Few places in all the world have the power to arrest the eyes and ensnare the heart quite like the Alhambra in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Glowing every shade of ochre, and pale gold through to deep russet and coral red, it is no wonder that in arabic, the name of the fortress like construct means “The Red One”. But the true treasures of the Alhambra lie in wait inside, where room after room of twisting, tangling geometric patterns, forests of marble columns, and incredibly carved honeycomb like domes seem to reach up into infinity. It is a place which offers visitors a vision from paradise, even when it is (as always) hosting its daily quota of tourists, a sensation augmented by the plethora of pools and trickling waterways, magnifying the space with reflection and filling its stone halls with the gentle harmony of trickles and splashes.
Originally constructed as a small fortress in AD 889 on the remains of Roman fortifications, the complex was constructed into its current state of glory by the Emirate of Granada in the 13th century. Converted into the most lavish royal palace the world had ever seen, it was revered by the reconquering Christians when they took the city in 1492, becoming part of the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella and subsequent monarchs. While they embellished the site in turn with Renaissance-style palaces which didn’t quite live up to the beauty of the Moorish offerings, they did so at least in the same glowing gold stone thus creating the complete whole which now permanently characterises the landscape of Granada. Shockingly, the palace was later allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, until it was rediscovered following the defeat of Napoleon, becoming the favourite of Romantic-age travellers and inspiring generations of artists, poets, and writers since.
Today, unsurprisingly, the site is UNESCO protected and is a ravishing complex of echoing courtyards and colonnaded porticos each enjoying the most incredible views over to the Albayzín below. Lucky then that these hallowed halls should be salvaged for generations to come, where we can but imagine the lives of kings and their hareems languishing in the finest coloured silks by reflective pools and in throne rooms built for the imperial best. Beyond, of course, are the gardens, perhaps the most sensually lavish spectacles of all. But those wonders of nature and man’s creative touch I will leave for another day.
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