Granada: the Alhambra at night

Nothing is more beautiful, oh Andalusians,
Than your luxuriant orchards
Your gardens, woods and rivers
And springs of crystal.

Your joyful land
Is the Eden of the chosen.
And if I could choose
I would live here

Do not fear hell
Or its dreadful sorrows
For none shall enter Hell
Who has found Paradise.

- O Andalusin by Ibrahim Ibn Khafaja (1058-1139)

We’ve just spent a happy few days rediscovering the sights and sounds of Granada. The highlights this time were the night-time tour of the Alhambra (which is just stunningly beautiful), a visit to the Banos Arabes and, on our last morning, a lovely walk through the lanes of Sacromonte.

We stayed at the beautiful Casa Morisca hotel, just off the Darro.  The house dates back to the end of the 15th century; its outstanding feature is the patio, which preserves its original morisco pool and on all four sides there are galleries supported by pilasters and columns. There are stucco-work arches, panels of original Morisco coloured tiles and multicoloured wooden ceilings.

The Banos Arabes is a Moorish public bath complex, built in the 11th century. It consists of a series of brick-vaulted rooms with star-shaped skylights. After the Christian conquest, it fell into disuse following the prohibition of public bathing.

In Tales of the Alhambra, Washington Irving wrote about seeing the Alhambra by moonlight: ‘On such heavenly nights I would sit for hours at my window inhaling the sweetness of the garden, and musing on the checkered fortunes of those whose history was dimly shadowed out in the elegant memorials around’. For us, walking around the Nazrid palaces and the neighbouring patios in the dark, with the buildings and fountains beautifully illuminated, was amagical experience. The only slight disappointment was, when arriving in the Patio de los Leones, to discover that the lions had been removed for vital renovation work.

The Corral del Carbon is a 14th century caravanserai which is unique in Spain. A horseshoe arch leads into the beautifully-preserved courtyard with marble water trough. It has survived, despite being put to use in the 16th century as a theatre, and then later a charcoal-burners’ factory (hence the present name).

One stroll took us past Manuel de Falla‘s house; from 1921 to 1939, the musician lived in Granada, in this simple carmen, a typical Granada house with a vegetable or floral garden. The house is now a museum.

On our last morning we took a stroll up the winding cobbled lanes of Sacromonte home to Granada’s thriving Roma community. After migrating from India in the 14th century, the Roma people settled mostly in the Muslim-occupied lands in the south (such as the Balkan Peninsula, then controlled by the Ottoman Turks).

Under the Muslims, the Roma enjoyed relative tolerance. The first Roma arrived in Granada in the 15th century — and they’ve remained tight-knit ever since. Today around 50,000 Roma live in the district called Sacromonte. In most of Spain, Roma are more assimilated into the general population, but Sacromonte is a large, distinct Roma community.

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