Monday, January 18, 2010

The ''red'' one

Anyone who goes to Granada always stops here first. Anyone who has seen it cannot stop recommending it to others or stop talking about it - The Alhambra.......edhuku ivalo build up na, ippa naanum adhe dhan panna poren....(click on the pics to see it clearly - I know there are too many in this post but they are few compared to the 500 pics I have !)

Like someone famous (forgot his name....) said - It is actually more than a palace. Its a city in itself with dwellings, offices, mosques, schools, gardens, baths and cemetries. Although the fortifications are strong, the buildings inside are not and people are surprised that it stands to this day !

Now for some history and facts (Remember, Ashok is the historian, I am just writing what I think is right :D): Al-hamra means the ''red'' one and it gets his name from the reddish hills it is situated on. It is a product of three centuries - 13th to 15th century - of construction during the Muslim rule in Al-Andalus (Andalucia today although the extent of the region referred to as Andalucia has changed now), although the first references to the construction date back to even earlier times. The end of the 15th century was marked by a decline in the Islamic era and then started the Christian period (This can be seen in numerous places in Spain where Arabic and Gothic architecture co-exist).

Getting to the visit itself, there are 3 parts to it - Alcazaba, the Royal Palaces (or the Nasrid palaces) and the Generalife. Since it is a city in itself, you can see a number of beautiful gates and walk along the woods to get to different parts of the Alhambra.

Alcazaba (The Old citadel): Numerous watch towers, gates and squares make up the Alcazaba. It was a form of military fortification and one can understand that from the approach to the Alcazaba. There is a narrow path, just wide enough for one person to comfortably pass through and even during this time, he would be watched by the soldiers up in the towers, who can easily summon the whole army, if needed, by throwing a few rocks down into the passageway below then.

Los Palacios Nazaries: This was the part that I really loved - there were 3 portions - Mexuar, Comares, Leones - all equally breathtaking and amazing. Every portion had a beautiful facade, intrically carved horse-shoes arches (check out the one above and the first photo), beautiful ceilings with exquisite patterns made from wood (shown in the second photo) and absolutely delightful courtyards and there were many little details that reminded me of....oh...well.....you will figure that out yourself.

The Hall of the Mexuar is the oldest surviving part of the Royal Palaces (from 1314). This was where the royal court of justice convened. The shape of the room was changed after the conquest by the Christians.

Today, this is one of the favorite spots for brides taking pre-nuptial pictures. Not only do they get a good historical place for their pictures but they also provide some excitement to people like me who can't take their eyes off a white bridal dress with a beautiful veil....rolling eyes !

The facade of the Comares (shown above) with its marble fountain in the middle was another place where people remain transfixed. To me it added an another interesing experience. I was wearing a very desi flowy skirt that matched with the surroundings that Ashok asked me to sit in front of the facade and spread my skirt on my floor (yeah, yeah, like in the movies - no close-up pic here in this post, asai dosai appalam vadai :D) and while I was posing for him, there was this Chinese guy who was also busily clicking and I begin to stare at him and he just says ''very pretty'' and walks off. I was thinking, was that a compliment or an incredible violation of privacy ?! Well, I can't really complain, I did the same to the bride, only I got her back !! Anyway, if you see such a picture of me anytime in Facebook in a Chinese profile, let me know !

When I walked through the facade and entered the courtyard of Myrtles and saw the vast mirror of water that was reflecting the Comares Tower I was travelling through time and space to when I had visited the......oh...come-on....guess.....the Taj Mahal !

Words simply cannot describe the hall of the Ambassadors or the Hall of the boat. By this time, I was really tired of taking pictures and the audio guide had my entire attention.

Another aspect I loved was the ceramic tiling in the Alhambra. There were 2 kinds - One was the mosaics with one or more elements repeated over and over again and the other was called Alicatado tiling where there is no general pattern and the perception depends on the angle and depth of the pattern.

I got a set of minature tiles as a souvenir and they are a pair from each type and matching them is simply a really nice way to play a memory game (or rather a mathematical game since it is all about spotting patterns).

Patio de los Leones (Palace and courtyard of the lions shown below) are the Sultan's private dwellings. We missed the lions, that had gone for restoration but there was enough already to hold our attention. In Islamic tradition, a walled garden is considered an image of Paradise and that is exactly what the courtyard reminds one of.

Using stalactites as a decorative element (referred to as a Mocarabes) was also common in the Alhambra and this was what caught one's eye in the Hall of the Abencerrages. Visitors with necks craned upwards are a very common sight here !

Baño (The Bath house) of the Comares Palace was our next stop. Immersion in water (what we call a bath today) is not a practice observed by Muslims. Water ran through a small central channel while heat circulated from the furnace through underground conduits. On contact with the marble, heated from below, water turned into steam and while this caused softening of the skin and opening of pores, the bathers were rubbed down by bath attendants, who were highly regarded for their skills.

Torres de Las Damas (Tower of the ladies) was our last stop before moving on to the General Life. From here one can see the orchards of the Generalife and the gardens. The structure is based on the idea that this remains a secluded place and yet open to winds and the intimacy is protected more by landscape than by walls.

Generalife: The Generalife comprises of the upper and lower gardens, the water garden (shown above), the cypress courtyard and the water stairway. Although it was not so well landscaped like Japanese gardens, it was beautiful in its own way.

We concluded our visit by visiting the palace of Charles V (and I am not going to describe it, am tired !). We had spent 6 hours at the Alhambra and the only reason we brought our visit to a close was because we were starving (if only we had had the foresight of taking some snack with us !), otherwise I am sure we would have gladly been there for a couple of more hours. A day for the Alhambra is very less.....really......need I say more ?

If you are in Granada or even in the vicinity of Granada, you simply must visit the Alhambra and here are a few tips:
- Make online reservations from www.alhambra-tickets.es
- Pick an early slot like 9 am to enjoy the place with as few visitors as possible. Crowds (group tours, school excursions) get in after 11 or 11:30
- Remember that the Nasrid palaces can be visited only at the time mentioned on the ticket, so plan your time around it.
- Choose a guided tour or rent yourself an audio guide. I prefer the latter option since you can move at your own pace and stop for pictures or have a break.
- Wear good shoes, you will walk the whole day and take a water bottle and some snacks for the same reason. There is a coffee shop inside but like all tourist places its quite expensive and not a lot to choose from.

Salam Alekum!
Hit Counter
Website Hit Counter I had decided to have a counter only after I hit a 1000 views and since it happened last week (as on 14 Dec 2009), now is the time to see some stats :)