The Fountain of the Lions is the greatest example of Nasrid contributions to Islamic art, showing one of the few known sculptures of animals. It is also, without a doubt, the focal point of the whole palace and aspect that always leaves it mark on visitors.
The twelve lions maintain characteristics which make each of them unique. They are in an alert position, tail down, ears raised, teeth clenched, tensed and awaiting the slightest sign or order from their lord, the sultan.
On the other hand, the association with purifying water, fountain of life, and the image of the lion, guardian of power was lost during the beginnings of humanity, but is integrated symbolically into the traditions of the great monotheist religions.
The Fountain of the Lions is comprised of a central bowl held up by twelve lion fountain spouts, done in white marble from the quarries of Macael, in the province of Almeria. On the edge of the fountain there is a poetic inscription by Ibn Zamrak eulogising Muhammad V, the sultan under whose reign the Palace of the Lions was built.
Due to multiple factors: extreme climate conditions, low water quality, human activity and chemical reactions on the surface of the stone, both the lions and the cup have suffered over the course of history, and a lot more in recent decades, which have progressively changed the formal and aesthetic aspects of these pieces of art, which made restoration work by the Patronato de la Alhambra necessary.
Restoration of the Fountain of the Lions
After eight years of restoration, in 2012 the lions were returned to the fountain lustrous in their original while colour. Furthermore, as a consequence of the research carried out during the restoration process, a sophisticated and modern enclosed 5000 litre hydraulic water system allowing the pressure, temperature and level of the chemical products to be adjusted for all of the hydraulic parts of the Palacio de Leones was installed: Fountain, lion-spouts, canals and fountains of galleries and of the main halls: Sala de los Abencerrajes and the Sala de Dos Hermanas.
Researchers have also determined that the complex must have had marble floors, which is confirmed by numerous witness accounts from the time, such as the one by the historian Jerónimo Münzer, and the ambassador Andrea Navaggiero. For them, the courtyard was made from white marble and the crossing of the canals coming from the fountain symbolised the four rivers leading to paradise. Seven centuries later, Macael is still the quarry providing the material for the Alhambra’s architects. The new flooring allows more uniformity and harmony in the Patio, prevalent today in white compared to the grey tones of the past. 250 pieces of this material have been installed.