Friday, 29 November 2013

Granada Ciudad Real

Some terms to start: Alhambra : Al-Hamra (the red)
General life : Jannat Al-Arif  (garden of paradise)
Granada, (Grenade, Pomegranate, a fruit)

It is important to know that some of the expressions or names of the places visited are distortions of the original Arabic words or names for those places. Granada is high in the mountains and at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains which in November when we visited was already covered in snow. When we left Sevilla it was 20 C. by the time we arrived in Granada the temperature at dropped to 12 C. and at night it was 5 C. quite the difference from the coastal town.

The Sierra Nevada waters cascading down the mountains feed the gardens of the General Life (Jannat Al-Arif) and provides water for the Alhambra fortress and the Palace of the Nazarid (ruling dynasty of the time).

Granada known prior to its conquest by the Spanish Kings as Elvira de Granada, is built on the Sabika Plateau.
We climbed by train from Sevilla and currently a High Speed train track is being built, though our train went at speeds of 150 Km per hour, a high speed train can do 220 Km per hour.

Everywhere you look thousands of Olive trees and a stand of Poplars 

The climb is quite interesting, you leave the plains and hilly countryside covered nowadays by groves of Olive trees and slowly the topography changes to plateaus surrounded by high mountains in the distance, the Olive groves are replaced by Pine forest and large groupings of Poplar which serve to cut the high winds and protect the fruit trees. As we neared Granada the snow covered Sierra Nevada appeared, quite a beautiful site in the bright sunlight.

Granada is a city built on hills and on a plateau, narrow streets from the Middle-Ages when it was still a Moorish town. It is an elegant city with a great cathedral and a Royal Chapel to the Catholic Kings where Isabella and Ferdinand are buried and where their insignia of power, the Silver Crown of Queen Isabella and the Sword of State of Ferdinand are on display. A gigantic mausoleum occupies most of the central space of he Royal Chapel and their tiny coffins, they must have been thin and short little people are below, they are made of wood and covered in black metal sheeting. Flowers and  votive candles light the crypt. Queen Isabella was elevated by the Pope, some decades ago to the title of Servant of God and there is hope that one day she may become Saint.

Dominating the City is the Alhambra, the Red Fortress so named because the setting sun hitting the stone walls turn them red. This is a UNESCO site and can be reached by car easily, you can walk up but it is steep and quite the treck on very narrow roads, allowing just one car to pass at any given time. The City authorities have devised a system of traffic lights to manage the up and the down car traffic.

Granada was the seat of the Nazaride Dynasty the last Muslim dynasty to rule the Kingdom of Granada. The conquest of Al-Andalus starts in 711 by the Berbers several dynasties will rule,
the Ziride, the Almohavid, the Almohades and finally the Nazaride. They are from Medina from the tribe of the Banu Khazraj. The Arab ruler who takes over or conquers Al-Andalus from the Berber Almohades and takes over in 1232 is Muhammad Ibn Yusuf Ibn Nasr, Al- Hamar (the red), Al-Ghalib (the conqueror), at the time the Christian Kings of Spain and their Nobles were reconquering Spain with the support of the Pope in Rome.

He is the one who will build the Fortress and the Palace with the gardens we see today. His dynasty will rule until 1492 when they are forced to surrender to Queen Isabella of Castille and King Ferdinand of Aragon.

To visit the Alhambra complex you need a minimum of 3 full days. It is a very big area divided between the Citadel, the Palace and the summer gardens and Palace. Not to mention of course the Palace built by Charles V in the Palladian style which is used today as an exhibition space. Their is also the Medina which is part of the citadel, the hammam and the Church which stands on the grounds of the former mosque. The Christian Kings understood the beauty of the architecture and the cultural treasure it represented and quickly made of the palace and citadel their own Royal Residence in Granada without alterations to its style.

It does help to read before you go to Granada to understand the history and the people involved. Washington Irving lived in the Nazaride Palace in the rooms of Charles V and wrote a famous book about it, Tales of the Alhambra. He was also a diplomat and served at the US Embassy to Spain with the rank of Minister for 4 years between 1842-46. He was a prolific author and wrote many famous stories, like the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

We elected to visit the Nazaride Palace by night, which is magical, our light was a full moon and some spot lights. Reservations are required in advance and you are allocated a specific time to enter and given one hour to visit the Palace. It was very cold that night and the Palace is on a very high cliff with dramatic views of Granada. But it is so beautiful, it is difficult to describe, you go from marble courtyard to marble courtyard,  you admire the intricate wood carved ceilings and the Yeso tiles decorating the walls ( carved plaster tiles forming intricate decorative patterns) . The Motto of the Nazaride is visible everywhere on the walls woven into the pattern, Wa la ghalib willah Allah ( Only God Conquers all ).

The Alhambra complex does show the Muslim Arab culture at its zenith in terms of artistic creation when Europe was beginning to emerge from the dark Middle-Ages. No wonder the Catholic Kings of Spain and Nobles were astonished by what they saw in Granada and elsewhere in Andalusia, Sevilla and Cordova come to mind. It is also important to remember that there was a great deal of exchange between Muslims, Jews and Christians in Spain at the time, commercial, artistic and cultural.

The reconquest of towns like Sevilla, Cordova and Granada did not mean that all that was built by the Moors would be destroyed by the Christians, on the contrary most of it was preserved and maintained. The Mosque were converted into Christian Churches eventually re-built for a purpose more suitable to a Christian rite but the rest was integrated into the general culture.

Detail of a wall decoration of the Nazaride Palace with in the centre the motto ''Only God Conquers all''

Detail portion of wall decoration, coloured tiles and Yeso tiles above. 

 The Courtyard of the Ambassadors in the Nazaride Palace with its great reflecting pool

Intricate decorations in the Nazaride Palace rooms, reminded me of the Fatimid Dynasty Palaces and Mosques in Cairo. 

 Lions Courtyard 

Lions fountain

This day light photo is dated and prior to 2002 before the Courtyard was restored. But I added here to give an impression of the Courtyard in daylight. In this photo the courtyard is not paved with marble slabs as it is nowadays, instead you have small crush stone. Some older photos show the courtyard with shrubs and flowers surrounding the fountain. In all likelihood the courtyard had plants all around as people would walk in the covered alley all around. The fountain is also interesting, there are 12 lions, symbol of the 12 tribes of Israël. Each lion has a small Star of David on its forehead, interesting when you think this was an Islamic Palace. Shows the ancient connection between Judaism and Islam.

I could add many more photos of this incredible Palace which represent a high artistic achievement in Islamic Architecture. I love the idea of the water element in all the courtyards which in turn serves to refresh and to give life to plants and man. A simple idea which is beautiful and elegant. 

This palace is connected with the one of Charles V (1500-1558) built in the Paladian style and is a completely different school of thought. In this context it appears out of place and ugly.
It was essentially built as a Palace for Official functions where the Nazaride Palace was for personal residential use.

Palace of Emperor Charles V built in the 16th century in the Alhambra complex

The Courtyard of the Palace of Charles V.

I will write a second entry on the gardens of the Alhambra the Jannat Al-Arif aka General life.

1 comment:

  1. what splendid architecture; I love good style and deplore modern tasteless monstrosities.