In recent times, there have been few ideas of such compelling force as the concept of World Heritage. There are places in nature and culture with a value and importance reaching far across geographical and political boundaries and becoming a heritage of the world in general. This promising idea was taken up by an International Convention of the Unesco in 1972. Today over 100 countries have joined it.
This Convention does not only strengthen the idea that all countries should make the defence of a unique, exceptional heritage a common cause, but for the first time it draws up a single List where sites of nature and culture rank side by side. The Great Canyon of the Colorado or the Galapagos Islands form part of the same List together with the Monastery of El Escorial and the Taj Mahal.
At the suggestion of the member countries, the Convention is responsible for drawing up this World Heritage List which grows every year as new sites of nature and culture considered exceptional are added. Upon application, it also shares out the technical and financial aid required for the protection of these sites of universal value.
Although late in joining -May 4th, 1982- Spain is today one of the countries with the greatest number of sites included in the World Heritage List. By January 1996, 2 natural and 19 cultural sites belonging to different Autonomous Communities had reached the List. In 1984, La Alhambra and El Generalife (later with Albayzin), the Cathedral of Burgos, the Monastery of El Escorial, the mosque of Cordoba (later with other monuments in historic center) as well as the G?ell Park and Palace together with Gaudi’s Mila House in Barcelona were included. In 1985, the Altamira Caves, the old city of Avila with its curtain walls, the aqueduct and old city of Segovia, the Pre-Romanesque sites in Asturias as well as Santiago de Compostela also joined the list. In 1986, not only the old city of Toledo was put on it, but also the old part of Caceres, the Mudejar towers in Teruel and the first Spanish nature site on the List, Garajonay National Park on the Canary Island of La Gomera. In 1987, the building complex consisting of the Cathedral, the Alcazar (ie, Moorish fortress) and La Lonja (Auction Hall) of Seville. In 1988, the city of Salamanca. In 1991, Poblet Monastery. In 1993, archaeological ensemble of M?rida, Royal Monastery of Santa Mar?a de Guadalupe and the Route of Santiago de Compostela. Finally, in 1994, Do?ana National Park is put on the List.”La Casa Real Vieja”, ie, the Old Royal House, consists of a series of rooms called “Cuartos a Palacio”, a peculiar name given to a number of rooms that make up La Alhambra and were built one after another as the need for them arose. There are four main patios or inner courts: the one at the entrance, Machuca, Comares and the one of Los Leones (ie, the Lions). Only the last two have survived intact to our days. Between the Machuca and Comares Patios lies El Mexuar, a large hall of justice, and El Patio del Cuarto Dorado (ie, of the Golden Room). The buildings surrounding each of the patios are accurately and symmetrically distributed, but each complex by itself is organised more freely.
The towers of the curtain wall have richly decorated rooms and some of them are small, sumptuous palaces. Outstanding are the Tower of Las Infantas, the Tower of La Cautiva (ie, the Captive One) and the Tower of Las Damas.
The decoration of La Alhambra is of great importance. Among the most significant decorative elements are the skirtings of glazed tiles, the walls, friezes and series of arches covered with “atauriques” (ie, plaster or stucco decorative plant motifs characteristic of Caliphal art) and the ceilings decorated with bows, stalactites or “mocarae” (ie, designs of several prisms on a concave base) which in combination give the halls of these palaces an appearance of dazzling sumptuousness.
El Generalife, the summer palace of the Nasrid kings of Granada, stands on top of the hill of El Sol (ie, the Sun), which is twin to the one of La Alhambra and also towers over the River Darro. unlike the great palace, its construction date is known with accuracy (1318) as is its master builder: Aben Walid Ismail.
Today, all that remains of El Generalife are two buildings, one at each end of El Patio de la Acequia through the centre of which a channel runs with pipes along both sides and a stone bowl at each end. There are countless little channels, fountains and water jets everywhere in the lovely gardens.
La Alhambra and the gardens of El Generalife, which were included in the World Heritage List in 1984, are masterpieces of Nasrid architecture and belong to the last period of Arab art in the Iberian Peninsula. They embody the strength of rich and sumptuous Muslim tradition based on lavish decoration, which is one of the most outstanding elements of these unique buildings. Though tiring for the legs with its steep, cobbled streets the Albayz?n district is well worth a visit. Mosques converted into churches, Arab water cisterns still in use, Moorish palaces and tranquil villas hidden behind lush greenery give a sensation of harmony and suspended reality where the spirit can savour total peace of a few hours.