Al Andalus: La Alhambra, part I

Divagación Andaluza

Patio de los Leones, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
Entré a la sombra de moras bóvedas
con paso firme y alma ligera
(sabor a alcázar y olor a gloria,
rumor de fuente en la alameda.)

Del aposento de árabes brisas
al amplio patio del león de piedra
hay canto de ave y susurro de agua,
cual un murmullo que al cor hechiza.

Dejo ya el arco de las granadas
rumbo a la plaza al pié de la cuesta
(calor de tarde y hora de siesta,
blanco silencio y doradas risas.)

Trinos de bronce canta la torre
y Elvira augusta a la vida torna
(fulgor de viento, frescor de sombra
jazmín fragante en la suave onda.)

Buena fortuna en las verdes ramas
llega a mis manos rumbo a la iglesia:
aire de hechizo, sangre gitana,
¡rumor de fuente en la alameda!
                                     Granada, 03.13.2001

I wrote "Divagación" (digression) 10 years ago sitting at the foot of a street lamp in a plaza near Granada's cathedral.  I had spent the morning wandering through the ornate halls of the Alhambra and, though I was not (nor am I now) a poet, the beauty of the place moved me to a flight of fancy which at the time seemed best expressed in decasyllabic verses.

The Palace of Charles V.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
10 years later the Alhambra still holds me in her spell, perhaps more powerfully now that I share the experience with John, who has the devotion to walk at my pace and indulge me in endless observation, and who listens interestedly and patiently as I lecture him (and my imaginary classroom) on the virtues of Moorish architecture and gardens.

La Calle Real.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
The morning is gray and cold as we make our way up the hill, but in the distance the ancient ramparts and towers are imposing even in the mist.  We approach the palace through the ruins of the Medina (Moorish city), and as we walk through the gardens the day turns to gold.  The Calle Real (the royal street) leads past the ancient mosque and its bath, finally opening into a terrace guarded by the Alcazaba (the fortress), the Puerta del Vino (the Gate of Wine) and the Renaissance palace of emperor Charles V.  The view is...spectacular:  The snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada cradle Granada to the East, and on the North the Albaicín rolls gently on the San Miguel hill in a symphony of white walls, red roofs, and green gardens.

La Puerta del Vino.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
The Sierra Nevada seen from the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
The Albaicín neighborhood.  Granada, Spain.

"Magia se respira en Granada" I wrote in my journal in 2001; as it was then so it is now: magic breathes over Granada and her Alhambra.  John and I cross the threshold and the cool shadow of the Mexuar palace welcomes us:

The entrance to the Mexuar palace, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
The Mexuar served in Nasrid times (13th century- 15th century) as a tribunal and place of audience; it is thought to be the oldest building in the Nasrid complex.  Allah and the Sultans are praised in the azulejos (mosaic tiles) and yeserías (plaster carvings) that adorn the walls; we marvel in their beauty, and as we walk through the shadowed halls I imagine I see ambassadors from Maghreb and Damascus, come to kiss the hands of Ismail I.

Azulejos and Yeserías in the Mexuar Palace.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
Calligraphic carvings in the Mexuar Palace, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.

The Mexuar Palace, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
Yeserías in the Mexuar palace, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.

Light in the Mexuar is subtle, filtered through the celosías (lattices); its tenuous glow guides us out of the shadows to the intimate courtyard of the Cuarto Dorado (the Golden Room), anti chamber to the Comares Palace:

El Cuarto Dorado, Comares Palace.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
El Cuarto Dorado, Comares Palace.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
Yeserías on the walls of the Cuarto Dorado, Comares Palace.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
Over 10,000 calligraphic inscription cover the walls of the Alhambra, among them, the motto of the Nasrid dynasty: "Wa la ghalib ila Allah" There is no conqueror but God, which is repeated on the walls of the Cuarto Dorado, vestibule to the Comares Palace, residence of the kings.  Of the twin doors that grace the facade of the Cuarto Dorado one is blind and leads nowhere; the other, humbler in decoration, leads to the magnificent Patio de los Arrayanes.

The Comares Palace.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
Patio de los Arrayanes, Comares Palace.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
Portico in the Patio de los Arrayanes.  Comares Palace.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.

One of the porticos in the Patio de los Arrayanes (Court of Myrtles) takes us to the Torre de Comares (Comares Tower), where we behold the Universe, rendered in precious woods:

The wood vault of the Salón de Embajadores (Ambassadors Chamber)  represents the night sky.  Comares Palace, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
The epigraphic poems and sacred texts carved on the walls bestow blessings and praise upon God and the Sultan, who holds court in the Salón de Embajadores (Ambassadors Chamber).  The intricate wood ceiling represents the seven heavens of the Muslim Paradise with God enthroned in the center.  We stare in awe at the beauty of the place, and when we leave we hope to take with us some of the lessons learned.  The inscriptions on the walls command us to "depart in goodness since it is God who helps."

Celosías (lattices) in the Salón de Embajadores, Comares Palace.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.

The Palacio de Comares...I have traveled here in the words of Washington Irving and my father's memories, and to my father's memories John and I now add our own.  But in all its magnificence, the Comares Palace is but a glimpse of the glory we have yet to witness in the Palacio de los Leones.  Until next time reader...

All images by Nadia Palacios Lauterbach and John Lauterbach.


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