The occupants of Granada’s Alhambra fortress considered water to be a great luxury. The Nasrid dynasty which ruled the Emirate of Granada between 1238–1492 came from the dry southern regions of the Arabian Peninsula and it is, therefore, no wonder that its sultans placed such a high premium on the ability to enjoy flowing water in their palaces.
When Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada, found an old 9th century citadel on the top of the Sabikah hill, he immediately realized that the location’s strategic position would provide a great defensive advantage. The citadel was partially protected by the Sierra Nevada mountain range from the east and was surrounded by expansive plains from the remaining sides, which made it easy to spot enemies from afar. However, if the fortress complex he planned to build was to succeed, it would need a good, stable supply of water. The problem was that the nearest source of water was more than a 100 metres below the Alhambra, where the Darro river wound around the foot of the hill on which the fortress was to stand.
How could the water possibly be forced to flow uphill to the fortress? The only solution was to tap into the river at a point where the water actually flowed above the Alhambra, so that engineers could use the force of the moving water to push itself up the hill. Since there was no natural reservoir the engineers could use, they had to build an artificial one.
A dam was constructed in the nearby mountains to create enough pressure for the water to flow uphill. The reservoir where the water would be collected had to be dug manually – a very impressive feat. The damn let water flow into a 6km long brick-lined canal called a athecia that brought the water to where it was needed. This again, however, was no simple affair. The water had to flow downward at a constant gradient, which required building tunnels through the mountains surrounding the Alhambra. Finally, the water was pushed up onto a hill adjacent to that on which the Alhambra stood. The water made the journey of the final 15 metres between the two hilltops via an aqueduct.
Inside the Alhambra, the water was diverted into a complex network of irrigation channels. The water provided for every day needs and irrigated fields where food was grown, but it also fed into large pleasure gardens with abundant trees, flowers and spectacular fountains. To fulfill all of these needs, the channels had to bring enough water to fill 7000 olympic sized swimming pools every day.
Masterful engineering of the Nasrid dynasty transformed the Alhambra into an oasis of greenery in Granada’s arid landscape. It is an absolute delight to wonder the gardens and enjoy the cool water which trickles and splashes around you, winding its way through the gardens as your constant companion on your adventure as you explore this exquisite gem, enjoying the same sights and delights as the sultans did before you.