If you ever visit Granada, the number one thing to do during your stay will be to visit the Alhambra. It’s almost impossible not to. It dominates the city, perched high on the Sabika Hill. It dates from the mid 13th Century, built by the Moorish emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada and occupied by the Nasrids until the Christian Reconquista in 1492 . In 1984 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and today it attracts over 2.4 million visitors a year. If you want to find out more about its history (which is fascinating even to a non historian like me) then click here. However this post is not about the history of Alhambra, I simply want to describe what I find so moving about this incredible palace.
We've only been to the Alhambra twice so far. The second visit was quite different to the first. The first time i was so overwhelmed I didn't really look at the detail but on our visit a few days ago I made sure I looked closer. As a designer I am fascinated by the moorish style pattern, both organic and geometric. By the time you reach the entrance of the palace you've already been 'wowed' by the exterior and you're probably expecting some huge awesome rooms inside. But what you might not expect and cleverly, the very first room you enter is full of it, are brightly coloured, minutely detailed tiles and intricately carved plaster walls and ceiling. It’s a big room. And you think oh yes - that’s impressive. But 2 hours later (not joking) as you work your way round the warren of rooms you realise that first room was just the tip of the iceberg.
The scale of the hand moulded, sculpted and coloured pattern in the Alhambra is beyond anything I have ever seen before. Everywhere you look there’s a new geometric pattern, architrave detail, ceilings dripping with stalactite type creations (mocárabe) and walls circled with endless streams of arabic calligraphy. The windows (usually up high as part of a clever ventilation system) are filled with intricate lattice work which, as the sun streams through, creates yet more pattern in the form of shadow. For me as a graphic and textile designer the intense attention to decorative detail is what makes the Alhambra literally jaw dropping.
Neither descriptions nor photos can do it justice but here are a few of my photos that give you an idea of the scale of the craftsmanship. The quality of preservation is quite staggering too.
On our first visit, because we were so overwhelmed (and exhausted) by it all, we completely missed visiting the gardens, specifically the Generalife (pronounced hen-er-al-ee-fay) Well, this time we had a proper look round and, at this time of year especially, my jaw was on the ground again!
It's mid November and there is not a cloud in the sky. Every single Autumnal colour imaginable was bursting from flowerbeds, walkways, walls and staircases. It’s not like a formal garden as we know in the UK. It's constructed on many different levels, packed with carefully tended roses, fruit trees, vegetables (market garden), palms, fountains, waterways and there is even an outdoor theatre which we shall be visiting in the summer. Oh and did I mention the view?
Over the next year we shall return to the Alhambra many more times. I want to see how it changes with the seasons and I'll be using the colours and pattern of the Alhambra and Granada city in general as base inspiration for my online shop which will be launching early next year over on AWDesigns (more on that later!)
Of course, the photos don't do the Alhambra justice… so, you will simply just have to come and visit! I can honestly promise you will not be disappointed.