When Washington Irving wrote Tales of the Alhambra, the Moorish compound was a place seen only by few people from outside Andalusia. It was even then surrounded in myth, despite its almost decrepit state. Irving had the very good fortune of being allowed to live within the fortress and he had the luxury of exploring the buildings and gardens at leisure.
Such privileged adventure is no longer possible. The Alhambra has become one of Spain’s most popular tourist attractions, with thousands passing through its grand arches and gates everyday. Nowadays, instead of the rambling but romantic expedition taken by Irving, one is more likely to get to Alhambra via a generic tour bus and be deposited outside the entrance where several buses will be disgorging even more tourists.
It was raining buckets when we arrived and because we did not bring umbrellas, we gritted our teeth and shelled out 5 euros for one that had broken spines. While we were fumbling with it, our tour group walked on without us. In a panic, we looked for the entrance to the grounds, saw a small gate and entered. The next thing we knew, we were being chased out of the Generalife gardens by two stern-faced guards who thought we were trying to sneak in without tickets, hahaha.
We finally found our group but the heavy rains had not let up and I, who was dressed for a bright, sunny day, was already soaked from hat to heel.
Any person at any other place would have been miserable. But here’s the thing about being at the Alhambra: You stop minding everything and can think only of how absolutely awesome the place is. The Alhambra has been rightly described as magical, beautiful, a sprawling, living museum, one of the most important heritage sites in the world. It is all that. And despite the constant presence of hordes of tourists milling about, its beauty is simply impossible to overrate.
~ See? This is the Patio de la Acequia (Court of the Main Canal) at the Palacio de Generalife ~
~ white marble columns at the Court of the Lions ~
The Alhambra was largely built on the hills of Granada as a fortress and royal residence from the mid-13th to the 15th century by the Moors who were then the rulers of Granada and most of Andalusia. Its name literally means ‘Red Castle’ in Arabic, a reference to the color of the clay used in constructing its walls, which over time have taken on a reddish hue.
~ Court of the Myrtles ~
The following images are of various (perfectly-situated) rooms in the complex, including the Chamber of the Ambassadors, the Hall of the Abecerrajes, and the Hall of the Two Sisters. The intricate detailing everywhere is just amazing.
~ courtyard and garden at the Court of Lindaraja ~
After the fall of Islam in Spain, the country’s Catholic rulers took over the Alhambra and during the 16th century, construction of a palace for King Charles V was started. Ninety years later, it was still unfinished.
The Palacio de Carlos V was built in the Roman style and stands as a symbol of the triumph of Christianity over Islam in Spain. It is considered an architectural aberration within the fortress. Irving wrote:
With all the massive grandeur and architectural merit of the palace of Charles V, we regarded it as an arrogant intruder, and (passed) by it with a feeling almost of scorn…
Our last stop during the tour was the Court of the Grated Window where a covered wooden walkway provides this final spectacular view of the city of Granada.
The best-known writing on La Alhambra (and one that has inspired countless tourists and would-be explorers) is Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra. (If you are considering getting the Kindle version from Amazon, I recommend getting Works of Washington Irving instead, which for almost the same price includes all of Irving’s works, including Tales.).
The University of Adelaide has also generously published an online version which you may read (for free!) here.
If you aren’t sick of my Alhambra pictures yet, there are more on my Facebook page. 😀
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