Alhambra, Granada, Andalucia
"A pearl set in emerald"
Alhambra is one very special place that is worth the 1.5 hour drive from Cortijo Valverde Rural Country House B&B. Although just missing out on being voted one of the new "Seven Wonders of the World", Alhambra is an amazing architectural and botanical symphony composed over centuries by man's creativity and determination. There is no other place in Andalucia that so clearly demonstrates the reconciliation of Moorish and Christian cultures that make Andalucia such a special place.
As usual with places in Andalucia, there are many theories on the original of the name. Some hold that the name Alhambra signifies "The Red Place" in Arabic (Al =the + Hamra =red) hence Al Hamra which subsequently became corrupted in use to Al Hambra. This was probably derived from the colour of the sun-dried tapiaf, which the outer walls are built. Some authorities believe the reference to "The Red" is to commemorate the red flare of the torches by whose light the construction was carried out day-and-night for many years. Others associate it with the name of the founder, Muhammad Ibn Al Ahmar; and some believe it derived from the Arabic Dar al Amra, House of the Master. The palace was built chiefly between 1248 and 1354, in the reigns of Al Ahmar and his successors; but even the names of the principal artists employed are either unknown or doubtful.
The position of Alhambra is one of rare natural beauty. Towards the west and north the site commands a wide view of the city and plain of Granada. Towards the east and south it enjoys the magnificent views of the Sierra Nevada.. Moorish poets described it as "a pearl set in emeralds," in allusion to the brilliant colour of its buildings, and the luxuriant woods round them.
Alhambra reached its present size simply by the gradual addition of new quadrangles, designed on the same principle, though varying in dimensions, and connected with each other by smaller rooms and passages. In every case the exterior is left plain and austere, as if the architect intended thus to heighten by contrast the splendour of the interior. This simple exterior typifies the Moorish and Islamic culture of modesty and the fundamental belief in flaunting of wealth to be vulgar and sinful.
Within, the palace is unsurpassed for the exquisite detail of its marble pillars and arches, its fretted ceilings and the veil-like transparency of its filigree work in stucco. Sun and wind are freely admitted, and the whole effect is one of the most airy lightness and grace. Blue, red, and a golden yellow, all somewhat faded through lapse of time and exposure, are the colours chiefly employed. The decoration consists, as a rule, of stiff, conventional foliage, Arabic inscriptions, and geometrical patterns wrought into arabesques of almost incredible intricacy and ingenuity. Painted tiles are largely used as panelling for the walls. The Tower of Justice (Torre de la Justicia) is the original entrance gate to the Alhambra, built by Yusuf I in 1348.
The splendid arabesques of the interior are ascribed to many different kings including Yusef I, Mohamed V, Ismail I, etc. After the Christian conquest of the city in 1492, the conquerors began to alter Alhambra. The open work was filled up with whitewash, the painting and gilding effaced, the furniture soiled, torn or removed. Charles V (1516–1556) rebuilt parts of Alhambra in the Renaissance style of the period, and destroyed the greater part of the winter palace to make room for a Renaissance-style structure which has never been completed. Philip V (1700–1746) Italianised the rooms, and completed his palace right in the middle of what had been the Moorish building. He ran up partitions which blocked up whole apartments. In subsequent centuries under Spanish authorities, Moorish art was further defaced; and in 1812 some of the towers were blown up by the French under Count Sebastiani. The whole building narrowly escaped the same fate when Napoleon’s troops tried to blow up the whole complex as they retreated. Just before this plan was carried out, a wounded soldier left behind to start the explosions, defused the explosives instead and thus saved the Alhambra for posterity.
The park (Alameda de la Alhambra), which in spring is overwhelmed with wild-flowers and grass, was planted by the Moors with roses, oranges and myrtles. Its most unusual feature is the dense wood of English elms created in 1812 by the Duke of Wellington. The park is celebrated for the multitude of its nightingales, and is usually filled with the sound of running water from several fountains and cascades. These are supplied through a conduit 8 km (5 miles) long, which is connected with the Darro at the monastery of Jesus del Valle, above Granada.
In 1821 an earthquake caused further damage. The work of restoration undertaken in 1828 by the architect Jose Contreras was endowed in 1830 by Ferdinand VII; and after the death of Contreras in 1847, it was continued with a fair degree of success by his son Rafael (d. 1890), and his grandson Mariano.
In spite of the long neglect, wilful vandalism and sometimes ill-judged restoration which the Alhambra has endured, it remains the most perfect example of Moorish art in its final European development. Freed from the direct Byzantine influences which can be traced in the Mezquita cathedral of Cordoba is more elaborate and fantastic than the Giralda at Seville. The majority of the palace buildings are quadrangular with all the rooms opening on to a central court.
Pre-booking your ticket and your tour-slot is a prerequisite.