After leaving Toledo, we made our way south towards Granada. Destination: Alhambra, a fortress and palace of breathtaking exterior austerity and interior intricacy.
We stayed at the Parador Granada, one of the Paradores series established by the Spanish government to help fund the upkeep of the historic buildings in which the hotels are situated. It was originally part of the 13th century palace, and later converted to a Franciscan convent. It’s been very comfortably restored and the location is spectacular.
Alhambra was originally a small 9th century fortress built upon Roman remains. In the mid 13th century, the Moorish emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada, built the current palace and walls. It was converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada. In 1492 (when Columbus sailed the ocean blue), it became the palace of Ferdinand and Isabella. In short, it’s a stunning example of the very long and complicated history of the region, where Arabic, Moorish and Christian architectural styles are layered one on top of the other.
The intricacy of the plasterwork and carved wooden ceilings is what really stands out from a visual perspective.
Particularly the high, vaulted, ceilings with heavily detailed honeycomb plaster.
The palace undergoes continual restoration, and the restorers have done an excellent job preserving the features of the stunning artistry. The pictures can’t begin to do it justice.
Moorish poets described Alhambra as a “pearl set among emeralds”, referring to the white plasterwork surrounded by lush green gardens and woods. A very fitting description.
The rooms form the perimeter of a series of interior courtyards, many of them with fountains or reflecting pools. This fountain, in the Court of the Lions, was originally designed such that water would emerge from one of the twelve lions’ mouths each hour. Today, they all spout simultaneously.
The feral cats seem to live a pretty good life at Alhambra. This guy reminded me very much of Tigger, back home.
The birds have taken up residence in the hidey-holes provided by all the intricate plasterwork on the arches. The restorers likely do not share the delight of the birds.
The wood ceilings show a wide variety of carved designs, some painted, some left plain.
The white design on blue background in the plasterwork is Arabic lettering.
The vibrant colours on the plasterwork has been well preserved in some rooms, deep in the interior of the palace.
Carved wooden screens within the windows admit daylight while offering some privacy.
The gardens are also set out as a series of rooms, with stone archways and long, rectangular pools of water. The pathways comprise small cobblestones set in in geometric patterns.
Hedges clipped into tall square archways lead up the staircase of one of the large interior courtyards in the complex.
The sunlight was blinding in its intensity, giving the impression that it’s warmer than it was. The temperature was a comfortable mid-sixties, but I imagine it gets very hot later in the season.
And of course, I wanted to take all the cats home with us. They are found throughout the palace, but mostly hang around the snack bar, often snoozing between tourists who have sat down to get a bite to eat.
We walked through the Promenade of Cypress tress as our tour neared completion. All access to Alhambra is through guided tour, which is understandable, as it’s a very popular Unesco World Heritage Site and crowd control is imperative. Our tour guide, however, was not particularly engaging or well informed, and the insistent, nasal quality of her voice was quite grating. After four hours of listening to her chirping in our earpiece, we were both ready for a break.
Internal equilibrium was restored as we returned to our hotel through the lush and peaceful gardens. Alhambra is an immense complex of stunning intricacy and well worth a visit.