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Tales of the Alhambra

I suspect many people’s grasp of Spanish history starts and ends with El Cid, with some fleeting nod to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who united Spain in 1492 and sent Christopher Columbus on his way to the Americas. Those with parents born in the 20th century may have experienced a package holiday in the 1960s when the Generallisimo Franco was still in power. This type of holiday to, say, Torremolinos was really a British coastal destination abroad. More cultivated Brits preferred the food and wine of Provence or Dordogne, or the class of the Riviera or setting themselves up in Chiantishire. I came to Spain rather late, my first trip to Madrid was last year.

Studying Spanish history I began to learn that historical understanding based on films or school was not the most reliable. Just as on my trip the Far East I learned that their empires and civilisations of India and China were way ahead of ours in Britain, I began to appreciate in Spain that prior to unification in 1492, Moors, Christians and Jews coexisted happily. Nowadays historical figures are judged by the values of these times – not theirs – and Ferdinand and Isabella would fare badly for their expulsion of the Moors and Jews and setting up the Inquisition.

I have already written on the Alcazar, the royal palace in Sevilla, started by the Moors and embellished by Spanish Kings. However the most glorious fusion of Islamic and Christian architecture and values is to be found at the Alhambra, truly one of the wonders of the world, in Granada. We visited this yesterday.

Andalusia is a large province so the coach journey to Granada was some 3 hours. This necessitated an early start for a 6-30 pick up. We also found a basic lack of efficiency and service with the tour company recommended on the official Alhambra website.

They failed to answer 3 calls and, when my Spanish friend called someone in their office, we were promised an email which never arrived.

I eventually got the concierge to call and he established a pick up point.

This inefficiency is sadly typical, my friend observed wearily, and  the trip was not that well organised though at 170 euros per head certainly not cheap.

After one pit stop at a service station, noticeably with better facilities, food and shops than our own, we finally reached the Alhambra at 10.

The Alhambra is actually a city outside Granada comprising many buildings and gardens. Work was begun under the Nasrid Cailphate with King Yusuf in the 14th century and completed after him by Mohammed 1. Much has been restored or added to, especially under Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558).

The sheer size of Alhambra, the splendid garden of Generalife, where Wellington planted a tree in 1812 after driving Napoleon out of  Spain, made it truly memorable.

We had an excellent guide. Intending visitors should note that it is the most popular attraction in Spain, attracting 7 million people annually, so it’s necessary to organise well in advance. Many luminaries have been influenced by the Alhambra. It has spawned writings and music and inspired architects Corbusier and Gaudi.

In the modern way, almost everyone in our group was busy photographing everything. I preferred to listen to our guide who combined detailed  knowledge with some interesting reflections on Islamic and Christian values. Granada is higher than Sevilla and noticeably cooler but nonetheless, after a 3 hour walk around the Alhambra, we were all tired.

There was a lack of liaison between the guide and our tour leader, a brassy German woman who looked like Diana Dors and had the voice of a foghorn.

We waited at the car park for some 10 minutes in the heat till we called her to be assured the coach was on its way.

There was a short City tour of Granada organised but we opted out for our own lunch.

At the back of the coach was a group of jocular Germans. Near to them sat a bald loquacious Mexican who went into some detail of his trip. This seemed to generate peals of laughter from the German party and, encouraged by this, he expanded on his fashion business. He hardly drew breath from Granada to Seville and my friend and I found his non-stop chatting wearisome.

Initially I was unsure about making this trip as after all it’s a 6 hour journey. I am so pleased I did as it was an unforgettable experience.




About Robert Tickler

A man of financial substance, Robert has a wide range of interests and opinions to match. More Posts