Swiss research reveals the beautiful complexity of the Alhambra

Swiss research reveals the beautiful complexity of the Alhambra


On at 16:39


EPFL / T21

Swiss researchers have analyzed in depth the richness of the muqarnas of the Alhambra in Granada and revealed the complexity of these ornate vaults, typical of Islamic architecture.

Scientists from the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have revealed, thanks to a meticulous investigation, the richness and complexity of the Alhambra’s muqarnas. The results of this research are published in the journal Muqarnas.

These typical elements of Islamic architecture are little known to architects, and the little information about them has been simplified over time.

The new research will help to improve and guarantee the sustainability of the Alhambra, highlight the authors of this research in a release.

They add that this study firmly anchors the wonders of the Alhambra in world heritage.

For a building to be properly restored, rebuilt or maintained, its architecture and construction techniques must be understood and documented, they add.

This is even more true for historical monuments with unique architecture, such as the Palace Complex of the Alhambra in Granada, they specify.


Ignacio Ferrer Pérez-Blanco and Marie-Pierre Zufferey, from the Digital Culture Laboratory of the Architectural Project (CNPA) focused their research on a central element of the Alhambra: the muqarnas, an ornate vault form typical of Islamic architecture.

These ornamental motifs are made up of dozens of small pieces of different shapes, three-dimensional, giving rise to a potential infinity of final combinations.

Used & NegativeMediumSpace; & NegativeMediumSpace; already in the 9th century, the muqarnas can be admired from Sicily to Iran, through Morocco, Syria, Iraq or Egypt, as well as in the Alhambra in Granada.

Digitize monuments

Despite their frequency, the complexity of muqarna compositions is poorly documented, the researchers caution.

They also emphasize that, in order to know the forms used, the proportions or the profiles used, we must delve into two manuscripts from the 17th century (Fray Andrés de San Miguel and Diego López de Arenas), as well as a study from 1842.

However, understanding and documenting buildings is critical to their preservation. “Think of the destruction of the city of Palmyra in Syria,” says Bernard Cache, professor at ENAC and head of the CNPA Laboratory. “Only digitized monuments can be reconstructed, he adds.

Read:  GTA: The Trilogy exceeds 10 million

Ignacio Ferrer Pérez-Blanco points out that, in the case of the Alhambra, this group of palaces is built in the highest seismic zone in Spain.

Digital technologies

To understand the steps and data required to build muqarnas, the researchers compared the information provided by the two 17th-century treatises with each other, and then with five muqarna capitals at the Alhambra.

They first collected the data at the site, “photographing” the muqarnas using a 3D scanner, then they created their digital reconstructions from photogrammetry.

Finally, they carved four of those examples in stone, based on that data, to test different approaches.

“This stage was essential to know all the phases, the geometric problems encountered and reach the final result & rdquor ;, says Ignacio Ferrer Pérez-Blanco.

Unexpected complexity

They then compared their results with the manuscripts. They found that the information is sometimes false, partially correct, or incomplete.

“We found 16 different three-dimensional shapes on these capitals, while seven are normally considered sufficient, as well as one asymmetric piece not yet described,” says the scientist.

Therefore, the researchers needed twice as many different shapes and other proportions to arrive at the final result.

Reference for the future

These five capitals constitute a sample against dozens of other compositions of muqarnas from the Alhambra with thousands of pieces, such as the domes of the Hall of Ambassadors or the Hall of the Two Sisters.

In addition to shedding light on the complexity of the muqarnas and documenting elements of architectural heritage, his work has also enabled new data to be digitized and made accessible for future research.

Both the results obtained and the methodology followed in this study will serve as the basis for other more complex compositions, and advance the understanding of the formal language of the Alhambra and the western muqarnas.


Sculpted Muqarnas: The Five Capitals in the Alhambra as a Case Study for the Proportions of Western Profiles. Ignacio Ferrer Pérez-Blanco and Marie-Pierre Zufferey. Muqarnas Online, 38 (1), 357-399. DOI: https: //