Alhambra – The Palace

I stood in the area roped off by security and impatiently checked my watch.  My assigned entrance time for the old Moorish palatial section of the Alhambra was 4 o’clock. Ever so slowly the line seemed to grow. Periodically dodging stray umbrellas wielded by careless impatient sightseers, I paced quietly. All the while a light misting, not yet rain, slowly fell.

Eventually the clock struck 4 and the line began to ooze forward.  Fifteen minutes later I was in.  The entrance was through a beautifully decorated, if otherwise unremarkable, side entrance chosen more for convenience than shock value.  Once inside, the doorway served as a portal into a beautiful multi-level room.  With walls covered in crawling Moorish carvings and wooden ceilings decorated with carved and inlaid wooden designs, the room had a powerful feeling to it – perhaps cozy describes it better?  I can only imagine how visually overwhelming the site would have been when the walls were covered in vibrant colored paints, tapestries and plants.

Careful not to hit my head on the ceiling, I wound down small steps and through the open space. There at the foot of the room the far wall met me in an explosion of stonework.  It was a giant, beautiful wall, carved window to ceiling with astounding intricate designs.  Each portal a glowing orb looking out over all of Granada and the Albayzin.   Even the windows were covered in beautiful stone screen work – a feat in and of itself given the age of the building and its constant battle against the elements.

With some difficulty I abandoned my inspection of the first room and walked across a stone floor worn smooth by the passing of tens of thousands of feet each year.  I soon found myself in another room, again covered in beautiful carvings but made even more impressive by an intricately carved wooden ceiling with beautiful metallic inlays that artistically helped highlight the true complexity of the wood and metal work I was seeing.

As I wound through room after room, covered floor to ceiling, in beautiful flowing patterns and Moorish script I quickly realized that I was growing numb to it.  The artisan’s work was so prolific, so impressive in scope that in an odd way it had begun to become mundane. My overloaded brain seemingly had decided enough was enough and left me rubbing my eyes, shaking my head and striving to pick small focal points within the designs that I could explore closely without overloading.

Moving at a leisurely pace, not unlike that which you would use in a museum, I wandered down hallways into small rooms, grand rooms and across beautifully decorated courtyards.  The courtyards often were decorated with beautiful tile work, small fountains and manicured greenery in addition to the carved wood and stone features that decorated the rest of the palace.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the stonework was the vast diversity of the intricate design elements.   I cannot fathom how difficult it was to repeat specific elements in the design motifs while making the stonework in each individual room unique and elegantly different.

One of the largest open spaces within the palatial complex was the central pool.  With a beautiful fountain on one end and a large carved door on the other, the entire space was designed with symmetry in mind.  Despite the tourist hustle and bustle it still maintained a beautiful aura of tranquility.

Beyond the large wooden doors, I woundthrough another series of stunning rooms before finding myself in the courtyard that houses the Alhambra’s famous Lion Fountain.  Sadly, the fountain itself was surrounded by scaffolding and under renovation.  The courtyard, however, transported me back in time to my youth…to days spent dreaming of Moorish palaces while watching the likes of Sinbad and Aladdin.

Throughout the palace I’d noticed beautiful domed stonework along doorways and in the ceilings of small rooms yet nothing prepared me for the scope and scale of the ceilings in several of the larger rooms.  The ceiling, made entirely of carved stone, consisted of thousands of small domed stair steps which you can see in the image above. These tiny domes combined to create the appearance of fabric… an illusion that must have been even more powerful when painted.  Though most has been worn off/cleaned off you can still see periodic signs of the original paint.  As I stood in the center of the room with the walls climbing on either side of me, I could not help but close my eyes and envision the way it might have been.  To this day that thought sends a chill down my spine in the most pleasant of ways.

Sadly, it would appear that the Moors were rather short.  In fact, there were numerous occasions where I found myself ducking at the last moment and just narrowly avoiding a very up close and personal inspection of some of the stonework.

After making my way through the remaining rooms and courtyards I worked my way through a beautiful garden.  The garden was full of fountains and flowers of various shapes and sizes.

Upon exiting the garden I soon realized that my palatial tour had finally come to an end.  Eager to finish the rest of my tour of the Alhambra I set off to explore the old fortress – one of the original parts of the Alhambra.   As I wound back through the areas I had already explored I soon found myself standing before an impressive Moorish gate.  Once through, I ascended another hundred feet or so before crossing through what would have once been a mighty portcullis.  From there it was up onto the castle wall and over a series of winding platforms and interior walls before eventually making my way to the ruins of the ancient keep.  There my legs pumped away furiously as I ascended tiny stairs in a dizzying spiral which eventually dumped me out onto the roof…a large, flat area with a stunning view of Granada and the surrounding countryside.

I stood with a gentle wind playfully tugging at my hair as I to imagined how the city must have looked under siege in 1492 as the Spanish desperately tried to oust the last of the Moors.  As I mused I gently drifted in and out of the present transported by the mist-like clouds that crowned the Sierra Nevada’s in the distance.

Eventually, I made the mistake of glancing at my watch and decided to make my way back to the hostel.  What an amazing place.  What an amazing adventure. If you have the opportunity to visit Granada and the Alhambra it is without a question, a must.