Saturday, May 28, 2011

Torremolinos on $85 a Day – The Alhambra

Gaudy, overdone, elaborate, and stunning are adjectives David and I had heard to describe the Alhambra, but since it's one of Europe's most popular attractions and only an hour and a half drive from Torremolinos, we couldn't resist going for our own evaluation. Constructed over a period of many years beginning in 1237 until roughly 1391, this palace was home to the Nasrid princes. In these three separate palaces joined by walkways and gardens, the sultan's harem, including both male and female beauties, were housed.

At first, the unprepossessing red building (“alhambra” means “red”) appears austere, but the sumptuous palaces within belie the exterior. Room after room is covered in scroll work and lattice etching that seem to cover every surface while the floors are an intricate mosaic of tiles. One of the main rooms in one of the palaces took thirty years to complete! Much of the scroll work was completed in molds, but the guide showed us many wall details that were carved by hand.

Columns in courtyard near Court of the Lions.
None of the color remains, but these palaces must have been a riot of color when they were used by the sultans. In what appears to be miles of lattice, not a single face or animal is shown because the Moors were forbidden to create images of human or animal forms. Instead, over and over around the rooms, and again and again in every room, the message, “Only Allah is conqueror.” appears.
The Patio de los Leonares (Court of the Lions) consists of a spectacular fountain resting on twelve marble lions. The lions are said to have represented the hours of the day and the months of the year. The adjoining courtyard, considered the heart of the palace, is strikingly beautiful with 124 thin marble columns. And throughout the entire complex, the reflecting pools and small gardens with manicured shrubs serve as lovely counterpoints to the incredibly detailed rooms that man created.

Generalife Garden
 But even the sultans eventually tired of the opulence and retreated to Generalife with their harems in the summer. This smaller, far less ostentatious palace is reached by a short walk through beautiful gardens covering 70-some acres. Shrubs have been groomed to form passageways ending in splashing fountains and banks of roses. The views from this hill provided sweeping views of Granada, a beautiful city that was Islamic-controlled until 1492. This is where the sultans waged their last battle against the Catholics.

As our bus took us back to Torremolinos, David and I were grateful we'd been two of the three million yearly visitors to the Alhambra. It may indeed be gaudy and overdone, but it is also a truly beautiful place we were delighted to have seen.

Practicalities -
David and I paid 55 euros each at a travel agent's office to have the Cost Africa company take us to Granada and the Alhambra. We were the only Americans on board, among a group from many different countries, so the guide had to repeat all his comments in five languages. At the Alhambra, our official tour guide used headphones to keep us informed, but he had to make all his comments in two languages—Italian and English. Because a Dutch guide was following close on the heels of our group and had his speaker turned to the same frequency, much of what we heard was a garble of Dutch, Italian and English. Ours is not an approach I recommend.

We wish we had ordered our tickets in advance or found a tour that was offered only to English speakers. Since Torremolinos has a huge British expat community, we are certain such tours can be found.

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