The Generalife was an almunia, a type of rural Andalusian building (from the Arabic al-munya), which was property of the sultan of Granada during the Nasrid period, with its arable land dedicated to the production of fruits and vegetables, a purpose which has been partially conserved to this day.
There is a stylish palace together with a vegetable garden for the entertainament of Nasarid sultans. It contains two courtyards, the courtyard of the main canal and the soultana’s court. Besides there are some previous courtyards at the entrance palace. In the exterior zones we can find different garden zones as the high gardens and the lower gardens. Some other singular places are the water stairway and the casa de los amigos.
The word Generalife is the castilianisation of its Arabic name Yinan al-‘Arif, garden of the Alarife (architect). Ibn al-Jatib spoke proudly about the gardens and orchards surrounding the city of Granada and those in it as well, which include the ones of Generalife.
The Generalife vegetable gardens
The Generalife was the sultan’s closest rural estate to the Alhambra, separated from it by the ravine of the Cuesta de los Chinos, and was a retreat for the sultan when he wished to escape the stresses of ruling.
The successive sultans living in the Alhambra enjoyed the property during the whole period of the Nasrid Kingdom in Granada. After the conquest of the city, the property was handed over to the Catholic Monarchs who placed it under the command of a governor. In the middle of the 16th century, Philip II of Spain ceded it to the Granada-Venegas family, who became the marquis and marquise of Campotéjar, until it was handed over to the state in 1921.
The almunia with its palace and gardens is described by the German traveller Jerónimo Münzer, who came to Granada in 1494 and later again in 1526 by the ambassador Andrea Navagero who visited Granada whilst accompanying the court on the honeymoon of Charles V and Isabella of Portugal.