Spain: The Alhambra

Submitted by Holly Daniel Schilling on the 2017 summer session program in Granada, Spain sponsored by the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures…

In my first week, I had the pleasure of visiting a place known famously as Alhambra. The tour occurred after a 30 or so minute hike, which usually would have been difficult if I wasn’t so excited. As a history buff and a fan of architecture going to Alhambra was an amazing experience, and before going I had begun to read Los Cuentos De Alhambra in preparation. I can say now that the visit did not disappoint.

When we finally entered Alhambra, you first need to walk through a giant door known as the Gate of Justice. It was very similar to an old castle gate from some medieval story book, and I suppose you could say it was. I was in awe over the door’s size, as well as the detail I had already seen in the palace. I was also struck by the Virgin Mary statue adorning the top of the door, attesting to Isabella I’s great influence. Already, my passion for history was satisfied.

This is the Gate of Justice, one of the entrances to the Alhambra. It has Moorish style architecture, but on top you can see the statue of the Virgin Mary holding her child.

From the towers in the defensive areas of the Alhambra, I was able to get some of the best views I have gotten so far in Granada. The towers overlook the entire city, dating back to when the castle was strategically placed on a mountainous vantage point. Now, it simply makes the view of Granada even more marvelous.

This is the view of the whole Alhambra from one of the giant watchtowers. In the opposite direction, you can get views of all of Granada.

After the defensive, fairly ruined defense towers and barracks, we went to see the rooms inside the Alhambra. I was both surprised and appreciative of the Islamic artwork and their mastery of detail. Islam is left out of a lot of history textbooks because of the current negative connotations Islam has, and I can say I was not prepared for the beauty of their work. Each tile in the rooms were made with such color and detail, and sometimes a room was covered with thousands of tiles. The area is so well preserved it’s obvious it was made well, and I can’t imagine how people from so long ago could accomplish so much. It makes me wonder why we no longer do that kind of architecture.

Here’s an example of Moorish style architecture, dating back to before the takeover of the catholic monarchs. Arabic tile typically uses green, blue, yellow, white and red in its style, and usually the patterns are geometric. Note how the white intricate design above the colored tiling is actually Arabic writing.

My favorite room/area of the Alhambra was definitely the fountain of lions. I took so many photos of the marble patio and statues that I actually ran out of space. It strikes me as funny that humans have seemingly always been occupied with decorative fountains, as I have one in my own yard at home. The lions have primitive piping for the water, and I’ll admit that I can’t wrap my head around the fact that before the era of Isabella and Ferdinand (who hardly every took showers) the Muslim people were creating beautiful fountains shaped like lions for decoration.

This is the Palace of the Lions, my favorite room. Each lion is different and they hold up a beautiful fountain, which is then surrounded by giant marble slabs.

We also saw La Generalife. This area is connected by gardens to La Alhambra, and the gardens were absolutely beautiful. I spent a great deal of time there comparing the flowers in the gardens with those we have in the United States, and the intense scent of roses and butterfly bush was giving me a refreshed, intensely happy feeling. At the Generalife, I was confronted again with more gardens. These  were equally as spectacular, as these gardens represented the levels to heaven and looked as though they could really be. So many flowers surrounded beautiful fountains, and the courtyards just became more and more spectacular with each level. You could also compare the differences between Muslim and European styles of gardening, which I thought was very interesting. The gardens were probably another favorite part of the visit, and I wish I could have shown this to my Mom in person, who loves botany more than anything.

Here’s a view out of one of the windows in the Alhambra. “Alhambra” translates to “The Red One” in Arabic, which refers to the reddish coloring of the building.
Finally, here’s my group taking a picture in front of one of the many amazing examples of intricate architecture in the Alhambra.

This excursion was extremely fun, educational and a little tiring. Hiking up the mountain to the Alhambra was definitely worth it though, and I would recommend the Alhambra to nearly anyone who enjoys seeing something new. It is an experience I won’t forget, and if I ever do, I have a ton of amazing photos and experiences I now share with my friends here.