|Bell Tower on the Torre de la Vela, farewell to spinsterhood!|
|View of the Albayzin from the Torre de la Vela|
|My first trip to Spain, 25 years ago |
I wasn't sure if I should tell this story but it imparts a strong feeling I have for the Alhambra and the Torre de la Vela. 25 years ago when I was here they were celebrating the Fiesta de la Cruz de Roja, a debaucherous affair that includes drinking vast quantities of Andalusian sherry. I met someone very special and had a memorable fling that included virtuoso flamenco dancing, fluttering fans, and a tryst on a slope beneath the illuminated Torre de la Vela at night, followed by a horrendous hangover and grass stained pants the next day. Looking up at this magnificent tower while lying in the fragrant spring grass in someone's beautiful arms was impossibly romantic. I was so young and impressionable then. I'm just impressionable now. After I wrote this story I found a quote in an old book on the Alhambra I bought at Goodwill years ago, written by an exile of Granada after the reconquista; "God bless it, the wonderful time spent in the Alhambra. As the night passed you went to keep your tryst. The ground appeared to you as silver, but how soon, the morning sun wrapped the Sabika in her golden cloak."
Sabika is the name of the ridge on which the Alhambra is built. When I come back to Granada I have upwellings of nostalgia for that magical time that cause me to pine for a lost love, and also youth for that matter. Traveling helps keep me young, by inspiring me to have an ever opening mind. Plus the literal romance of being in such beautiful places causes all kinds of chemical responses that make for better cell replication in my body. I never get bored when I am on the road because I am constantly seeing new things that expand my realm of experience, and I always come home, albeit reluctantly, feeling rejuvenated. I walk a great deal every day when I am traveling, and have covered a lot of kilometers on Sabika Hill and the surrounding area. Travel for me is the fountain of youth, and even a reason to live beyond any other.
You leave the Alcazaba by passing through a pleasant linear garden at the base of the towers called the Jardin de los Ardaves. Tall cypresses, date palms, plane trees, and fountains are framed with low clipped hedges. There is a lovely view of the Alhambra wood that you walk up through to get to the citadel. There are two wall fountains built in the 16th Century that would have been used for drinking water. Exiting the garden you pass under a trellis buried in the twisted mass of two ancient wisteria vines. The trunks are more than 18 inches in diameter!
|The Alhambra Wood and the Sierra Nevada from the Jardin de los Ardaves|
|The line for the Nasrid Palaces on an off day|
Onward ho. The jewels of the Alhambra are the Nazrid Palaces. Because the 'The Red Castle' has become such a popular destination, the most popular in all of Spain with more than 2 million visitors every year, you should probably book your ticket in advance. This is less necessary in winter unless your visit coincides with a holiday. In any case, you need to get there early if you don't have one before hand. The tickets are timed to divide the day, visiting before or after 2:00 PM in winter. There will be a time that you enter the Nasrid Palaces printed on the ticket and you queue at the entrance in front of the Palacio de Carlos V before that time. If you go at the wrong time you wont get in, and you cant get in to Alcazar or Generalife from the Alhambra after 2:00 if you are there in the morning, which I found very frustrating, wanting to stay the entire day there. I came back the next morning and bought a ticket for the afternoon and waited in the sun by an orange grove next to a parking lot until 2:00 to enter while workers tinkered with the flumes upgraded irrigation canals, which I watched intently. It really takes two days to properly experience both the Alhambra and the Generalife, and a few more to see Granada. Better yet come for a week and just walk. Its all so beautiful and worth whatever time you can spare.
|A rare moment of being alone in the Torre de la Cautiva|
The trick after that for me was to ditch the crowd after getting in to the palaces. So what I did was move through to areas ahead of the crowd and then back track to see the first rooms after everyone had passed through. I stayed so long that I would encounter the next incoming group, but I managed to have some brief moments of quiet in places that are normally crowded with people. This method could get confusing if you are using an audio guide but you can always click on the numbers out of order. The luxury of time is that you can sit in those comfortable folding chairs and just absorb the richness of the surroundings. You see everyone whisking their way through snapping up photos with gadgets ranging from giant cameras to cell phones. Millions of portraits are taken in front of everything imaginable, and it can be very hard to shoot anything without people in it. Last year I was stuck with two Korean girls who had to pretend they were falling in to every fountain and it became tempting to just push them in! And then all of a sudden an area might just empty out. Try to be the last person to leave and you may actually experience solitude. Pure bliss.
|A plan view of the Nasrid Palaces by Owen Jones|
The Nasrid palaces are clustered together with no overall master plan, being built over a century on previous structures. The palaces on one side are built inside the towers, taking advantage of the spectacular views of the Albayzin and Sacramonte neighborhoods and the great Cathedral and Capilla Real where the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabela were eventually interred. The Catholic court moved in to the palaces after they expelled the royal court of the Emir Baobdil, arriving ceremoniously dressed in Moorish costumes. It was a big step up artistically for the Catholics, and the Mudejar style, which is a blending of eastern and western aesthetics became the popular architectural form for many years to come.
|The Cathedral and Capilla Real from the Alcazar|
To enter the compound you walk down a ramp past a hedge framed garden called the Patio de Machuca, named for the Catholic architect who worked on the Palacio de Carlos V. There is a small elegantly shaped pool at the center and two rows of orange trees which were burned by frost this past winter. The weather has become erratic in Spain as in the rest of the world due to human induced climate change, and they were experiencing the driest winter since the 1940's. Europe was hit by a very cold spell in January as well which killed hundreds of people. I think the orange trees will quickly recover from the frost damage unlike the poor people who perished in Romania. The garden is very spare, but everything is perfectly balanced and elegantly proportioned in a blend of Moorish and Spanish styles.
|Patio de Machuca and the Mexuar|
|Pool in the Patio de Machuca|
The shape of the pool reminded me of a Roman bath that I saw at the ancient ruins of Volubilis in Morocco, with curved indentations for bathers to recline in. I've always wondered if people ever bathed in these fountains? Some groups seem to be allowed in to this patio but we were herded in to the adjacent building called the Mexuar, derived from a word that means something like a conference hall. This historically was where the public was allowed to enter the palace for an audience with the Emir or his councilors, and judicial resolutions were dispensed from here. The room has wonderful tile zellij work along the base of the walls, hand cut pieces of glazed tile, often in primary colors that are interlocked in to fantastic intricate geometric patterns of seemingly endless potential. This symbolizes the infinite power of Allah, of God. There are even more intricate carved stucco walls above the tile work that boggle the mind with their rich complexity and delicate lines. Arabic calligraphy wraps borders of poetry and Koranic text around fields of Arabesque patterns.
|Spectacular Tile Zellij in the Mexuar|
|Carved stucco work was taken to its highest level in the Alhambra at Granada and in imperial cities in Morocco|
This space was later used as a Catholic chapel after the reconquista and has been significantly remodeled. A choir loft divides the upper level making the Mexuar a rather odd and confusing one architecturally. The Mudejar style cedar wood marquetry ceiling added in the 16th Century is one of my favorites, with a starburst of interlocking rays.
|Cedar wood Marquetry Ceiling in the Mexuar|
A small prayer hall is located at the back of the Mexuar, with arched windows looking out over the Albayzin neighborhood. The walls again are covered in exquisitely carved stucco. This surface embellishment, as sumptuous as it is, is relatively inexpensive to create since the material is just a thick layer of lime plaster rather than quarried and rendered stone or carved wood. All you need are a vast labor pool of highly skilled but poorly paid artisans to execute the carving work, which is done with narrow ice pick like files and blades.
|Carved stucco wall in the Mexuar. The white walls at the base may have once been covered in tile zellij.|
From the the Mexuar you enter the Patio del Cuarto Dorado, which feels rather boxy in form. The patio is paved entirely with white marble. You enter through an elegant triple arched portico supported by slender columns.
|Entrance to the Patio de Cuarto Dorado|
In the center of the patio is a simple, elegant round shallow marble basin recessed in the floor, with fluted ribs and a small fountain jet at the center. This fountain makes no sound, but captures your eye with gentle ripples radiating out from the center to the edge, playing with the reflected light coming off of the walls. This is a replica basin as the original was moved and placed on a pedestal in the Jardin de Daraxa. The wall straight ahead is the entry facade to the Palacio de Comares. It has two beautiful doors framed in tile zellij surrounded by gorgeous carved stucco relief. This palace was built for the Emir Yusuf I in the mid 14th Century, and the facade was rebuilt by his successor Muhammad V. Centered above the doors are a pair of double arched windows with a single window at the center. Above the stucco frieze is a projecting carved wood alero, which protects the stucco work from the elements. The arrangement of the various carved panels and bands of ornamentation are considered to be one of the finest culminations in the development of Nasrid artistry. It is worth looking carefully at the facade to get a better understanding of the varying proportions and sculpting. The Patio has been restored and the blank walls on the sides were no doubt embellished with carved stucco work as well.
|Patio del Cuarto Dorado|
|Portals leading to the Sala de la Barca|
The door on the right leads to the Emir's private chambers, which are closed to the public, and the one on the left takes you to the famed Court of the Myrtles. The Nazrid palaces are linked by angled turns in narrow enclosed passageways expressing the classic idea of a succession of open and closed spaces while providing added security. The doorways are in of themselves elegant masterpieces, sometimes layered, and each is embellished in sculpted trim and sometimes stalactite like muqarnas or mocarabes. These are tessalate geometric patterns taken in to the third dimension.
The stucco work was originally polychromed in vibrant primary colors, although only remnants of color remain and where the stucco work has been significantly restored it appears very white. For many years much of the carving was white washed or plastered over, which filled in the sculpted indentations. When you look closely at the intricacies of the work you can at times see three different patterns overlapping each other. A stylized foliage pattern will have a layer of complex tessalate arabesques and possibly Arabic calligraphy carved like layers of lace, one on top of the other.
On the north end of the Patio de Arrayanes, or Court of the Myrtles is the Torre de Comares, which was modified to contain two of the most splendid rooms in the Alhambra. The chamber facing the patio is called the Sala de la Barca, or the Hall of the Blessing (Baraka). The stucco work on the walls contain many verses of blessings in Arab Calligraphy. The walls also contain ornate niches backed with tile zellij work that were used to hold floral arrangements or oil lamps at night.
|Niche bordered in calligraphic blessings in the Sala de Barca|
The marquetry ceiling here is a beautiful tesselate pattern with a spiderweb motif at the center alluding to a story from the Koran, where a spider's web hid the presence of the Prophet, who was taking refuge in a cave while being pursued by assassins. The work is a prelude to the ceiling in the next room, the Sala de Comares.
|Marquetry Ceiling in the Sala de Barca|
From here you enter the former throne room, the Sala de Embajadores or Ambassador's Hall of Emir Yusuf I, built inside the Comares Tower. This is one of the most splendid rooms in the complex, if not on Earth. The high ceiling alludes to the cosmos, a cedar marquetry masterpiece with seven complex bands representing the seven levels, in a sense heavens, that correspond to the seven known planets of the time. Yusuf I was also the seventh ruler in the Nasrid dynasty. It is an architectural blending of time and space incorporating more than 8,000 individual polygonal shaped pieces of wood. I would be curious to know the exact number and what kind of numerological significance they might have. It is the kind of space where you could lay down on the floor for hours and contemplate the sheer magnificence of this work. This is the room where meetings were held with Christian emissaries negotiating the transfer of the empire from the Nasrid Dynasty by the Emir Baobdil to the Catholic monarchy.
|The seven cosmic layers of Islam depicted in cedar-wood marquetry|
Beneath the ceiling are four balanced walls of carved stucco in the most beautiful patterns and calligraphy imaginable. There are niches in the doorways that deserve admiration on their own. The details here are the pinnacle of expression of what was possible at the time. Yusuf I's successor Muhammad V would take it to the next level in the Patio de los Leones.
|Lattice covered alcoves in the Sala de Comares|
The Patio de las Arrayanes or Court of the Myrtles has the quintessential reflecting pool. The large rectangular patio measures 37 meters in length and 24 wide. Centered on this is the rectangular pool, flanked on each side by a tightly trimmed hedge of Myrtle (Myrtus communis) a shrub widely used in earlier Roman gardens. Myrtle in mythology was sacred to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, and is attributed to the emotion of love. The proportions are considered perfect. At the time of Washington Irving's visit, he referred to it as the Patio de Alberca or Court of the Pool, as the beds were at that time planted with roses, which would have been utterly pathetic in winter. At each end of the pool are round flat white marble fountain basins with a projecting rill that connects the patio to the pool. While people tend to look, take pictures and move on, it is worth sitting and gazing for some time at the reflection of the porticos of 7 arches at each end. If a breeze caresses the pool, waves of ripples move across the water as if you can see the wind itself. The effect is very calming and meditative.
|Palacio Comares reflected in the pool of the Patio de los Arrayanes.|
|Looking towards the Palacio de Carlos V in the Court of the Myrtles|
A passageway was added by the Catholic monarchs once they began living in he palaces that connects the Patio de los Arrayanes to the Patio de los Leones. You enter first the Sala de los Mocarabes, a long hall with the unfortunate addition of a vaulted Renaissance ceiling. A portion of this has been removed. Mocarabes are the carved plasterwork stalactite forms found in arches in the palaces and may be a symbolic reference to the cave in which the Prophet received the Koran from Allah.
|The incongruous addition of a Renaissance style vault in the Sala de los Mocarabes|
A shallow recessed fountain basin in this and the other three flanking rooms is connected by a rill to another in the center of a Templete, a kind of pavilion projecting from two narrow sides of the surrounding cloister like gallery. The fountains and connecting rills allude to a classic oasis irrigation system seen in desert orchards and date palm plantations. I wrote about this idea in my essay on the Patio de los Naranjas in the Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain last year. http://jeffreygardens.blogspot.com/2011/03/patio-de-los-naranjos-cordoba-spain.html
|Fountains connected by a rill flowing from the Salon' de Mocarabes to the Fountain of the Lions in the center of the patio|
The four rills are connected to the central fountain, made up of 12 marble lions surrounding a large 11th Century marble basin on which a poem by the court poet Ibn Zamrak is inscribed. The rills represent the four rivers of paradise in a classic example of a Persian Chahar Bagh, a four quartered paradise garden. The four planting beds were once sunken so that the gardens would be viewed from above on the marble paved paths. The sunken beds have since been filled in to reduce the humidity in the space for the sake of preservation. The colonnade of 124 single, double, and at corners triple columns gives the feeling of a grove of palms. This imparts a rather feminine ambience fitting of the private quarters of the family and harem of the Emir.
|Fountain of the Lions|
|Columns supporting a Templete in the Patio de los Leones|
|The Fountain of the Lions under restoration in 2011|
This arrangement of columns is an innovation not seen before in Islamic architecture although the use of slender columns is certainly not new. Each successive ruler took what was achieved before him and took it too the next level of design. It is amazing that this delicate appearing arrangement has withstood a number of earthquakes over the last 700 years! Such is the legacy of such superbly built edifices instilled with the blessing of magic.
The patio has been undergoing restoration since 2002. When I was here last year the fountain was disassembled and the lions were on display in a gallery, having been cleaned and preserved. They were back in place this year but the paths were still being reassembled and the Sala de Abencerrajes on the right was closed. The plumbing is being revamped so that the water will flow freely for centuries to come.
|Illustration and section showing the plumbing system in the Fountain of the Lions|
|Plan view showing the hydraulic system being restored in the Patio de los Leones|
"An abundant supply of water, brought from the mountains by old Moorish aqueducts, circulates throughout the palace, supplying its baths and fishpools, sparkling in jets within its halls, or murmuring in channels along the marble pavements. When it has paid its tribute to the royal pile, and visited its gardens and parterres, it flows down the long avenue leading to the city, tinkling in rills, gushing in fountains, and maintaining a perpetual verdure in those groves that embower and beautify the whole hill of the Alhambra." Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra.
|The Patio de los Leones undergoing restoration|
|Aqueduct bridging the Cuesta del Rey Chico|
An ingenious system incorporating natural water pressure was used for all of the delicate hydraulics, bringing water from diverted streams on the hill above the Generalife. A dam on a stream diverts water through a canal to the gardens of the Generalife, and then crosses the ravine of the Cuesta del Rey Chico to the Alhambra on a high arched aqueduct.
These irrigation canals, called acequias, channeled water to every part of the garden. The fountains are subtle, often a simple marble basin with the smallest jet of water to create gentle ripples, but it is evident everywhere and always used in the most innovative and seductive ways. It follows rills down stairs, and sometimes runs like a frame around a pool before actually entering it.
The water cools rooms and patios on hot days and the sound is an essential allusion to heavenly paradise as described in the Koran, which the gardens embody so well.
The new hydraulic system being installed in the Patio de los Leones will be recirculating filtered water that can be heated during freezing weather during the winter, as the water diverted from the hill tends to carry silt with it that would soil the meticulously cleaned lions. In a sense this cuts off the life blood connection of flow that runs through the original system but maintains a higher standard of preservation.
|Rill flowing from the pool in the|
Sala de Abencerrajes
On the south side of the patio is the Sala de Abencerrajes, which has a 'spectacular 8 pointed star shaped 'honeycomb' muqarnas dome with a clerestory of 16 arched fretwork windows beautifully illuminating it. The complexity of the work is a pinnacle of Nasrid art entering the realm of being surreal. It is so overwhelming to contemplate that it almost feels hallucinogenic.
The popular and rather horrific historic event to take place in the salon was the beheading of 36 nobel members of the powerful Abencerrajes clan after which the hall is named, most likely to strengthen the rule of the Emir of that time, Muhammad X. A more popular rendition was that a member of the Abencerrajes family was caught climbing a wall to court a favorite wife of the Emir, hence spurring his wrath. Guides love to say that stains on the marble are from the blood that flowed through the fountains. At any rate is it is hard to believe that such terrible things could happen in such glorious spaces. Such are the misgivings of great power. The fountains further along in the system must have run red for some time as well. I suppose the new system would try to filter that out if any tourists are decapitated here in the future.
"I write in the midst of these mementos of the past, in the fresh hour of early morning, in the fated Hall of the Abencerrages. The blood-stained fountain, the legendary monument of their massacre, is before me; the lofty jet almost casts its dew upon my paper. How difficult to reconcile the ancient tale of violence and blood with the gentle and peaceful scene around!" Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra
|The magnificent 8 pointed star Maqarna ceiling in the Sala de Abencerrajes|
On the east side of the courtyard is the Sala de los Reyes, the Hall of the Kings. Originally used for receptions and leisure, this hall was closed to the public during my visits in the past two years. The name of the hall is derived from a painting on leather of 10 noblemen dressed in Nasrid style turbans on the ceiling in the dome done in the miniaturist style. It is said that the painters were Christian and were possibly trained in Avignon in France, where the Papal seat of the Catholic church once resided. I guess I'm just going to have to go back because the photos I've seen of the palace are wonderful!
|Stalactite Mocarabes like those found in the Sala de los Reyes form the arches between columns throughout the Patio|
North of the patio is the famed Sala de dos Hermanas, The Hall of the two Sisters. I'm not entirely sure why but I have read many times that the name comes from the two large slabs of marble on either side of the fountain in the room and not from two actual sisters sitting gazing out on the the garden below. It is entered from a short passage with three decorative arches with a water rill running through the center of the marble paving to the Fountain of the Lions in the patio.
|Arches over the entrance to the Sala de dos Hermanas|
|Sala de Dos Hermanas|
This hall has yet another astounding ceiling with an eight pointed star of muqarnas framing an octagon above which pairs of fretwork windows illuminate the 16 pointed star muqarna dome. This frames an 8 petaled flower like form with a final 8 pointed star at the center. You could spend a lifetime lying around staring in to this masterpiece of architectural sculpture deciphering it's intricacies. The great court poet Ibn Zamrak wrote a poem regarding this room that is inscribed in irridescent tile around the hall, that when oddly translated reads as such:
"I am a garden adorned by beauty:
my being will know whether you look at my beauty.
Oh, Mohammed, my king, I try to equal
the noblest thing that has ever existed or will ever exist.
Sublime work of art, fate wants me to outshine every other moment in history.
How much delight for the eyes!
The noble one renews his desires here.
The Pleiads serve as his amulet;
the breeze defends it with its magic.
A gleaming vault shines in a unique way,
with apparent and hidden beauties.
The hand of a devoted to Gemini;
and the Moon comes to converse with her.
The stars wish to rest there,
and not turn around the celestial wheel,
and they wish to await submissively in both courtyards,
and serve tenaciously like slaves:
Isn't it marvellous that the stars miss it
and go beyond the marked limit,
in order to readily serve my master,
for those who serve the Glorious one reach the glory.
The portico is so beautiful that the palace
competes in beauty with the sky.
You dressed it with such an exquisite lamé,
that the loom of the Yemen is forgotten.
How many arches are high on its summit,
on the columns that are adorned by the light,
like spheres that turn
above the glowing pillar of the dawn!
The columns are so beautiful in every way,
that their success flies from mouth to ear:
the marble throws its clear light, which invades
the black corner that blackens the shadow;
its highlights iridesce, and one would say that
they are, in spite of their size, pearls.
We have never seen such a blooming garden,
with a sweeter harvest and more scent.
With permission from the judge of beauty
it pays double the tax in the most exquisite palace,
with brighter and wide areas.
Never two coins,
because if, at dawn, on the hands are left
drachmas of light from the zephyr, which would suffice,
gold doubles of sun, which embellish it,
are later thrown in the bushes, among the trunks.
The kinship links him to victory: Only the King cedes this lineage."
|Looking up in to the dome with its 16 pointed star formation|
|Muqarna ceiling in the Sala de Dos Hermanas|
Koranic verses were usually carved higher up on the walls, closer to the heavens, while poetic verses, which are more prolific were inscribed closer to eye level. The poems frequently expound blessings on the ruler who commissioned the building, or on the architecture itself. The Sala de dos Hermanas was considered to be an architectural manifestation of a garden, and the translation of one verse by Ibn Zamrak reads: "Moreover we do not know of any other garden more pleasant in its freshness, more fragrant in its surroundings, or sweeter in the gathering of its fruits."
“When the Moors held Granada, they were a gayer people than they are nowadays. They thought only of love, music, and poetry. They made stanzas upon every occasion, and set them all to music. He who could make the best verses, and she who had the most tuneful voice, might be sure of favor and preferment. In those days, if anyone asked for bread, the reply was, make me a couplet; and the poorest beggar, if he begged in rhyme, would often be rewarded with a piece of gold.” Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra
|Carved stucco cursive calligraphy in the Sala de dos Hermanas|
The Sala de dos Hermanas and the Sala de Abencerrajes were the living quarters of the Emir's wives, and the favored Sultana, around which smaller quarters are arranged as bed chambers. The lower part of the walls are skirted in tile zellij with the exquisite carved stucco work over a bordering band of calligraphic poetry and scripture. There are gorgeous alcove balconies that look down on the gardens of the Patio de Lindaraja, or Daraxa. This was the bedroom and dressing room of the Sultana. The balconies have wonderful colored glass light wells to look up into while reclining by the low windows. The view originally looked out over the Albayzin before the later additions by the Catholic monarchs of new apartments and gardens.
|Alcove of the Mirador de Daraxa|
Other women of the harem lived on a second level with screened windows that gave a discreet view to the chambers below. The palace must have filled with intrigue and rivalry and the immense drama that comes with the politics and favoritism of a royal court. "As she directs the charger of her glance toward that landscape where the breeze frolics"
is an inscription engraved on the walls that seems to sum up the duality of residing in such heavenly quarters.
|View of the Patio de Lindaraja or Daraxa from the Sultana's Mirador|
|Colored glass ceiling in the Mirador de Daraxa|
From the Sala de dos Hermanas you enter a plain hall that leads to the 16th Century Emperor's apartments built for King Carlos I. These are decorated in Mudejar stucco work with wooden railings surrounding a small courtyard. The prolific American author Washington Irving, best known for his stories 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' and 'Rip Van Winkle', lived in three of these rooms for a short time while seeking inspiration for his book 'Tales of the Alhambra'. He was granted permission to move in to the palace due to his celebrity status as a writer and was accompanied by a guide named Mateo Ximenes, a bedraggled man whom he met at the Puerta de Granada on his first visit, a man who's family had lived in the Alhambra for generations. He was romanced by evening stories by the inhabitants of the time from which he derived his fanciful tales. Irving did not feel that his writings would do justice to such magnificence, stating "how unworthy is my scribbling of the place.
" The book is in fact a wonderful read.
|Balconies in the Apartments of Carlos I leading to the Royal Baths|
At the end of this area is the Peinador de la Reina, the former chambers of Queen Isabela the Catholic, and later the reportedly beautiful wife of King Philip V, the Queen Isabela de Parma. I have only seen photographs of these rooms, which are covered in Renaissance period fresco work. There are magnificent views of the Albayzin and the Rio Darro far below from the balconies.
|View of the Rio Darro and the Albayzin from the balconies of Emperor Carlos I|
From the apartments we descend to a lower story and the Patio de las Rejas, dating from the mid 17th Century. This patio, with its central fountain, has four Cypress trees in the corners and a lovely pavement of 8 pointed stars interconnected with a beautiful knot pattern of pebble mosaic.
The Catholic Emperor created a new entrance to the Royal Baths from these apartments, which was part of the Comares Palace. They were built during the reign of Yusuf I and are of a typical design for such structures following the model for Roman baths, but with elegant tile work and beautiful proportion of the Nasrid style. There is a vestibule with a well ventilated toilet, small rooms for the attendants, and a room for dressing and massage, along with hot and cold pools and a heated room for relaxing after bathing. Only this room, the Sala de Reposo is visible to the public which is a shame as the room with the pools look fabulous in photos, with richly carved stucco work and gorgeous tile zellij.
|The Sala del Reposo, where one rested after bathing in the Baths of Comares|
Domed ceilings are perforated with star shaped holes to allow light in while symbolizing a celestial sky.
From here the route leads to the Jardin de Daraxa, more commonly known now as the Patio de Lindaraja. This lovely garden is surrounded by arcades fronting the apartments of the Emperor, using columns taken from demolished structures from other parts of the Alhambra. This gives the patio the look of a cloister. There are symmetrical beds framed in low clipped hedges, each containing a cypress tree, and a central fountain basin (taken from the Patio de Cuarto Dorado) on a plinth in a baroque shaped pool. The sound of the water is divine combined with bird song.
|Fountain in the Patio de Daraxas or Lindaraja|
From here we exit the palaces passing an arcade with clipped cypress trees flattened on one side against the walls between the arches. They look like magical green popsicles to me.
Arriving at the Partal is like going outside. The openness of the space after being inside the series of enclosed palaces and courtyards is expansive. The Torre de las Damas contains the Palacio Partal, with an adjacent 5 arched portico facing a large rectangular reflecting pool with a round marble basin draining in to it. The style of the ornamentation in the palace attribute it to Muhammad III, who reigned from 1302-1309, which makes it the oldest existing palace in the Alhambra complex. Again the views from here of the Albayzin and gypsy neighborhood of Sacramonte are magnificent.
|Palacio del Partal, the oldest at the Alhambra|
The stucco work in the palace is of course fabulous. There are delicate traceries around the arches and a beautiful balcony panel framing a pair of arched windows in the Nasrid style in the tower. This palace was used as a private house until it's last owner turned it over to the State in 1891. It's interior decoration had been covered over and the ceiling in the Torre de las Damas was dismantled and sold, and it now on display in a museum in Berlin, Germany.
|Room inside the Torre de las Damas|
|Carved stucco filigree framing an arch|
|A beautifully framed window in the Torre de las Damas|
A prayer room in the Palace contains a lovely horseshoe arched mihrab oriented towards Mecca. Although there is a great deal of Islamic symbolism in the Alhambra the importance of the religion is not as paramount as it is in more conservative Arab palace complexes of the east.. There is a great deal of poetry inscribed on the walls that seems to speak more of the rulers themselves, and apart from the Friday mosque, which was destroyed and built over by the Iglesia de Maria, there are only small prayer rooms attached to the other palaces.
|Prayer room in the Palacio del Partal|
The Jardines de Partal are a relatively recent addition to the Alhambra incorporating the pools connected to the ruins of Palacio de Yusuf III. When I was here 25 years ago there were a pair of 14th Century lion statues very similar to those in the fountain in the Patio de los Leones that spilled water in to the large rectangular pool by the Palacio de Partal. They have since been restored and were moved to the Museum of the Alhambra in 1995.
|The terraced gardens and pool of the Palacio del Partal|
|Fountain basin at the Palacio del Partal|
In the 1930's archeological excavations revealed the footprints of various palaces and patios that have been incorporated in to a series of garden terraces that are both innovative and charming. These gardens have become influential for Mediterranean style gardens all over the world. The changes in level allow for a succession of vantage points for which to view them, and all are connected by the flow of water, with a number of fountains and pools and rills and grottos.
|Clipped hedges frame the excavated ruins of the Palacio de Yusuf III|
|A beautiful pair of matching 'L' shaped pools with a central rill in the Jardines del Partal|
Rills cascade down steps, frame terraces, and even flow around reflecting pools like a simple labyrinth frame. The water shimmers with light and invites the viewer to follow them to new discoveries around hidden corners. It is a wonderful example of a modern Andalusian garden which has been replicated in form throughout the region.
|A grotto draped in Adiantum ferns drains in to a rill|
|The rill then drops down a set of steps to a pool and then again to a smaller pool.|
|Water emerges from this small square, running through a rill framing the pool before entering it on the opposite side.|
The predominant pavements are made of large bricks, or pebble mosaic using long narrow black slate pebbles from the Rio Genil for designs set in a field of white rounded pebbles from the Rio Darro. The mosaics are at times repeated patterns on paths, set in frames of brick around pools, stairs and terraces.
|A pebble mosaic pattern frames an elegant rill in the Jardines del Partal|
There are wonderful mosaics depicting trees that delicately wind in natural ways to frame a pool or embellish a path. One particular terrace surrounds a rectangular pool with four orange trees at the corners who's mosaics have beautiful tendril like flowering tree shapes that act almost like shadows, framing potted 'Trees of Life'. Last year I saw large bins of pebbles I believe were there to repair or build new mosaics. I do see a lot of mosaic work that could benefit from an acid wash to remove mortar film, usually where it has been crudely patched. The mosaic below is one of the loveliest I've ever seen.
|Wonderful tree mosaics frame a pool in the Jardines del Partal|
There is one area planted with a poplar trees that have heaved the mosaic work creating a mounded relief that I adore for its submission to the forces of nature.
|Bins of loose pebbles to be used for adding and repairing pebble mosaic work in the gardens.|
One of the great things about traveling in the Mediterranean region in the winter is the light. When I look at my old slides from 25 years ago, when I came to the Alhambra in May, I notice how bright and harsh the light is, with intense contrast between sunlight and shadow. In the winter the light is soft and at times there is some cloud cover, like the afternoon I shot some of these images. The gardens lack the floral abundance of summer but the structure is so strong that you don't really need it. Historically the plantings bedded out today are inappropriate anyway. There were rather sad plantings of pansies and double flowered ranunculus to provide color in February that could have easily been avoided. Tea roses are some of the ugliest plants there are in winter. The hedges are very well clipped and there are new plantings in the lower gardens of the Generalife that reveal the technique of creating hedges I'll write about later. I would hope that there would be worthy filler in the hedge frames by summer. I could only dream of planting in such a garden.
| 6 pointed star hedge with odd looking rose standards in the Jardin de los Adarves|
Across the valley lies the summer palace, the Generalife. The wall here has 6 towers, connecting the Partal to the Generalife. The stone road that runs along the inside connected the Medina to the Puerta de Arrabal, leading down the Cuesta del Rey Chico to the Albayzin. The walk is now called the Promenade of the Towers. I noticed that people are pretty overwhelmed having shuttled through the Nasrid palaces and just stumble along trying to get through it all in a day on their way to the Generalife or the exit, so this area has always been one of the more tranquil ones during my visits.
|Torre de la Cautiva, Tower of the Captive Lady with the Generalife behind|
The six towers, starting at the Partal, are the Torre de los Picos, the Torre del Cadi, Torre de la Cautiva, Torre de las Infantas, Cabo de la Carrera, and the Torre del Agua. The walls are double layered with a dry moat in between to make them more impregnable, and small stone bridges connect the road to the towers. Two of the towers are little palaces unto their own. I have only seen the Torre de la Cautiva and apparently it is only open three days a week in the month of February due to conservation reasons, so I was very lucky to be able to see it. The other, the Torre de las Enfantas has been closed during my visits, probably for the same reasons. A guide to the Alhambra says that the workmanship in that tower occurred late in the 14th Century at a point of decline in artistry, making it less marvelous. The Torre de la Cautiva is perhaps my favorite interior space in all of Granada, like, if I was going to held captive somewhere, I'd say do it here.
|The 'L' Shaped entrance to the Torre de la Cautiva|
One of the reasons I loved being here so much was that nobody else seemed to know it was open either, so I was able to experience a delectable 10 minutes of solitude in resplendent beauty before a family came in clutching their guidebooks and taking portraits of each other posing in the doorway before running off to the Generalife. I sat by the windows, laid on the floor, took about 40 photographs, and just tripped out in utter peace and quiet on the extraordinary level of elegant detail applied to the walls and doorways. Just to contemplate the desire of someone who would manifest such a place causes amazement in me.
The attendant sat outside on the wall and let me be, perhaps not wanting to be himself held captive. The place apparently has stories.
Isabela Solis was a Christian daughter of a Castillian nobleman when she was kidnapped and enslaved in a raid on her home town, as was typical of the time. The Emir, Abu l-Hasan Ali fell in love with her beauty and made her his primary wife after she converted to Islam and took on the lovely name of Zoraya, not exactly by choice. He exiled his previous favorite wife, Aixa to another palace in order to make room for Zoraya. She bore him two sons and exerted great influence over him. It is said she was held captive here in the tower for a time. Aixa still held great power and property wealth and later allied with the rival Abencerrajes family, who had lost 36 heads in the hall with that fateful name. They deposed her husband in 1482 and installed her son Baobdil to the throne. He in turn was the last Emir of Granada.
After crossing a small masonry bridge through the very plain exterior of the tower you pass in to a narrow 'L' shaped entry that leads to small side rooms, and then through an arched doorway in to an intimate, fabulously ornamented room. Iridescent tile zellij with a border inscribed in poetic verse lines the lower walls with bands of carved stucco calligraphy framing panels of exquisitely carved panels of arabesques. This room, like most of them, is designed to lay around in.
|A self portrait in the resplendent Torre de la Cautiva|
Small arched mullioned windows in alcoves take in the view of the Generalife and the Torre de las Enfantas. Rapunzel could have been written here, but then she might not have let down her hair to be saved, though in the Washington Irving's 'Legend of the Three Princesses', two of them were not so easily smitten by the glories of their surroundings to remain ensconced. The tower underwent restoration in 1873 and 1876 and is in a very good state of repair.
|Mullioned window in the Torre de la Cautiva|
|Looking up in to an extraordinary archway|
|3 fretwork windows over a polychrome carved stucco arch|
|Beautiful tile zellij work has iridescent glazes|
|Calligraphy in the Torre de la Cautiva|
|Torre de la Cautiva|
Further along is the Torre de las Infantas, best known from the legend told in Tales of the Alhambra. Washington Irving wrote this after visiting: It is not generally shown to strangers, though well worthy attention, for the interior is equal, for beauty of architecture, and delicacy of ornament, to any part of the palace. The elegance of the central hall, with its marble fountain, its lofty arches, and richly fretted dome; the arabesques and stucco-work of the small but well-proportioned chambers, though injured by time and neglect, all accord with the story of its being anciently the abode of royal beauty.
Later in the retelling and embellishing the story of the 'Legend of the Three Princesses', he describes their quarters:
"The residence provided for the princesses was one of the most dainty that fancy could devise. It was in a tower somewhat apart from the main palace of the Alhambra, though connected with it by the wall which encircled the whole summit of the hill. On one side it looked into the interior of the fortress, and had, at its foot, a small garden filled with the rarest flowers. On the other side it overlooked a deep embowered ravine separating the grounds of the Alhambra from those of the Generalife. The interior of the tower was divided into small fairy apartments, beautifully ornamented in the light Arabian style, surrounding a lofty hall, the vaulted roof of which rose almost to the summit of the tower. The walls and the ceilings of the hall were adorned with arabesque and fretwork, sparkling with gold and with brilliant pencilling. In the centre of the marble pavement was an alabaster fountain, set round with aromatic shrubs and flowers, and throwing up a jet of water that cooled the whole edifice and had a lulling sound. Round the hall were suspended cages of gold and silver wire, containing singing-birds of the finest plumage or sweetest note."
I have no idea if this fortress mini palace ever opens to the public, but the story in the book is as juicy and humorous as a medieval love story can get, which is pretty tame but fun to read. Think of a cruel Sultan with three pubescent triplets for daughters, a relatively faithful and 'discrete' chaperone, and three dashing Spanish cavaliers from the wrong religion.
Across the valley lies the Generalife, which I will cover in another essay, as this one has kept me up very late now far too many nights. Such is the lure of writing about the Alhambra.
|The Generalife from the Torre de la Cautiva|
The road that passes down the valley between the Alhambra and the Generalife, the Cuesta del Rey Chico, takes us back to the Rio Darro and the Albayzin where we can catch the sunset from the popular Mirador San Nicolas.
|The Albayzin from the Cuesta del Chico Rey below the walls of the Alhambra and Generalife|
|Sunset on from the Mirador San Nicolas|
After that a stop for a Mojito and dinner at Bar El Espejo is in order, and some window shopping on the way back to the hotel.
|Bar El Espejo's dark rum Mojito's are delicious...|
|after which makes this 12 Euro Court of the Lions ashtray all the more attractive! No, I didn't buy it.|
Washington Irving closes his book 'Tales of the Alhambra' with these passages:
"MY SERENE and happy reign in the Alhambra was suddenly brought to a close by letters which reached me, while indulging in Oriental luxury in the cool hall of the baths, summoning me away from my Moslem elysium to mingle once more in the bustle and business of the dusty world. How was I to encounter its toils and turmoils, after such a life of repose and reverie! How was I to endure its common-place, after the poetry of the Alhambra!"
"With these thoughts I pursued my way among the mountains. A little further and Granada, the Vega, and the Alhambra, were shut from my view; and thus ended one of the pleasantest dreams of a life, which the reader perhaps may think has been but too much made up of dreams."
Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra.
Thanks for reading all of this. It took forever to write but I learned a lot in the process. I hope you enjoyed it, Jeffrey
If you carry on to the next essay we will tour the Generalife.
Splendid and so magnificent! We are indeed gifted by Jeffrey's immense beauty. He is among peers in envisioning and understanding the enormous achievement and special offering The Alhambra manifests. I see clearly now how this magical place has inspired his work. Thank you beautiful Jeffrey!ReplyDelete
I missed a chance to go there many years ago so thank you for such a wonderful 'instead of' tour. Your blog is special.ReplyDelete
This is no blog post. It is a historical-cultural-architectural-artful love letter. Bravo.ReplyDelete
I wish more people held such an interest for the history of landscape architecture, and did such a fabulous job of documenting their travels! Keep traveling, writing and taking wonderful photos.ReplyDelete
That had to be the longest blog entry I have ever ( mostly) read! I have entries like that I have to break up into 3-5 posts, or I did before. I guess you wanted to show us all the glory you had seen. I read you last entry first ( before thsi one), sorry. I like when you include your own stories and personal thoughts in with your educational narrative as well. Awesome, spectacular pictures!ReplyDelete
Beautiful work! I am very interested in this matter. It is a historical-cultural-architectural-artful love letter.ReplyDelete
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jeffrey, after reading that, i'm breathless! one totally senses what a deeply intense artistic and creative journey this was for you! it feels as though you've just taken us to the artistic homeland of your dreams!ReplyDelete
the poster who described your alhambra entry as an 'historical-cultural-architectural-artful love letter' essentially said all there is to say..
you obviously left a big part of you at the alhambra, jeffrey!
Such a beautiful, charming and unique architecture and culture. Spain was ruled by the Muslims for more then 700 years. I am Moroccan and every time I go there I feel sad but also proud. Thank you again for the pictures and I highly recommend every individual to visit that place because it`s so interesting and rich. I would rather go there than Times square in NewYork city. Morocco is also a great and oustanding place to visit if you want to experience the real authentic muslim medieval architechture. We do have medieaval palaces in Fez, Marrakesh, Meknes and Rabat but are not open for tourists to visit because they are residences of the Royal family.ReplyDelete
More than half of the 6 months I spent in this region were devoted to exploring Morocco, which has become one of my favorite countries in the world. The medinas of the cities there are some of the finest urban centers I've ever experienced and the artistry shared with Moorish Spain endures to this day.Delete
I don't know if you are ever going to read this but it's been about four months since we visited Alhambra and I still fail to put a finger on what is it that has hooked me to this place. I stumbled on to this post and have been enriched by your description of this place. Thank you for taking me there again!ReplyDelete
I noticed a comment about an ancient ring being mounted which is large enough to tether dinosaurs. I am wondering whether they might have been used to tether elephants? They were in common use during ancient times and they are seldom mentioned when tourists and their guides marvel over the weight of blocks moved at ancient sites.ReplyDelete