Golden rays shaded with reddish hues passed right through the gaps of my curtains in my hotel room. I was sipping a strong coffee, whilst admiring the sunrise lightening up the fabled citadel of the last Islamic state of Spain.

The Alahambra

The magnificent Alhambra Palace of Granada was inhabited for centuries by the Moors; Sultans, architects, astrologers, intellectuals, poets, writers, and later on, by the Christian Kings; Ferdinand of Aragon, and Queen Isabella of Castille. The Moors were soon forced to flee, when in 1942 the same Christian Kings brought Spain under a unified Catholic Monarchy, putting an end to the eight centuries of Islamic Rule.

The Alahambra

I have always been fascinated and inspired by the discoveries and writings of explorers and historians. A couple of years ago, during my Spanish history and language studies, I came across a very interesting book; ‘Tales of Alhambra’ by Washington Irving. Apart from revealing important architectural and historical aspects of the now UNESCO World Heritage Site, his stories also recount legends about the Moors and the Spanish, buried treasures, princesses’ romances, Christian/Moor battles, and stories about Arabian Astrologers. One very peculiar phrase that stood out to me was when he spoke about the landlady who he met during his stop at the Spanish Inn just before he reached the Alhambra. She spoke to him about the infernal regions of Loxa;

“The dark caverns in which the subterranean streams and waterfalls make a mysterious sound. The common people say that there are money coiners shut up there from the time of the Moors and the Moorish Kings kept their treasure in those caverns”.

The Alahambra

Some stories can be so poignant; words can stay with you forever. A few years later, during my stay, in Seville’s gypsy quarters of Jerez, I decided to embark on a short trip in pursuit of these caves. With this in mind, I travelled deep inside the hills into Granada’s foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, to enter into the mystical realm of the Albyzin district. In those days Irving had travelled on horseback for five consecutive days. Nowadays, this route only takes a few hours by train from Seville.

With regard to my accommodation, I wanted to be located high on the slopes of Al-Sabika hill, close to the Alhambra – so I stayed at the marvellous 16th Century Palacio de Santa Ines, just at the centre of the district. I selected one of the rooms offering the best panoramic views of this site.

The next day I woke up quite early and walked down a shaded path to the main square; The Plaza Nueva. I had two options; to go straight up to Sacromonte and visit the troglodyte caves, or turn left towards the Alhambra. I decided on the latter and leave the caves for sunset, so I could then end my day relaxing whilst watching a flamenco show. After asking for directions, the Citadel was much closer on foot than I thought.

In a few minutes, after beating the long tourist queues I finally found myself in the long lost Islamic world of Spain.

The Alahambra

Completed towards the end of the Muslim rule in Spain by Sultan Yusuf I {1333-1353} and Muhammad V, Sultan of Granada (1353 – 1391}, the site is a reflection of the culture and art of the last centuries of Moors’ rule of this Southern Spanish region of AI-Andalus.

It was quite a long way up to get to the fortress. At its front is the Alcazaba, also known as the Citadel. It is believed that constructions in this area had already existed before the Muslims arrived in Granada. During that time, Muhammad continued to build the towers around the existing constructions to eventually make the Alcazaba a real fortress and later on, his royal residency. Climbing the foremost tower, one can enjoy the view of the Alcazaba, Granada and the Sierra Nevada in the distance.

I moved on to the Nasrid Palaces. I was immediately enthralled by the intricate architectural details. I gazed at the endless poems engraved on the high walls, which from a distance appeared just like lace patterns – a labyrinth of small courts, narrow passageways that suddenly emerge into open naturally lighted patios. The intricacy of this architecture is infinite; ponds of flowing water, porticoes supported by elegant slender columns, finely carved stuccowork and faience mosaics, domes studded with stalactites and interlaced squinches. A short passageway leads to the Court of the Lions; a beautiful courtyard with a majestic fountain surrounded by very thin columns supporting typical Moorish arches. Just off the Court, is the Salón de los Embajadores. The largest enclosed room in the entire citadel. In this room Isabel and Ferdinand gave Christopher Columbus permission to venture on the discovery of the new world.

The Alahambra

To the east of the Alhambra fortress are the magnificent gardens of the Generalife, who ruled this part of Spain in the 13th and 14th centuries; stunning gardens that play with your senses. A reign of beauty and harmony! This was, at least, the idea behind the gardens; as in their culture, the Moors believed that the notion of heaven was very much linked with the concept of the garden. Unknowingly, I found myself walking in the footsteps of the long gone Sultans in the Garden of Eden – the peaceful sound of the trickling water from the fountains, the rustling sound of the leaves, the perfume of the hundreds of roses planted in each and every corner, and the aromatic smells of some herbal plants which seeds were transported directly from the orient.The Alahambra The Alahambra

The Alahambra

The Alahambra

After heading to the hotel for a late afternoon nap, I woke up two hours later to continue to the Caves of Sacromonte. Located not far from the Alhambra, legend has it that after the Christian Kings expelled the Arabs from Spain, the Court’s Aristocracy buried their treasures deep in the hills of Sacromonte before fleeing Spain. Some still believe so, but the true story must have lost its way through the many legends. It is a fact however, that the first people who started digging, were Muslims and Jews who fled the Citadel during those turbulent times of the Reconquista.

Walking through the irregular but picturesque streets, I could not help myself but peek through the tiny cave windows – in some corners I could spot old photographs of the first families who had established themselves there, old tools, basket work, traditional craft works, old pans in tiny kitchenettes and even old brass beds as some of these caves are still being inhabited. The reason for this could be because of the hold this place still has on the people.

A dance had developed throughout the years, which emerged from gypsy culture – gypsies buried their feelings of agony and repression deep into the ground with their meticulous flamenco footwork. They raised the beauty of their spirit with their intense ‘toco’ of their Spanish guitars, which can nowadays still be appreciated by visitors. At 21.00pm I ran up the steps of the Venta del Gallo, and rushed to one of the caves from where I could hear the Cante Hondo (a particular type of Flamenco Spanish singing). I opened the red velvet drapes covering one of the caves – where I immediately spot of the guitarists.

The Alahambra

The complexity of the architecture evoking eras of a rich history and culture will certainly inspire me to explore more of the remaining oriental treasures in the Mediterranean. Until then, I shall cherish the memories of these days spent at the last stronghold of the kingdom of the Moors in Spain.

 

© 2018 – VIDA Magazine – Mandy Farrugia

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