The Judas Trees will soon be in bloom again around the Alhambra. With purple blossom glowing in the warm air of springtime in southern Spain, and the cool snows of the Sierra Nevada as a backdrop.
I think this collection of broken towers, palaces, dungeons and gardens is one of the most Romantic places to visit in Europe. In the 19th century sense of the word rather than the boy meets girl scenario.
It was in the mid-14th century that the Moorish rulers of the Emirate of Granada in al-Andalus began to build “the red fortress” on the top of the Assabica hill.
It has suffered centuries of disrepair and some clumsy restoration work but it still represents utter romance, as well as outstanding an example of Islamic architecture.
Of course I’m neither the first nor the last tourist to visit the Alhambra. Back in 1829 a romantic traveller and writer by the name of Washington Irving arrived. Irving had achieved some acclaim with stories such as Rip van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow but he was suffering writers block.
I love the thought of him camping out for months in the ruined palace, scribbling furiously in his notebooks and producing an evocative collection of sketches and stories entitled Tales of the Alhambra. His “discovery” and writing reintroduced the Alhambra to western consciousness. Since then the Alhambra has also been a setting chosen by novelists such as Salman Rushdie and Paul Coehlo.
The Alcazaba or citadel is the most prominent original feature and its stark red walls are a contrast to the royal complex, which is a wonder of honeycombed vaulting and carved arabesques, geometrical patterns and painted tiles. I loved the exquisite miradors from which palace ladies looked down on the cool gardens.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site complex is a mixture of medieval Moorish castle and 16th century Spanish palaces, but it is nothing without its gardens. A poet once described the gardens of the Alhambra as almost competing with the celestial beauty of the moon and a walk through the Alhambra’s ‘paradise gardens’ is to be overwhelmed by the simplicity of perfect design.
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I walked beneath Wisteria arbors scenting the air and let my ears fill with the sound of streams of water trickling down the water stairway. Wide pools mirror archways and palm trees – it’s pure Andalusia.
That night in Granada I went to the Bodegas Castenada, where elderly gentlemen in fedoras and pale linen jackets gather for tapas and a glass of red wine. I ate salty manchego and cheeses laced with cardamon or apricot with sweet creamy almonds.
On my last morning in Granada I climbed through the steep narrow streets of the Arab Quarter, with its elaborately cobbled patterns of smooth stones. Up through back streets of quiet, shuttered houses.
From the plaza of the Mirador de San Nicolas I look out on the Alhambra and the old town. Punctuated by tall cypresses, the olive groves march in long lines up the hillsides towards the fortress on its rocky outcrop. Another Moorish poet described the Alhambra as a “pearl set in emeralds” and from here I can see why. Spanish poet Jose Zorilla put it like this:
Leave me in Granada in the middle of paradise where my soul wells with poetry;
Leave me until my time comes and I may intone a fitting song.
Yes, I want my memorial stone in this land.
Granada! Holy place of the glory of Spain,
Your mountains are the white tents of pavilions,
Your walls are the circle of a vase of flowers,
Your plan a Moorish shawl embroidered with colour,
Your towers are palm trees that imprison you.
By Natasha von Geldern
I think the Alhambra is the most romantic place in Europe. Do you agree? Have you got another candidate for the title? If you like this post why not pin it?