Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Puerto of the Sigh of GB

"Give something to the poor blind man, because there’s nothing crueler in life than to be blind in Granada" ...

In 1489 Ferdinand & Isabella - in their bid to take back Spain from the Moors - besieged the city of Granada after the Moorish king Boabdil (or Abu Abdullah) understandably refused to surrender it. Boabdil eventually lost and was exiled with his family to the Alpujarras area to the south of Granada past the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Legend has it that as the royal party left Granada, they stopped at a rocky mountain pass some 865 metres high, from which they could have one final glimpse of Granada, their former citadel. The spot (that's me above) is now known as the puerto or 'pass' of el último suspiro del Moro, 'the Moor's Last Sigh', because looking loving back at the Alhambra, Boabdil burst into tears, earning this rebuke from his mother: "You do well to weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man!"

Ouch. Nice mother. I bet Boabdil didn't send her a Mother's Day card!

I would have wept too and made a bear-sized sigh if the Alhambra had belonged to me and then I had lost it. The Alhambra or 'Red Fort' (Al Qal'a al-Hamra) was the residence of Granada's Moorish kings, and work began on the complex in the 9th century - when it was a simple fort - and completed in the 14th century - when it became 'the ruby set above [the hill]'.

The Moorish part of the Alhambra can be divided into 3 major areas: the Palacios Nazaríes (named after the Nasrid Moorish Dynasty), the Palace gardens of the Generalife (Jannat al-'Arif, or "Garden of the Architect"), and the Alcazaba (the 11th century fortress). There is also a Renaissance palace of Carlos V smack dab in the middle of it.

The Nasrid Palace is undoubtedly the most beautiful complex in the Alhambra. With its intricate stucco work and tiled chambers, apartments, baths & harem, its myrtle-edged pools (me above) and geometric domed ceilings, it is a living testament to the skills of its architects.

The rooms of the palace are decorated with swirling
Arabic calligraphy, and in the Hall of the Ambassadors - with its inscription, "I am the heart of the palace" - Boabdil signed the city's surrender. The writer Washington Irving - of Sleepy Hollow fame - was a diplomat attached to the American legation in Spain and set up a study in one of the Nasrid Palace's abandoned rooms. From there he wrote the romantic Tales from the Alhambra, which would not only awaken interest in the site but encourage the government to finally restore it.

Near the Palace is the Alcazaba (or 'citadel'), which first saw light in the 11th century but was finished a few hundred years later. It has 13 fortified towers, including the Torre de la Vela (right) which gives visitors excellent views of the Daro River and Granada's green valleys.

One of my favourite places in the Alhambra - mainly because I can hide from autograph hounds in its sculpted gardens - is the Generalife. The Muslim view of paradise is a lush, leafy shaded garden to be enjoyed by "the fortunate ones" and the Generalife comes pretty close to that ideal. So private is it that the Sultana Zoraya used to meet her lover who was the chief from another clan in one of the walled gardens. It did not have a happy ending.

Once a summer palace for the Nasrid rules - famous for its long pool, framed by flowerbeds, its fountains, cypresses, colonnades pavilions and belvederes - it is believed to be one of the oldest surviving Moorish gardens in the world.

Sticking out like a bit of a sore thumb is the Palace of Carlos V - an unfinished palace which was begun in 1526 by Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. He is considered to be the first true king of Spain because he ruled over both Castile and Aragon. After he commissioned the palace, he left Granada and seemed to have forgotten all about it - I bet Boabdil never forgot about the Alhambra! Nevertheless, the palace is an excellent example of Renaissance architecture and it is the only work left to us by Pedro Machuca who was a student of Michelangelo.

The ceiling to the colonnade (right) was only built in the 1960's - until then all those columns just jutted into the air. Its central courtyard used to be used for bullfights, which makes me very unhappy because bullfighting is just mean and cruel. Just like bear-baiting.

You're probably wondering how I know so much about the Alhambra. To be honest, yesterday marked my 4th visit to the site. I was there in 2000 two times, because one of my bipedal attendants lost her ticket to the Nasrid Palace (tickets are strictly time-stamped for the palace), and we had to return the next morning.
In 2005, I visited the 'Red Fort' with my other bipedal attendant and his bipedal attendant-in-law who, better organized than her daughter, didn't lose he
r ticket.

And now yesterday. Of course, being such a repository of information and being so cute, I was drawing crowds of people who thought that I was an official tour guide but then when they recognized me - Oi vey! - it was back to the sheltered gardens of the Generalife for a little peace and quiet.

The Alhambra is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most visited sites in the world. I think the millions of people who visit the Alhambra every year pretty much vindicate Boabdil. And I know this comment isn't worthy of a freelance Goodwill Ambassador but ... his mother was such a bitch!


Anonymous said...

Mr. Gray Bear
You are very fortunate to have been to the Alhambra 4 times.
I am hoping to go to Spain in the spring and the Alhambra is on the top of my list.
Is that beer you are drinking? I didn't think bears liked beer.

Grey Bear said...

Dear Anonymous:
I hope you have a great time when you come to Spain and you'll definitely have to pencil in a day or 2 in Granada. It's a little known fact that bears like beer but we do. I love beer although since I've been in Spain I've been drinking a lot of sherry - especially manzanilla.

You can buy cañas of beer at a nice little kiosk in the Alhambra. Very refreshing on a hit day!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Gray Bear
Where are you now? Are you travelling somewhere? I hope you tell us about your trip.
My parents said when we go to Spain in the spring they will try the beer you recommended but I can't b ecause I am too young.
I love reading about your travels.

Grey Bear said...

Hi Anonymous:
I'm still in Spain and my next planned trip will be to Cordoba - after that I will choose a new country. Fortunately, there are lots of other drinks in Spain that you'll like.