06 March 2013

Winter Travelogue : Alhambra, Granada

Echoes of grandeur after hundreds of years in ruins, carefully preserved.
When I first arrived here, I can barely believe it. This is one of the monuments on my bucket list, and since my family is cheap I have never imagined myself to be in such a place. No hard feelings, family whom I assume didn't even know the existence of this blog (except my mother, she is such a stalker).

 From Plaza Nuevo where it was lined with souvenir shops and restaurants and bars, we walked up this narrow path through a garden hill for about fifteen minutes. 

A fountain in the foothills of Alhambra.

A perfect combination of weather and scenerey made this place a memorable one.

The garden was more like a secondary forest, with water streams on each side of the road. And at the top of the hill just below the entrance of Alhambra there were about up to ten, I think, billboards of multiple floras and faunas from around the world. I did not understand the significance of those billboards especially since none of them had any relation to Spain.

Anyway, we continued walking up the hill where we met a group of school children I assumed to be on a school trip with their teachers. It must have been almost fifty of them.

As we arrived at the main gate, it started to rain briskly, We bought tickets, each for 13 euros but we were scheduled to go in for another hour, so we waited outside having breakfast we prepared earlier.

Anyway, a brief history about Alhambra, it was built by the Nasrid Dynasty, the last surviving Muslim kingdom south of Spain for some hundreds of years. Nasrid was not an Umayyah, which we need another post just to talk about that. The Alhambra complex includes the alcazaba  (basically a watch tower), the Nasrid Palaces built by the first Sultan and his successors, the Generalife (which I learnt later on to be pronounced as He-nera-lee-fay) and a round courtyard built by the Christians who conquered Granada some time in the middle of the 13th century.

Our ticket included all of the places mentioned above.

Before we went in, the counter offered headphone guides for a little below 10 Euros. I thought this was a little expensive, so I didn't take it. Oh what a bad decision that was.

We walked directly to the Nasrid Palaces. The walkway took 15 minutes. On each side tall tree bush were planted giving us that Wonderland feeling; trees twice as tall as I am with ruins of more than a half a millenium old. We were supposed to start our tour at 10.30, and we were 20 minutes ahead of schedule. The next group was already in line waiting for their turn. 

We entered a small courtroom filled with people, and the carvings on the walls were magnificent. Verses of the Quran were written on every space on the wall, and of course the humble and famous 'Laa Ghaalib illaAllah'. I was told that this spesific verse found in Alhambra was written for more than 9000 times around the Palace and the Generalife. Windows on the walls showed us glimpse of the town below, and the view was very beautiful indeed.

As we continued on, we entered an open hall with white marble floors and the usual carvings on the walls, with a marble fountain in the middle. From the guide that was explaining the history to a group of tourist (I was eavesdropping, so did ten others) this hall was where the King would entertain his guests. Another interesting information I heard was that the King heavily decorated the inner walls of his palace but left it plain and simple from the outside, because it is a symbol of humility and to avoid others of being envious to him.

Notice the details of the wall carvings. Amazing, isn't it?
I tried to decipher the carvings on the wall, and I have failed miserably.
This picture didn't do justice to the hall.
"Tiada penakluk selain Allah"
Then we arrived in a garden with a large pond in the middle of it, with a magnificent view of the round courtyard as its skyline view. The pond was very long, and the continuous flow of water and fountains made you feel safe and calm somehow. A perfect place to live indeed.

The pond, or should I say lake, or big a** pond.

An archway going away from the pond.
A great backdrop of Alhambra.
Finally, oh finally we arrived at the Court of the Lions. The gemstone of Alhambra. The center of the courtyard was made of white marble, including the Lionhead fountain. The center was roped off, so no visitor could come close to the fountain. But seeing the fountain itself was more than enough. Legend has it that this fountain will sprout water for five times a day, each for the five times we need to pray daily. But when the Spanish excavated the palace in some late 1800, they cut one of the lion's head trying to figure out the brilliant engineering of the fountain. Sadly, no discovery were made and the fountain were left  broken until this day.

The broken fountain.

It was roped off from visitors.

Arches decorated with mocarabes.
A roof carving, with what's left were vibrant colours painted the carvings.
After the Court of the Lions, we were lead on into several other rooms, towers and halls with just as the same amount of magnificence from what we saw earlier. Some of the rooms were closed for repair. It was not only the walls and fountains that mesmerized us visitors. Even the roofs were carved with detailed geometry. Every inch was given the same attention, as a result a marvel was born to the world. From a glassless window there was a garden with yet another fountain in the middle of it, surrounded by orange trees. 

There was a room here, where an English explorer stayed and started the excavation and preservation of Alhambra in the late 1800s after hundreds of years of abandonment. I didn't take any picture here, the room was crowded and there was nothing special about it, except the fact that this man was the reason we can still visit Alhambra today.

The courtyard. Notice the man in the middle, I believe his name was Groucho.

A couple of ruba'iyat from two of the greatest muslim sufi of all time.
After the Nasrid Palace we went to the Christian courtyard in front of the palace earlier. It was built on the ruins of a Nasrid building after the Christians reconquered Granada. I read somewhere that this round courtyard was despised by even the Christian Kings because it did not match the grandious architecture of the palace and the Generalife. And I had to agree, it was well-made but there were nothing to see. Although, from the middle of the courtyard, the echoes were amazing. We played with echoes here for a good twenty minutes before we went to a souvenir shop in the same building. I bought a book here, my effort to understand the era of the second Umayyah caliphate.

Our visit continued. More ponds and fountains were built from here to Generalife, which is saying something because it took ten minutes to get there. Generalife was a beautiful garden with yes, you guess it fountains and man-made lakes made with perfect geometry. I understand that the Nasrid King would retreat here to escape his busy day at the palace, where he handled his work for his kingdom, entertained visitors and other formal occasions. 

A view of the Nasrid Palace from a garden outside.

A stage before entering Generalife. I don't think this was built by the late King.

Fountains and gardens of grandious status assimilated to make the perfect retreat.

Me in the Garden, yay

I want to have this in my own house one day.

Another garden and fountain, although this was not as beautiful as the others.

A stairway of fountains, again.
Arched by trees, our walk out of Alhambra was melancholic. Ignore the man in the picture, the walkway is beautiful and there was no other picture.
Finally, it was time to go home. It has been a great day in Alhambra. The carvings, the writing on the walls and of course the streams of ponds and fountains will always be in my permanent memory. I can cross another great monument in my Bucket list. After we finished the visit we went back to Plaza Nuevo to find something to eat (Kebab, of course) and we went back to the hostel to rest and pray. 

Today, I am trying to understand the history of Islamic Andalucia. Next stop, Malaga!

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