Still being blown away by Islamic art and architecture

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March 27th 2015
Published: March 27th 2015
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The Alhambra is one of those places you just can't be prepared for. I'm gonna have to let my pictures speak for me, since most of it left me speechless.

I can say that Granada is much more of a city than Cordoba, which I visited yesterday. It feels more urban, and it has the dense array of shops and touristy things that you would expect a big city to have. I can also say that this was by far the best of the tours I've been on this week with Julia Travel - I guess 3rd time's a charm? The guide was head and shoulders above the others - Paco, who is about 65 and enjoyed some fine-smelling cigarillos at several points in the day. He's the kind of guide you hope you get.

We had about 3 hours of free time this morning, and that was after a 2-hour bus ride (very comfortable) and a 45-minute walk around parts of the old town in Granada - a hotel from the 14th century, and the old spice market. I was a bit perplexed by this sudden free time, but I went with it. The others have left us no time to do anything, and here I was with an abundance of it! I took in the cathedral and a couple of parks, but I spent most of my time people-watching. I parked myself on a bench in front of a big church around 11:45 and just watched the various goings-on. There were a couple of elderly women sitting in nice folding chairs on either side of the big church doors with cups in their hands, begging for change. I don't know if they were gypsies - and normally it's pretty easy to tell, so I'll guess that they weren't - but there was a gypsy lady about 2 blocks down the avenue in the middle of the pedestrian area. She never moved more than 10 feet from her central spot. I kept an eye on her, ready to move away if pounced upon again. No thank you.

I watched a maintenance crew for Parks and Gardens (not Rec) remove some of those silvery balloons from one of the tall palm trees along the central pedestrian promenade. What an affair! It took a truck with an extender to reach it, so I got to watch that. It was more amusing than you're thinking. An old gentleman joined me on my bench for about 15 minutes, and we sat in silence, watching the world go by.

Next, around 12:30, a hearse pulled up in front of the church. After about 10 minutes, they opened the big church door, then the back of the hearse, and pulled out a beautiful oak casket. I thought it was a bit short, and then when I realized that it only took 4 men to carry it in, my heart sank. This was a kid. Several people crossed themselves as they passed the church, not really part of the proceedings but still respectful. Then some obnoxious tourist walked up to the church, and as the pallbearers were carrying the casket through the 2nd doorway, he raised his phone up and took a picture of it. Was this guy for real? Talk about rude, disrespectful, stupid... I was disgusted, so I got up and walked back to meet my bus to take us up to the Alhambra.

Just so you know, the Alhambra (which means "the red" in Arabic) is huge. We saw a few awesome buildings, but the guide was like, "Oh, those aren't the Alhambra. Just wait and see." I was blown away. The intricate details were astounding. Some of the original coloring is still there, but most of it has faded, and it looks like ivory carvings of images and Arabic script. But it's not carving. It's a mold. There were so many rooms, and most of them with the same attention to detail. Words fail me. Check out the pictures, and imagine them 100 times better. Then you'll get an idea.

It did involve a lot of walking - it was huge - and you start from the top and work your way to the bottom before exiting and making a path to the Generalife Gardens. It reminded me of that Islamic aesthetic from yesterday: ordinary on the outside, paradise on the inside. It wasn't so ordinary on the outside - more like imposing; but the interior makes the exterior look like child's play. We were allowed to take pictures, even with the flash, but there was one rule: don't touch the walls. Once I saw the walls, I understood why. It would be such a loss if people's touching rubbed away all the exquisite details.

The day was generally cool, but we did spend most of it in the shade or inside the Alhambra. Make no mistake, though. This was a major tourist attraction, and there were TONS of people there. Apparently, you have to book 3 months in advance to get a group inside. Since we were a pre-booked group, we got to skip the ticket lines, which were massive. In total, we spent close to 2.5 hours walking around. I actually wish we had had more time in the palaces themselves (not necessarily the gardens) to take it all in. This is one of those places where it's all about the experience - you can't just check it off some list of things to do. If so, then you have no soul. I would've preferred less time in the town and more time in the Alhambra, but alas. I know the guides are on a timetable, and with all those people, it sometimes felt like we were being herded around. But it was worth it. The views of the town below the fortress were stunning, and the Sierra Nevada mountains in the not-so-distance totally stopped me in my tracks when I realized that they weren't clouds. Yes, they were perfectly white at the top, and if you don't pay attention, you can mistake them for clouds.

While on the tour, I found a couple of newly-retired women from Seattle who'll also be accompanying the tour to Morocco tomorrow. We got to talk a good bit, and when the bus dropped us off, we walked a few blocks before we had to part ways. It's good to make new friends. And now, though it's Friday night in a party city, I'm going to get to bed, since I'm catching a ride to Morocco at 6AM tomorrow!

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