Alhambra, Granada, 26.10.10
Posted by Lisa Hill on October 27, 2010
My goodness, it was cold hanging around waiting to get into the Nasrid Palace this morning! The way the system works to manage the huge crowds that want to see this place is to allocate times for each ticket. So (assuming you have been smart enough to reserve a ticket from Australia two months beforehand) you collect it from the ticket machine and then you can get into the complex. (Actually, you can also get into it from round the back, for free, but you can’t get into the significant bits of it so there’s not much point.)
The trouble is, you need to collect the ticket an hour beforehand. Quite why this is so I do not know, but we are compliant, low maintenance tourists and so we did what we were supposed to do. We then took the advice of our host at the hotel and walked to where the entrance is (because that takes 20 minutes across some mostly evil cobblestones).
There were then 40 minutes to kill and once we’d had a quick look at the inside of Carlos V’s palace we were back outside in the queue and it was freezing. Everybody was cold, especially the poor young lady whose job it was to hold the tourist hordes at the entrance till their allocated time. She was rugged up much better than I was but she was stamping her feet and pocketing her hands and obviously wishing she had a warm woolly hat as well. Fortunately there was a handy souvenir shop, and if there is one item you can count on finding in an Italian or Spanish souvenir shop, it’s a scarf so I whipped in and bought one while Tim stayed manfully out in the cold and pretended not to care. (Well, he would have looked pretty silly in a pink scarf with little bells on it, which was the least girly scarf I could buy.)
Eventually it was our time and we were in. Is it ok to say that it was a bit of a let-down? Not at first, because the first time you see a chamber full of Islamic whatnots on the ceiling and the columns and the doors and the floors it’s all a bit of a thrill. The trouble is, they’re into repetition. Lots of it. It’s like Indonesian music which repeats itself over and over again. Fascinating the first time but a tad wearisome for those not familiar with whatever it is that makes it so special. And there are, of course, no pictures. Representation of the human form is not allowed. This is a bit limiting from an artistic point-of-view, in my amateur art-lover opinion….
But judging by the earnest commentary we heard about us (especially from one character got up to look like Oscar Wilde) scholars and aficionados of this kind of art are probably mightily impressed because it’s all terribly clever and M.C. Escher showed how very mathematical it is. But after three or four chambers of it, all looking more or less the same to the untrained eye, I was ready for a nice bit of high Gothic Christian razzmatazz, thank you very much! Fortunately the Crusaders turned up in due course and further up the hill they built a nice friary with the kind of architecture I like and that was much more interesting.
(There’s an intriguing contrast between one guide book and another as to why the Christians left this Moorish pile intact instead of ripping it down. One says it’s because the people of Granada were tolerant and reasonable and good at recycling buildings – and the other says it’s because the winners regarded the Alhambra as a prize of considerable prestige, and they wanted to flaunt it to show the Moors who was boss.)
Anyway, alas for the friars, they got turfed out in 1835 when Madrid took control of all church property and the place fell into disrepair until it was restored in 1929. Somehow it miraculously survived the Spanish Civil War and a lot of other destructive acts against church property too. Historically speaking, (according to Robert Hughes in his terrific book Barcelona) the clergy in Spain were in cahoots with the rich, powerful and important rather than with the poor and dispossessed so when the poor were feeling particularly oppressed they burned down a church or a convent. Lots of them.)
But they left this one intact so you can still see the tombstone of Queen Isabella who in 1504 very piously asked on her deathbed to be buried in a simple shroud in the monastery – but would of course being a loyal wife defer to her husband King Ferdinand if he wanted to be buried somewhere else.
Well, she died first so she got her wish, and a great horde of flunkeys and courtiers and slaves got the unenviable task of carting her body to Granada in one of the worst rainstorms and floods on record. Ferdinand likewise wished to be united with her in death as well as in life (because after all there was the unity of the kingdoms of Castille and Aragon to be worried about) so he was entombed in the monastery as well until his grandson (whose name I forget) thought he knew better and removed it to the royal chapel.
There are lots of lovely gardens with water features at the Alhambra, and it takes a good five hours to meander about and admire them all. But for me, the best bit was the temporary exhibition of Matisse paintings which showed how he was influenced by his fleeting visit to the Alhambra. Back in his garret on the French Riviera he recreated a kind of oriental room as a backdrop for his nudes and there were quite a few of them (drawings and paintings) on display in the Museo. There were also some exquisite embroidered shawls in this exhibition but of course the women who made them remain anonymous.
After five weeks on the road our stamina is not what it was and five hours on foot knocked the stuffing out of us. We had some lunch, and spent the rest of the day loafing about.
Tomorrow we’re off to Barcelona, so I’d better get to bed and finish reading the last chapter of Robert Hughes’s book!