Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Alhambra & Generalife: The Golden Age of Islam

After Córdoba and Seville were reclaimed by the Catholic Kingdoms in the 13th century, Islamic refugees fled to Granada, where the Nasrid Emirate established a separate state for themselves, taking up residence in a lavish royal palace high up on a hill in the heart of the city, where they reigned for more than 250 years in the Alhambra before finally succumbing to the besieging Catholic Monarchs in 1492 — the last bastion of al-Andalus in Spain. The Alhambra is Granada’s love letter to Moorish culture. Set against a backdrop of brooding Sierra Nevada peaks, this fortified palace complex started life as a walled citadel before going on to become the opulent seat of Granada’s Nasrid emirs. Their showpiece palaces, the 14th-century Palacios Nazaríes, are among the finest Islamic buildings in Europe, together with the gorgeous Generalife gardens. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984, Moorish poets described the Alhambra as "a pearl set in emeralds," an allusion to the colour of its buildings and the woods around them. Designed to reflect the very beauty of Paradise itself, the Alhambra is made up of gardens, fountains, streams, a palace, and a mosque, all within an imposing fortress wall, flanked by 13 massive towers. It was the residence of the Moorish kings of Granada and their court, and it typifies the glory of Al-Andalus, the Golden Age of Islam in Spain. When London and other cities in Northern Europe were no more than a collection of mud and timber dwellings, cities such as Granada, Toledo, and Cordoba were the epitome of refinement and elegance, with paved streets, public parks, baths, and libraries. Learning flourished and different religious communities lived together in tolerance and peace, and the architectural summit of this Golden Age was the Alhambra. 

Swirling vine leaves and foliage carved in stone, Moorish arches, and white and blue tiles, all add to the palace’s beauty, with many of the walls covered with Kufic inscriptions and poetry of Ibn Zamrak, considered to be the most brilliant of the poets of the Alhambra. One the most prominent and oft repeated inscription states “Wa-la Ghalib illa Allah” — There is no victor but Allah, which we had translated by our sensational guide Juan Civantos. Each of the buildings are built around a courtyard with fountains everywhere, surrounded by green cypress trees and myrtles reflecting the perfection of eternity. Sitting on top of a plateau of rare natural beauty, the site is wafted by breezes from all directions, making it a cool and refreshing place to relax in the heat of the seemingly endless Spanish summer. The most popular tourist attraction in Spain, the Alhambra’s Lions’ Court, built in the second half of the 14th century by Mohammed V, is a spectacular courtyard, restrained in its beauty and opens on to three beautiful rooms. In the centre is an unusual fountain in the form of an alabaster basin supported by 12 lions, which used to function as a clock, with the different hours spouting water from a different lion. After King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella seized the Alhambra and made it their own, the whole complex was then consigned to oblivion for centuries. A succession of rulers made disastrous alterations, whitewashing over many of the walls, blocking up doorways, and dividing up rooms. An earthquake in 1821 almost finished the building off, and even emperor Napoleon had wished to blow up the whole complex, as his wars in Spain turned sour. American writer, Washington Irving, made the Alhambra known once more in the last century by his book, Tales of the Alhambra. It was a key work in popularizing Granada and the Alhambra, inspiring visitors from all over the world for generations to come.

Palace of Emperor Carlos V in the Alhambra

A cat on the hunt for unsuspecting pigeons

The Tower of the Homage and the Arms is one of the oldest parts of the Alhambra, and was where those entering the Alhambra from the Albayzin had to leave any arms or weapons

Blossoming Almonds Trees by the twin towers in Plaza de los Aljibes

View of the Albayzin which forms the medieval part of Granada, and retains the narrow winding streets of its Medieval Moorish past dating back to the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada

The snowy mountain range of the Sierra Nevada or Sulayr, Mountain of the Sun 
as it was called by the Muslims

This small patio between the Mexuar and the Gilded Room, the Cuarto Dorado of the Comares Palaceconnects both Nasrid palaces of the Alhambra

Fine alabaster white stucco work

Inlaid wooden ceiling of the Comares Palace

Detail of Islamic inscription — “There is no victory other than from God” — in the El Mexuar, 
the reception hall for receiving dignitaries 

The reflecting pool in the Patio de los Arrayanes known as the Court of the Myrtles,
the focal point of the Comares Palace

The rectangular Court of Myrtles is abutted to the west by the rectangular Mexuar hall, where state business was conducted, and the Patio of the Cuarto Dorado, used as a throne room for the Sultan

The Hall of the Ambassadors was the grand reception room and the largest room in the Alhambra, and where the throne of the sultan was placed opposite the entrance 

The ornately carved ceiling of the Throne Room is ocmposed of 8,000 inlaid pieces of cedar from Lebanon symbolizing the complexities of the created universe

The Court of the Lions is at the heart of the private section of the palace, and represents the heavenly garden of Islam, with the King's residence and private apartments sitting around it

An arched covered patio encircles the courtyard and displays fine stucco carvings 
held up by a series of slender columns

Chosen families of tile makers were adept at crafting a unique stye of geometric patterns and signed their name to their creations accordingly

Lindaraja balcony and window in the Palace of the Lions with views over the Court of Lindaraja

View of the ancient Alabacin and Socremonte quarters of Granada

Honeycomb stalactite or "moçárabe" vaulting in the Hall of the Abencerrajes
is highly ornamented with glazed tile dados, carved stucco, and muqarnas

Two decorative pavilions protrude into the courtyard on an East–West axis accentuating the royal spaces behind them: the Sala de los Mocárabe and Sala de los Reyes

Underneath the base of Lion´s fountain run four water channels, each symbolizing the four rivers of paradise

The Muqarnas Dome of the Hall of the Two Sister is the second main chamber of the Palace of the Lions, with decorated vaulted stalactite ceiling is similar to that of the Hall of the Abencerrages

Many of the walls in the Alhambra are lavishly decorated with tiles laid in intricate geometric patterns, predominantly blue and yellow

The Palacio de Generalife was the summer palace and country estate of the Nasrid rulers 
of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus

The Palacio de Generalife was the summer palace and country estate of the Nasrid rulers of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus, a magnificent fortress that housed the sultans who ruled Granada until 1492. Separated from the Alhambra by a gorge, and overlooking the Nasrid palatine city, the Generalife is composed of terraces arranged on the hillside, with pavilions overlooking courtyards and lush gardens. From the Generalife, the Nasrid rulers and their guests would also have enjoyed views of a productive landscape of orchards, crops, and grazing animals. A soothing ensemble of pathways, patios, pools, fountains, trees and seasonal flowers of every imaginable hue, it takes its name from the Arabic jinan al-‘arif, meaning 'the overseer’s gardens'. This soothing sanctuary of pools, courtyards, flower borders, mazes, topiaries and walkways is considered one of the world’s great gardens and continues to influence garden design today. 

A large central pond faces the arched portico frames the Tower of the Ladies

The beautiful Avenue of the Cypresses with fountains and mosaic-style paths of the Generalife

View of our Parador de Granada from the Generalize Gardens

Bell tower of the Church of Santa Maria within the Alhambra complex
was completed in the 17th century on the site of the Alhambra's Great Mosque

Looking towards the Alhambra from the gardens

View of the twin towers of the Alhambra

The Water Garden Courtyard 

Fruit filled orange trees and arcaded porticos in the Court of the Sultan

View of the Generalife from our room at the Parador

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