A palace, a fortress, a walled community, a self-sustained village, Alhambra was all of this and more. Now a World Heritage Site, Alhambra began as a Sultan’s summer home and governmental palace as well as his homage to Paradise. It was also a strong hold of Muslim power in the Iberian Peninsula for 12 Sultan before the Christian Conquest by the Christian Monarchs, King Ferdinand, along with Queen Isabella, in 1492. The Monarchs worked to preserve and enhance the palace and summer home. They also added to the grounds with their own buildings. Carlos V also worked to preserve the beauty as well as the integrity of Alhambra. He also added his own palace with the ancient walls as a honeymoon gift to his bride, Isabella (a different Isabella). However his palace was never finished and never occupied. It remains unfinished now.
Wednesday: We arrived in Granada mid-afternoon, and after a few wrong turns even with our GPS guide, we found our way to the Parador de San Francisco -- the Parador de Granada. We chose this hotel because it is within the grounds of Alhambra, a plateau in the heart of the city. Of the Paradores we’ve visited, it is the most elegant. It was once a monastery built on the orders of the Catholic Monarchs, where there was once a Muslim palace; remnants of the palace remain. Muslim and Christian architecture are intermingled, and the hotel, with its grand interior courtyard, is now totally refurbished and remodeled with an additional “new section.” Now it’s one of the exclusive hotels in Granada. Our room with a view is in the old section. The hotel is a bit of paradise in its own way.
Before sunset we walked down to the city. Out the Gate of Justice and down a very steep hill, we reached another gate to the city of Granada. The narrow street was lined with shops and small cafés and busy with tourists walking up and down. We continued walking down and arrived at the Plaza Nueva (the New Plaza). We explored a bit and found an outdoor café for tapas and Sangria. As night surrounded us, we could hear the percussion of a distant Easter Procession. In time, we hailed a cab to drive us back to Alhambra. Because of all the Easter Processions during this week, he had to take the long way around. It took 30 minutes to walk down and another 30 minutes to drive back.
Thursday: Yesterday afternoon, we had scheduled a private tour -- the only way to enjoy the rich history of Alhambra --for today. We met our guide, Maria, in the hotel lobby at 2:00. Since our hotel is within the walls of Alhambra, we had a short walk to the vast formal gardens so characteristic of the Muslim style and sensibility. Sculpted shrubbery with low bubbling fountains and water canals embedded in the tile floors create a mystical ambiance of tranquility and peace -- exhilaration and serenity spontaneously. The summer houses and the palace were resoundingly reflective of the Moor and Arabic expressions of beauty. The courtyards held visions of glorious serenity and of peaceful yearnings for the unfathomable of the divine. The words I write are not enough but they are the best I have to describe the wonder of Alhambra.
Our three hour tour lasted 4 hours. Maria, our guide, was gracious and so eager to answer all our questions. She was a sweetheart. The tour was in English, but she was delighted that Enrique spoke Spanish. That reality enhanced our private tour.
A full and fulfilling day was even more. Enriching. Enchanting. Alhambra is almost overwhelming. The beauty of the Muslim art is astounding. The precision, the attention to detail, the symbolism, and the vision all augment the richness of color and light and wonder. Room after room, courtyard after courtyard, fountain after fountain, it is unending.
There is so much that I could say about Alhambra but the thing that stood out for me was how the Muslims and the Sultans created enchanting beauty and the Christians worked to maintain and to enhance that beauty. Even as they destroyed mosques to build their own churches, they didn’t destroy Alhambra. Again the realization: Beauty is eternal. It speaks to our soul and to wherever is divine in each of us, and it speaks throughout the Ages.
Thursday was full. We were fulfilled. Granada is an amazing city. A triumph of beauty.