La Alhambra: Granada’s Crowning Jewel

Tidbits about La Alhambra

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El Albaícin as seen from one of the windows of the Nasrid palaces

When Boabdil, the last Moorish king to rule over Granada, is expulsed from his own caliphate after the fall of Granada  to the Catholic Monarchs, he tearfully looks back at La Alhambra from the mountains where his mother tells him, “No llores como mujer lo que no supiste defender como hombre” (Don’t cry like a woman what you could not defend like a man) Although this melodramatic scene may be the romanticized version of what really occured, it surely was painful for such once great sultan to see the downfall of his own realm in his lifetime and witnessing how magnificent La Alhambra had become before his own eyes come into possesion of his Christian sucessors was truly worth shedding a tear for.

cropped-granc3a1-2.jpgLa Alhambra is the crowning jewel of Granada’s golden age reflecting the art and history of a glorious dynasty that witnessed its rise and fall. It dates back into the middle of the 13th century when Mohammed ibn Yusuf ben Nasr ordered the construction of the palace as a military garrison, as well as a residential complex for the members of the court after the rise of the Nasrid dynasty. When Córdoba succumbed to the Christian rule in the 1236, then followed by Sevilla (conquered by Ferdinand the Saint) in 1248, Granada witnessed the crumbling caliphates of entire Al-Andalus when the nation was divided into small sultanates under different leaders, which paved way for the Christians to conquest each weakening territory. The Alhambra that we know now is not built by a single family but rather a result of succesion of different leaders, each left an imprint as a status symbol of their reign.

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three intricately decorated Moorish arches that lead to the Patio de los Leones.

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entrance to the circular courtyard of Charles V’s austere Renaissance palace

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Charles V’s remarkable imprint of dominance withi the complex of Moorish buildings

Even Charles V had his own Renaissance building installed within the complex of Moorish palaces, which stands out for its European style. The name Alhambra meaning “red” owes it to the color of the material that surrounds the area of which the fortification is built. Perched on top the Sabika hill, the fortress gives an intimidating impression from beneath but beyond its walls conceals refreshing oases, where water abundantly flows through its vegetations and lush gardens. Connected to La Alhambra is the Generalife (the Architect’s Garden), another oasis where the princes of the fortress would take a break in their summer palace. Although forbidding as it may seem from the outside, discovering what’s beyond the walls lets one unfold the secrets of this earthly paradise.

Buenos días, Granada!

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one of the windows inside the Hall of Ambassadors

I had my visit to the Alhambra scheduled at 9:30 in the morning to avoid herd of tourists and the scorching heat of the sun in the afternoon. As the number of visitors is limited to about 6,000 a day, the entrance to the Nasrid palaces is also limited to around 300 people every half an hour in order to protect the whole complex from overcrowding. It is highly recommended to buy the tickets online beforehand instead of standing on queue the whole day thus leaving you no time to see other attractions. I wanted to make the most out of my first day in Granada so I woke up so early from a short night of sleep. With the churchbells ringing right by my window, I had no choice but to get out of bed and enjoy the morning sun. Walking past by the Alcazaba on my way to the Alhambra proper, I encountered a middle-aged couple from Madrid who started chatting me up for at least half my visit to the palace. I turned out to be their photographer and they let me listen to their audioguides in exchange. Even though my supposed visit was at 9:30, there was a long line of people extending from the entrance of the Nasrid palaces to Charles V’s Palace with different time schedules. It was quite a chaotic system but then I was able to enter about half an hour later after waiting in line without any problems. Every room was irresistibly charming and breathtaking but there’s one particular area that left me in awe: La Sala de los Embajadores (The Ambassadors’ Hall). I could imagine how intimidating it would have been to enter that room with the sultan waiting inside. The horseshoe windows that form arches are intricately carved with small openings, so the rays of the sun will leave a silhouette effect of the person standing right by it. Since the Muslims are not to use decorative images of humans and animals, the walls surrounding the room is filled with poetry and praises to Allah, which are delicately chiseled and immortalized not only in this particular room, but also on every wall of La Alhambra. But one curious feature of the palace is the Patio de los Leones (Court of  the Lions), which apparently shows images of lions adorned as fountains in the middle of the court. Construction began in the 14th Century under the ruler Muhammad V, it is to be believed that the patio is the most intimate realm of the Nasrid palaces, gaining its influence from the Patio de la Doncellas in Seville.

Patio de los Leones

Patio de los Leones

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