Alhambrais an Islamic palace-city that was
built largely in the 14thCentury by the Nasrids, the last
dynasty of Islamic Spain.
Referred to by the Muslims as Al-Andalus, the Iberian Peninsula was
ruled by a succession of Arab, Berber, and North African dynasties,
starting from the initial invasion in 711 CE until its final conquest by
the Catholic kings, Ferdinand and Isabel, in 1492.
In royal residential architecture anywhere in the Islamic world,
a permanent capital residence can be called a palace-city, which
consisted of four basic elements—living facilities for the extended
royal family, sacred spaces consisting of a mosque and other smaller
private worship spaces, multiple gardens throughout the site (both
vegetable and ornamental), and at least one hammām, or bath house, for
royal use and then others for the ancillary population who served the
sultan and his family.
of these elements would be surrounded by outer walls with gates designed
to control access both into and out of the palace-city.
In addition, a palace-city included other elements of urban
living, such as a market or commercial district (called a
madīna in Arabic), a
governmental precinct adjacent to the official reception halls, a
cemetery, a royal mint, and housing for palace secretaries and servants
and their families who lived within the walls and served the needs of
the royal family on a daily basis.The lands surrounding the
Alhambra,referred to in Spanish as the
vega,and the city of
Granada itself, consisted of prosperous fincas
and densely populated villages, some three hundred in total, in which
about fifty of those villages and towns were at least large enough to
support congregational mosques.
al-Dīn ibn al-Khatīb (1313-1374 CE/713-777 H), the author of the
treatise we are considering here, reported that the region was filled
with magnificent houses and
(agricultural estates), many horses for both agricultural
and military use, dovecots, hen houses, and more than 130 water mills.
In a broader sense, the Kingdom
of Granada was known for its
production of a variety of foodstuffs, including figs, pomegranates (granadas
in Spanish), pears, apples, cherries, lemons, and grapes; almonds,
walnuts, and chestnuts; sugar cane; spices such as saffron and
alheña(a dye used in food);
and medicinal plants, such as
servato ( a
medicinal herb used to treat flatulence), Indian tuberoses (used as a
diuretic and for pulmonary complaints), and gentian (used for stomach
Ibn al-Khatib also writes in
other works, such as
fī Akhbār al-Gharnātaand
al-Lamha al-Badhriyya, about
the agricultural enterprises both inside and out of the walls of the
Alhambra, reflecting not only on the personal riches of the sultan but
also the varieties of wealth found in the countryside of the tiny Nasrid
He wrote that the
“is a sea of wheat and a mine of excellent cereals … [where] the waters
surround [the land], the air is healthy, the vegetable and flower
gardens abundant; there are thick forests and many fragrant herbs and
mentions that the sultan’s private lands, “are of such value and high
quality that the fortunes of kings would be necessary to pay the price
Despite Ibn al-Khatib’s
assertions of plenty, the
Granada at times had to resort to imports of cereals
from its neighbors across the
The constant influx of Muslim refugees from the north, on-going military
threats from both the north (the Kingdom of Castile) and occasionally
the south (North Africa), poor soil, and the constant fear of drought or
insect infestations, made for frequent shortages and rampant inflation
in the kingdom, with the result, on the one hand, of mosques filled with
believers fearful for the future, but also steadily increasing political
unrest and instability.
Ibn Khaldun praised the Andalusi people as “most devoted to
agriculture,” he wrote that, The Christians [had] pushed the
Muslims back to the sea coast and the rugged territory there, where (the
soil) is poor for the cultivation of grain and little suited for (the
growth of) vegetables.
themselves [the Christians] took possession of the fine soil and the
Muslims) had to treat the fields and tracts of land, in order to improve
the plants and agriculture there.
This treatment required expensive labour (products) and
materials, such as fertilizer and other things that had to be procured.
Thus, their agricultural activities required considerable
their expenditure in fixing their prices, and thus
Spain has become an especially
expensive region…Nevertheless, a religious celebration such as the one we are considering
here, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, would have been a suitable
occasion for sparing no expense in the appropriate dining and
entertainment in the new setting of the
Muslim tradition, there are two officially recognized holidays of the
Islamic lunar calendar, the Eid al-Fitr at the end of the month of
Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, a few months later.
However, during the rule of the Fatimids in
in the 10th
Centuries, a third holiday had evolved, that of the
the celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
Although frowned upon as an innovation by
many Muslim scholars of the period (in Arabic called
bid’a—not a good
thing in Islamic tradition), the holiday became popular in
in the late 13th/7th
Century (as it still is today) and spread shortly thereafter across the
Strait to Nasrid Granada.
festival on the night of December 29-30, 1362 CE/12 rabi’ I, 764 H
appears to have been the first holiday celebrated in the Alhambra since
the return of Muhammad V to Granada some nine months previously.
He had ascended to the throne in 1354 when
his father, Yusuf I, had been assassinated, but Muhammad had his
problems, too--a palace coup in 1359 CE/761 H--but with the assistance
of the Marinid sultans in North Africa and Pedro I of Christian Castile,
Muhammad had been able to return to the Granadan throne in 1361 CE/763 H
and would rule there continuously for the next thirty years.
In a Nasrid tradition dating back to at
least the reign of Isma’īl I at the beginning of the 14th
Century, Muhammad V celebrated his return to the throne with a building
program at the Alhambra that endeavored to reflect renewed building program,
the reception hall for the
the Hall of the Two Sisters as the Spanish called it (we don’t know what
the Nasrids called it), had only been very recently constructed, and the
surrounding rooms still contained parts of scaffolding and plaster, with
the only illumination in the room provided by torches and candles.
Also attached to the room is a mirador, or
scenic overlook, which originally gave a view to the Albaicín, the
oldest residential area of the city of
but today is blocked by an additional garden built by the Spanish in the
At any rate, the observance of the
Prophet’s birthday also served as a celebration for his namesake’s
return to power in
The performance and yearly enactment of
court ceremonies allowed for the mixing of sacred and secular motifs as
well as provided a tool to Muhammad V for manipulating symbols of the
past, providing him the opportunity to emphasize aspects of popular
culture and collective memory that enhanced his legitimacy while also
advancing his own objectives.The
available information regarding the celebration of the
festival in the Kingdom of Granada comes from a work called the
fi ‘ulalat al-igtirab (loosely
translated as “Beating the Saddlebag in Order to Entertain the Exile”),
which is the only work of its kind known to have survived from the Nasrid dynasty.
The author of the treatise, Ibn al-Khatīb,
was the grand vizier of the Nasrid dynasty under the rule of Yusuf I
(1333 -1354 CE/733–755 H) and of Yusuf’s son, Muhammad V (1354-1359;
1361-1391 CE/755-760; 762-792 H).
A consideration of the program of the
festival is revealing for what Paula Sanders refers to as ‘insignia of
sovereignty’ employed by (in this case) Muhammad V to reinforce both his
religious legitimacy and his secular authority over the
celebration itself was an all-night affair that lasted over twelve
hours, beginning with the
Maghrib prayer at
sunset, through the night prayer of
Isha’, and ending
Fajr prayer at
dawn the next morning.
García-Gómez, the modern-day editor of the original text, writes that
the protocol followed by the Nasrids in
appears to have been similar to that of the Andalusi Umayyad caliphate
that had ruled most of the
from the capital of Córdoba, starting with Abd al-Rahman I in 756 CE
until 1031 CE—essentially four hundred years earlier.
Ibn al-Khatib gives a generic list of those invited to the festival, and
the number in attendance was estimated at five hundred people.
The Hall of the Two Sisters consisted of a
main room with alcoves on three sides and measuring a total of 255 m2,
not including the mirador.
Some guests could have spilled out into the
adjacent space that would eventually be the Patio of the Lions, but
construction on that section of the
would not be started until the following year; some other structure
could have been there previously—we just don’t know.)
Regardless, it would have been a crowded
gives no names of specific people who attended the festival save one—Ibn
Khaldun, an official from the Marinid court in
whose ancestors had fled Islamic Spain a hundred years earlier.
He had come to
a diplomatic mission and had only arrived four days previously; he
long enough to attend the
the next year, too.
In order of importance, the guests ranged
from those seated nearest the sultan--the
(leaders of the Berber tribes of Al-Andalus), next were those who
claimed descent from the Prophet Muhammad, then members of the Nasrid
scholars); then the members of the brotherhoods of the Sufis and the
in the Kingdom of Granada
located in front of the raised dais with the sultan’s seat; and lastly
could be found the members of various Sufi orders visiting from abroad,
Christian guests and merchants, and any other local officials who sat
farther removed from the sultan’s immediate vicinity.
Although there is no direct mention of a
military presence at the festival, presumably at least the
Christian slaves who served as the bodyguard of the sultan, attended,
Islamic dynasties, such as the Fatimids in
the power of the ruler in part manifested itself in his physical
presence being hidden behind a kind of curtain to shield him from the
eyes of the court as well as the common people.
However, in Nasrid Granada, authority was
demonstrated out in the open, where the sultan sat on his throne in
plain sight and raised above his guests (perhaps not such a good idea,
given the number of Nasrid sultans that were assassinated).
The typical dining style for the Islamic
world consisted then (and often still does) of sitting on pillows and
rugs on the floor while eating from a low table, in this particular case
decorated with tablecloths of fine materials, and the sultan and his
guests were served by Christian slaves wearing brocade capes who were
quite adept at getting around in the crowded quarters of the reception
Service started with the guests seated nearest the
throne, and then continued on down the line of protocol until everyone
had been served.
Any leftovers from the banquet were given
out to palace guards and servants.
gastronomical entertainment of the program included dinner, a late-night
snack, and breakfast the next morning; Ibn al-Khatib does include a
general idea of the menu, and recipe books are extant from the time
period that can give us a suggestion of the foods that Ibn al-Khatib
By the mid-14th
Century, there had been prolonged political, social, and cultural
contacts between Al-Andalus and North Africa (basically what is today
with the result that there is considerable overlap in recipes,
ingredients, and styles of cooking from these two regions.
L. Benavides-Barajas has published several
collections of recipes from the 13th
Centuries, and his observations can give us a window into the world of
celebration foods in the 14th
The recipes often ended with the saying “Kūl,
Insha’ Allah” (“Eat, God willing.”)
course of the evening, dinner on the 29th,
included lamb and barnyard fowl, such as chickens, geese, pigeons, and
The common forms of cooking meat were
grilling, frying, roasting, mincing or grinding, stewing, and last but
not least, stuffed with almonds and other dried fruits.
There are recipes for meatballs dating back
to the 14th
Century and for couscous from the 13th
Condiments on the tables included
vinegar, brine, and honey.
It is interesting to note that Ibn a-Khatib
makes no specific comments on vegetables that were served, although
given the variability of Andalusi agriculture in cereals and fruits,
there had to be veggies in there somewhere.
Dessert would have consisted of pastries
made with sugar and rose water and fresh fruits, such as cherries and
dried figs from Almuñécar, and pomegranates and grapes from Málaga.The next
meal, a kind of midnight snack, consisted of dried fruit, bread or
rolls, and an apple tart, all served on decorated wooden trays, while
the third meal of the celebration, served after the dawn (fajr)
prayer the next day, included sweet breads and pastries.
Ibn al-Khatib also mentions a soup called
made with semolina and bread crumbs in a sauce with drippings from
chicken or dove, that is still part of Moroccan cuisine today.
A kind of fried bread is also mentioned
that appears to be a cross between a doughnut and a
(a breakfast pastry common in
today) that was often filled with cheese and sprinkled with spices or
cinnamon and sugar.
course of the night celebration, the sultan and his guests were treated
to musical entertainment and
demonstrations performed by different Sufi orders.
Sufism is a kind of Islamic mysticism, and
their forms of worship differ from one order to the next; such groups
were common in 14th/8th
as well as in
At times they were known to run afoul of
the government, but at this particular moment in time, given their
preferential seating and evening performances at the festival, the Sufis
appear to have been in good favor with Muhammad V.
religious obligations of the three prayers and Qur’anic recitations, the
evening’s program also included
a style of medieval Islamic poetry, that were often performed by
professional reciters rather than the
Poems dealt with topics of astrology and
horology (the study of time-keeping), where each hour of the festival
would be ushered in with a new
Ibn al-Khatib recorded that, “What I had
written for the occasion was recited each hour on the hour in that
Among the verses I always have at anchor in
my subconscious, written unenthusiastically and rather reluctantly,
nevertheless trying not to let them fall below the level of good poetry,
I found the following …”.
The twelve poems he composed for this
program are typically the same style and employ the same vocabulary as
the poems he wrote that were inscribed on the walls of the
Alhambra—celestial imagery, references to Islam, and panegyrical
tributes to the Nasrid sultan.
festival, the first of the hourly poems he wrote went like this:1 The first hour
of the night is gone dissipating to submit to God
………………………………..6 Ben Nasr, who
carries the Prophet’s name
For you, God predestines glory.7 If in combat the
banner you have won
God in heaven’s victory is set in motion.8 When Truth
take off their veils and disrobe.
9 If they make God
a good loan,
God doubles it
immediately.10 Let us thank
God, always submissively, for He opens hopes that close.Whether
religious celebrations, weddings, military parades, or simply daily
audiences, court ceremony and protocol as an artificially structured
environment with a strict code of behavior presented a powerful venue
for a ruler to exert his influence and power in an open and highly
In the particular case of a religious
festival, assertions of authority and legitimacy took on an even greater
import and increased sophistication, for emphasis rested on the ruler as
sanctioned by and blessed by Allah and not simply with the military
commander who had the biggest army.
festival held in the
in 1362 presented Muhammad V, recently returned from two years
in exile, with a valuable opportunity expressed in a religious and state
ceremony to reestablish his authority, both sacred and secular, as the Nasrid sultan.
His efforts can be considered successful,
for he ruled the
without interruption for the next thirty years.
festival of 1362 in the
should not be considered a rare or unique occasion, but rather is a
snapshot of such celebrations occurring throughout the late medieval
western Islamic world.
What does make this particular occasion
special is that someone who attended the celebration recorded his
observations and that these recollections have survived down to the
April L. Najjaj
April L. Najjaj specialises in Al-Andalus (Islamic Spain), and is an Associate
Professor of History at Greensboro College, Greensboro, North
nasrí de Granada (1232-1492) (Madrid, Spain:
Editorial Mapfre, 1992), 160-161.
41-43; Emilio Molina et al,
Historia de los Reyes 8-11.
Rachel Arié, El reino
nasrí de Granada (1232-1492) (Madrid:
Editorial Mapfre, 1992), 22, 158.
An Introduction to History,
Franz Rosenthal, trans.
N.J. Dawood, ed.
Princeton University Press, 1967) 277.
Foco de antigua luz; Paula Sanders,
Ritual, Politics, and the
City in Fatimid
Cairo (Albany, NY:
State University of New York Press, 1994).
The name of Isma’il I (1314-1325) appears in inscriptions in the
Generalife, which he renovated and expanded as part of a
celebration of his victory over the Christians in the
of the Vega in 1319 CE/719 H.
Leopoldo Torres Balbás, “Cronología de las construcciones de la
casa real de la Alhambra,”
Al-Andalus 27 (1962), 402.
Ibn al-Khatib, al-Lamha
al-badriyya (Historia de los Reyes de la Alhambra), 147.
See also Emilio García-Gómez,
Foco de antigua luz,
51. However, there
is a discrepancy in the dates, for Ibn al-Khatib dates Muhammad
V’s return to the Alhambra on 20 jumada II 762 (=
April 16, 1362)(al-Lamha
al-badriyya, 147) while García-Gómez gives a date of a month
earlier, March 16, 1362 (Foco
de antigua luz, 46.
Barbara A. Hanawalt and Kathryn Reyerson, eds.,
City and Spectacle in Medieval
(Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1994).
In Spanish rendered Sacudida de alforjas para entretener el exilio.
There is considerable
uncertainty regarding the date of this particular work, and
García-Gómez postulates that the first two sections were written
while Ibn al-Khatib was in exile in
Africa with Muhammad V from 1359-1361.
The later, third section was written somewhere between
the time he returned to
Granada with Muhammad V’s
family in 1362 and then fled into permanent exile again in 1370.
The matter is further confused by the existence of
several different manuscripts found in the Escorial,
See García-Gómez, Foco de antigua
luz, 211-221; see also Ibn al-Khatib,
al-Ihata fi akhbar Gharnata,
Vol. 1 Introduction,
Muhammad Abdullah ‘Inan, ed. (Cairo:
Dar al-Mua’rif, 1955).
(London: Saqi Books,
1997), 62. For a time table of construction for the Patio of the Lions, see
García-Gómez, Foco de
antigua luz, 11.
The Alhambra vol. I.
(London: Saqi Books, 1997), 62.
Khaldun attended the mawlid festivals of 1362 and 1363 and
contributed a qasida
mawlidiyya of his own in the latter year.
García-Gómez, Foco de antigua luz, 46.
Foco de antigua luz,
father, Yusuf I, had been assassinated in the mosque in the
Alhambra while at prayer during the celebration of Eid al-Fitr
in 1354 CE/755 H—see Ibn al-Khatib,
110 (Emilio Molina and José-María Casciaro, eds.,
Historia de los Reyes, 120-121).
morisca y cristiana, la cocina y su historia, desde Almería a
Granada, con recetas originales
del siglo XIII-XIV.
Editores Dulcinea, 1998.
See also The
the Half Moon, The History and Cuisine from the XIII to the XV
Editores Dulcinea, 2000.
El reino nasrí de
Foco de antigua luz, 52-54.
For the role of Sufism in al-Andalus,
see Claude Addas, “Andalusī
Mysticism and the Rise of Ibn Arabī,”
The Legacy of Muslim Spain, vol. 2, Salma Khadra Jayyusi, ed.
(Leiden, Netherlands: E.J.
Brill Publishers, 1994), 909-933.
The Trains in Spain