Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tales of the Alhambra by Jenelle McNeill


I have been counting down the days until our excursion to the Alhambra since I arrived in Granada, (to be exact, I was waiting for 10 days). This past semester, 7 out of 8 of the BC students in Granada took a class that studied the geographical, architectural and literary history of Southern Spain. In this class we took a virtual tour of the Alhambra as a way to focus on the architectural features; including Koranic inscriptions, vegetal and florid designs, and symmetric ceramic patterns.
(Here is the link to the virtual tour! )

Since taking this class, I have dying to see all these ancient monuments up close, and this past Wednesday, I finally did!

The Alhambra was built during the Nasrid Dynasty in the 13th century to serve as a Muslim Palace for the first Nasrid King, Alhamar. The palace served as a home to every Nasrid King until Boabdil capitulated to los reyes catolicos, Isabel y Ferdinando, in 1492.

When the Christian Monarchs reclaimed Granada, they altered some of the structure and design of the Alhambra palace as a way to architecturally conquer the Muslim rulers that had previously inhabited the palace. These changes including shutting down the Arab Baths that had not only served as social space for Muslim rulers but also functioned to produce a natural heating system throughout the castle. The Christians viewed this Islamic tradition as contrary to their pure Catholic beliefs, but did not account for the tremendous cold that would set in without the baths.

These photos show the beautifully recreated Arab gardens and baths where inhabitants of  the Alhambra during the reign of Muslim Al-andalus would bathe, discuss politics, socialize, etc. These baths also served to circulate hot air throughout the Alhambra, especially warming the marble floors to  comfortable temperature somewhat higher than their current below freezing status! 

This is a photo of the facade of the Palacio of Carlos V (the grandson of Isabel and Ferdinand). The palace that he had built on site next to the Alhambra was meant as a statement of Christianity's continued dominance over Islam. In fact, shortly after commissioning the building, Carlos left Granada and never even saw the completed palace. 

Despite the Alhambra's rich political history, it experienced a period of misuse and illtreatment in the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, it was officially "uninhabited" for much of those two centuries, with the exception of the occassional nomad that sought its shelter. However, when Washington Irving, a renowned Romanticism author, visiting Granada, he took up residence within the ancient palace. In fact, he was so inspired by the beauty and history of the building that he wrote The Tales of the Alhambra about its intricate past.

Throughout the Alhambra, from the first door we entered to the private living quarters at the end of our tour, there are remnants of Irving's stay and his memory. Above is a picture of myself and my roommate, Bridget, posing in front of Irving's private fireplace, right across from the desk at which he wrote The Tales of the Alhambra. 

For me, visiting the Alhambra was the culmination of a semester of studying medieval Islamic architecture and Islamic-Christian relations from 711 AD onward. I was amazed by the views from the top of the Alhambra defensive towers and so impressed by how detailed almost every inch of the interior walls were. I was also touched by the Islamic tradition of not expressing outwardly the riches God has granted - this means that the exterior walls of the Alhambra palace are simple and plain, but the inner areas are covered with beautiful inscriptions, carvings, ceramics, paintings, and plaster work. It is an incredible piece of history.

These photos show the impressive craftsmanship of the 13th century Muslims that toiled day and night to erect the massive palace for King Alhamar. The ability to construct such ceramic tile patterns, nevermind such serene and breathtaking reflecting pools, speaks volumes to the culture and lifestyle during Muslim reign in al-andalus! 

So far, the Alhambra has been the most incredible monument I have seen since arriving in Spain, yet, everyday this country is amazing me still.

Hasta luego! 

No comments:

Post a Comment