.Maria Isabel Calero Secall and Virgilio Martínez Enamorado, “La arquitectura residencial de la Málaga almohade,” in Casas y palacios de al-Andalus, siglos XII y XIII, ed. J. Navarro Palazón (Barcelona: Lunwerg, 1995), 162. Navagero saw its garden, known as the Queen’s Orchard, in use.Navagero, Viaje por España, 49. It had a large pond measuring 121 m long and 28 m wide. The myrtles could still be seen in 1978, but they have now disappeared.

Málaga (Malaqa)

Al-Qasr al-Sayyid was founded in 1226 by the caliph al-Ma’mun Abu l-‘Ala’ Idris b. Ya‘qub al-Mansur. It had an orchard, referred to in the Muslim chronicles either as the djanna, munya, or riyad. In the fifteenth century, it was known as the Huerta del Rey (King’s Orchard).Calero Secall and Martínez Enamorado, “Arquitectura residencial.” The ambassador of the king of Castile, Ruy González de Clavijo, while at sea in 1403, noted next to some shipyards “many beautiful orchards inside a wall, as well as towers.” Although nothing remains today, the palace can still be seen in a drawing by Anton van den Wyngaerde dated 1564.Kagan, Ciudades del siglo de oro, 222–24.

Murcia (Mursiya)

Convent of Santa Clara la Real Courtyard of the Convent of Santa Clara la Real.

Al-Qasr Ibn Sa‘d, which Torres Balbás identified with the Castillejo de Monteagudo, was probably built during the reign of Ibn Mardanish (1147–1172), and possibly destroyed by the Almohads, who devastated the Murcian vega area. Julio Navarro Palazón y Pedro Jiménez Castillo, “El Castillejo de Monteagudo: Qasr Ibn Sa‘d,” in Casas y palacios de al-Andalus, siglos XII y XIII, ed. J. Navarro Palazón (Barcelona: Lunwerg, 1995), 63–103 The courtyard had a cross-shaped garden with two square ponds at the ends of its main axis, originally identified erroneously as pavilions. The archaeological remains discovered by Navarro Palazón and Jiménez Castillo—a vast pool measuring 161 m by 136 m (mentioned in 1450 in Christian documents), irrigation acequias, an enclosed orchard, an aqueduct, etc.—show that the palace was located on an important estate. The remains of al-Hisn al-Faradj (Castle of Larache) is located 500 m from El Castillejo.

The recent excavations carried out in the Convent of Santa Clara la Real revealed a cross-shaped garden built in the taifa period and formed by two wide paths with acequias and a pavilion in the middle. Al-Qasr al-Sagir (Alcázar Ceguir; Minor Palace) was built on the ruins of al-Dar al-Sugrà and later transformed, probably in 1365. It followed the same layout as the Nasrid palaces, with two opposing arcades on the shorter sides of a rectangular courtyard.Julio Navarro Palazón, “Un palacio protonazarí en la Murcia del siglo XIII: al-Qasr al-Sagir” in Casas y palacios de al-Andalus, siglos XII y XIII, ed. J. Navarro Palazón (Barcelona: Lunwerg, 1995), 177–205.

Seville (Isbiliya)

The Alcázar is the product of the continuous overlapping of different courtyards, palaces, and gardens built during periods of both Muslim and Christian rule, beginning in the eighth century. Although it was in the hands of the Castilian kings in the mid-thirteenth century, laborers, and especially gardeners, continued to be Muslims until the sixteenth century. Domínguez Casas, Arte y etiqueta, 97–98. In the eleventh century, the taifas built al-Qasr al-Mubarak (Blessed Alcázar), the residence of king Al-Mu‘tamid (1040–1095). José Guerrero Lovillo, “Al-Qasr al-Mubarak: el Alcázar de la Bendición” (Seville, 1974), reception speech at Real Academia de Bellas Artes de Santa Isabel de Hungría. It was constructed around the original Umayyad core, al-Dar al-Imara (House of Government). Construction of the Gothic palace was begun in the times of Alphonse X, and was remodeled, following the Moorish style, by Alphonse XI and his son Pedro I. The courtyards and gardens were later transformed following the Renaissance style, although they probably maintained their general Muslim organization, with myrtle hedges and orange and lemon trees. The so-called Estanque de Mercurio (Mercury Pool), which holds some 670 cubic meters, is probably the original Muslim pool used to irrigate the gardens.

Patio de la Doncellas Patio de Doncellas.

The excavations undertaken in 2002 and 2004 in the Patio de Doncellas (Maidens’ Courtyard) uncovered a garden with a long pool and two flowerbeds, built (but never in use) during the reign of Peter I of Castile (1334–1369). This discovery has thrown light on other examples of similar patios in the Alcázar, such as the Patio del Yeso and the Patio de la Casa de Contratación, as well as in other places outside Seville, such as the Patio del Vergel of the Convent of Santa Clara la Real in Tordesillas (Valladolid). Antonio Almagro Gorbea, “El Palacio de Pedro I en Tordesillas: realidad e hipótesis,” Reales sitios 42, no. 163 (2005): 2–13. The original fouteenth-century garden was restored by Antonio Almagro with the collaboration of Antonio Orihuela Uzal.

The Patio del Crucero owes its name to its cross shape. It was probably the most important garden made by the Almohads. The original Muslim stratum of the garden, which was completely surrounded by porticos, is four meters deeper than that of the current garden. The garden was greatly transformed by King Alphonse X, who built two galleries in a cross shape along its axis.Antonio Almagro Gorbea, “El patio del crucero de los Reales Alcázares de Sevilla,” Al-Qantara 20, no. 2 (1999): 331–76.

Münzer recorded the Huerta de la Alcoba (Alcove Orchard) as containing between six and ten orchards of different size, and which contained a great number of myrtles, citrons, lemon trees and orange trees.Münzer, Viaje, 64. He was surprised to find a pavilion in one of the orange groves. He mentions the pavilion being rebuilt between 1543 and 1546 by Juan Fernandez, perhaps on the foundation of a Muslim qubba. This pavilion has a remarkable likeness to that recently discovered in Rusafa, Syria, which was built between the seventh and the eightth centuries. Tilo Ulbert, “Ein umaiyadischer Pavillon in Resafa-Rusafat Hisam,” Damaszener Mitteilungen 7 (1994): 214–31 . Navagero confirms the impression of Münzer, recording that in the Alcove Orchard there were a great many citron, lemon, lime, and orange trees.Navagero, Viaje por España, 35–36.

The Patio de la Casa de Contratación (Contracting House Courtyard) was separated from the Alcázar in the sixteenth century to serve as the contracting house for the Indies. Manuel Vigil Escalera, El jardín musulmán de la antigua Casa de Contratación de Sevilla (Seville: Consejería de Obras Públicas y Transportes, Dirección General de Arquitectura y Vivienda, 1992). Like the Crucero garden, its layout is a cross-shaped courtyard with a fountain in the middle, four acequias, and four flowerbeds with interlaced arches two meters below them. Palynological studies performed during the excavations of the 1980s showed remains of citrus and palm trees. In the light of the recent findings made in the Patio de Doncellas, this cross-shaped courtyard should perhaps be reinterpreted as a non-Muslim creation. It was probably renovated during the reign of Peter I, while the first structure (still visible) was built by the Almohads.Almagro Gorbea, “Palacio de Pedro I.”

Al-Buhayra pool and garden Al-Buhayra pool and garden.

The name of al-Buhayra garden (Huerta Dabenahofar or Huerta del Rey) is taken from the Arabic for “lake” (buhayra), although its once nearby namesake has long dried up. The enclosure covered an area of 18 ha, and it was built at the initiative of Abu Ya‘qub al-Mansur, with work beginning in 1171. According to Ibn Sahib al-Sala, it was located in front of the Meat Gate. Jacinto Bosch Vilá, La Sevilla Islámica, 712–1248, vol. 2 of Historia de Sevilla, ed. Francisco Morales Padrón (Seville: Universidad de Sevilla, 1984), 281. The Muslim chronicles mention the construction of a pavilion and the planting of the orchard in the time of the taifas. Probably starting around 1171, the Almohads built at the foot of the pavilion a large pool, which was filled by a Roman acequia coming from the environs of Alcalá de Guadaira.Leopoldo Torres Balbás, “Notas sobre Sevilla en la época musulmana,” Al-Andalus 10, no. 1 (1945): 177–96 . It was surrounded by a clay wall which Abu ’l-Khayr refers to as al-Ha’it al-Sultan (King’s Wall). Ten thousand olive, fig, and other fruit trees, as well as vines, were planted there up until 1195. Navagero saw the pool, whose sides measured 45 m, as well as a palace and orange trees.Navagero, Viaje por España 38. The garden was excavated in the 1990s and a kind of pavilion was discovered. Fernando Amores Carredano and Manuel Vera Reina, “Al-Buhayra. Huerta del Rey,” in  El último siglo de la Sevilla islámica (1147–1248), ed. Magdalene Valor (Seville: Universidad de Sevilla, 1992), 135–43.

Little is known about the other palaces from the taifa period, such as al-Qasr al-Zahir (Brilliant Alcázar), situated on the right bank of the Guadalquivir and surrounded by poplar and olive groves, or al-Qasr al-Zahi (Prosperous Alcázar), a small castle with a qubba known as al-Sa‘d al-Su‘ud.Guerrero Lovillo, “ Al-Qasr al-Mubarak,” 93–95. There were also other gardens known as al-Djannat al-Musalla (Chapel Gardens) south of the town, and, close to its walls, al-Mardj al-Fidda (Silver Meadow). Muhammad b. ʻAbd Allah Himyari, La péninsule ibérique au Moyen Âge d’après le Kitab ar-Rawd al-Mi‘tar, ed. and trans. E. Lévi-Provençal (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1938), 27. In the Middle Ages, there were orchards around the walls, such as the Huerta de los Corrales (Corral Orchard) at the Carmona Gate, the Huerta del Hoyo (Pit Orchard) at the Sun Gate, the Huerta de Zulema (Zulema Orchard) at the Macarena Gate, and the Huerta del Mariscal (Field Marshal’s Orchard) between the Charthouse and Triana. Isabel Montes Romero-Camacho, El paisaje rural sevillano en la baja Edad Media (Seville: Diputacion Provincial, 1989). These orchards ranged in size from two to five aranzadas (1–2 ha) and they normally had a waterwheel and a pool. The most common trees cultivated were orange, lime, lemon, fig, quince, plum, apple, and myrtle, along with vines.

Toledo (Tulaytula)

Al-Hisn (Alficén; castle) was completely destroyed and its plot occupied by the Alcázar, the Hospital de Santa Cruz (Holy Cross Hospital), and the convents of Santa Fe and the Concepción Francisca. Although it can be seen in a plan drawn in the sixteenth century by El Greco, the scale is unfortunately too small to tell much about it. Domenikos Theotokopoulos (“El Greco”), Plano de Toledo (Toledo: Instituto de Investigaciones y Estudios Toledanos, 1967). A party held at the castle of Toledo is mentioned by Ibn Hayyan, who records that there were two pools with some extremely well-made gilded lion statues in the corners.ʻAli b. Bassam al-Shantarini, Al-Dhakirah fi mahasin ahl al-jazirah ([Cairo]: al-Hayʼah al-Mishniyah al-ʻAmmah lil-Kitab, 1975– ), 126–37 and Clara Delgado Valero, Toledo islámico: Ciudad, arte e historia (Toledo: Zocodover, 1987) 247, note 271. The water poured from the lions’ mouths into the pools. At the end of the pools there were two “strange and beautiful basins embellished with animals, birds, and trees and crowned by two trees of silver, all wonderfully made.”

Al-Munyat al-Na‘ura (Huerta del Rey; King’s Orchard) is one of several orchards around the walls of the city known from the Middle Ages until the beginning of the seventeenth century. This is where King al-Ma’mun ben Di l-Nun (1043–1075) had his estate. Leopoldo Torres Balbás, “Los contornos de las ciudades hispanomusulmanas,” Al-Andalus 15, no. 2 (1950): 454–63. It is now usually known as the Palacio de Galiana, which undoubtedly corresponds to an old Muslim palace. Maria Teresa Pérez Higuera, “Palacio de Galiana,” in Arquitecturas de Toledo: del romano al gótico ([Toledo]: Servicio de Publicaciones de la Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha, 1991): 343–47. According to Ibn Sa‘id, “in this beautiful place there was a luxurious vaulted pavilion built by the king of Toledo.”Mahmud Sobh, “Poetas en la corte de al-Ma’mun de Toledo,” in Simposio Toledo hispano-árabe (Toledo, 1986), 53–54. Other authors mention a pavilion of colored glass embellished with gold on an island within a pool in the garden.Al-Maqqari, Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain, 239–40 and Henri Pérès, La poesie andalouse en arabe classique au XIe siècle, 2nd rev. ed. (Paris: Adrien-Maisonneuve, 1953), 150–51. In 1084, Alphonse VI of Castile occupied the King’s Orchard and established himself in this Muslim palace. In 1090, the Almoravids felled all the trees in the valley and, in 1110, devastated the orchard and destroyed the palace. It was again sacked in 1196 by the Almohads at the command of the sultan of Seville, Ya’qub al- Mansur. Manuel Gómez Moreno, Arte mudéjar toledano (Madrid: Miguel, 1916), 11–12 and Torres Balbás, “ Contornos de las ciudades hispanomusulmanas,” 458. The palace was restored in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, but was abandoned in 1525 when Navagero saw it. However, he described the King’s Orchard as a plain irrigated by river waterwheels and full of trees and fruits, “with everything farmed and made orchards.”Navagero, Viaje por España, 25–26. In the mid-sixteenth century, many orchards and groves were still to be found in the Tagus valley, and there were two large, beautiful woods with “plenty of refreshments and fruit-trees.”Medina, Libro de grandezas, 87. Two river waterwheels are seen in the view of Toledo drawn in 1563 by Anton Van den Wyngaerde, one of which seems to be placed exactly in front of the palace.Kagan, Ciudades del siglo de oro, 132–34.  At the end of the seventeenth century, there were still several waterwheels in the Huerta del Rey: one called de Raçaçu, another called de la Alberca, one known as de la Islilla, those in the Palacio de Galiana, and one in the orchard of Laytique. Francisco de Pisa, Descripción de la Imperial Ciudad de Toledo (Toledo, 1695), 25. In the nineteenth century, Gautier recorded an animal-drawn waterwheel in a group of trees close to the Palacio de Galiana.Gautier, Viaje por España, 230–31. The palace was restored in the 1950s under the supervision of Fernando Chueca Goitia and Manuel Gómez Moreno.Delgado Valero, Toledo islámico, 317.

According to the twelfth-century Arabian traveller al-Idrisi, the Tagus valley was home to orchards (basatin and djannat) irrigated by acequias (saqiyat/sawaqi) and river waterwheels (dawalib), as well as numerous farms and castles.Al-Himyarī, Péninsule ibérique, 132–33, 160. According to Ibn Said, there was a grove of wild pomegranates outside the Bisagra Gate. Muhammad b. Ibrahim Ibn Bassal, Kitab al-filahah [Libro de agricultura], ed. and trans. J. M. Millás Vallicrosa and M. Aziman (Tétouan: Maʻhad Mawlāy al-Ḥasan, 1955), 33. In the twelfth century, there was a certain Huerta del Qadi (Qadi orchard) close to the church of San Pedro, Angel González Palencia, Los mozárabes de Toledo en los siglo XII y XIII (Madrid, 1930), 81–82. as well as the Huerta del Ajuneyna (Ajuneyna Orchard), the Huerta de los Frailes (Friars’ Orchard), and another orchard belonging to a certain Alhanaxí. To the northwest of the town was the Huerta de la Alhofra (Moat Orchard), and to the south, in the Iron Gate neighborhood, was al-Munya al-Kudya (Alcudia Orchard); the latter is also visible in a view of Toledo, between the walls and the river, by Petrus de Nobdidus. This engraving, made in Rome and dated 1585, bears the name Guerta de la Alcurnia. According to this engraving, it was a charming enclosure with a small summer house surrounded by trees and with a wall made of masonry, except along the riverside where there was a hedge made of brambles. Antonio Martín Gomero, Los cigarrales de Toledo (Toledo, 1857) 58. The continuous flooding of the river destroyed the orchard. Today, its toponym Arenal de la Alcurnia is all that survives.


Claustro del Vergel. Claustro del Vergel.

The Convent of Santa Clara was installed in the palace built at the initiative of Alphonse XI and Pedro I. The buildings around the Claustro del Vergel also date to the reign of Pedro I. According to Bujarrabal and Sancho, the old courtyard, which was completely rebuilt in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, had arches on all four sides, probably made of brick. María Luisa Bujarrabal and José Luis Sancho, “El palacio mudéjar de Tordesillas,” Reales Sitios 106 (1990): 29–36. The Claustro del Vergel was excavated between 1988 and 1990, revealing a square structure that leaned out toward the gardens. Originally interpreted as the foundation of a pavilion like that in the Court of the Lions in the Alhambra, they were, in fact, probably ponds. It is not clear whether the garden was divided into two or four flowerbeds.Almagro, “ Palacio de Pedro I” and Juan Carlos Ruiz Souza. “Santa Clara de Tordesillas. Restos de dos palacios medievales contrapuestos (siglos XIII-XIV)” in Actas del V Congreso de Arqueología Medieval Española, Valladolid (Valladolid, 1999), 851–52.

Valencia (Balansiya)

Al-Munyat Ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz (Huerta Mayor o de Villanueva) was built during the reign of al-Mansur ibn Abi ‘Amir (1021–1061). During the period Almoravid rule, it had palace surrounded by a vast garden crossed by an acequia.Torres Balbás, “Contornos de las ciudades hispanomusulmanas.”

Al-Rusafa (La Ruzafa) was located southeast of Valencia,Torres Balbás, “Contornos de las ciudades hispanomusulmanas.” and is depicted in a drawing by Anton van den Wyngaerde dated 1563.Kagan, Ciudades del siglo de oro, 205–7.

Zaragoza (Saraqusta)

The construction of al-Dja‘fariyya (Aljafería) began during the reigns of al-Muqtadir Billah (ca. 1065–1081) and Ahmad al-Musta‘in II (ca. 1085–1109). The current Patio de Santa Isabel is the result of several transformations carried out between the Middle Ages and the twentieth century, including the original Muslim garden, which was built in the taifa period. It is possible that the garden experienced great change in the fourteenth century, during the reign of Pedro IV of  Aragón (1336–1387), as its layout partly follows that of the Patio de las Doncellas in the Alcázar of Seville. Pedro Sobradiel, La Aljafería entra en el siglo veintiuno totalmente renovada, tras cinco décadas de restauración (Zaragoza: Institución Fernando el Católico, 1998) and Luis Franco Lahoz and Mariano Pemán Gavín. “De las partes al todo” in La Aljafería, ed. Antonio Beltrán Martínez et al. (Zaragoza: Cortes de Aragón, 1998), 2:16–20, 30–33.