This cold snap has me dreaming of warm heady delights of Spain, in particular the Alhambra. I am not long back from our May tour and I’m reminiscing on our day spent exploring the network of palaces, fortresses, courtyards, chambers, pavilions and gardens.
It was early morning and still cool when we arrived at the gate with the expectation of another hot day. The scent was intoxicating, a powerful blend of Star Jasmine and philadelphus.
The Alhambra was built in 14th century on a hill overlooking Granada.
The incredible craftsmanship of its decoration has meant its survival as a gem of Moorish architecture and style, now protected and World Heritage Listed by UNESCO.
It was built as a fortress and palace, home to the last three Nasrid kings, the last Muslim kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula and a unique reminder of the rich Hispano-Muslim civilisation that lasted nearly eight centuries.
If you try to imagine these spaces devoid of tourists and the royal court using these chambers all furnished with sumptuous colourful textured cushions and carpets, it all comes to life.
Interior courtyards are surrounded by such chambers where the king entertained, received guests and retired for, lets say, pleasurable relaxation. Above is the second level of apartments where I can imagine wives and children peeping through shutters to see what’s happening below.
This is one such courtyard, Patio de Leones (Court of Lions), probably the most famous, that is open to the sky with channels of cool water supplying its central fountain.
The wealth of detail in the carving of its pediments, walls, arches, columns and even pavements, is quite extraordinary. It’s a neck-bending study of the ceilings with domes, some carved and some tiled.
Elegant slender columns are the feature here with the sun casting intricate shadows as it passes across the space.
Carvings in alabaster of Arabic calligraphy and other symbols are testament to the richness of the decoration of the finest Moorish artistic style.
The Court of Lions is dominated by the central alabaster basin supported by twelve marble lions, with a complex water system that’s recently been restored so that water flows in and out and through jets, one in each lion mouth! Water never overflows the basin.
The proportion here is perfect as is the surrounding arcaded gallery that’s supported by elegant columns. Patterns of light and shadow emphasise this perfection. It’s open to the sky and surrounded by a series of exquisite chambers. Four pavilions project into this court, each is decorated with filigree walls and elaborate domed roof.
It’s important to enjoy and experience these spaces so that they are committed to memory. Just try this – put the camera way – don’t be tempted to view the marvellous scene through your camera lens.
Its position above the Alhambra and outside its walls makes for enchanting framed views across to it and to the snow-covered Sierra Nevada. This was the summer retreat for the Nasrid kings, just a short walk away.
Its beautiful water garden, Patio de la Acequia, has been changed from the original but retains a lively play of water. Being enclosed gives an intimacy and arcaded pavilions either side support espaliered citrus. Shady loggias at both ends and a colonnade along one side keep the visitor shaded from hot sunshine.
If you are planning a visit to the Alhambra, you must buy your ticket beforehand (see the website). Tickets are timed so you will need to be punctual.
Early morning or late afternoon are enchanting times to visit, when the crowds have thinned, the light is soft and your images are gold.
Sandra is a Director at Ross Garden Tours. Check out her Spain tour itinerary here.
Photographs thanks to Shutterstock.
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