Bruno Reynell takes us around the Alhambra
The first thing that hits you upon arrival in Granada is the heat; 40-plus degree, dazzling, stifling heat. Leaving the terminal building of Federico García Lorca Airport, I remember my first minutes being spent waiting for my eyes to adjust to the blinding light reflecting off every surface in sight, from the whitewashed walls, to the martian-tinged earth of the surrounding landscape. Even breathing seemed more difficult in those first moments; hot, dry pockets of air invading my lungs and throat. Hardly the place you would expect to find a splendid palace filled with lush vegetation and plentiful water.
Indeed, it is this contradiction with the bare surrounding landscape and unforgiving conditions, which makes the Alhambra such a marvel to behold. It seems to have in abundance everything that is lacking beyond its walls. Located just east of Granada’s city centre, the Alhambra stands as an immense historical monument to Moorish culture of centuries past. It is difficult to put a date on the construction of the Alhambra due to the staggered nature of its construction, but references to a fortress on the site date as far back as the 9th century. However, it was during the 13th and 14th centuries that the site was converted, by emirs of the Nasrid dynasty, into the fortress-palace complex through which 6000 tourists now roam daily during the summer months. While on the subject of visiting the Alhambra, a word of advice – be not like my two disorganised friends who didn’t buy tickets until the day before, make sure to buy well in advance to save yourself stress, potential heartbreak, and about €55.
Once safely within the walls of the Alhambra, with a sensibly priced ticket, you soon find yourself walking through the Generalife. The Generalife is an earthly representation of the Arab’s idea of paradise as a garden of delights providing a wealth of pleasure and satisfaction to the senses. A huge range of plants are arranged in an assortment of beautiful gardens. Water is also a constant presence here, nourishing the vegetation, and manifesting itself in the form of graceful fountains and other features, such as the cleverly constructed water-supporting balustrades of a stairway. Here more than anywhere, you get the idea that a wide variety of plants as well as the water to sustain them were indicators of real power and wealth.
The affluence of the Moors is equally evident in the Palacios Nazaríes, the grandest part of the Alhambra complex. Here are most visible the elements of Moorish architectural design to which the Alhambra owes most of its fame. Elegant thin columns support high ceilings and grand arches form perfectly symmetrical rows. However, for me, the most stunning parts of the grand buildings have to be the ornate designs adorning surfaces from the floor right up to the ceiling. You often find it impossible to tear your eyes away from the mesmerising geometrical complexity of the glazed tiles and intricate carvings. Arabic calligraphy and arabesques of flowing motifs intertwine, and the ingenuity of the patterns impress upon the surfaces an abstract, illusory quality.
It is this sublime fusion of nature and architecture that characterises the Alhambra and make it such an intriguing site, as well as an immensely rewarding place to visit. You can spend hours on end here (seriously – I got through four and a half hours on my own), allowing yourself to get lost in the complexity of the site. Of all the places I have been to, it is the Alhambra that really does justice to the description ‘a place stuck in time’, and bathing in the historical majesty of the place is a unique pleasure for the senses.
Featured Image: Bruno Reynell