Located deep in the exotic Andalusia region of southern Spain, Ridley Scott used several of the scenes in his crusader film “Kingdom of Heaven” Granada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site Listed as a World Heritage Site. However, before we delve into the Alhambra and her stucco labyrinths, scented gardens, fountains and jasmines, it is worth remembering the lessons of the past.
For more than 700 years, Muslim Spain, Al-Andalus has been the land of enlightenment in Europe’s Dark Ages, and Granada is its last jewel. While the rest of Europe lived in the shadow of medieval ignorance and tribal warfare, Islamic Granada, Córdoba, Toledo and Seville had libraries of fine scholarship, philosophers and Astronomers, and an advanced society that prides itself on religious tolerance.
The Muslim Spaniards or Moors brought algebra and other advanced mathematical theories. They explored the movements of the stars and planets in the sky. They teach the crusaders chess. They traded rare spices and silks, some of which Europe had never seen before. They introduced new arts, dance, metalworking, storytelling, all incorporated into the culture of the crusaders, evident in clothing, jewelry, and literature.
The Christian conquest armies that finally captured Granada for Catholic Spain in 1492 waited eight centuries to capture the city. Even after such a long wait, they stopped at the gates of the Alhambra, because they understood that the secret key of the Alhambra was hidden in the city around it. In modern-day Granada, it seems that Bo Abdil, the last Muslim king anywhere in Spain, and his people never left, as if the peoples of the world – students, pilgrims, travelers – reappeared Exotic past.
According to Spanish legend, when Boabdil was forced to flee Granada in 1492, he wept at one last look from his retreat to his place of exile. His mother saw her son’s tears and admonished him with these words: “Don’t cry like a woman for what you cannot defend like a man.” Although his mother’s words were harsh, it is not difficult to understand what Boabdil was crying reason. His former home was the remarkable Alhambra, which remains the most enduring symbol of Al-Andalus, with its pleasure palaces, elaborate gardens and tower walls.
The name, like many Spanish words, is of Arabic origin and means that the red color may come from the sun-dried cassava, or from the bricks made of fine gravel and clay, from which the outer walls were built. However, some authorities believe that it commemorates the red torches sent by the torch, by which construction work has been carried out nightly for many years. Others link it to the name of its founder, Muhammad ibn Ahmar (Muhammad II); others derive it from the Arabic Dar al Amra (House of the Master).
Granada is an oriental wealth grafted onto Spanish soil, with its narrow alleys alive with lanterns, smoke and street markets. Along Calderia Vieja and Calderia Nueva, the winding ancient alleys extend along the hillside to the center of the ancient Muslim town of Albaicin, where Arab shops sell handicrafts from Morocco, sweets from Jerusalem and spices from Arabia.
Along each avenue, tall white walls hide spacious villas surrounded by gardens. The steeple of the church, once the minaret of the city’s mosque to which the faithful are called to pray, rises from the labyrinth of old Granada. Remnants of the 11th-century city walls support ancient Muslim baths, some of which have been reopened to offer sensual pleasures of steam baths and massages under delightful domes.
Mint tea and shisha are served in the softly lit teahouse, reminiscent of ancient Persian hospitality. The aroma wafting through the alley might be the smell of Damascus. The voices and shouts of the streets may be a medieval bazaar in Egypt. On the next hill opposite the Alhambra is the old Moorish quarter, where alleys lead to the Mirador San Nicolas on the hill. Often hosting street musicians, gypsy fortune tellers and street markets, this Granada hotspot travels through the valley, where the Alhambra still guards the city against a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada.
Most of the Alhambra is quadrangular, with all the rooms opening onto a central courtyard; the whole building has reached its present size only by the gradual addition of new courtyards, which were designed on the same principle, only in size vary and are connected to each other through smaller rooms and passages. Despite neglect, vandalism and sometimes ill-judged restorations, the Alhambra remains the most perfect example of Moorish art in its eventual European development, free from direct Byzantine influence, which can be found in the Córdo Found in the Basilica of Mezquita in the Basilica, more elaborate and fantastic than Seville’s 300-foot minaret.
Inside the Alhambra
The Moorish part of the Alhambra resembles many medieval Christian strongholds, with its triple layout of castle, palace and residential quarters.
The Alcazaba, or castle, is its oldest part, built on the isolated and steep foreland that terminates in the plateau in the northwest. All that remains is its massive façade, towers and ramparts.
On January 2, 1492, the flag of Ferdinand and Isabella was hoisted for the first time on its watchtower, the Torre de la Vela (85 feet high), to commemorate the Spanish conquest of Granada. Access from the city to the Alhambra Park is provided by the Puerta de las Granadas (Pomegranate Gate), a massive triumphal arch dating back to the 15th century. A steep uphill walk passes the Column of Charles V, a fountain built in 1554, to the main entrance of the Alhambra. This is the Puerta Judiciaria (Gate of Judgment), a massive horseshoe-shaped arch with a square tower above it, which the Moors used as an informal court of justice.
A passage leads inwards to the Plaza de los Aljibes (Plaza of the Cisterns), a wide open space that separates the Alcazaba from the Moorish palace. On the left side of the passage stands the Torre del Vino (Wine Tower), built in 1345 and used as a cellar in the 16th century. On the right is the palace of Charles V, a grim but imposing Renaissance building, out of place with its surroundings and somewhat dwarfed by its sheer size. The intricate design of the Moorish Alhambra stands in stark contrast to Charles’s palace, which consists mostly of white walls with no particularly striking features. Many architectural scholars were therefore disgusted by Charles V’s preference for the simplistic style of the Renaissance, which they believed detracted from the architectural grandeur of the Alhambra. Construction on Charles Palace began in 1526 and was abandoned around 1650.
The famous Patio de los Leones (Patio of the Lions) is a rectangular courtyard with a pavilion projecting into the courtyard at each end. The plaza is paved with polychrome bricks and the colonnade with white marble; the walls cover 5 feet (1.5 m), with borders above and below in blue and gold enamel. The columns supporting the roof and galleries are placed irregularly for artistic effect; the overall form of piers, arches and columns is most graceful. Some believe that the lion sculpture in the courtyard was likely carved by members of the Caliphate’s Christian or Jewish community, as Islam did not consider it permissible to make such representative sculptures.
The Sala de los Embajadores (Hall of the Ambassadors) is the largest in the Alhambra, occupying the entire Torre de Comares. It was a square room measuring 37 feet on a side and 75 feet (23 meters) high at the center of the dome. Here is the grand reception room, opposite the entrance is the Sultan’s throne. There are nine windows, three on each façade, and the ceiling is admirably varied with white, blue and gold circles, crowns and star shapes.
The Sala de los Abencerrajes (Hall of the Abencerrages) takes its name from a legend according to which Boabdil, the last king of Granada, invited the heads of this prominent family to a banquet and slaughtered them here. The room was a perfect square, with a soaring dome and latticed windows at the bottom. The roof is beautifully decorated in blue, brown, red and gold, and the pillars supporting the roof stand out in the form of arches, which is very beautiful.
The Villa de los Martires (Villa of the Martyrs), located atop Monte Mauror, bears its name in honor of the Christian slaves hired to build the Alhambra and held in underground cells. Also on Monte Mauror, the Torres Bermejas (Vermilion Towers) is a well-preserved Moorish fortification with underground cisterns, stables and quarters for 200 garrisons.
In 1829 and 1857, several Roman burials were discovered at the foot of Monte Mauror. Of the outlying buildings associated with the Alhambra, the one that has received the most attention is the Generalife (known in the Moors as Jennat al Arif, meaning “garden of Arif”, or “the architect’s garden”). The villa was probably built in the late 13th century but has been restored several times. However, its gardens, with their manicured hedges, grottoes, fountains and cypress avenues, are said to have retained their original Moorish character.
During the construction of the Alhambra, the Moors did not depict anyone at all except human hands. Of course, there are a lot of human figures on Renaissance buildings.
It’s all too much for one visit, too beautifully conceived. It could easily take days of careful inspection. For some, one lifetime is not enough.
Miracles abound in this charming place, and it’s not hard to see why poor old Boabdir wept as he left.For him and many other tourists who couldn’t bear to leave, he was leaving paradise itself
Granada’s Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzin are listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
For more information on Spain and the Alhambra tour, visit http://www.magicalspain.com or contact them by email email@example.com.
October 22-30, 2005 including the Alhambra and more!
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