10 Islamic Monuments You Can't Miss in Andalusia

By Halal Trip | 11, Aug, 2023
10 Islamic Monuments You Can't Miss in Andalusia

Mosques, palaces, fortresses, madrasas, souks, watchtowers, gardens, walls, monumental gates, noble houses, public baths, cisterns... The impressive legacy left by eight centuries of Islamic presence in Spain, especially in Andalusia, finds one of its main expressions in architecture.

Hundreds of marvelous constructions have withstood the test of time, still receiving the visits and admiration of thousands of travelers. Take note and start planning your next trip to Andalusia. We present to you 10 monuments that will captivate you and capture your attention for different reasons. Of course, the two most iconic ones, the Alhambra in Granada, and the Great Mosque of Cordoba (officially, Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba), hold the top positions on this list, but there are other lesser-known treasures that will also transport you through time, allowing you to experience what was once Al-Andalus.

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1. Great Mosque of Cordoba
Great Mosque of Cordoba


Many consider this mosque to be the most important Islamic monument in the Western world, and rightfully so. It was built between 786 and 988 and underwent three enlargements. During its zenith, when it reached 23,400 square meters, it became the second-largest mosque in the world, with a capacity for 30,000 people.

One of the most iconic features of the mosque is the so-called "forest of columns." Originally 1,293 columns (now 856 remain) support arches with ochre and red stripes, resembling a grove of palm trees. Arches and columns are arranged in such a way that the space seems endless. The mihrab and the maqsura dome are also impressive. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


2. The Alhambra (Granada)


Its original name in Arabic, al-Qal'a al-Hamra, means the Red Fortress. However, the Alhambra is not just a fortress; it's a complete small city composed of different palaces (some to be used in winter and others in summer), gardens, fountains, water storage and conveyance systems, orchards, and housing for the troops and the rest of the population. The Alhambra is filled with marvels and symbolism: ceilings that depict the seven Heavens described in the Quran, over 10,000 inscriptions that can be read as a book covering its walls, intricate tilework… Even an ingenious anti-seismic system that has kept its columns standing for centuries. It's no wonder it's one of the 10 most visited monuments in the world and, of course, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


3. Real Alcázar (Royal Alcazar, Seville)
Real Alcazar

The Umayyad governors of Seville began the construction of this fortified palace, which was completed by a Christian king, Pedro I. He, however, enlisted Muslim builders for the task and drew inspiration from the Alhambra. The palace holds numerous treasures, but one of the most striking is the dome of the Hall of Ambassadors, a semi-spherical golden dome, strongly inspired by Islamic design, symbolizing the Universe. The Royal Alcazar is the oldest functioning royal palace in Europe and the official residence of the current Spanish monarchs when they visit Seville. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site.


4. The Giralda (Seville)

Continuing in Seville, the former minaret of the Great Mosque of Seville, which was transformed into the Cathedral's bell tower, is another of the attractions that you cannot miss. Its construction began in the year 1184, and with its slightly over 97 meters, it became, at the time, the tallest tower in the world. If you plan to climb to its top to enjoy wonderful views of the historic downtown, you’re in for a surprise: instead of stairs, there are 35 ramps designed for the muezzin to comfortably ascend on horseback to call for prayer. The Giralda is also one of the Andalusia's Islamic monuments listed by UNESCO.


5. Madinat al-Zahra (Cordoba)
Madinat al-Zahra


Returning to Cordoba, we visit the city ordered to be built by Caliph Abd ar-Rahman III in the 10th century to symbolize the power and independence of the Caliphate of Cordoba, and to serve as the most beautiful example of Al-Andalus' splendor. The Caliph had it built around 8 kilometers on the outskirts of Cordoba, not imagining that merely 70 years after its completion, the city and the caliphate itself would be destroyed. Recent research suggests that it might have been a series of earthquakes, not Berbers from North Africa, who devastated it. Today, Madinat al-Zahra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Spain's largest archaeological site.


6. Torre del Oro (Seville)
Torre del Oro


Another iconic tower in Seville, built in 1221 along the Guadalquivir River. It played a crucial role in the defensive system of Almohad Seville. Its purpose was to safeguard the port from the entry of unwanted ships and invaders. It was coated with materials (lime and straw) that created golden reflections when touched by the sun’s rays. It's believed that this is the origin of its name: "Oro" means gold, and "torre", tower. Today, it houses a maritime museum and serves as a departure point and landmark for many cruises sailing on the Guadalquivir River.


7. Alcazaba of Malaga
Alcazaba of Malaga


This is another grand fortification of Arab-Islamic origin you'll find in Andalusia. Initially, it served a purely defensive function. In fact, it boasts a rather unique system, based on three concentric enclosures and nine fortified gates that rendered it nearly invulnerable. Later, it also functioned as a palace where the Muslim governors lived and wielded power. The Alcazaba is situated in a remarkable and beautiful location: at the foot of Mount Gibralfaro, adjacent to a Roman Theatre, near the city's main park, and facing the port. It constitutes one of the most emblematic and beloved images of the city for the people of Malaga.


8. Casa de Zafra (House of Zafra, Granada)
Casa de Zafra


Until now, we've mentioned mosques, palaces, fortresses, and other grand structures, but you might be wondering: how did the people of Al-Andalus live in those times? If you wish to get an idea, we suggest visiting the Casa de Zafra. This house is one of the finest examples of civil architecture from the Nasrid period in Granada, which spans the 14th and 15th centuries. Of course, it's not just any house. It's situated in the heart of the Albaicín, a Muslim neighborhood designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Specifically, it's in the area where aristocrats built their houses and mansions. Today, this house accommodates the visitors' and interpretation center of the Albaicín.


9. Puerta de Almodóvar (Gate of Almodovar, Cordoba)
Puerta de Almodovar


A characteristic feature of many European cities during the Middle Ages (and in the preceding period, under the Roman Empire) is that they were protected by extensive walls. The Muslims also fortified many of their cities in Al-Andalus. When they arrived in Cordoba in 711, they found the Roman walls nearly destroyed. They proceeded to rebuild and strengthen them. By then, Cordoba began to be known as "the City of the Seven Gates." Of those gates, only three remain today, and among them, only one retains a similar appearance to what it had during the Umayyad period. Can you guess which one? That's right, the Puerta de Almodóvar. It's one of the most charming entrances to the historic center of Cordoba, to the ancient medina of Qurtubah.


10. Torre de la Calahorra (Calahorra Tower, Cordoba)
Torre de la Calahorra


We are back in Cordoba again, and once more, facing a tower with defensive purposes. It was built to protect and oversee access to the Roman Bridge, which, for centuries, was the sole means of entry into Cordoba from the South, crossing the Guadalquivir River. However, it's featured on this list not due to its defensive functions or architectural interest, but because it serves as the headquarters of the Living Museum of Al-Andalus. The eight rooms of this museum are dedicated not only to exploring the culture of that era but also to highlighting the positive aspects of the collaboration among Muslims, Christians, and Jews during that time. Another reason why you'll love visiting Andalusia.

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