December 24, 2015
The white-washed sprawl of Albaicin staggers up along the slopes and above it all is the brooding red-stoned hulk of the Alhambra. Built by the Nasrid emirate, it is a sprawling complex of a palace and fortress.
At sunrise and sunset when it appears to glow, it is easy to appreciate its name – so called because of the red colour of the stone. Originally started by Mohammad Ibn Yusif Ibn Nasr, it was added onto over the years and it was here that the emirate ruled for some two hundred and fifty years. The two centuries of artistic and scientific splendor that peaked during the reign of Yusuf I and Mohammad V in the 14th century shows itself in the elaborate design of the complex.
High walls with battlements and towers with arrow slits stand guard. Inside the walls stand the various buildings, the grandest being the Nazari palace. Like all Islamic architecture, it is built in the form of vast rectangular spaces, one leading into another in a veritable maze. There are open courtyards in between with lavish fountains and channels of water that trickles in a complicated geometry. Rectangular pools laid out with rigid attention to geometry reflect elaborate arched entryways with their multi-faceted muquarnas. The cavernous halls sport ceilings, some more than ten meters in height and each is made of inlaid pieces of wood in intricate patterns. The geometric patterns, so typical of Islamic art are sometimes made of thousands of little pieces put together painstakingly.
Visited by an astounding two million tourists each year, it is beautiful certainly and fully deserving of all accolades. But somehow it fails to generate the feeling of jaw-dropping awe in me. I keep thinking of the mausoleums and mosques I saw in Iran not so long ago. In both antiquity and beauty this feels like a distant cousin.