Friday, October 23, 2009

The glory of Granada

(Photos are clickable for a larger view)
Because train services from Valencia to Granada seemed rather hard to find, we took a hire car for this leg, charging off down the motorways which, in this area at least, had no charges. The trip was smooth and uneventful, through orange groves and desert. Sometimes the land was difficult, eroded and very dry where it is not irrigated, with stone quarries cutting large, smooth blocks in one place. As we approached the Sierras we encountered vast scenery, mountains and plains, as well as wind farms and solar collector arrays. Coming into Granada, the troglodyte dwellings, caves hollowing into the soft rock of the mountains, were very apparent. I wish I had been able to get good photos of it. It really was quite strange to see a chimney thrusting up through the side of a hill.

Troglodyte houses near the road

We dropped the car at the airport and took a taxi to our hotel which was the very pleasant Hotel Abadia, an Andalucian courtyard hotel with charming and multilingual staff that was almost in the centre of the old town. Cool and welcoming, though the later downpour made getting back to our room quite difficult. That passed.

Courtyard of the hotel
(I covet the fountain)

The local restaurant, Zeluan, became our local too, for a snack or a dinner or even breakfast.

Capscium, avocado and goats cheese salad at Zeluan

We became addicted to zumos, large, fresh squeezed orange juices. I was not feeling 100% so something like that was easy to drink and gentle on the throat. The town is a noted university town with many foreign students. Its main street is most attractively laid out with unusual lights and lovely trees.

Two types of light fittings in the street

A light in the street at night

In the town we asked at the tourist office about Flamenco shows and checked out the local Moorish souk and market stalls. Very colourful.

Shop in Moorish souk...

...selling very traditional Spanish boomerangs!!!

Now the Alhambra was the main reason for coming to town, and while we had read our guide books, nothing had prepared us for the reality, especially the "walk it out" reality on the ground. You must book tickets in advance, which allow you into the whole site either in the morning or the afternoon. Inside the site are a number of main areas and a few minor ones and for most you can enter only once. The main sight, the Nasrid Palaces, has a timed entry when you can go in the doors. What you do after that is up to you, and you could sit and dream until they throw you out.

Our plan became to go to the far end and see the Alcazaba, a huge fortress with amazing views out over the city and mountains, then return to the Nasrid Palaces for our entry, then see the Generalife Gardens. Basically that worked really well, except that by detouring to see a weird palace of Carlos V, like a French Renaissance flying saucer dropped in the middle of this Moorish beauty, we lost the right to visit part of the walls and gardens. However, we did take about 4 hours to see the whole site, so we were well pleased. Had we known more at the time, we may have spent some time there first, as it has some explanatory exhibits about the Alhambra.

Panoramic of the town and hills from the Alcazaba

Detail of the wall that used to protect the town

Part of the Alcazaba towers

While the Alcazaba was interesting and huge, with wonderful views, nothing could prepare you for the delicacy of the Nasrid palaces, a series of beautiful rooms, terraces, courtyards and halls decorated in the finest stone lacework and plasterwork, tiles, mosaics and inscriptions. There was no furniture, but just sublime decoration done with refinement. Even changes that were made later, such as connecting disparate palaces with walkways, failed to disturb the harmony. There were the merest trickles of water murmuring through basins and fountains, reflecting ponds, lovely hedges and greenery, a few trees, a window framing views to the hills, a quiet place to sit and contemplate. I guess the word is serene. Of course none of the photos could capture all this especially as lots of other people were there at the same time.

Column capital

Fretted windows and decorations of plant forms and Arabic script

Arch above windows

Ceiling formed of overlapping wood

A trickling fountain

Reflecting pool in the Court of the Myrtles

Columns in the Court of the Lions
(The fountain here is undergoing restoration)


Star shaped cupola, a masterpiece of Nasrid architecture

Detail of the star cupola
(those little honeycombs are called mocarabes)

Patio de Lindaraja

Outside, after wandering awestruck, we encountered formal rose gardens and then checked out the incongruous Carlos V palace, which is square and Renaissance outside and circular inside. It was not finished in his lifetime and building still goes on today, I am told.

Palace of Carlos V
(a poor panoramic but the best I have)

We then walked on to the Generalife Gardens. These were designed as a summer residence, with an emphasis on cooling greenery, shaded walks, fountains and pools. A delight to the ear, eye and body. There have been quite modern changes like a theatre incorporated into the gardens, but there is no reason for these places to be frozen in time. It would have been most pleasant on hot summer days.

View of the Alhambra complex from Generalife

New gardens of the Generalife

Fountain in the New Gardens

The Patio de la Acequia

That night we sat in our little Andalucian courtyard with a fountain and the lovely pebble patterned paving, having a drink of wine and just coveting this type of lifestyle. Can I build a courtyard house in Epping? I want that little marble fountain but I have nowhere to put it. I think I want to live in Spain...

The next day was spent visiting the cathedral, very impressive with enormous gilded altarpieces sadly in need of a good dust and two matching organs with trumpets which must sound magnificent. The Royal Chapel wouldn't allow photos so we didn't go in.

Main altar and organs

Cathedral dome

That night, late for us, we visited a Flamenco show out at the Sacremonte quarter, mainly a gypsy area and with much of the housing burrowed into caves in the hills. This was touristy, no doubt, but the dancing was quite good, especially an older dancer who was so expressive with her hands and body. I am not sure I would recommend the show but it was of interest.

Flamenco dancer

Dancer in the gypsy caves

Later they took us through the local village, where a festa was in progress, to the lookout on the Alhambra. Very impressive at night.

Night view of the Alhambra

There is not a lot of doubt that the Alhambra is the star turn in Granada and I know of people who visit it again and again. I can understand why. I could wish for a comfortable seat in a quiet corner overlooking a garden and fountain, all to myself. That would be both delightful and restful which I gather was the intention of much of the architecture anyway.

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