Friday, May 1, 2015

Alhambra, the red fortress, Part 1

We had to take a tour.

I hate tours. You always get that one jerk in the group who asks a bunch of dumb questions or the one who thinks he knows more than the guide. Or you have a guide that's a robot and doesn't care that you're only there once. I avoid tours like dog doo on the sidewalk. But we didn't have a choice. When I went to buy tickets to Alhambra two weeks before our trip, all of the tickets were sold out.

Am I glad that happened. There are many places in Alhambra that aren't open to the general public and require a guide to enter. Ours was named Guillermo. He was great.

Alhambra (al-hamra in Arabic, meaning "red") was originally constructed as a small fortress in 889 but was not well-maintained. The present structures date back to the 11th century, when the Moorish emir Mohammad ben al-Ahmar built the palace and walls. It was converted to a royal palace in the 13th century and embellished by the Nasrid dynasty, who were the last Muslim emirs of Spain before Ferdinand and Isabella conquered Granada in 1492. Christian rulers built another palace on the complex and kind of ruined some things.

(Ferdinand and Isabella ruined a lot of things.)

We actually got up at 8am for a 9am tour. I was not going to be late. The tour instructions I got after I made the reservations online had a lot of exclamation points. I had gotten a call in Barcelona that our 10am tour had been moved up an hour, but the message was left on voicemail and I had failed to confirm the reservations 24 hours in advance like it said in all caps in the tour instructions. One thing I really liked about Granada on the practical side of things was the availability taxis. Our hotel was a block from a taxi stand and we easily got a cab. As we climbed the hills up to Alhambra, we had no idea what we were about to see, because the buildings are all so close together that you could not see the fortress from the city below, at least not where we were.

I was so afraid that our reservations would be lost because I hadn't called to confirm, but when we got to the meeting center, everything was relaxed - ordered, but relaxed. The people in our group were mostly older than even Chris, and we were lucky because everyone in the group was so polite and respectful. When we headed over, we met Guillermo and he explained everything we were going to see before we went inside.

Entering the complex
The first thing we learned was about the water. Alhambra sits on a hill, and when it was originally built, there was no water on the hill. The architects built a series of aqueducts, canals, and wells that brought water from the mountains. It's really quite ingenious.

The first site we saw looked like an ordinary fortress tower. Not really all that impressive aside from the fact that it's NINE HUNDRED YEARS OLD. But...

Inside was a palace. As it turns out, the plain tower was by design, as it was meant to fool people into thinking it was a military site when it really housed royalty. The princesses had their own chambers in this tower.

It was incredible. I tried to imagine what it was like full of rugs and pillows and it must have been beautiful. It still is.

The art work was made of a mixture of marble and plaster and was constructed in tiles. Much of it contained Quranic words or phrases, as the depiction of people and animals is forbidden in Islam because they are considered idols.

I can read Arabic, but I have never been able to read these kind of scripts.

The views from the tower were incredible. Spring had brought everything to life. The surrounding area was so green, even the damp air couldn't drain the place of color.

It says "Allah"

The gardens were spectacular. One could imagine why the royals never left the compound. They had everything they ever needed. April in Spain is perfect.

This is a California redwood. Yes, from California.

Next up: the palaces.

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