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.
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.
On the way to the Alcazaba, I stop in a bright little church along the way.
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.
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.
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).
The first historical documents about the Alhambra date from the 9th century and they refer to Sawwar ben Hamdun who, in the year 889, had to seek refuge in the Alcazaba, a fortress, and had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 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.
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.
We can see the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada from the tower of the Alcazaba.
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).
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.
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)
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 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 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)
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.
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!
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. 🙂