The neo-Arabic aesthetic known as ‘Alhambrismo’ flourished across a wide range of geographies in Latin America.

When one thinks of Islamic architectural influence around the world, rarely does Latin America spring to mind.

Back in 2018, an exhibition in Jordan titled ‘Alhambras: Neo-Arabic Architecture in Latin America’ highlighted how Latin American architecture was inspired by the Alhambra Palace in Granada and other Andalusian styles in various buildings that were erected during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Alhambra palace-fortress complex was built in the mid-13th century by the Nasrid rulers of Spain and is considered the pinnacle of Islamic architecture on the Iberian peninsula.

Spain’s colonial conquest of Latin America would subsequently bring these Moorish Andalusian influences into contact with the vast geographies of the region, in particular the ‘Mudejar’ style, which draws upon Muslim and Christian cultural designs that emerged in the 12th century in the Aragon region of north-eastern Spain.

According to Rafael Lopez Guzman, a professor of art history at the University of Grenada, the proliferation of Andalusian influence could be traced to the world trade fairs in the 19th century, which became a testing ground for architectural experimentation.

In particular, it was the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris where the presence of Moorish architecture would have the greatest repercussions.

“Along with pavilions of obvious Egyptian, Ottoman and Persian inspiration and the construction of the Palais de l’Electricite with its Oriental interior, highlights included ‘Andalusia in the time of the Moors,’ a space that featured elements of the Alhambra, the Sacromonte district of Granada, and the palaces and the Giralda of Seville,” Guzman said.

From Mexico to Argentina, various architectural landmarks that still stand to this day depict neo-Arab influences on nearly 170 institutional, private and leisure buildings.

Here are some of them:

Opened in 1933 and built from a design by Venezuela’s leading modern architect, Carlos Raúl Villanueva, this arena in Maracay was one of several bull rings in South America to reference the Alhambra.
Opened in 1933 and built from a design by Venezuela’s leading modern architect, Carlos Raúl Villanueva, this arena in Maracay was one of several bull rings in South America to reference the Alhambra. (AramcoWorld/Rafael Lopez Guzman)
Built in 1884 to represent Mexico at the World Cotton and Industry Centennial Exhibition held in New Orleans, US, the Kiosk of Santa Maria la Ribera was called at the time “The Mexican Alhambra.” Now standing in a park in Mexico City, it inspired the construction of more than a dozen smaller neo-Arabic kioscos throughout Mexico.
Built in 1884 to represent Mexico at the World Cotton and Industry Centennial Exhibition held in New Orleans, US, the Kiosk of Santa Maria la Ribera was called at the time “The Mexican Alhambra.” Now standing in a park in Mexico City, it inspired the construction of more than a dozen smaller neo-Arabic kioscos throughout Mexico. (AramcoWorld / Rafael Lopez Guzman)
The Oswaldo Cruz Institute outside Rio de Janeiro, built between 1905 and 1918, hosts one of Brazil’s leading public health research foundations.
The Oswaldo Cruz Institute outside Rio de Janeiro, built between 1905 and 1918, hosts one of Brazil’s leading public health research foundations. (AramcoWorld / Rafael Lopez Guzman)
Built between 1913 and 1917 near Cienfuegos, Cuba, the palace for Aciscio del Valle y Blanco shows Alhambra-inspired eclecticism that includes Spanish ironwork, Talavera mosaics, Cuban wood, European glasswork and more
Built between 1913 and 1917 near Cienfuegos, Cuba, the palace for Aciscio del Valle y Blanco shows Alhambra-inspired eclecticism that includes Spanish ironwork, Talavera mosaics, Cuban wood, European glasswork and more (AramcoWorld / Rafael Lopez Guzman)
The Alhambra's Courtyard of the Lions inspired several imitations, including the interior of Santiago, Chile’s Palace of the Alhambra.
The Alhambra's Courtyard of the Lions inspired several imitations, including the interior of Santiago, Chile’s Palace of the Alhambra. (World Monuments Fund)
The elaborately eclectic Spanish Club in Iquique, Chile, dates to 1904.
The elaborately eclectic Spanish Club in Iquique, Chile, dates to 1904. (AramcoWorld / Rafael Lopez Guzman)
Among the several Alhambra-inspired, Moorish-style homes in the Manga district of Cartegena, Colombia, one of the most notable is Casa Covo, completed in 1931.
Among the several Alhambra-inspired, Moorish-style homes in the Manga district of Cartegena, Colombia, one of the most notable is Casa Covo, completed in 1931. (AmracoWorld / Rafael Lopez Guzman)
Mudéjar art in the walls and bell tower of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception in Cali, Colombia.
Mudéjar art in the walls and bell tower of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception in Cali, Colombia. (Wikimedia Commons)