One of Morocco's many great contributions to the world's cultural heritage would have to be Al-Qal‘at al-Ḥamrā’ - "the Red Fortress" - the Alhambra. It is ironic that Spanish Christians spent 800 years trying to kick the Moors out and, having succeeded, are now making so much of the city's income from their legacy. However, if one visionary Moroccan Government Minister has his way, that may be about to change.
Built by artisans whose ancestors had brought with them the building and design skills from Fez and whose descendents would eventually return there, the Alhambra is a complex of royal palaces, grand courtyards with exquisite fountains, and delightful formal gardens.
Constructed under the Moorish Nasrid dynasty in the 14th century, today this Moorish architectural gem brings millions of euros into the local economy and entrance fees alone raise half a million euros a year. It is the most significant surviving example of Muslim architecture in Europe.
The Nasrid Palaces, The antechamber, the Mexuar, is a gentle introduction to a series of elaborately decorated salons and courtyards, each more magnificent than the last. Following classic Islamic design principles, there is either a fountain or a channel of water in the centre of each courtyard. The intricacy of the plaster and tile work decorating the walls is breathtaking and took the army of artisans more than 30 years to create.
Another memorable sight was a gigantic star-shaped design in the ceiling of the Sala de los Abencerrajes, made of stalactites of carved plaster. This is supposed to be the room where the last Muslim ruler, Boabdil, invited to dinner a family with whom he had fallen out, then had them killed – an act which must have made subsequent guests nervous.
After Boabdil surrendered to Ferdinand and Isabella, the fate of the Alhambra was shaky for a few centuries. Subsequent generations of Christian rulers put their stamp on it, by demolishing sections and re-building in styles they preferred.
In 1812, Napoleon's troops attempted to blow up the place while decamping. The fact that the Alhambra still exists today is due to a soldier who made sure the explosives didn't detonate. Instead, the site was left to fall into decay. Drawings show the wonderful Court of the Lions with holes in the paving and weeds growing through the marble. We have the advent of tourism to thank for its restoration.
Now, Morocco is claiming half the income from tourists who visit the Alhambra Palace in Granada.
The Moroccan Culture Minister, Bensalem Himmich, has proposed that a mixed company be established between both countries to run the Granada monument, considering it would be justice for Boabdil, the last Moorish King of Granada. He was expelled by the Catholic Kings, spent the last years of his life in North Africa.According to the Minister, "Boabdil’s descendents were Moroccan".
The Minister, who has made this suggestion to both the Spanish Government and the Junta de Andalucía, considers the mixed company could manage both the visitors and conservation. He claimed that such an arrangement could ‘open bridges of cooperation and friendship between our two countries’.
Later on Wednesday however, the Moroccan Embassy denied that their Culture Minister had called for income from the Alhambra. 'After consulting with the Ministry, we have no data to verify these declarations'.
References to the story have also disappeared from the two Moroccan sites.
We don't expect any further mentions of this story to surface anytime soon.
Photographs and reporting from Spain: Suzanna Clarke