Updated: Mar 14
PLEASURE PALACES, GARDENS, COURTYARDS – THIS JEWEL OF GRANADA WAS MORE THAN A MILITARY STRONGHOLD, IT WAS A CITADEL DEDICATED TO INDULGENCE. BUT THROUGH THE CENTURIES IT WITNESSED EXTREME VIOLENCE.
From within the maze of Albayzín’s cobble stone streets, you catch your fi rst view of the Alhambra, perched on the edge of a cliff high above. Glowing a soft red in the morning sun, its bleak, imposing towers belie the beauty of what lies within its walls. Passing beneath the Puerta delas Granadas gate, you start the long climb uphill through the park to the ticket office, disgruntled at the early hour after a late night of tapas and red wine. But your mood soon changes as you enter the site, passing through high hedges of cypress, catching glimpses of gardens bursting with flowers.
You mustn’t stop. The PalaciosNazaríes beckon. Leaving the sunlight, you enter through a door way. As your eyes adjust, you begin to understand the hype. Every wall, nook and cranny is covered with intricate decoration – a sensory overload of pattern. Stone walls etched with calligraphy and carvings weave stories, verses from the Quran, and Arabic poems. As you follow the train
of tourists, you pass arched windows veiled by intricate stone lattice-work, elaborately carved wooden doors, wall upon wall of colorful tiled geometric patterns, slim-line columns and tranquil courtyards centered on reflecting pools. These truly are palaces fit for kings.
For almost 800 years, from AD 711 to 1492, the Moors controlled southern Spain. But defending their territory from marauding Christian crusaders was tricky. By the early 13th century, the Muslim empire in Spain had fallen apart, but some local lords clung on to pockets of land.
One such lord, Mohammed ibn Nasr, hunted around for a strategic site to protect his precious city of Granada. High on a precipice above the city stood an old fort, with the towering peaks of the Sierra Nevada behind and steep slopes on the other three sides. Mohammed began to expand the fortress in 1238, creating a walled stronghold to protect his family, advisors, servants and guards. Essential water was piped down from the surrounding mountains
DID YOU KNOW?
✪ Seven of the nine Nasrid sultans were assassinated.
✪ Depicting people and animals is against Islamic ideology, as it is deemed to be idolising something other than God. So Islamic art focuses on calligraphy and symmetric patterns, with
maths at the core of many of the spectacular designs. In the Alhambra, the courtyard proportions are based on
rectangles generated by irrational numbers, such as the square roots of two, three and five.
✪ In the early 1800s, American writer Washington Irving stayed at the then-neglected Alhambra, and wrote the novel Tales of the Alhambra.
✪ After almost 800 years of Muslim rule, in 1492, Mohammed XII of Granada,
the last Muslim ruler in Spain, surrendered and signed away his lands to the Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and retreated into exile