So, as promised, the magnificent Alhambra [thanks Wikipedia for this photo – a view I didn’t get but taken, I think, from the Albayzín] …….
It takes its name from the Arabic “al-quala’a al-hamra” – the red castle and I will start with a potted history, gleaned mainly from our Lonely Planet guide, which really helped us to understand what we were looking at as we wandered around.
The first palace on the site was built in C11 by a Jewish grand vizier for his Zirid sultan. In C13/14 the Nasrid emirs turned the area into a fortress palace, adjoined by a village of which only its ruins remain, and the Generalife was built as a summer palace. After the Christian re-conquest, the mosque was replaced with a church and a convent, now a Parador (hotel), was built. Emperor Carlos V had a wing of the palaces destroyed to make space for his huge Renaissance structure. During the Napoleonic occupation the Alhambra was used as a barracks and nearly blown up, so some of what we see today is very careful restoration work.
It was not the original main gate – that being accessed through the Alcazaba – but became the principal entrance after the transformation of the rugged terrain, formerly its natural defences in the Sabika ravine, and the formation of a poplar grove with walkways, created in 1730 for a visit by King Philip V.
We had pre-booked our tickets – including the Palacios Nazaríes, which is probably a good thing because we heard several people being told there were no more tickets available that day so they had to be content with walking around some of the gardens and parts that don’t require a ticket. But the Palacios Nazaríes is what everyone really comes for. We had left in good time for our allocated 2pm slot and were able to meander through some of the gardens, past what seemed to be new digs – perhaps more of the original village?
PLVS VLTRE [or Plus Ultra] meaning “Further Beyond”. In Greek mythology these words were carved on the Pillars of Hercules marking off the west entrance to the Mediterranean and the edge of the known world. The words have inspired many travellers to seek out the unknown and in C16 were adopted, by the future King of Spain/Holy Roman Emperor Carlos V, as a personal motto.
Those visitors hoping to see the emir who were ushered through the right hand door were disappointed. It leads back outside! The left hand one passes through a dog-leg passage….
There are numerous passages and corridors throughout the palaces which were designed to keep the interior rooms private and/or to provide views to the outside and allow light to get in.
……which look out onto the rectangular pool.
The eye catching tiles on the walls of the Sala de los Abencerrajes….
The photograph of the underside of the arch doesn’t adequately show their breadth but above were corridors which were used mainly by women to peer down from above, without being seen, through the elaborately carved wood screens.
It is suggested that perhaps others, involved in palace intrigue, also found these screens useful!
If that wasn’t enough, there is also some spectacular carved calligraphy running around the room at eye level …
That last passageway took us past the domed roofs of the baths which were accessed from the patio on the floor below. We weren’t allowed to enter, but you could get an impression of how the carved holes created muted light.
From these gardens we looked up at the Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Alhambra.
…. and its prominent elevated position means it can be seen from much of the wider Alhambra grounds and buildings.
After some reviving refreshment in the gardens we walked down to the west end of the grounds, to the Alcazaba – the original village…..
…has a narrow staircase which leads to the top terrace from where you can better see the outline of the houses in the village.
You may remember that I included a similar view looking SE across to the Sierra Nevada in my previous post. This time, looking North and West you see the city with the Albayzín district at the right hand side.
Looking back at the Palaces it is hard to believe that such splendour is hidden behind these plain walls.
with its lion and eagle embellishments…
….. in which neither Carlos, nor as far as I can make out anybody else, ever actually lived in. He commissioned it in 1526 and building commenced in 1533 overseen by the designer, Pedro Machuca, a Toledo architect who studied under Michaelangelo. Pedro died in 1550, then his son, Luis, took over and developed the circular courtyard.
Carlos died in 1558 before any roofs were added. Work continued until 1568 when the building was abandoned for 15 years following the Moors rebellion. In 1619 the construction of the high colonnade of the courtyard was completed….
……but it was definitively abandoned in 1637, leaving the roof still unfinished. It remained in that state until Leopoldo Torres Balbas, a renowned restoration architect from Madrid, devised a plan to recover it in 1923. It was Balbas who also did much of the work in the Patio de los Leones inside the Palacios Nazaríes.
Our final port of call was the Generalife, but on our way to it we passed the small museum of Angel Barrios.
For part of C19 the building was apparently the home of the guitarist Antonio Barrios, father of musician and composer, Angel, who donated it to the Alhambra as a museum. The building contains the baths built for the Mosque of the Alhambra which was on the nearby site now occupied by the above mentioned church of Santa Maria.
The steam bath [Hammam] is a most characteristic part of Islamic culture and this kind of building is often found near, or in, a mosque. As well as being for worshipers to undertake major purifying ablutions, they were also places to meet and socialise.
The Generalife comes from the Arabic “jinan al-‘arif” [the overseer’s gardens] and the area lived up to its name. The area was full of garden, patio, pool and fountain and views over the city and Alhambra….
In the second courtyard the trunk of a 700 year old Cyprus tree remains…
“Legend has it that this Cypress of the Sultana witnessed the affair of an Abencerraje knight and the wife of Boabdil”. You might remember that one of the ornate rooms was the Sala de Abencerrajes, a family who supported the young Boabdil in a power struggle between him and his father. The story is that the lovers met under the tree’s shade in the moonlight and were denounced to the last Arab king of Granada. The rage of Boabdil was so great that in retaliation for this, he ordered the beheading of several knights of the noble Muslim Abencerrajes tribe. According to legend, even today the iron rust stains at the bottom of the fountain of the Sala de los Abencerrajes contain the blood that was shed in revenge. Alternatively this could have been made up by romantic C18 travellers, maybe even Washington Irving.
It seems Carlos V had to make his mark on these grounds too…..