Monday, April 02, 2012

the true lion kings

The last time I was in Grenada, the Moors still controlled the city.

It was not quite that long ago.  But those four decades have included several phases of life -- all nicely folded, packed, and stored away on the top shelf.

I went to Grenada for the same reason most tourists do.  To see the Alhambra.  The palace complex where the Moors ruled their Kingdom of Grenada.

The guide claimed it was the second most-visited tourist sight in the world -- the first being the Vatican.  That sounded a bit suspicious to me.  More than tourists who stare at the Eiffel Tower?  Niagara Falls?  Disney World?

If she had said it is one of the most beautiful structures in the world,  she would have had me at “beautiful.”

My last visit was in the winter.  January, if I remember correctly.  The day was cold, rainy, and a bit rushed -- as bus tours often are.

So, when I got up on the morning we docked in Malaga, I was not particularly surprised to see a bank of clouds blocking the sunrise.  As it turned out, there was no need for concern.  By the time we completed our two-hour bus ride to Grenada, the sun lit up the Alhambra.

Like most political complexes, the Alhambra was not built in a day.  The buildings cover a three hundred year period.

The Moorish rulers of Grenada began the complex in 1237 as part palace, part garden, but mostly a fortress. 

When Ferdinand and Isabel (the backers of Columbus’s road show) drove the Moors out of Grenada in 1492, they added several Christian elements.  Isabella lived here.  Founding a convent and issue her infamous expulsion of the Spanish Jews.

In 1558, Charles V built his copy of the Pitti Palace in the Alhambra.  And like far too many of his ego trip monuments, this one was never finished or occupied.  It stands as a sad shell of his ineffectual rule over the Hapsburg Empire.

After two hours on a bus, it was a relief to wander the grounds for three hours.  And wander we did.

Like most fortresses of its era, the Alhambra sits on a hill at the foot of the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas.  It must have looked quite formidable in its day.

Today it simply looks beautiful. Both the buildings and the gardens.

Of course, the gardens are not the same as they were in the time of the Moors.  In fact, I am willing to bet they look a bit different than when I saw them in the 1970s.  But Spain has done a good job of preserving the Garden of Eden feeling the sultans tried to emulate.

I was a bit apprehensive when we visited the Palace of the Lions.  It was my favorite building on my last visit.  The lion court was nice.  But one of the rooms in the palace was stunning.

The lion court left a lot to be desired.  It is being renovated.  The lion fountain is surrounded by plywood.  Making it look like a rather shoddy zoo.

But my favorite room was there.  Just as I imagined it.

The sultan built this palace for his favorite wife -- the one who bore the honorific “sultana.”  And it has the look of the chamber of the sultan’s favorite. 

The ceiling is what stuck in my memory for the past 40 years.  The plaster work creates sculpted figures that remind me of stalactites.   And I suspect the memory will be there until the pine ship slips into the soil.

It is rather ironic that the Catholic Majesties managed to drive out the Moors, but neither they nor their grandson could improve on the wonders of the Alhambra.

Our guide pointed out a new sight in Grenada.  From the top of the hill, you can see a new minaret in Grenada.  More than five hundred years after the last one was torn down.

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