During centuries many different populations visited the city of Granada, creating a sort of mixture of religions and cultures, and leaving many legends in the city: one of these is the origin of the name “Alhambra”. Because of this multitude of cultures it is very difficult to understand the real origin of “Alhambra”. Actually, there are two main theories that historians have underlined regarding this topic. What is your favorite one?
The word Alhambra comes from the Arabic al-Ḥamrāʼ -which means “the red” – even if the complete word would be al-Qal’a al-hamra – red tower.
There no doubts about the link between Spanish and Arabic words to name the Alhambra, but what about the history of the “red”?
Where does it come from?
Firstly, you have to know that at the very beginning the colour of the Alhambra was white. There are two main theories/legends about the change from white to red:
Muhammad I of Granada, also known as ibn Al-Ahmar (“the son of the red”). The Alhambra, in this theory, inherits its name from the hair of the King of Granada.
The deep Andalusian character, in particular the one of Granada, is very famous in the Spanish culture. In Spanish culture there are numerous poems around the fire. Flamenco is, in fact, a very living proof of all that intensity, of all that fire that has so much relation with our culture.
The legend says that the inhabitants of Granada started to call the tower of Nazarí “the red” because of the number of fires that coloured the white walls into red. During the night men at work used fire in order to light up and to see better what they were doing: with the passing of time this fact of walls gives the name “the red” to the tower.
Castile Era and Modernism.
The process of conversion of all that Arabic words into Castilian ones is very easy: these Arabic words have been simply adapted into an easier pronunciation for Spanish speakers. To the Arabic word “Alhambra” has been added a “b” in order to obtain fluidity in Spanish language. The word Alhamar (the Castilian version of King Muhammad’s father, “Al-Ahmar”) is the result of the union between the two words.
Still nowadays people like to “play” with the name Alhambra: one of the most famous groups of graffiters of Granada has taken the name from the symbol of the city, even if with some modifications.