Granada has always been an alluring name to me. Perhaps it was the song. “Granada,” which I’ve always loved, or perhaps its role in the life of El Cid, one of my favorite film heroes. Just the sound of the city sounds romantic and mysterious.
Little did I know how much more awaited me.
I started to get an idea when our program director (i.e, guide, guardian, friend, font of all Spanish history wisdom) told us that Washington Irving is at least partly responsible for the survival of what has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as the most visited attraction in Spain.
And what is Alhambra? I’d heard the name, but I had no idea of the scale and beauty and wonder of Alhambra, a palace and fortress complex hovering over Granada since the mid-1300′s. It was constructed during the mid-14th century by the Moorish rulers on a site once held by the Romans.
While held by the Moors, the fortress was capable of containing an army of forty thousand men. It was the royal abode of the Moorish kings, where, wrote Washington Irving, “surrounded with the splendors and refinements of Asiatic luxury, they made their last stand for empire in Spain.”
It was occupied by the Moors for approximately 150 years before the re-conquest by the Catholic monarchs in 1492. And when that happened, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Castile could turn their efforts from war with the Moors to other things. One of the “other” things was financially supporting Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the New World.
And where did Washington Irving come in to the picture? The author of “The Headless Horseman” was in Spain writing a history of Christopher Columbus when he heard of the Alhambra, then deserted for a century by its royal owners because of repeated shocks from earthquakes. Then accounts differ slightly. But the one I like is the one told by our guide and by Washington Irving himself in “Nights At Alhambra.”
According to our guide’s account, the writer took up residence in Alhambra with a bunch of gypsies and thieves and vagrants and fell under its spell. He was befriended by a Spaniard whose family had lived in Granada for generations and knew Alhambra well. Throughout the author’s stay, he filled notebooks and journals with descriptions and observations although he did not believe his writing would do Alhambra justice. He wrote, “How unworthy is my scribbling of the place.” After leaving Alhambra, he continued to travel through Spain until he was appointed as secretary of legation at the United States Embassy in London (1829). His account of his stay at Alhambra, according to this story, stirred international interest in the fortress/castle, and the Spanish government — and the world — took interest in the derelict. Restoration followed as did its recognition as a World Heritage Site. Today, it is the most visited site in Spain, and it is in remarkably wonderful shape.
All because of an American writer. I love it.
And I loved Alhambra. Its size and beauty and condition defiy description. I certainly agree with Washington Irving on that point. I loved the fact that the Moors in the mid-1300′s, according to Washington Irving, developed a series of aqueducts that circulated water throughout the palace, “supplying its baths and fish pools, sparkling in jets within its halls, or murmuring in channels along the marble pavements. When it has paid its tribute to the royal pile, and visited its gardens and parterres, it flows down the long avenue leading to the city, tingling in rills, gushing in fountains and maintaining a perpetual verdue in those groves that embower and beautify the whole hill of Alhambra.”
I was also fascinated with the harem’s quarters. You can see the women’s quarters placed beneath a balcony well shielded from sight. It is still grated and latticed. The best apartment, according to our guide, always went to the wife who was the oldest son’s mother. If the oldest son died, then the mother of the next oldest would move into the best apartment. Thus, she explained, the heirs often suffered early and mysterious deaths.
Alhambra is huge and beautiful, and the mixture of Moorish and Christian architecture fascinating. Islanic style is elegant yet simple. No statues. No gold. But the workmanship in design, in the tiles decorating walls, and the wood carving is breathtaking. There are pools everywhere. The gardens are vast, and I only wish it had been spring and summer. I can’t even imagine their beauty then.
There are also, according to Washington Irving’ , ghosts and myths and romance. He cited one example witnesssed by an invalid soldier, who had charge of the Alhambra to show it to strangers. One evening, as he was passing through the Court of Lions, he saw four Moors richly dressed, with gilded weapons. They were walking to and fro, with solemn pace, but paused and beckoned to him. The old soldier, however, took to flight and never again entered Alhambra. It was believed the Moors intended to reveal the place where their treasures lay buried. Ycu You can read more of Irving’s account of his days in Alhambra by going to http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/i/irving/washington/i72a/part3.html
If you have trouble, you can just Google Washington Irving.Alhambra and you will come to it. It’s lovely writing and describes Alhambra far better than I.
And it’s free. You can travel from your home.
A do apologize for not having more photos. For some reason, the blogging site has decided not to cooperate. I hope to have more later. I might add I stayed up to four a.m. trying to include them and therefore take no responsibility for the content within this blog.