Much of the action in Emeralds of the Alhambra revolves around the resplendent Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, during the Castilian Civil War (1366-1369). The Alhambra is the best-preserved medieval Islamic palace in Europe, if not the world, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
“Alhambra” refers to the entire walled fortress that clings to the long and narrow red-soiled ridge overlooking Granada. The red hill itself is the source of the palace’s name (al-hamra is Arabic for ‘red’). Unlike today, in the fourteenth century the towers and walls of the Alhambra would have been white-washed and the hill laid bare for defense, a stunning white on red contrast.
The fortress is compact, as dictated by the terrain, about one hundred yards wide and seven hundred yards long, and is nestled within the walled and garrisoned city of Granada. The Alhambra complex contained the Royal Palace of the Sultan, the complete functioning town that supported it, all of the judicial and administrative services required to run the kingdom, and a separately castled garrison.
The Alhambra and the walled city of Granada itself were, for all intents and purposes, impregnable, and were never captured by force of arms, only surrendered (in 1492 to Isabel and Fernando, the “Catholic Monarchs”). The Alhambra’s population when Emeralds of the Alhambra begins was roughly two thousand, including a garrison of perhaps three hundred elite troops, compared to about sixty-five thousand inhabitants in Granada proper, a large city by fourteenth century standards.