Amira Bennison – The city as a site of power in the Islamic West: The Alhambra (Madīnatal-Ḥamrā’) of the Nasrids and New Fes (Madīnat al-Bayḍā’)

Event Date: 29 & 30 April 2011
The Latimer Room
Clare College, Cambridge


Department of Spanish and Portuguese
Modern & Medieval Languages Present:

Norman MacColl Symposium Easter Term 2011

Sites of Power: The City of Granada as Cultural Icon

Dr Amira Bennison (University of Cambridge): The city as a site of power in the Islamic West: The Alhambra (Madīnatal-Ḥamrā’) of the Nasrids and New Fes (Madīnat al-Bayḍā’)

This paper explores the origins of the Nasrid Alhambra as a statement of monarchical control and power in Granada from the establishment of the Ṣanhāja Berber Zirids in the town in the eleventh century. It will then compare the maturation of the site from an extramural fortress to a royal city under the Nasrids (13th-15th centuries) with the similar process which took place in the Moroccan city of Fes where the Marinid dynasty contructed a royal city in the vicinity of previous extramural fortresses at the same time. Although the Alhambra is often seen as unique, it is possible that the site’s development under the Nasrids used the slightly earlier example of New Fes as a model, especially as information about it would have been readily available from Zanata troops closely associated with the Marinids who went to serve the Nasrids. The similarity of the cities’ names in Arabic – the Red City (Madīnat al-Ḥamrā’) and the White City (Madīnat al-Bayḍā’) – suggests at least a degree of mutual recognition and perhaps competition. Both cities may also been seen in the broader context of urban development in the post-caliphal Islamic world where citadels connected to older urban conurbations had become a common way for regimes to physically articulate their relationship with their Muslim subjects. This relationship emphasised the physical (and coercive) power of a regime which implied their ability to both protect and chastise and in most cases other foundations for the good of the populace reassured them of the goodwill of their rulers: a hospital just below the Alhambra; theological colleges (madrasas) and inns in Old Fes. The purpose of this discussion is to attempt to understand the Alhambra from the perspective of the fourteenth century Muslims of Granada and to restore it to its context which cannot exclude nearby Marinid Morocco given the human contact, the political rivalry, and the artistic competition between Granada and Morocco.








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