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Home / The Alhambra / Epigraphic poems

Epigraphic poems

The walls of the Alhambra are full of calligraphic decoration, cursive and kufic writings with sentences such as "Only God is victor" (apparently by Zawi ben Zirí, founder of the Nasrid dynasty) and poems by three poets of the Court of Granada, Ibn al-Yayyab (1274-1349), Ibn al-Jatib (1313-1375) and Ibn Zamrak (1333-1393), who were secretaries of the royal chancellery and prime ministers. Among them, Ibn Zamrak is considered to be the most brilliant of the poets of the Alhambra.

As an example here are included some of the poems that may be found on the walls of the fortress.


Poem of the right taca on the northern portico of the Generalife 

These tacas were niches or larders made into the wall, always in twos on both sides of the arches of gates of entrance to the chambers. These tacas were used to keep containers with water. 

The poem that appears on its spandrel reads as follows:

«Taca on the door of the happiest hall
to serve His Highness in the mirador.
¡My God, how beautiful it is when hold
by the right hand of the incomparable king!
When glasses of water appear on it,
they are like maidens above.
Rejoice at Ismail, thanks to whom
God has honoured you and made you happy.
¡May the Islam subsist thanks to him
so strongly, that it will be the defence of the throne!»


Third poem in the Tower of the Captive 

«This piece of art has come to decorate the Alhambra;
which is the home of the peaceful and of the warriors;
Calahorra that contains a palace.
¡Say that it is at the same time a fortress and a mansion for joy!
It is a palace in which magnificence is shared 
among its ceiling, its floor and its four walls;
on the stuccowork and on the glazed tiles there are wonders,
but the carved wooden ceilings are even more extraordinary;
these were all united and their union gave birth to the most perfect
construction in the place where the highest mansion already stood;
they seem poetic images, paronomasias and transpositions, 
the decorative branches and inlays.
Yusuf's visage appears before us as a sign
that is where all the perfections have met.
It is from the glorious tribe of Jazray, whose works in favour of the religion
are like dawn, when its light appears in the horizon.»


Poem on Comares' Gate 

«I am a crown on the front of my door:
in me is the West envious of the East.
Al-Gani billah* orders me to quickly
give way to the victory, as soon as it calls.
I am always waiting to see the visage
of the king, dawn appearing from the horizon.
¡May God make his works as beautiful
as are his mettle and his figure»

(*) Al-Gani billah: The victor by God: Nickname used by Mohamed V after the victory in Algeciras in 1369.


Poem on the basin of the Lions

«May The One who granted the imam Mohammed
with the beautiful ideas to decorate his mansions be blessed.
For, ¿are there not in this garden wonders
that God has made incomparable in their beauty,
and a sculpture of pearls with a transparently light,
the borders of which are trimmed with seed pearl?
Melted silver flows through the pearls,
to which it resembles in its pure dawn beauty.
Apparently, water and marble seem to be one,
without letting us know which of them is flowing. 
Don't you see how the water spills on the basin,
but its spouts hide it immediately?
It is a lover whose eyelids are brimming over with tears,
tears that it hides from fear of a betrayer.
¿Isn't it, in fact, like a white cloud
that pours its water channels on the lions
and seems the hand of the caliph, who, in the morning,
grants the war lions with his favours?
Those who gaze at the lions in a threatening attitude,
(knows that) only respect (to the Emir) holds his anger.
¡Oh descendant of the Ansares, and not through an indirect line,
heritage of nobility, who despises the fatuous:
May the peace of God be with you and may your life be long and unscathed
multiplying your feasts and tormenting your enemies!»


Poem of the fountain of Daraxa's Garden

«I am a water orb that appears before the creatures limpid and transparent
a great Ocean, the shores of which are select pieces of work made of special marble
and the waters of which, shaped like pearls, flow on an enormous sheet of ice that has been delicately carved.
In occasions I am overflowed with water, but I, from time to time,
part with the transparent veil that covers me.
Then I and that part of the water that comes from the borders of the fountain,
appear like a piece of ice, part of which melts and the rest does not.
But, when rivers flow, we are only comparable to star-studded sky.
I am also a mother-of-pearl and the pearls are the drops,
similar to the jewellery of the right hand that an artisan placed
on Ibn Nasr's crown, who, for me, was generous with the treasures of his fortune.
May he live with double happiness, he, who up to the date has been the thoughtful man of the lineage of Galib,
of the children of prosperity, of the fortunate ones,
stars shining goodness, delicate noble mansion.
Of the children of the tribe of the Jazray, of those who proclaimed the truth and protected the Prophet.
He has been the new Sa'd who, with his banns, has dispelled all the darkness and turned it into light
and he has given prosperity to his vassals by creating a stable peace in the surrounding areas.
He placed the throne as a guarantee of security for the religion and the believers.
And he has granted me the highest degree of beauty, so that my shape causes the admiration of the sages.
For never have any eyes seen a greater thing than myself, neither in the East nor in the West
and in no time has any king, neither abroad nor in Arabia,
achieved anything similar to me.»


Poem on the arch of entry to Daraxa's mirador

Each art has enriched me with its special beauty and has endowed me with its magnificence and perfections.
The one who sees me may judge according to my beauty of the wife that walks to this glass and seeks for his favours.
When the one who looks at me carefully observes my beauty, the look of his eyes is deceived by an appearance.
For when he looks at my marvellous background, he believes that the full moon has established her residence
here and has therefore abandoned her own mansions to find mine.I am not alone, for from here I contemplate an astonishing garden.
No eyes have ever seen anything similar to him.
This is the glass palace;
nevertheless, some have judged it as a tempestuous and shaken ocean, when they have seen it.
This was all built by the Imam Ibn Nasr*;
may God be the guardian of the other kings of his nobility.
His ascendants in the antiquity reached a greater nobility
for they gave shelter to the Prophet and his family.

*Note: the Imam Ibn Nasr is Mohammed the V.


Poem in the Hall of the Two Sisters

«I am a garden adorned by beauty:
my being will know whether you look at my beauty.
Oh, Mohammed, my king, I try to equal
the noblest thing that has ever existed or will ever exist.
Sublime work of art, fate wants me to outshine every other moment in history.
How much delight for the eyes!
The noble one renews his desires here.
The Pleiads serve as his amulet;
the breeze defends it with its magic.
A gleaming vault shines in a unique way,
with apparent and hidden beauties.
The hand of a devoted to Gemini;
and the Moon comes to converse with her.
The stars wish to rest there,
and not turn around the celestial wheel,
and they wish to await submissively in both courtyards,
and serve tenaciously like slaves:
Isn't it marvellous that the stars miss it
and go beyond the marked limit,
in order to readily serve my master,
for those who serve the Glorious one reach the glory.
The portico is so beautiful that the palace
competes in beauty with the sky.
You dressed it with such an exquisite lamé,
that the loom of the Yemen is forgotten.
¡How many arches are high on its summit,
on the columns that are adorned by the light,
like spheres that turn
above the glowing pillar of the dawn!
The columns are so beautiful in every way,
that their success flies from mouth to ear:
the marble throws its clear light, which invades
the black corner that blackens the shadow;
its highlights iridesce, and one would say that
they are, in spite of their size, pearls.
We have never seen such a blooming garden,
with a sweeter harvest and more scent.
With permission from the judge of beauty
it pays double the tax in the most exquisite palace,
with brighter and wide areas.
Never two coins,
because if, at dawn, on the hands are left
drachmas of light from the zephyr, which would suffice, 
gold doubles of sun, which embellish it,
are later thrown in the bushes, among the trunks.
(The kinship links him to victory:
Only the King cedes this lineage.)»

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