The Pueblos Biancos, we so often saw in Andalusia, were rare. This bare uniformity of the scenery was what my heart needed: to be filled with emotions. When our guide showed us the small town of Santa Fe and told us it was the site where Isabella and Ferdinand, Kings of Castile and Aragon camped waiting to conquer Granada in 1492, I wondered if my American fellow travellers were touched. I was. I almost stuck my nose to the window and two tears rolled down my cheeks not for the Spaniards, who after three centuries completed the Reconquista, but for Boabdil. Ηe was the last Μοorish ruler of the Kingdom of Granada, who relinquished the keys to the Catholic monarchs. “These are the keys to paradise”, he said. The Alhambra and the gardens of Generalife are literally a terrestrial paradise, created by the last and longest-reigning Moorish dynasty in the Iberian Peninsula, the Nasrids. Again, I deviated from the footsteps I intended to follow; those of Christopher Columbus, who for eight years was lobbying the Catholic monarchs to finance his expedition to the Indies. He followed them all over Andalusia; and because his innate eloquence had no effect, he fled to France, wishing that the French King would give some attention to his plans. While he was en route, Granada fell and royal messengers were sent to stop him. So, he arrived in the Alhambra to listen to the great news! Yes, he could now set off to the Indies.
The red facades of the Palaces, plain and austere, do not prepare the eyes for what they will see inside. An alteration of dark winding passages to well-lit patios with enchanting fountains; covered walkways to sun-filled gardens. Next, you enter spaces of extraordinary beauty: exquisitely detailed patterns and lavishly carved stucco motifs cover the walls; arches leading up to vaulted murqana ceilings, where light is provided by intricate grilled windows. Everything is based upon geometry, epigraphy and vegetal ornamentation.
What should I say about the Comares Tower, whose arches are reflected on the pond? A wonder for the eyes. Legend says that when Boabdil’s mother learned that her son was negotiating the surrender of Granada, she told him from one of the Tower’s balconies: “Look at what you surrender and remember that all your forebears died being kings of Granada and the Kingdom dies with you”. Or what to say about the Court of Lions, the most celebrated fountain of the Alhambra, with its complex hydraulic system? Twelve carved stone lions protect a marble basin in the middle of a patio encircled by a series of slender columns.
“Poetry of Art!” I exclaimed and patiently waited for a Japanese gentleman to take a picture of the fountain. He didn’t decide which photo was the best. He tried again and again, and delayed me. I was behind him to get a good angle of the slender columns“Poetry of Art!” I exclaimed and patiently waited for a Japanese gentleman to take a picture of the fountain. He didn’t decide which photo was the best. He tried again and again, and delayed me. I was behind him to get a good angle of the slender columns8which all together would make up a tasteful set on my picture. A Chinese lady patiently was waiting behind me. I almost lost my companions who were following the guide, who, of course, didn’t care about the beauty of the Alhambra, but to get out of the Palaces and take us to the Generalife gardens on the next hill. The beauty of the gardens was exquisite. It is amazing how the Nasrid rulers combined the sound, the sight and cooling qualities of water into perfect harmony. We arrived at the most beautiful one, a long narrow patio that was ornamented with a canal and two rows of water fountains. At the back, there was a pleasure palace which was used by the rulers of Granada as a welcome retreat from official life.
It’s true that Alhambra is one of the most romantic destinations in the world, and visitors are up to eight thousand daily; but I erased them out of sight and got in their place poets, musicians and odalisques with a languid gaze, who fitted better in the setting. Next, I looked for the gate through which Boabdil, the last Nasrid ruler of Granada, passed through to surrender the keys of the city to the Catholic monarchs. It could be ruined or covered with fig trees and luxuriant herbage. Who knows? The sultan requested with a melancholic tone and a spark of egotism that no one is allowed to pass through the gate after him. His request was respected and the gate was walled up. I imagined him moving away from the walls, riding on his white horse, dressed in brocade and velvet; to descend the steep ravine; and somewhere nearby to relinquish the keys to the Catholic monarchs; and then to continue on his way to meet his family, waiting for him on a hill across Granada.
His sorrowful look, his deep sadness, the end of his kingdom… emotion overwhelmed me…As he was on the slope of a hill, now known as the Slope of Tears, legend says that he turned to look at Granada for the last time and tears rolled down his eyes. His mother, proud Aixa, caught his grief and told him: «You do well, my son, to cry like a woman for what you couldn’t defend like a man”. The bitterness of the aristocratic Aixa is quite understandable. But in her son’s heart, I think, there was another kind of pride: I don’t want this city to be destroyed. I want Granada to stay, to remind humanity of the great culture we have left behind. The defense was useless; the splendid, sophisticated city remained largely intact. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand chose to be buried in Granada. We visited the Royal Chapel, Capilla Real, when we went downtown. It was built over the former terrace of the Great Mosque. The tomb is one of the best examples of funeral Renaissance sculptures in Spain, where I spent some time contemplating, looking at the Catholic monarchs lying in their eternal peace.
by Barbara Athanassiadis, a travel writer
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