Tales From The Alhambra

perfect reflection-The Alhambra

We’d been in Lagos for three months and were itching for a road trip to an epic destination, a way to celebrate receiving our one year Portuguese residency visa.  There was no question about where to go since we’d long dreamed of seeing this UNESCO World Heritage Site, a place of mystery, myths and history.  A look at google maps showed us that the Alhambra, the palace of Sultans and Spanish kings was a mere six-hour drive – no magic carpet required.Sierra Nevada Mountains-The Alhambra

The Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 711 and the first references to a fortress perched high upon the hill, Al Sabika, dates back to 889.  It was all but forgotten until the mid-13th century when the ruins were renovated and rebuilt and the royal residence of the first Sultan of the Nasrid dynasty was established.  Protected by mountains at its back (the Sierra Nevadas) and thick woods surrounding it, the Alhambra was a reflection of the glory days of the house of the Islamic Nasrids, the last of the Muslim Emirates of Granada. There were twenty-two Sultans who resided in the palace city of the “Red Castle” with their wives, harems and courtiers. Of these, twelve were assassinated so, while the life of a Sultan was luxurious, it was not secure. Intrigue and in-fighting between Moorish tribes, royal courts, cities and generals was always present.  And, with the conquest of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492, the Moors finally retreated.  The flag of Ferdinand and Isabella (yes, that Ferdinand and Isabella!) was raised over the Alhambra on January 2, 1492, and after the Reconquista the near-by town (Granada) quickly encroached upon the palace walls.

The Alhambra

We began our private tour at the upper-most portion of the palace grounds at the northern end of the complex, the only section that was built outside the protection of the massive walls. The Generalife was the daytime residence and formal gardens of the royal family and it was here that the massive scale of the Alhambra became truly obvious. From this height the individual buildings, actually palaces in their own right, spread below on the lower hillocks.

The Alhambra

 

IMG_1179 (800x600)

It was a cold, January day and the numbers of tourists were nowhere close to the 8,000 maximum allowed per day during the high season.  The snows on the upper slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains to the east, were muted against the leaden sky but when the sun emerged later in the day the contrast of white versus the blue sky was dazzling. The day of our tour only a fraction of the flowers were in bloom but the towering cypress that lined the walk and the precisely trimmed hedges in geometric patterns alongside the curves of orange and pomegranate trees were beauty enough for us.  It was easy to imagine the drone of bees amongst the profusion of flowers with butterflies flitting about seeking nectar as well as the lilting tremolos of birds that would be ushered in with the advent of spring. Yet, with the return of spring’s warmth would come the hordes of tourists.The Alhambra

Leaving the leafy greenery of the Generalife we headed south towards the protected city of the Alhambra. Just outside the walls were a number of businesses jammed into miniscule homes. Entering Lugna Taracea, a shop run by the Lugna family in the same location for over 150 years we stopped to watch skilled craftsman assemble traditional mosaics: patterns intricately inlaid with bone, silver, copper and a variety of woods. The Lugnas specialize in lacquered furniture and household amenities such as trays, boxes and tables, all beautiful, high quality pieces including a pretty, folding cribbage board that we bought for ourselves to replace the two we’d given to our son when we started our nomadic journeys.

making mosaics-The Alhambra

Once back inside the walls we wandered past bubbling fountains and reflecting pools, arched doorways, stone columns, tiled mosaic walls and carved ceilings of wood in detailed and complex patterns.

ceramic tile mosaic

ceramic tile mosaic

ceiling of inlayed woods

ceiling design of inlaid woods

tiled floor

tiled floors

Tortuously carved stucco adorned spaces not covered by tile, marble or wood in stylized motifs and twisting Arabic words extolled the greatness and glory of Allah.  Much of the stucco has faded to a creamy color although traces of color can be seen here and there.  It’s almost impossible to imagine the true assault upon the senses that the original painted stucco would have triggered.

The Alhambra

 

plaster carving-The Alhambra

Taking up the story once again of the conquering Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, we were shown the throne room where Columbus pleaded for funds to find a shorter passage to the Orient.  Our guide also pointed out where the initials of Ferdinand and Isabella (spelled Ysabella) were carved in stucco among the motifs and Arabic words along with the crown of the reigning monarchs.

Ferdinand & Ysabla -The Alhambra

The conquerors continued their redecorating by filling in some of the stucco carving with whitewash and both Charles V (1500 – 1558) and Philip V (1683 – 1746) destroyed portions of the original complex in order to erect their own palaces. (In fact, by the end of our fascinating tour, we were actively cursing the barbarous Spanish for their sacrilege and intolerance. The destruction of such beauty was, to our modern and secular minds, unconscionable.)

the Spanish Crown-The Alhambra

The game of empire building, which ran rampant throughout Europe at this time, continued when France, under the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, invaded the Iberian Peninsula and in 1812 overran the southernmost part of Spain, including the Alhambra and Granada. Decamping the Alhambra a few months later, the French, under the command of Napoleon’s brother Joseph, an inefficient and apparently venial and vindictive King of Spain, ordered sappers to mine the Alhambra. An observant and brave Spanish citizen reached the fuses and removed them from the explosives, interrupting the chain of detonations that had been intended to level these magnificent structures. As a result, only a minimum of damage on the periphery was visited upon the Alhambra.The Alhambra

The mighty Alhambra fell on hard times, forgotten and neglected.  Squatters set up house.  In 1828, after visiting Madrid and writing a tract on his travels and observations, the American author Washington Irving journeyed to Granada where he encountered the Alhambra.  After taking up residence as a kind of “literary squatter” he was inspired by his experience to write “Tales of the Alhambra” which was published in 1832. It reintroduced the Alhambra to the West and the renewed interest assisted in the preservation on the Palace.  Spain recognized the Alhambra as a national artistic monument and initiated several decrees beginning in 1870 with the goal of preserving the complex.

The Alhambra
stained glass ceiling - possibly 14th or 15th century-The Alhambra

Nothing we had read, none of the photographs we had viewed, none of the conversations with those who had previously been there, could have prepared us for what we encountered at the Alhambra.  The immensity of the Alhambra cannot be fully appreciated until you are there. The staggering redundancy of beauty, opulence and craftsmanship simply overwhelms the senses.  Poets centuries ago called the Alhambra a “Paradise on earth” and we wholeheartedly agree.  And after visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site we suspect that the spirit of Allah still resides among the beauty that was designed to glorify him.

Allah - Arabic translation

Allah – Arabic translation

By Richard and Anita

 

64 comments

  • truly one of the worlds wonders

    Liked by 1 person

  • Thank you so much for all the likes on my new blog! I am so jealous of your Portugal residency visa. My husband is Brazilian but his grandmother was Portuguese. We are going to start working to get his citizenship there so we can be there too. It’s such a beautiful country! I am very excited I found you and can’t wait to follow your posts. Your pictures are beautiful and I love that you incorporate some history into your posts! My favorite.

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    • We researched different residency options and, if I remember correctly and interpreted it right, having Portuguese relatives is one of many ways to obtain a Portuguese residency visa. We qualified for a visa as retirees but, however you qualify, living in Portugal has definitely lived up to our expectations and even surpassed them, There’s so much amazing beauty and living history around us (like the Alhambra) and nearby that we don’t have to go far to find amazing adventures, great and small! Good luck with you visa and let us know how your quest goes! Anita

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  • This really took me back in time! I was there in about 1989 and there weren’t 8,000 a people a day coming to visit! I was out in the garden you show with the sprinklers. Only thing is that they weren’t on when I went into the garden but they came on very enthusiastically and soaked me to the skin. My then-boyfriend didn’t mind! Good memories – thanks.

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    • So glad you enjoyed your (very wet) trip down memory lane, Kay. Like so many other places, it sounds like tourist interest has increased steadily over the years, especially to UNESCO WHS. Getting tickets into the Alhambra can be difficult now at certain times of the year and the online tourist sites advise that interested people buy them well in advance. It seems to us that battling the crowds during peak season would spoil a lot of the tour nor would you have time to examine certain areas more closely or even take pictures.

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  • Such a stunning place to visit and your pictures do a great job of capturing it. The Sierra Nevada as a backdrop adds even more to its splendour. I would love to visit it one day and like you I will probably go in the off season to avoid the crowds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess we failed to notice in our initial research that the Sierra Nevada range was so close to the Alhambra and it, along with the ancient Roman wall, caught us by surprise. We try to avoid the crowds whenever possible and traveling during the off season and avoiding major holidays is the best way to way to do that. Sometimes you miss things like the gardens in bloom but you gain the chance to take some photos without a stranger (and a selfie stick!) marring the image.

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  • I thoroughly enjoyed your story on the Alhambra. You did a splendid job of walking us through the history and taking us on a tour through this beautiful historic place. Great photos too!

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  • Love the Alhambra and this post makes we want to go back for a visit. I think I’ll combine that with a return to the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and get a real eyeful!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like a trip to Spain is on your horizon. We too have many more travels to and around Spain as it is a country with a fascinating history. architecture spanning many different centuries and styles and amazing food. And we’d love to return to Barcelona to visit places we missed. How lucky we are to live so close!

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  • I agree it is such a magnificent palace, I would love to go back since it has been over 5 years since I went to see this amazing place and I didn’t even have a blog then so the pictures are lost somewhere in time.

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  • During our last visit to Spain (in 12/2015), we visited Cordoba, another of the cities in southern Spain that is the location of beautiful Islamic art and architecture. Our last visit to Granada and the Alhambra was in 1981. Your narrative and photos have reminded me that they are well worth a re-visit.

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    • We’re planning another visit to Spain in May (how lucky we are to have this traveler’s delight so close by!) and Cordoba is on our list of places to see, especially because of its history and architecture. One thing I can predict about the Alhambra if you re-visit it – it won’t have changed much but your appreciation of it will probably be much greater!

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  • Alhambra is a fascinating place that I hope to visit soon. I am fond of Islamic art and architecture and your photos captured the magic of the designs at Alhambra. I have a strong desire to spend a few months of my nomad travels in Andalusia now 🙂

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    • The Moore’s were amazing artists and architects and we, like you Susan, love all the details and ornate patterns that make up their amazing buildings, mosaics, carved stucco and tiles. We’ve seen several examples of Islamic designs in the last couple of months and the intricate details are really astonishing and beautiful.

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  • What an amazing place. Especially love all of the mosaics and tile work. The Alhambra was not on our radar before, thanks to you, it is now.

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    • So glad we helped make the Alhambra one of your “Must See” places, Veronica and David! You’ll enjoy it most if you schedule your visit during the shoulder or low season because of the crowds (8000 per day is the limit and the times are assigned.) Having a guide was great but there are also audio tours available. The Alhambra is a place that’s worth the hype!

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  • The Alhambra is truly magical, and you were wise to tour privately with a guide–and out of tourist season. There is so much to take in! It’s worth doing, even with hordes of tourists eddying about, but your in-depth visit sounds wonderful, despite the cold.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There was not too much thinking that went into hiring a private guide as the Alhambra was one of our “bucket list” places and we definitely wanted to take it at our own pace as well as ask our very knowledgeable guide questions. And we really liked the fact that, because it was the off-season, we were able to take photos without having a crowd of people to juggle around or selfie sticks in our way!

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  • What an incredible visit you have given us, laced with romance and history. The courtyard of the Generalife is so serenely beautiful, and the depth of craftsmanship on display in the adornments and furnishings is breathtaking. Wonderful tales woven in and out of your narrative!

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  • We visited this paradise in spring of last year, with all the blooms around. It was a highlight of our European tour. Didn’t know about Washington Irving’s book! We are going to Europe again next year and will be in Albufeira for a month, either in spring or fall. See you!

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  • What a wonderful tour of the Alahambra you’ve provided. I feel like I was there but now know that until I go I won’t get the scope. Sort of like viewing photos of the Grand Canyon. No matter how good you’re not prepared for the beauty of the real thing. Great photos!!

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  • I so agree that nothing can prepare you for what you see. I went there years ago, not knowing what it even was and was amazed at how big Alhambra was.

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  • Thanks for bringing back some great memories. I was also there on a very cold day, beautiful sunny day. I loved wandering around without bumping into a million others. I have you first shot in my photo collection, too! 🙂 I don’t remember that workshop. His work looks beautiful. Next time we get together we’ll have to get that crib board a go. I used to play a lot, and think I could find my crib groove again pretty fast!

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    • Traveling during the off season definitely has its positive side despite the cold. We were able to take a long private tour (4 people) and go at our own pace as well as ask lots of questions. Exploring a few of the artisan shops nearby was a plus as we watched how some mosaic works are crafted and picked up a souvenir too. And yes, we’ll both take you up on some cribbage games when we see you next year. In the meantime … we’ll have to practice ourselves to get our mojo back!

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  • I’ve known about the Alhambra since I was a child but never made it there, even though I hitchhiked to Malaga as a teenager….
    Looking at the incredible craftsmanship, you have to wonder how many people toiled for what endless period of time to complete this amazing place.

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  • Your detailed history of the Alhambra is so fascinating. Just think if Washington Irving had not become a “literary squatter” and written his tales. I wonder how long it would have taken to restore the Alhambra? I never read, “Tales of the Alhambra.” Now, it’s at the top of my list. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’d never read it either and found it on Amazon as an e-book after our tour.Your question of how long the renovation took is a good one to research but Washington Irving’s stories were credited with reviving interest in the site and keeping it from further deterioration. And maintenance and preservation appears to be an ongoing effort as we saw a couple of work crews about.

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  • Read your blog while shopping for ladies shoes at Herbergers for Eileen. It is Presidents’ Day so we do what we do here, shop. Hope you will take us there this Summer

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  • Your photos remind me so much of our travels through Iran – the architecture, tiles and honeycomb ceilings are incredible, aren’t they?

    I grew up in a small town in Nevada, Gardnerville, that sat at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It always catches me off guard when I read about the other Sierra Nevada range. 😉

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    • Geography belongs in Richard’s knowledge skills, not mine (although I’m catching up fast!) and finding out that Spain also had it’s own snow-topped Sierra Nevada range made the landscape feel a little more familiar. However, there’s an ancient Roman wall running along the foothills that made the scenery even more spectacular!

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  • thank you so much for sharing your adventure with those of us who need make do with armchair travel. Made me feel I was there in 3D!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Buying a cribbage board??? Sounds like you crazy guys are really settling down.

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  • Beauty abounds through your winter lens.

    Liked by 1 person

  • How do you find such fascinating places and capture the essence with prose and photos? It is simply your talent!

    Liked by 2 people

  • Great place, great writing!! Is there a book in the future?

    Liked by 1 person

  • Your blog is a history lesson come to life. The beauty and the history of The Alhambra is fascinating. To walk where so many have walked is always daunting. As always, beautiful pictures. Looks a little too cold for me!! Thanks for shrink your adventures.
    Suzi

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  • Awesome! You guys wasted no time in making your visit there. We absolutely loved it there and in the town of Granada. 🙂 i think our next Europe trip might be to Slovenia. We’ve heard amazing things about the small country.

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    • You’re right about not wasting too much time Amanda – there are so many places we want to see in Europe that it’s hard to decide and we don’t want to procrastinate too long. Slovenia has been on our radar for a time too with it’s fascinating history and architecture. And it’s still enough off the beaten path that the costs look pretty reasonable.

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  • I have visited this magnificent structure. I loved the city of Granada….so unlike our Nicaragian Granada. We are still hoping for a trip there with the Granada Travel Club. We have given Bob Smith the task of making a connection since the U.S. Ambassador has now visited his home twice. Next visit he’s to get us hooked up with the Spanish contingency. So happy to see you are adventuring out into greater Europe…such fun. Looking forward to sharing some adventures in April and May.

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  • The Alhambra is on my list of places to see. The history you’ve highlighted is fascinating. It looks impressive in your photos and I’d love to see it in person.

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  • I love learning the history of places :-), not just the photos and l love this! It’s amazing the history of all these magnificent places. I want to visit the Alhambra. It moved down a bit after seeing Seville’s small one as it looks similar, but everyone says one needs to experience the Alhambra. We are taking it for granted as it is only a couple of hours drive l guess, but we will get there for sure. Yay for Washington Irving, otherwise it might still be a squatter’s paradise :-).

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    • We know what you mean about not exploring sights nearby where you live and saying “someday.” We did that many times in the different places we lived and missed golden opportunities to explore our own neighborhoods, Sevilla has the magnificent Alcazar but, when you get to the Alhambra to explore it, we know you’ll be glad you did!

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  • Agree! This is a truly magical place. We’ve seen it lasy year when traveling Andalusia. You’ve captured its spirit well ☺

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