Art History Paper on the Aljaferia Palace

Table of contents


The Aljaferia Palace is a medieval Islamic palace built during the 11th century and located in the heart of present day Zaragoza, Spain. The palace reflects the splendor attained by the kingdom of the taifa of Zaragoza at the height of its grandeur. Today, the Aljaferia Palace contains the Cortes or regional parliament of the autonomous community of Aragon. The structure holds unique importance in that it is the only conserved testimony of a large building of Spanish Islamic architecture of the era of the Taifas, independent kingdoms.

As a work of art, the Aljaferia Palace belongs to the style of Mudejar Art. Mudejar Art, a style which is native and unique to the history of Spain, was a meeting point between Christianity and Islam. The term Mudejar refers to the Muslims who continued to practice their religion and their customs in the territories which became part of the Christian dominions as the Reconquest of the Hipic kingdoms advanced into southern Spain. It came into being and flourished thanks to the social phenomenon represented by the climate of peaceful coexistence between three cultures: Christian, Muslim and Jewish.

This system of artistic work –a heritage of the Islamic tradition– left its mark both on Christian architecture and on its sumptuary arts. Mudejar art is widely accepted as a hybrid of Moorish, Gothic and Romanesque styles. After the capture of Zaragoza in 1118 by Alfonso I of Aragon during the reconquista, the Aljaferia Palace became the residence of the Christian kings of the Kingdom of Aragon and as such was converted into the focal point for spread of the Mudejar Architecture of Aragon.


The Aljaferia Palace was built during the second part of the 11th century in the Moorish independent Muslim state called the Taifa of Zaragoza, present day Zaragoza, Spain. It was built to be the residence of the Banu Hud dynasty during the era of Abu Jaffar Al-Muqtadir after abolishing Banu Tujibi of Kindah dynasty. The Banu Hud were an Arab dynasty that ruled the taifa of Zaragoza from 1039-1110. In 1039, under the leadership of Al-Mustain I, Sulayman ibn Hud al-Judhami, the Banu Hud seized control of Zaragoza from a rival clan, the Banu Tujibi.

His heirs, particularly Ahmad I al-Muqtadir (1046-1081), were patrons of culture and the arts. In the second half of the 11th century, Ahmad I built the Aljaferia Palace as the royal residence for the Banu Hud dynasty and it is practically the only palace from that period to have survived almost in its entirety. Later, in the 1200s, a coalition of Christian kings drove the Moors from Spain in a 300 year long campaign called the Reconquista. As Moorish territory fell to the Christian kings of Spain, the Aljaferia Palace became the residence of the Christian kings of the Kingdom of Aragon.

The Aljaferia Palace served many functions throughout history. As stated before, it was built by the Taifas Kings of the Banu Hun dynasty as a leisure residence but was also a defensive building. The palace later functioned as the residence of the Christian kings in the Kingdom of Aragon after the capture of Alfonso I of Aragon in 1118. It was also the birthplace of Saint Isabel of Portugal in the year 1271. It was used as the royal residence by Peter IV of Aragon and subsequently, on the principal building site, a renovation was carried out that converted these chambers into the palace of the Catholic Monarchs in 1492.

In 1593, the structure experienced another renovation that converted it into a military base, first according to Renaissance designs (which today can be observed in its moat and gardens) and later as military quarters. The building suffered continuous alterations and considerable imperfections, above all with the Siege of Zaragoza during the Peninsular War until it was finally restored in the second half of the 20th century.


The Aljaferia Palace is a complex group of structures that have been built around one another from the Islamic age until modern times, including Christian modifications during the Middle Ages. The Palace’s original plan was small, approximately 70 x 70 meters, and it was surrounded by a continuous wall punctuated by round towers, only three of which survive. Two of these towers flank the entrance, creating a highly fortified exterior in contrast to the luxurious ornament of the small courtyard, so-called throne hall, and mosque that remain from the eleventh century.

These spaces are distinguished by architectural motifs and an ornamental programme that evoke caliph al Cordoba. However, the interlacing arches and carved stucco ornament of the Aljaferia achieve a level of complexity and fantasy that pushed an established repertoire of forms into new realms. These diminutive, highly decorated spaces have been interpreted as settings intended to evoke paradise for majalis – gatherings of the ruler and a highly exclusive group of companions – at which wine drinking and poetic recitation took place.

The Muslim palace is the best-preserved palace complex from the epoch of the Taifa kingdoms on the Iberian peninsula. The quadrangular enclosure still retains part of its original adobe perimeter wall. It is reinforced with large semi-circular towers and a rectangular tower on the north side called the ‘troubadour’s tower’ (Torre del Trovador), the lower part of which is the oldest part of the complex. Also in the Palace’s original construction, extra ramparts were made in the open field surrounding the Aljaferia. With urban expansion over the years, the building has remained inside of the city.

However, the city of Zaragoza has not been able to honor the landscaped surroundings of the Aljaferia. A freeway was built and now passes only a few meters away from the Aljaferia Palace. The best-conserved part of the Palace is the north wing. In this area, on the east side of the portico and next to what is believed to have been the great audience chamber of al-Muqtadir, known as the ‘Golden Room’ or ‘Marble Room’, there remains a small octagonal mosque whose location, intimate character and small size suggest that it was designed as a private oratory for the king and his family.

In the south wing of the palace, as on the north side, there was another large hall with side rooms and a porticoed area that served as an antechamber. Sadly, this hall was demolished in the 14th century to make way for the Chapel of St George, which in turn was destroyed in 1867. Nonetheless, before the demolition, a number of arches, capitals and other decorative elements were salvaged from this area, which has enabled the portico and two of its side rooms to be reconstructed in recent times. The oldest construction of the Aljaferia is called Troubadour Tower.

The tower received this name from Antonio Garcia Gutierrez’s 1836 romantic drama The Troubadour, which was converted into a libretto for Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Il trovatore in 1853. The tower is a defensive structure, with a quadrangular base and five levels which date back to the end of the 9th century AD, in the period governed by the first Banu Tujibi, Muhammad Alanqur, who was named after Muhammad I of Cordoba, independent Emir of Cordoba. According to Cabanero Subiza (1998) the Tower was built in the second half of the 10th century.

In its lower part, the tower contains vestiges of the beginning of the heavy walls of alabaster ashlar bond masonry, and continues upwards with plank lining of simple plaster and lime concrete, which is a thinner substance for reaching greater heights. The outside of the tower does not reflect the division of the five internal floors and appears as an enormous prism, broken by narrow embrasures. Access to the interior was gained through a small door at such height that it was only possible to enter by means of a portable ladder. Its initial function was, by all indications, military.

The first level conserves the building structure of the 9th century and shelters two separated naves and six sections, which are separated by means of two cruciform pillars and divided by lowered horseshoe arcs. In spite of its simplicity, they form a balanced space and could be used as baths. The second floor repeats the same spatial scheme as the previous floor, and the remains of Muslim brick-work from the 11th century can be seen in the brick facades, which indicates that the second floor was possibly reconstructed at the same time as the palace during the epoch of Al-Muqtadir.

Artistic Analysis

When the Aljaferia Palace became the residence of the Christian kings of the Kingdom of Aragon after the reconquista, it also became the focal point for the outward spread of the Mudejar Architecture of Aragon. Mudejar Architecture of Aragon is an aesthetic trend in the Mudejar style, which is centered in Aragon (Spain) and has been recognized in some representative buildings as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The chronology of the Aragonese Mudejar occupies 12th to the 17th century and includes more than a hundred architectural monuments located predominantly in the valleys of the Ebro, Jalon and Jiloca.

In this area there was a large population of Muslim origin, although many of them were nominally Christian. Described as Mudejar or Morisco, they kept their workshops and craft traditions, and rarely used stone as building material. The first manifestations of Aragonese Mudejar have two origins: first, a palatial architecture linked to the monarchy, which amends and extends the Aljaferia Palace maintaining Islamic ornamental tradition, and second, a tradition which develops Romanesque architecture using brickwork rather than masonry construction and which often displays Hipic-rooted ornamental tracery.

The development in the twelfth century Mudejar art in Aragon is a consequence of the political, social and cultural conditions that prevailed in Spain after the Reconquista. This art, influenced by Islamic tradition, also reflects various contemporary European styles, particularly Gothic. Present until the beginning of the seventeenth century, is characterized by extremely refined and inventive use of brick and glazed tiles in architecture, especially in church steeples. The Aljaferia Palace clearly exhibits the style of Mudejar Architecture of Aragon with its strong influence of Islamic art.

The Palace was built using traditional models in Islamic palatine architecture: a large open central courtyard leading to all of the living rooms with two pools on the north and south sides. The ceremonial and private rooms, also located on the north and south ends of the building, are preceded by porticoes made up of mixtilinear and poly-lobed arcades that stretch the length of the central courtyard to serve as visual screens. In the Northern portico, there is a small oratory of octagonal floor, with the mihrab in one of its sides decorated with “atauriques”, Islamic decoration based on vegetal motives.

In addition to its Islamic influences, the Aljaferia Palace exhibits the style of Moorish Architecture. One of the most distinguished characteristics of Moorish architecture is the plain exterior of a structure with an exquisitely ornate interior, similar to the Aljaferia Palace. The Moorish people were nomads and lived in tents; this naturally translated into the interior of the tent being the one place that was decorated with beautiful textiles, lush gardens and simple, portable furnishings.

The use of geometry in decor was a nod to the Moors’ talent in structural design and mathematics. The Koran forbids the copying of natural forms so instead craftsman used stars, crescents, crosses, hexagons and octagons. These geometric shapes and patterns were created in wood, plaster, tile and textile designs and used these colors in their designs: red, blue, green, white, sliver and gold. The Aljaferia Palace exhibits these characteristics with geometric patterns and the use of these same bright colors.

The Moorish influence on design is one that acutely reflects the religous and topographical influences of Islam and Spain. The interior elements of these buildings in clued: yeseria, artesonado, horseshoe & scalloped arches, stalactites, simple columns and multifoils. The interior of the buildings were decorated with fantastic and minutely colored ornamental details. Elements of nature always included in these buildings were courtyards with gardens, fountains, reflecting pools and exquisite landscapes.

The Aljaferia Palace encompasses these religious and geographical influences of Moorish Architecture with its scalloped arches, detailed engravings, and many courtyards containing both fountains and reflecting pools. From Christian times, it conserves a staircase of honor, several rooms decorated with sober coffered ceilings, and especially the Throne Room, that could be placed among the best works of this kind. The architectural and decorative elements of the palace are inspired by Cordoban models but embellished for the Aljaferia.

The curious combination of intertwined mixtilinear and poly-lobed arches and the opulent vegetal decoration greatly complicate the decorative scheme. In contrast with its austere, fortress-like exterior, the palace interior presents great ornamental beauty and refinement that reflect two entirely different worlds: a defensive exterior with a refined and cultured interior where the sovereign and his court lived. The architectural style of the Aljaferia Palace is truly a combination of its many cultural, religious, and functional influences.

It represents Islamic, Spanish, Christian, and Moorish styles and helped to define what we know today as the style of Mudejar Architecture of Aragon.


The Aljaferia Palace is one of Zaragoza’s top historical attractions. Unique in its historical context as the largest surviving example of Islamic/Spanish architecture from the Taifas period, it is the only large building from the time of Muslim rule in Spain that can be seen outside of Andalusia region.

Today the Palace serves as the set of the Cortes de Aragon. It is the most important civil building of the Aragonese heritage.


  • https://aulaglobal2. uc3m. es/file. php/37496/9. Islamicsin. pdf
  • http://www. travelinginspain. com/zaragoza/aljaferia_zaragoza. htm
  • http://islamic-arts. org/2012/the-aljaferia-palace/
  • http://archnet. org/library/sites/one-site. jsp? site_id=4821 http://www. spain. info/en/conoce/monumentos/zaragoza/palacio_de_la_aljaferia. html

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