Patio de los Leones
Courtyard in Granada
The Patio de los Leones or Lion Courtyard is a courtyard in the Palacio de los Leones. The Palacio de los Leones is one of the palaces that make up the Palacio Nazaríes in the Alhambra Complex, in Granada, Spain. This patio was built by order of Mohammed V and is famous for its marble fountain which channels water through the mouths of 12 marble lions. It is enclosed by several beautiful galleries which give access to different rooms.
What can you see in the Patio de los Leones?
Fuente de los Leones in the Patio de los Leones
The Fuente de los Leones or Fountain of the Lions lie at the center of the courtyard. The Patio de los Leones takes its name from the twelve lions that throw jets of water and which are part of the fountain in the middle of the patio. The lions stand with their backs to the fountain, in an alert posture, with their tails tucked up, ears raised, and teeth clenched. Each of the 12 lions are actually different as the carver of these figures took advantage of the natural veins of the marble, to further mark the features: the fur, the jaws, and the expressiveness of their faces. Two of the lions have a small triangle on their foreheads
The big dodecagon-shaped basin rests on top of these twelve lions that are around it. This white marble fountain is one of the most important examples of Muslim sculpture. A poem by Ibn Zamrak was carved on the border of the basin. At the beginning of the 17th century another basin was added and is currently in the Jardín de Los Adarves, as well as the jet, which was done later, as indicated in the engraving.
The fountain is decorated with a poem by Ibn Zamrak: “Blessed be he who gave imam Muhammad beautiful ideas to decorate his mansions.”
Th columns in the Patio de los Leones
The gallery is supported by 124 white marble columns with fine shafts, which are decorated on the exterior side with many rings and which support cubic capitals and big abacuses, decorated with inscriptions and stylized vegetal forms. At the middle of each of the two longer sides of the patio there is a semicircular arch bigger than the rest of the arches and with archivolts of mocarabes and scallops decorated with styled vegetal forms. The Nasrid motto: “The only conqueror is God” can be found throughout the courtyard.
The Pavilions of the Patio de los Leones
At the middle of each of the shorter sides there is a pavilion which projects into the court. The pavilions which have filigree walls and a wooden domed ceilings, and probably modeled upon a Cistercian lavabo. The columns of the pavilions and the ends of the longer sides of the galleries are of mocarabes, with scallops decorated with rhombus-shaped carvings.
Patio de los Leones
The Patio de los Leones is an oblong court 116 feet (35 metres) long and 66 feet (20 metres) wide. The Patio de los Leones does not follow the typical Muslim Andalusian patio style, and is similar to the Patio de los Arrayanes. The is some discussion as to whether the courtyard originally was a garden of flowers. The current thinking is that it was originally paved.
What does the Patio de los Leones symbolise?
The square plan of the patio represents the cosmos that in turn is crossed by 4 channels through which the water runs. The patio’s four water channels, running to and from the central fountain, represent the four rivers of Islamic paradise or the Garden of Paradise, a desert oasis of leafy palms surrounding a bubbling fountain.
The 12 lions could symbolize any number of things, perhaps the 12 signs of the zodiac, perhaps the 12 hours of the day. Lions are emblems of strength and courage. Figurative representation is rare in the Islamic world. The Moors probably would not have made them because the Koran discourages the representation of living creatures, to prevent a return of the idolatry, which it was the Prophet’s first mission to stamp out. It is thought that the lions are from the 11th century which predates the time the Alhambra was built, and were originally located in a palace belonging to a Jewish vizier, who would have gifted them the the sultan. If this is the case the lions could also represent the 12 tribes of Israel, as two of them have a triangle on the forehead, indicating the two extant tribes Judá and Leví.
The courtyard uses the proportions of the golden ratio, demonstrates the complexity of Islamic geometric design. The 124 slender columns that support the ornamented pavilions are placed in such a way that they are symmetrical on numerous axes.
Where is the Patio de los Leones
The arches in the south lead to the Sala de los Abencerrajes and to the north the Sala de Dos Hermanas. The chambers where the sultan’s wives lived are over the arches. To the east lies the Sala de los Reyes and the west the Sala de los Mocárabes.
The original name of the Patio de los Leones?
The moors had names it the Palace of Mohammed V. It was changed during Christian times to the Patio de los Leones or Room of the Lions, due to its central fountain.
The Legend of the 12 Lions
A long time ago, Zaira , a beautiful Arab princess arrived in the Nasrid kingdom of Granada with her evil and cruel father and his 11 guards, and they stayed in the Alhambra for a while.
The princess was kept here, in the gardens as a prisoner and was not allowed to leave. One day a young christian boy, Arturo jumped over the wall to the surprise of the princess who at that moment was resting in the shade. The boy declared his love for the princess. Zaira made him promise that he would leave soon, since his father would appear soon with his 11 royal guards. The boy agreed and promised to return the next day. Artur did return but was captured and was to be executed. Princess Zaira was devastated and could not stop crying and wandering the corridors of the palaces. While in the king’s room he discovered his diary and read his admission that “I have murdered the king and queen and thanks to my 11 men, I managed to take the throne. I have taken pity on the princess. Now I am the king and she will never know the truth, and although I possess all the power of the kingdom. Her talisman hides a terrible spell created by her mother that I hope she never knows how to use. ”
Zaira confronted the king who admitted that “Indeed I am not your father.” Zaira’s squeezed tightly the talisman, that hung from her neck, since she was a baby and the king and his eleven guards were turned into twelve stone lions that still stand today by the central fountain, in the palace of the King. Zaira released Arturo from their chains, they fled the city and lived happily ever after.
Other names of Patio de los Leones
The Patio de los Leones has the following names: Patio de los Leones, Lion Courtyard, Palace of Mohammed V, Room of the Lions.
Visiting Patio de los Leones
For opening times of the Patio de los Leones see Alhambra Opening Times.
The Patio de los Leones is part of the Alhambra Complex and access it you need to purchase Alhambra Tickets or a Alhambra Guided Tour.