The Palace of Charles V in Granada

The patio of the Palace of Charles V in Granada

I read this marvellous article in the Spanish cultural magazine JotDown recently (it’s been written a couple of years ago, but that’s the beauty of the internet): Si van a Granada y solo pueden ver una cosa, visiten el Palacio de Carlos V en la Alhambra (If You Go to Granada And Can Only See One Thing, Visit the Palace of Charles V in the Alhambra) by Pedro Torrijos. Even if you can’t speak a word of Castilian, I would encourage you to click through to the article to enjoy the photos accompanying it – far better than mine above.

By the way, I will have to write about Granada and the Alhambra another time because this post has been inspired by Torrijos’s article:

Five hundred years have passed since Pedro Machuca started the Palace of Charles V… But the space has overcome all the obstacles that it was presented with: the wars, the doubts and the controversies. And it continues there, between the patio of the Arrayanes and the plaza de los Aljibes. Opposite the Alcazaba and under the mountains. An almost perfect square, a bulky parallelepiped of blocks of stone and pilasters as Italian as Rome herself.

Han pasado quinientos años desde que Pedro Machuca comenzó el Palacio de Carlos V y más de cincuenta desde que Torres Balbás y Prieto Moreno lo terminaron. El tiempo se ha movido, sin duda. Pero el espacio ha salvado todos los obstáculos que se le presentaron: las guerras, las dudas y las controversias. Y sigue allí, entre el patio de los Arrayanes y la plaza de los Aljibes. Frente a la Alcazaba y bajo las montañas. Un cuadrado casi perfecto, un paralelepípedo abultado de sillares y pilastras tan italianas como la misma Roma.

Unless you’re into architecture, you’ve probably never heard the name of Pedro Machuca (I certainly haven’t), this Toledan painter-architect who learned his trade working with Michelangelo; but you would have heard of Andrea Palladio, “one of the most influential figures in the whole development of Western architecture” or the great Palladian architect of England, Inigo Jones, builder of the Queen’s House in Greenwich. Well, the palace of Charles V alone, if he built nothing else, places Machuca in that league.

The time passes. The wars pass. The days and the nights pass and the sun and the snow beat down on the sixty-three metres of each façade. And time accumulates like the pebbles in the pudding stone extracted from the quarries of El Turro, which give form to each of the sixty-four columns enveloping, on two levels, the thirty metres diameter of the patio of the Palace of Charles V.

Pasa el tiempo. Pasan las guerras. Pasan los días y las noches y el sol y la nieve y golpean los sesenta y tres metros de cada fachada. Y el tiempo se acumula como se acumulan los aglomerados en la piedra pudinga extraída de las canteras de El Turro, que dan forma a cada una de las sesenta y cuatro columnas que, en dos niveles, envuelven los treinta metros de diámetro del patio del Palacio de Carlos V.

One of the reasons why the building is so extraordinary is that: “It is an artefact of the future. Literally, of its own future.” – «Es un artefacto del futuro. Literalmente, de su propio futuro».

The Palace of Charles V was the first Renaissance building in Spain: it’s “an Italian construction two thousand kilometres from Florence and in the style and forms which were going to appear in Italy much later.” «…es una construcción italiana situada a dos mil kilómetros de Florencia  y proyectada en el estilo y las formas que iban a aparecer en Italia mucho después». It anticipated other examples of Mannerist architecture in Europe: it predates the famous Villa Rotunda of Palladio by some fifty years. And in Torrijos’s argument, the very fact that it was built at all, that Charles V decided to build a new palace rather than to settle into the Moorish Alhambra in recently reconquered Granada, probably meant the survival of the Alhambra to our times intact, without adaptations like for example that of the Mezquita in Córdoba.

Yes, the façades of the Palace of Charles V are marvellous, formidable. It’s almost impossible to believe that in the Alhambra they built such a Mannerist building years before Mannerism really began in Italy. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Because nothing that you know or experience will serve you on accessing the interior.

Because our minds are not prepared for the patio of the Palace of Charles V.

Sí, las fachadas del Palacio de Carlos V son maravillosas, formidables. Es casi imposible creer que en la Alhambra se construyese un edificio tan manierista años antes de que el propio manierismo empezase en Italia. Pero ¿saben una cosa? Da igual. Porque nada de lo que conozcan o experimenten les va a servir cuando accedan al interior.

Porque nuestro cerebro no está preparado para el patio del Palacio de Carlos V.

Incidentally, the Palace of Charles V also houses the Granada Museum of Fine Arts; and so you can visit it for free, without the crowds and without having to book online weeks ahead.

Don’t miss it.

And so when passes the day and passes the night and passes the sun and passes the snow, in the end remains the space.

Y es que cuando pasa el día y pasa la noche y pasa el sol y pasa la nieve, al final queda el espacio.

6 thoughts on “The Palace of Charles V in Granada

  1. Excellent post! I have been to the Alhambra, once…which was not enough. Charles V’s palace was undergoing some sort of renovations when we were there, and the museum was not open. I’m afraid my photos are all on slides, and/or film strips…from back in the day, before digital camera. I did enjoy your post very much, in fact I like to look around your site! 🙂


    1. arwen1968

      Thank you! I’m glad you liked the post – and it reminded you of old days. 🙂
      I’ve only been to Granada on a day trip from Seville myself (and it was freezing cold that day and raining all day)… would love to go back!


  2. Tronsawyer

    Great post!
    I have to say I always had mixed feelings with the palast of Charles the V. Most of the time it has been criticised because it doesn’t fit into the whole which is the Alhambra. You arrive there at the end once you have already seen all that architecture of the Alambra and you find something completely out of the picture… but I must say I was always amazed about it. It is spectacular! Besides, many good musicians have performed there (e.g. Loreena Mckennitt).


    1. arwen1968

      I can see why people would think it doesn’t fit with the Alhambra… I have to say when we went there, we knew nothing about it, we were wholly fixated on the Moorish architecture of the Alhambra and then we found Charles the V’s palace and we couldn’t place it at all. I came across the article in Jot Down completely by accident and in addition to it being a very good article, well written I mean, it also helped to make sense of the building.


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