‘Give alms, for it is a great pity to be blind in Granada… Or at the Alhambra Palace’ (Francisco A. de Icaza – Mexican poet). The today’s journey takes us a bit further from the well-known coastal perimeter of Spain, allowing us to take a look at the city closer to the Andalusia hinterland, a crown jewel of Islamic presence in Spain, symbolizing the reach of Umayyad Caliphate – The city of Granada.
After solidifying the power of Islamic Caliphates by the Prophet Muhammmad, the Islam states saw a century of rapid expansion, thanks to the weakness of both the Sassanid, and the Byzantine Empire. In the year 711, after gaining a strong foothold in the south, Moors (Muslims from North-Western Africa) directed their sights towards Spain. After a relatively short, 8 year campaign, almost all of the Iberian Peninsula was brought under Islamic rule. The long period of Islamic domination over the region was over in 1492, when Granada, the last Islamic caliphate to survive Christian kingdoms’ constant attempts to regain the peninsula (Reconquista) , finally surrendered.
After such a long time under Moorish rule, the city of Granada became the pinnacle of Andalusian - Islamic culture. Until now, you probably only knew the story from the Christian side, the belabored 'La Chanson de Roland' with a strong religious undertone. As it seems, while Europe was lost in the darkness of Middle Ages, the Moors created a solid, powerful state, with many architectural and artistic marvels confirming the high cultural level of the Al-Andalus muslims. To this day, in the Muslim North Africa, if a person has a moment of silence, or is lost in a thought, he is said to “be in Granada”. Having seen the beautiful city and its fortress, this at beginning, odd proverb is completely understandable.
Lying at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, The city is dominated by the crimson silhouette of the Alhambra (Qa'lat al-Hamra - The Red Castle), the crown jewel of the Moorish dynasties, reflecting the splendor of the visitors from the overseas. After entering the Alhambra, the visitor firmly rubs his eyes, completely sure that he was moved to a place taken from One Thousand and One Nights stories. During the whole visit to the ‘palace city’ and it’s summer alcazar (palace) ‘Generalife’ it is recommended to keep track with your travel guide, so you don’t miss anything in a sincere amazement. As our time is limited, and I’m unable to gladly dilute the marvels of the eye to the hushed nature of the written word, I’ll supply only the basic information about the major elements. The massive, heavy Alcazaba, the oldest part of the complex, a defensive area placed on the hill overlooking the city, while the well-placed mirador on one of the towers allows us to have a spectacular view over the whole city of Granada and the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains.
The most important part (and the most frequented by tourists) is the Palacios Nazaries -the royal seat of the Nasrid dynasty, the pinnacle of the Alhambra’s design. The father of Nasrid dynasty, Muhammed Al-Ahmar is credited with the beginning of rebuilding the castle, which in result gave it such magnificent grandeur. The royal complex is typically separated into three main parts: The Mexuar – a set of functional rooms for conducting administrative and diplomatic affairs, and the seat of the royal court, connected directly with the Cuarto Dorado (the golden room), a forecourt to the main palace. After a walk through the corridor, we walk into the Patio de los Arrayanes (Court of the Myrtles), part of Serallo, the central place of this sophisticated complex. It is a rectangular courtyard with a huge pool, belayed with myrtle on each side (hence the name). The body of water beautifully reflects the white marbled columns, which support the stucco, laced pinkish arches. The private rooms of the Emir’s and his entourage look onto the pool. Salón de los Embajadores (The Hall of Ambassadors), connected with the Court of the Myrtles, is the biggest and the most lavish of all the chamber, once having functioned as a throne room, features a beautiful marvel of marquetry - a where 8000 different cedar pieces blend together to create star-studded visualization representing the seven heavens. Moving through the Sala de los Abencerrajes (Hall of the Abencerrages) our eyes come upon Patio de los Leones (Courtyard of the Lions), which signals the political and artistic peak of the Moorish rule. In the middle of the courtyard, there is a dodecahedral basin, supported by twelve lions ‘The one who looks at the lions, sees that their fierceness was harnessed by the might of the Sultan’ – an inscription carved on the side of the basin. The longer sides of the courtyard create 6-meter high galleries, created from 128 delicate marble columns with sculpted capitals, which support the laced arches. Behind those “forests of columns” are elegant chambers – this part is of the Nasrid Palace is the long awaited Harem, the ‘really’ private rooms of the sultan and his family.
The heavy focus on the Alhambra may suggest that the Moorish spirit survived only in that palatial stronghold. Right below the hill housing the castle, there are the remnants of the biggest Arabian settlement in Spain, the Albayzín. Built by the Muslim refugees fleeing the Catholic forces of Castile in 1227, during the final years of the Nasrid dynasty the quarter grew to almost 40.000 people, who were taken care of by thirty mosques. The district has been a home to the Muslim population until the Christmas Eve of 1568, when most of the original inhabitants where either murdered or driven out of their homes, forced to seek refuge in the Alpujarra Mountains. Today as one of the UNESCO’s heritage sites (along with the famous Alhambra, of course) , the district maintains the spirit of its original inhabitants. The complicated layout of narrow streets bristled with beautiful, whitewashed buildings creates a wondrous atmosphere, which is very different from the one found in the rest of the city of Granada. Albayzin still maintains the Arabian irrigation and aqueduct systems that distributed the water through numerous wells. The Christian population also adopted the tradition of residing in carmenes – a single houses together with an outhouse, small orchard and a garden, separated from the street with a high wall. The quarter hides many secrets and beautiful landmarks, but only for the perseverant tourists, who are not afraid of long treks on foot.
Author: Filip Jaroń / pr-controlled.com ©
Illustrations: Elemaki - Panoramic view of Granada & Slaunger - panorama of Alhambra