In the morning neither of us felt like we had really slept, just for short fits. But on the positive side, the weather had cleared up and it looked like a nice bright sunny day. We managed to make the early start we had agreed and after breakfast we set off for the Alhambra. This involved a walk uphill, from behind the hotel. First we had to go to the ticket office to collect our tickets. Along the way we came across many houses and walls decorated with graffiti art, not the usual squiggles but more imaginative illustrations. I took some pictures. When we started to climb we both quickly started to sweat and wishing we had gone for our backpacker gear instead of the more ordinary sightseeing clothes. Mark and Elisa of course felt the hill and heat much less than us. Still, it was good to walk in the warm summery weather.
At the top the road led through tree-lined avenues. We were a little dismayed to see a no. 23 bus trundle past us on the way up, ah well. Even though we had set off quite early there was already a long queue for the tickets, but no-one in the queue for pre-booked tickets. Good move by us! We collected our tickets and paid for audio guides, except for Elisa who preferred to just mooch. I grabbed a quick coffee from a little kiosk near the ticket office, and on the radio a track of La Dolce Vita was being played. It just stuck in my mind but I could not remember who sang it. It was a bit of 80’s europop. (Ryan Paris, 1983!)
Now we walked through the gardens towards the other end of the Alhambra, to the Palacio Navarro (?). The Alhambra is basically a collection of buildings, palaces, fortress, houses, gardens, all set on a hill which overlooks the rest of the city. The Muslim rulers had their residences and palaces here, in the fresh air and greenery above the busy city below. They built a world of elegant courtyards, waterponds and balconies, ornate reception halls, and they loved their peaceful gardens too.
A visit to the Alhambra now basically involves getting a timed ticket to the visit the main palace and before/after this you are free to wander around and visit the other parts at your leisure. We had gone for half past nine entrance and made our way to the palace. We passed through the avenues lined with hedges, on either side of which were visible the excavated parts of the medina, the old city, the merchants quarters, etc. There was also a smart four star hotel on the top here, very convenient for the Alhambra itself but a bit out of the way for city sightseeing and going out. The tall box hedges had been trimmed and arches were cut in them which provided views and access.
We joined the small queue at the main square outside the palace, with its orange trees providing greenery and softness. At this square there were also the other principal buildings, the Alcazar (fortress) with its square towers and tall walls, and the Palace of Carlos V, in the European Renaissance style. From here you could already get a view of the traditional Albayzin quarter below and opposite us. We did not have to wait for long and then entered the palace which consisted of a sequence of interlinked courtyards, with square waterponds, walkways and various rooms, with colourful and stylish tiled decorations, and highly ornamental archways and ceilings, and lots of delicate pillars. We slowly made our way through as we listened to the audio commentary and me snapping away. It was very impressive and with a bit of imagination you could picture the rooms with the exotically dressed oriental characters, the exotic smells and fragrances, etc. What let it down was the large number of tourists with their audio guides, which was hard to imagine away, and the fact that a lot of colour of the ceiling decorations had disappeared, leaving only traces of the many colours and gold leaf that must once have covered these halls.
Ah, yes, just remember … as we came up here Ness and I commented to each other that this reminded us of the Wawel in Krakow, in that this too was a hill full of palaces, churches and important buildings situated above the city. And another thing, the Italianate influence which was clear on many of the later, much more recent, buildings with sgraffito decorations. Back to the tour – I was listening to my audio guide in Flemish Dutch and this quoted in many parts from the American author Washington Irving who in the early nineteenth century had lived in the, then largely abandoned, palace. Looking at the palace it actually made less of an impression on us than we had been expecting, but I think we were confusing it with Córdoba’s Mezquita (later). The commentary did its best to fill in the missing bits, to romanticise the palace and call up the “Muslimanic” (my word) period. You actually had two leaps to make. First there was the author desribing the place as it was in the 1820’s, an abandoned place fallen into ruins and inhabited by no-one but perhaps some poor families. Perfect territory for a dreaming writer. Washington Irving then tried to describe how he imagined the place must have been at its height, with courtesans reposing on balconies, etc. Unfortunately the descriptions (maybe it was the Dutch translation?) did not quite evoke the atmosphere.
Anyway, we continued our leisurely tour of the Palace which ended with a series of “watered walks”, erm, a series of steps with water running in channels in the top of the “arms” on either side. We played a version of pooh sticks with a green leaf in one arm and a brown leaf in the other arm. Exotic kinds of trees, plants and fruit. After visiting the Palace Navarro (?) we emerged back on the main square. There was a little stand in the middle of the square. The only thing it really sold was Amstel beer. It was here that I noticed that quite a few of the pictures I had taken inside the Alhambra were displayed as “?” or “cannot display image” on my camera and I suspected a dodgy memory card. B*mmer, just when we had visited one of the highlights of Andalucia, if not of Spain as a whole. I swapped the card for the one in Nessie’s little camera and at least could carry on with that, but some nice pictures were probably lost (confirmed later, on our return to the UK).
Now we went on to visit the Alcazaba (or Alcazar?), the fortres with its heavy square towers, and inside it remained the ruins of the narrow streets of the merchant streets and shops. Good views of the Albayzin (as there had been in the palace) which made for a pretty scene, with the closely packed white buildings spread over the opposite hillside, the odd cypress here and there, red roofs. A scene for a painter. After the Alc… we visited the curious palace built and named after Carlos V, aka “Karel de Vijfde”. It was square on the outside but with a circular courtyard on the inside. The Renaissance architects loved these types of symmetries and shapes. Hard to get a picture of though! The top floor of the palace held a museum of art with a very good collection of paintings that related to Granada. I remember a few that really stood out, such as “the friends of the artist”, a collection of smart and very “typical” gentlemen.
Finally, we made our way back to the other end of the Alhambra hill to visit the Generalife, the gardens which were spread out over a large area, another area of delights and peaceful paths, fountains, etc. We saw lots of the curious flowers that had been in Nessie’s birthday bouquet (see picture – name?). Anyway, to sum up, the whole Alhambra hill had been a superb and unique place to see. Also made me realise how different Spain’s early medieval history had been compared to the rest of Europe, well, the bit I tend to think of. While the Dark Ages period in the rest of Europe was one of I imagine a rather rudimentary life of peasants and warlords, here there was a flourishing culture of arts and science, enlightened by comparison I reckoned.
Ness and I had been taking our time over the visit, and Mark too was following the audio guide and taking it all in, but Elisa seemed rather bored or indifferent to it. We returned the audio guides and by now there was a much longer queue at the ticket office, so we were very glad that we had booked ahead and done it early in the day. We walked back down the tree-covered hill and came out on the Plaza Nueva, which is at one end of the Albayzin area. We found a nice bodega for lunch. While there were many tourist it also seemed to be very popular with the locals, always a good sign! We had a table at the back and ordered some food to share. After lunch we walked back to the hotel where we took a break from all the walking and had a snooze for a while. I think Mark and Elisa went for a run. Elisa has committed to running a half marathon and needs to get into shape.
On the way back to the hotel we had noticed that chairs were being set up along the road and by asking the man who was arranging them we learned that there was to be a procession at six o’clock today. We left the hotel in time to go and watch it (Mark and Elisa stayed in the hotel though). On the busy main street, with a central pedestrian bit between the trees, like the “rambla”, there were hundreds, no, thousands of people. Nothing was happening yet but they were all waiting for something. For us the main spectacle was not the procession itself, whenever that would be, but the crowds of Spaniards and the atmosphere. We hovered near the big church and after a while we saw and heard the first of a number of bands which formed the bulk of the procession.
Well, as it turned out, we learned by asking one of the medallioned gentlemen who seemed to have some role, the procession itself never actually took place as the madonna would not be carried out of the church for fear of rain later on. Instead people tried to pile into the church to get a glimpse. We watched some of the bands and then slowly made our way up to the Plaza Bib Rambla, where we had arranged to meet up with Mark and Elisa later on. We found a nice café and wrote our diaries for a while and had some coffees and vino. Mark and Elisa came over later on and we carried on to the Plaza Nueva where we found a nice restaurant for dinner. A bit touristic, I remember the bull’s head above the kitchen door, but oodles of charm and very tasty food! We wrapped up the evening with a drink back at the café “by the rotunda”, near our hotel, sat on the covered terrace outside. An excellent day!