11 May 2010 – Flight to Granada and The Alhambra

The next morning, we had breakfast with Barry and Kathy Marder.  He had a book recommendation for me, “The Trouble With Physics”, by Lee Smolin, in which he states that mathematicians are on the wrong trail with string theory.  I’ll have to get the book.  [I have since read the book, and I recommend it for anybody with an interest in physics.  Very readable.   JF]

We headed for the airport for a 9:10 flight to Granada, but the flight didn’t leave until 10:00 because of delays caused by another volcanic eruption.  We learned that the Barcelona airport was going to shut down at noon, and so we dodged another bullet.  The pilot explained that because of the dust cloud, we were going to have to fly at 20,000 feet or lower. I thought that meant we were in for a bumpy ride, but it didn’t happen.

Patricia mentioned that the Grenada airport was named after Garcia Vega, a well known Spanish poet.  Granada, with a population of 300,000, has a student population of 80,000, a huge number.

We arrived in Granada and boarded a bus and headed for


lunch at a marvellously  decorated restaurant along the way to the Alhambra.

The Alhambra is visited by 3,000 people per day, and you have to make advance reservations to get in.  Granada was the third of three Moorish capitals, which changed with the fortunes of war.  It was the last defeat of the Moors, and

Caramel colored marble staircase at the restaurant

fortunately ended with a peace agreement rather than the destruction of the fortress.  The Moors were allowed to stay, or leave, as they chose, and could keep their faith.  That arrangement lasted only several years, and eventually they

Gypsy caves

were forced to leave, or convert, becoming “Moriscans”.  The Gypsies are moving back to Spain and we saw “Roma” caves along the way.

Charles V built a home inside the Alhambra in the 1500s.  The architect was a student of Michaelangelo, and as a result the style was Roman.  The interior was circular, the same diameter as the Pantheon.  It began to rain, but that didn’t dampen our spirits one bit.

A little moisture

Mohammed I, the first Sultan lived in the right-hand tower of the two we saw initially.

Each of the rooms had a central pool, the size of which controlled the size of the entire structure, and consequently indicate the status of the owner.  Water, as in most civilizations, was highly symbolic, indicating life, wealth, music, and is related to ceremonial ablutions.  The first room is only 30% original, the rest being restored.  The intricate

The first room of the Alhambra

decorations are made of plaster mixed with limestone and marble, and were formed in carved wooden moulds, and brightly painted.  The wooden ceilings were hand carved.  The three decorative elements were writing, geometry, and nature.  In Islam the depiction of the human form is not permitted.

The second Royal Palace was a more upscale facility with separate waiting areas for the various groups of people that wanted help from the king.  The roof is original, and consists

The entrance to the Second Room

of 8,017 pieces of wood.  It was called the Hall of the Throne or the Ambassador’s Room.

The 12 Lions Palace was third, but the lions had been temporarily removed for restoration, and the room was filled with scaffolding.  This was where the queen lived.  Of the Sultan’s four wives allowed, the one who produced the first male heir became the Queen.  The concubines performed a wide variety of services, including musical and other cultural performances.  We next went into a Christian garden which was added later.

Explosives had been placed throughout the Alhambra by Napoleon but he was foiled by Jose Garcia, who cut the fuses with his sword, saving the western part of the Alhambra.  We were now in the area where the structure had been destroyed, so all that was to be seen were foundations, and a latrine.

We headed into the gardens called “Generalife”, or Paradise Gardens of the King.  It is on the side of a hill and composed

"Paradise Gardens of The King"

of large terraces irrigated by the gravity flow of water.  In the Sultan’s time, crops were grown for the Alhambra and sold in the village.  It was only later that flowers and ornamentals were added.  The grounds were used for hunting and provisioning of meat, including bears and lions.  Only wild boars can be found in the area now.

We then headed into a hillside area.  The first level was for the horses and included a water trough, the next level up was for the guards, and the third level was for the sultan. Seems like a logical arrangement.

Six years ago, at an even higher level, a garden in the Islamic style was added, amidst other gardens of the Christian times.  The upper part was sold to Spain for one peseta by a family who had lived there for generations.

One of the upper gardens

Going back down, we passed through The Alley of the Oleanders, and a grove of cypress trees.

We then walked farther on down to the Alhambra Palace, where I had stayed with my family in 1956, and read Washington Irving’s “Tales of the Alhambra”, 54 years ago.

Dinner that evening was delicious, including onion soup, sea bass and well-prepared vegetables and a flan for me.  To the surprise of Teresa and Barry, their fruit course consisted of a whole banana, kiwi, orange and apple.  No preparation at all.  They managed anyway.

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