andalucía: granada’s alhambra

Thursday, July 11: After lunch, around 3:00, we drive up to the Alhambra to spend a few hours wandering around the gardens and buildings before entering the amazing Nasrid Palaces on a timed entrance at 6:00.

The Alhambra and the Generalife were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

We start by walking through the Generalife upper and lower gardens to the Generalife Palace.  It was constructed as the leisure area of the Granada monarchs, where they escaped from their official routine.

Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
The view of the Alcazaba from the Generalife gardens
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
view of the Alcazaba from the Generalife gardens
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
Generalife
views of the Alcazaba from the Generalife
views of the Alcazaba from the Generalife
Generalife
Generalife

After we explore the Generalife, we head on the long walkway to the Alcazaba, one of the oldest parts of the Alhmabra, and its military area.

the pathway to the Alcazaba
the pathway to the Alcazaba

On the way to the Alcazaba, I stop in a bright little church along the way.

church along the pathway to the Alcazaba
church along the pathway to the Alcazaba
I take a break along the pathway
I take a break along the pathway

When we finally arrive at the Alcazaba, we visit the terrace of the Torre del Cubo (Round Tower), the northern wall walk, the Plaza de las Armas (including the military quarter), the terrace of the Puerta de las Armas (Gate of Arms), Torre de la Vela (Watchtower) and the Jardin de los Adarves (Wall Walk Garden).  As we walk around this part of the Alhambra in the hottest part of the day, we are wilting fast.  I don’t know how I will have energy for flamenco tonight.

the Alcazaba at the Alhambra
the Alcazaba at the Alhambra

According to the Alhambra De Granada’s website, the Alhambra was so-called because of its reddish walls (in Arabic, qa’lat al-Hamra means Red Castle). It sits on top of the hill al-Sabika, on the left bank of the river Darro, to the west of Granada and in front of the neighborhoods of the Albaycin and of the Alcazaba.

view from the Alcazaba at the Alhambra
view from the Alcazaba at the Alhambra

The Alhambra sits on a strategic point, with a view over the whole city and the meadow (la Vega), and this fact leads to believe that other buildings were already on that site before the Muslims arrived. The complex is surrounded by ramparts and has an irregular shape. The Cuesta del Rey Chico is the border between the neighborhood of the Albaycin and the gardens of the Generalife, which sit atop the Hill of the Sun (Cerro del Sol).

view from the Alcazaba at the Alhambra
view from the Alcazaba at the Alhambra
view of Granada from the Alcazaba at the Alhambra
view of Granada from the Alcazaba at the Alhambra

The first historical documents about the Alhambra date from the 9th century and they refer to Sawwar ben Hamdun who, in the year 889, had to seek refuge in the Alcazaba, a fortress, and had to repair it due to the civil fights that were destroying the Caliphate of Cordoba, to which Granada then belonged. This site subsequently started to be extended and populated, although not yet as much as it would be later on, because the Ziri kings established their residence on the hill of the Albaycin.

the Alcazaba at the Alhambra
the Alcazaba at the Alhambra
view of Granada from the Alcazaba at the Alhambra
view of Granada from the Alcazaba at the Alhambra

The castle of the Alhambra was added to the city’s area within the ramparts in the 9th century, which implied that the castle became a military fortress with a view over the whole city. In spite of this, it was not until the arrival of the first king of the Nasrid dynasty, Mohammed ben Al-Hamar (Mohammed I, 1238-1273), in the 13th century, that the royal residence was established in the Alhambra. This event marked the beginning of the Alhambra’s most glorious period.

the Alcazaba at the Alhambra
the Alcazaba at the Alhambra

First of all, the old part of the Alcazaba was reinforced and the Watch Tower (Torre de la Vela) and the Keep (Torre del Homenaje) were built. Water was brought by canal from the river Darro, warehouses and deposits were built and the palace and the ramparts were started. These two elements were carried on by Mohammed II (1273-1302) and Mohammed III (1302-1309), who apparently also built public baths and the Mosque (Mezquita), on the site of which the current Church of Saint Mary was later built.

flags atop the tower of the Alcazaba at the Alhambra
flags atop the Torre de la Vela of the Alcazaba at the Alhambra

We can see the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada from the tower of the Alcazaba.

view from the Alcazaba at the Alhambra
view from the Alcazaba at the Alhambra
Jardin de los Adarves
Jardin de los Adarves
Jardin de los Adarves
Jardin de los Adarves

Even while enjoying the Generalife and the Alcazaba at the Alhambra, I’ve been worried about my debit card not working this morning.  Sometimes the regular hassles of life impinge on a holiday; unpleasant things sometimes have to be dealt with.   I still have a long time to travel, and I don’t know how I will have access to money if my bank has put a stop on my card.  Since it’s only a little after 5:00, and our tickets to the Nasrid Palaces aren’t until 6:00, I spend some time on a bench under the shade of a tree texting Mike: Mike! Emergency!  The bank put a stop on the debit card and the atm in granada actually ate the card!  The bank luckily gave it back but it can’t be used.  Can u please call the bank right away and find out what’s going on?  It worked perfectly well when I used it in Toledo!!! What the heck is wrong with that bank???

I don’t hear from him for a long time, so I’m not even sure he got my message.  I send another text: Can u plz let me know right away if u got my mssg???

Still no reply.  I then resort to texting Adam, who does reply right away.  When he does, I write him back: Hey!! Can u call dad and have him answer my texts to him asap?

Adam: Yes, 1 sec.

Me: Thanks sweetie! The bank has cancelled my debit card and I have no access to cash!

Adam, after a bit: He’s @ a doctors appt but if its really important u have to call him he says!

Me: I can’t call him! Did he get my texts??

Adam: Aggh i don’t know he seemed peeved and/or doing something important so I just told him that you needed him and he said for you to call him.

Me: Ok thanks!  I cant call bc my phone doesnt work here except for texts

Adam:  Oooo is there anything else i can do for you?

Me: No thanks sweetie!  Just make sure dad checks into this as soon as possible

Finally, I hear back from Mike: As soon as I get out of Dr. Appt I will check

Me: Ok i just need u to let me know that u get my texts!

Mike: Was in middle of annual physical and still finishing up.  Its hard to reply when talking to Dr or while he is examining me.

Me: Ok sorry!  I am so pissed at that stupid BB&T

Mike: Perhaps its the local bank software.  I’ll check.  Still waiting for EKG and tetanus shot.  Dr. Kessler was at Oman royal opera hall in late Jan or early Feb.  He is the NSO physician when they travel abroad.  Ltr.

About an hour later, Mike texts:  The bank did not see anything in their system about an attempted use or rejection.  Perhaps it was a glitch with that bank or ATM. They suggested trying a different bank ATM.

Me: OK, will try on monday when i can go inside the bank if it takes my card.  Thanks so much for checking.  I was really in a panic!! I hope it will work next time!

Mike: He saw no problems in their system which would show you trying to use it and a rejection.  You are still listed as traveling through the 25th.

I feel a little better after hearing this information, but I guess it remains to be seen whether the card will work next time I try it.

Finally, it’s 6:00 and Carole and Barry and I head into the Nasrid Palaces. There are three Nasrid Palaces:  The Mexuar Palace is from the reign of Ismail I and Muhammad V (1362-1391).  The second is Comares Palace, from Yusuf (1333-1354) and Muhammad V (1362-1391) and the Palace of the Lions, from Muhammad V (1362-1391).

first glimpse inside the Nasrid Palaces
first glimpse inside the Nasrid Palaces
Arabic calligraphy
Arabic calligraphy
interlacing patterns
interlacing patterns
Courtyard
Courtyard
intricate decoration on every surface
intricate decoration on every surface
Arabic script
Arabic script

Yusuf I (1333-1353) and Mohammed V (1353-1391) are responsible for most of the Alhambra’s construction that we still admire today, from the improvements of the Alcazaba and the palaces, to the Patio of the Lions (Patio de los Leones), the Justice Gate (Puerta de la Justicia), the extension and decoration of the towers, the building of the Baths (Baños), the Comares Room (Cuarto de Comares) and the Hall of the Boat (Sala de la Barca). Hardly anything remains from what the later Nasrid Kings did.

perimeter of the Patio of the Lions
perimeter of the Patio of the Lions
more intricate decoration
more intricate decoration
Patio of the Lions
Patio of the Lions
part of the Patio of the Lions
part of the Patio of the Lions
me in the Patio of the Lions
me in the Patio of the Lions
Patio of the Lions
Patio of the Lions
beautiful pavilion
beautiful pavilion

From the time of the Catholic Monarchs until today, Charles V ordered part of the complex to be demolished in order to build the palace which bears his name.  From the 18th century, the Alhambra was abandoned. During the French domination, part of the fortress was blown up and it was not until the 19th century that the process of repairing, restoring and preserving the complex started and is still maintained nowadays. (Alhambra de Granada: Historical Introduction)

tilework
tilework
columns and arches in the Patio of the Lions
columns and arches in the Patio of the Lions
more intricate arches in the Patio of the Lions
more intricate arches in the Patio of the Lions
arches and columns
arches and columns

According to the Alhambra website’s “Artistic Introduction,” the Nasrid architecture marked the end of the glorious period that started with the Umayyads in Cordoba in the 8th century. The architects of the Cordovan mosque, which was built a long time before the Alhambra, did not influence this architecture. It includes some of the typical elements of the Andalucían architecture, such as the horseshoe arch with sprandel (square wide frame which envelopes the arch) and the arch scallops (arch scallop of triangular shape), as well as its own special elements such as the capitals of the columns of the Alhambra.

the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra
the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra
the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra
the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra

The greatest concern of the architects of the Alhambra was to cover every single space with decoration, no matter the size. No decorative element was too much. Most of the interior arches are false arches, with no structure; they are there only to decorate. Walls are covered with beautiful and extremely rich ceramics and plasterwork. And the coverings have wooden frames that have been exquisitely carved.

the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra
the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra
the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra
the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra

The Alhambra was built with its own special type of column, which is not used in any other building. This column has a very fine cylindrical shaft, the base of which has a big concave molding and is decorated with rings on the top part. The capital is divided into two bodies and the first one, cylindrically shaped, has a very simple decoration and a prism with a rounded-angled base and stylised vegetal forms as decoration.(Alhambra de Granada: Artistic Introduction)

the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra
the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra
the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra
the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra

Even though Muslim art bans figural representation, the decorating themes in the Alhambra are quite varied. The classical calligraphic decoration is used, in particular cursive and kufic inscriptions, which reproduce the words of Zawi ben Ziri (founder of the Nasrid dynasty): “Only God is Victor,” and poems written by different poets of the court.

The decorative elements most often used by these architects were stylised vegetal forms, interlacing decoration and the nets of rhombuses.

the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra
the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra

I am amazed by the Alhambra’s decoration throughout the Nasrid Palaces.  Just like the Alhambra website says, every surface is covered with decoration, no matter how small or unimportant.  It is truly amazing.

However, for some reason I have an iconic picture in my mind of the Alhambra and I can’t seem to find it.  I imagine a picture of a beautiful cloister with a pool and garden in the middle.  Around every corner, I am poised to find this iconic image, but I never do.  Barry and Carole go ahead to meet Scottish Barry, but I keep poking into every nook and cranny looking for something that apparently doesn’t exist!

the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra
the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Leaving the Nasrid Palaces
the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra
the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra
Leaving the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra
Leaving the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra
the Alhambra
the Alhambra

Finally, I realize that I’m a little lost and late to meet everyone at the car.  I walk as fast as I can to the entrance pavilion, where Scottish Barry is looking impatiently at his watch.  He tells us we must hurry to get to the flamenco show at 8:00. I tell Barry I was looking for an iconic shot that I remember seeing somewhere and I could never find it.  He tells me the iconic shot of the Alhambra is the Patio of the Lions.  Well, I spent quite a long time exploring that patio, and that wasn’t the shot I envisioned at all.  Besides, of all the pictures I took there, I don’t think I took that iconic shot!😦

In the car, as Barry zooms to the Albaycin, Carole and I change out of our sweaty clothes and into skirts (“I feel like a girl now!” says Carole, with a sigh of relief).

On the way to Jardines de Zoraya, Barry has a great idea.  He tells me I should try to use my debit card to pay for the dinner and show tonight.  That way, I can find out if the card works and put my mind at ease.  Also, I’ll be dealing with a human being instead of an ATM, and if there’s a problem, they can tell me to my face what it is.  That sounds like a brilliant plan.🙂

I have to say, overall, that I find the Alhambra to be lovely, but just a tad bit disappointing.  Maybe it’s my state of mind over the bank card debacle; maybe I have built up “the Alhambra” too much in my mind.  Maybe it’s because of the touristy nature of the place, unlike Cordoba’s Mezquita, which didn’t seem touristy at all.  Maybe it’s because of the heat, or the fact that I can’t find the classic view of the Alhambra that I’ve always held in my imagination.  It’s funny sometimes how so many factors can affect our experience of a place.  It is lovely, don’t get me wrong, it just doesn’t quite meet up to my expectations. 

Maybe it’s best to throw out all expectations of a place before going there, if it’s possible to do that.🙂

9 thoughts on “andalucía: granada’s alhambra

  1. Waiting for next installment to see what happens re debit card. Mike is displaying a lot of patience actually, hope he is not dealing with something medical he is not able to share – but he dropped everything to help so something to be grateful for! Our personal emergencies tend to override those we seek to help us may be experiencing don’t forget! Still cannot get into Islamic decoration as only flowers, patterns and Arabic script are permitted. I cannot wait until the Portugal blog starts though the photos you are taking are beautiful! Churros are actually a lot more common than you might imagine, I had my first one at Tokyo Disneyland 20 years ago, dipped in cinnamon sugar and straight in shape. Then at the local markets outside Geneva they were sold all over the place, smaller but just as delicious. Did not realize Spain was so hot, could you not purchase a parasol of some kind? Your umbrella I never leave home without for the same reason, instant shade when it is 40+ C outside. Cannot believe you have been gone so long already, almost a month and you will be home in a few days! You are still missed even though you are missing only further ineptitude and chaos here. Cannot wait for the school year to end so I have quiet for ten weeks of holiday as nothing much will happen until October. Safe journey home, will you have an American blog? Don’t make us quit you cold turkey! You have too many followers to accept being on US soil will get you to stop blogging. Best regards,😀 (oh and could not believe how much your last market shots looked like Muttrah souk! LOL! Please post more vegetarian food shots of your meals before you leave! You gave me some great ideas in that direction re veggie tapas!)

    1. You’ll see what happened with the debit card in my next post, about to be released. It’s pretty ridiculous, as many of my stupid stories are! Mike was just having an annual physical, so no problems that I’m aware of. I really love Islamic decoration, but now that I’ve seen so much, maybe I’ll be over it. I know, I probably won’t get to the Portugal stuff till I return home, since I leave early early on Thursday morning and have only one more day in Lisbon. I’m ready to go home at this point. I know the churros are popular all over the place, so am not surprised you sampled them in Japan. Spain was very hot but I’m never one to wear a hat or carry a parasol; I’m already too burdened with my pack and camera, guidebooks, etc. Don’t need anything else to carry. I just sought out shade where I could.

      I already have an America blog which I’ve written on every time I’ve returned home: http://www.catbirdinamerica.wordpress.com
      That’s where I’ll be posting upon my return home.

      I haven’t had much in the way of vegetarian food, but you will find the odd vegetarian dish here and there in my posts. Both the Spaniards and the Portuguese are big meat eaters!

      Too bad about that “more chaos and ineptitude.” Doesn’t surprise me at all. Hope your break comes soon!

  2. Great post, I had forgotten how exquisite the Alhambra is (I went pre-digital so only have a few snapshots of it) and how I must return. I too had an iconic shot in mind when visiting, but couldn’t find it – maybe we were both thinking of some other place? I am late in following you around Europe, but can’t wait to catch up with the rest of your travels. Hope you made it safely back to the US🙂
    Jude xx

    1. Hey Jude, Yes, I’ve safely returned to the USA and am trying to get settled in now. It’s a lot of work; I have 3 suitcases and 15 boxes to unpack from my 2 years in Oman. Anyway, I still have to finish posting about the rest of my time in Spain and my whole time in Portugal, so I have to get busy!!

      I know what you mean about the pre-digital days! I don’t have many pictures of England, France, the Bahamas, Quebec and a 3 month trip I took across the USA; I don’t even know where some of those pictures are. Too bad about those days! I’m glad you enjoyed reliving the Alhambra through my more current & digital photos.🙂

      About that iconic photo, I do believe I was thinking of some other place?? But who knows where?

  3. The Alhambra is one place I really want to see one day, but until that happens I can enjoy seeing it through your lens. You do take lovely photos. Have you ever read “The Constant Princess” by Philippa Gregory? It’s the story of Katherine of Aragon and she writes about Katherine’s childhood and reminisces about living at the Alhambra and sitting in the cool cloisters with the pools of water and fountains and gardens, just like the iconic image you describe.

    1. I’m so glad you liked my Alhambra pictures, Carol. I loved it there, along with the Cordoba Mezquita. I sure wish I had found that iconic image; I really think the image I have in mind is a collage of images from different places. I’ll have to add “The Constant Princess” to my Goodreads “to-read” list; it sounds good! I find that historical period so interesting!

  4. So many different views and angles – closeups of flowers, distant scenes, the architecture, the tiles that we covet…you do a great job getting the full picture. My parents traveled a lot and loved Spain. I remember my father adored the Alhambra & i can see why. Maybe someday…

    1. Thanks, Lynn, I’m glad you liked my photos of the Alhambra. It was so beautiful all around. I also adored Cordoba’s Mezquita; I think that was my favorite of the historical places. I hope you’ll get to Spain one day, in your father’s footsteps.🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s