Qantara Qantara

Maristan of Granada/ Foundation Stone/ Fountain heads in the shape of lions

Foundation stone: R.E. 241; Lion A: R.E. 10219; Lion B: R.E. 10220

  • Name : Maristan of Granada/ Foundation Stone/ Fountain heads in the shape of lions
  • Place : Alhambra Museum, Granada, Spain
  • Construction date/period : 1365 – 1367
  • Construction materials : Building: stone; Foundation stone: marble; Fountain heads: marble
  • Architectural pattern : Marbre
  • Recipient/Mandatory : The Nasrid sultan Muhammad V (r. 1354 -1391 with interruptions)
  • Dimensions : Maristan: 1015 m2: Foundation stone: height: 179.5 cm; width: 95.5 cm; Lion A: height: 159 cm; width: 126 cm; depth: 56 cm; Lion B: height: 149 cm; width 131 cm; depth: 56 cm
  • Inscriptions :

    Foundation stone – 26 lines of Kufic script: “Praise be to Allah. He, who ordered the construction of this maristan as proof of his great mercy for the weakest and sickliest of Muslims and to bring him closer – if Allah chooses – to the lord of all worlds, who perpetuates his good deeds, who speaks in elegant language and who has carried out his duty to charity for the passing of time and the succession of years, until Allah inherits the Earth and leaves it to those who populate it, for he is the greatest of heirs (allusion to Qur’an XXI, 89), the lord, the imam, the sultan, the hero, the great, the illustrious, the pure, the victorious, the happiest in his kingdom, the first too have taken the path of Allah, the keeper of victories, he, who has carried out the wishes of god, the magnanimous, he, who has received the help of angels and the holy spirit, defender of tradition, refuge of religion, the prince of the Muslims al-Ghani bi-llah Abû ‘Abd Allâh Muhammad, son of the great lord, the famous, the illustrious sultan, defender of the faith, the just, the joyful, the martyr, the sanctified, the prince of Muslims Abû l-Hayyay, son of the lord, the illustrious sultan, the famous, the great, the magnificent, the victorious, he who vanquishes the polytheists and subjugates the infidels, the blessed, the martyr Abû l-Walîd ibn Nasr al-Ansarî al-Jazrarî. May Allah recognise his works and his accomplishments, may he receive his favour and the great reward of his desire! It is for this reason that he has accomplished a great work, never before accomplished since the Muslims have been in this country, and for that he has received a glorious embroidery on the excellent veil of holy war and has searched for the face of god, hoping for reward, for Allah is possessed of the most wonderful grace. He has prepared a light, which is in front of him and behind him “the day when wealth shall profit not, nor sons, but only he who comes to God with a sound heart.” (Qur’an XXVI, 88 – 89). And its construction was started in the middle decade in the month of Muharram in the year seven hundred and sixty seven (27 September – 8 October 1365) and was finished through pious gifts during the decade of the middle of Sawwal of the year 778 (9 – 18 June 1367). Allah does not neglect those, who accomplish great works nor the efforts of those who do good. May Allah protect our lord Muhammad, the seal of the prophets, his family and his companions, all.”

The maristan is an institution that has its roots in the Orient and arrived in Andalusia during the twelfth century[1]. These hospitals were generally commissioned by monarchs or important personalities. It is possible that Muhammad V was influenced by similar foundations in Cairo commissioned by Abu Yussef and Abu Inan. This maristan was situated on the right bank of the river Darro. It was rectangular in its layout and was on two levels with four halls. In the interior, there was a patio with a pool at its centre. The first floor was reached by two stairways on the longer sides of the building. The halls were divided into smaller spaces of about six square metres. These rooms were accessed by galleries and interconnected from the interior. The structure is very similar to that of the market, the Corral del Carbon. Many Islamic structures, both in the east and the west, follow the same layout[2] (Madrassa, markets, hospitals, ribat etc…).

The façade is perfectly symmetrical. The central part was taken up by the entrance, above which the foundation stone was situated. The entrance was a horseshoe arch of Macael marble.

The maristan was at first used as a hospital for the mentally ill. After this it was used for diverse purposes. From the sixteenth century it was became the Casa de la Moneda (mint). In 1843 the building was almost entirely demolished. This demolition was completed in 1984 but more recent research has uncovered a part of the southern hall, the foundations of the three others and the pool.

The two lions, which let water into the pool and which Torres Balbas described as “succinct work after the oriental fashion, with no intention of being realistic” have also survived. They have both been transferred to the Alhambra. They are sculpted from dark coloured marble. They were used as fountain-heads and have an interior pipe running from the moth to the base. The lions are both seated According to Jesus Bermudes and Jorge Calancho’s description, they have no ears and their heads and the upper part of their bodies are covered by their manes. According to the same authors “the necks are marked by the two pharynx, the wide jaw includes upper and lower canines, through which the water flows over a long tongue […] The muzzle is also marked by two lobes, on which we can just see the eyelids”. Their study of the two lions includes a long dissertation on the depiction of lions since antiquity. Already during the period of the Hittite Empire they were popular at city entrance gates and at the entrances to wealthy houses[3]. The lion, as a symbol of physical and political power, was often associated with princes. In the Islamic world, Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet, is called the “lion of Allah”. It is also a common first name in Turkey, Iran and India. They have also been associated with water for many centuries as we can see from the lion’s head jug from the Lazaro Galdiano Museum. In Islamic art there are numerous examples of lions in the Orient (Marble foundation stone representing the caliph, Khirbat al-Mafjar in the Palestinian Museum in Jerusalem) as well as on the Iberian Peninsula (The Badis basin, The Leyre casket, the Sato Domingo de Silos casket the Palencia casket, the al-Mughira pyxis, cloth from San Millan de la Cogolla…).

Jesus Bermudez and Jorge Calancho also mention an almost perfect copy of the maristan lions on an ivory piece from the twelfth century held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.


[1] Numerous maristan were built in Damascus, Baghdad, Antioch, Alep, Jerusalem, Cairo, Fez, Marrakech… The first seems to have been commissioned by the Umayyad caliph al-Walid ibn ‘Abd al-Malik in 714. Another was built by the caliph Harun al-Rachid in Baghdad at the end of the eighth century.

[2] Rectangular layout with four halls and galleries built on brick pillars. A central patio with a water basin.

[3] “Statues of lions flanked the West gate of the city of Hatusa in Bogazkoy during the great Hittite Empire from the fourteenth to the thirteenth century B.C. They represented the good genies who protected the entrances of cities and houses and were still to be found at the Malatia gate in the ninth and tenth century B.C.”


Arte islámico en Granada. Propuesta para un Museo de la Alhambra, Seville, Grenade, 1995, Junta de Andalucía-Consejería de cultura, Patronato de la Alhambra y generalife, Comares, p. 340-342, 351-356.

Dean Hermann, E., “The Maristan of Granada”, in Urban Formation and Landscape: Symbol and Agent of Social, Political and Environmental Change in Fourteenth-Century Nasrid Granada, non publié, Harvard University, 1996, p. 150-158.

García Granados, J.A., et. al., El Maristán de Granada : un hospital islámico, Madrid, 1989, Asociación Española de Neuropsiquiatría.

Pavón Maldonado, B., “Arte, símbolo y emblemas en la España musulmana”, in Al-Qantara, vol. 6, 1985, p. 398-450.

Torres Balbás, L., “El maristan de Granada”, in  Al-Andalus, vol. IX, p. 481-498.


Aguilar García, Mª D., “El león y el Palacio de los Leones”, in Cuadernos de arte de la Universidad de Granada, vol. XXIII, Grenade, 1992, Universidad, Secretariado de Publicaciones, p. 15-23.

Ettinghausen, R., Hartner, W., “The Conquering Lion, the Life Cycle of a Symbol”, in Richard Ettinghausen Islamic Art and Archaeology Collected Papers, Berlin, 1984, Gebr. Mann Verl, p. 693-711.

Gómez Román, A. Mª., Rodríguez Domingo, J. M., Bermúdez López, J., “La Fuente de los Leones en la Alhambra como símbolo de Poder”, in Cuadernos de la Alhambra, vol. 28, Grenade, 1992, Patronato de la Alhambra y Generalife, p. 167-197.

Lafuente, Alcántara, E., Inscripciones árabes de Granada, Madrid, 1859, Impr. Nacional, p. 172-175.

Lévi-Provençal, E., Inscriptions arabes d’Espagne, Leiden, Paris, 1931, Brill, Larose.

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