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there. Of the square mural towers a great many-
remain — some hopelessly ruinous, others inhabited by
the guardians of the domain or their widows and
relations. The towers on the south-west side, as far
as I could judge, were better adapted for defence than
those on the north-east, where the width of the
windows would have greatly embarrassed the defence.
The area enclosed by the outer wall was divided, it
seems, by two cross walls into what, in the medieval
parlance, we would call the outer, middle and inner
wards. To the last corresponded the citadel proper or
Kasba (Alcazaba, the Spaniards call it), whose massive
walls rise to your left on emerging from the Puerta de
la Justicia. This is the oldest part of the fortress. It
occupies the extremity of the plateau, which is marked
by the tall, square Torre de la Vela, or watch tower,
whereon a silver cross was planted by the " Tercer
Rey," Cardinal Mendoza, to announce the occupation
of the Alhambra by the Spaniards. Here also is a
bell which can be heard as far off as Loja, and which,
if struck with sufficient force by a maiden, is said to
have the faculty of procuring her a husband. The
view from the platform is noble. The dazzling white

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city is spread out beneath, in front stretches the Vega,
to the south the eyes rest lovingly on the white streaks
of the Sierra Nevada.

Upon this tower I met a French entomologist, who
announced that he should not trouble to visit any
other part of the Alhambra, and was, in fact, surprised
to learn that there was anything more to see. His
horizon was bounded by the Lepidoptera, on one side,
and the Coleoptera (I think that is the word) on the
other. After all, archaeologists take no more interest
in black beetles than entomologists do in buildings.
Incidentally, I should think Granada an admirable
place for the intimate study of insects.

From the Torre de las Armas, a road led from the
citadel down the declivity to the town, crossing the
Darro by the ruined Puente del Cadi. On the inner
side the citadel is strengthened by the picturesque
Torre del Homenage — a name often given to towers
in Spain. The open space before it, where the water-
carriers gather round the well, was a comparatively
deep ravine in Moorish times, and was not levelled up
till after the fall of Boabdil. On the opposite side
— facing the Torre del Homenage — it was bounded by
what I will call the wall of the middle ward, which ran
across from the Torre de las Gallinas to near the
Puerta de la Justicia, and of which only the gatehouse,
the beautiful Puerta del Vino, remains.

This admitted to the area which contained the
palaces and also the little town of the Alhambra —




inhabited by persons attached to the court, the ulema,
chiefs of such powerful tribes as the Beni Serraj and
the Beni Theghri, discarded sultanas, ex-favourites,
soldiers of fortune, plenipotentiaries and envoys, and
a crowd of parasites and hangers-on. To-day the
population is limited chiefly to one little street,
composed of pensions, photographers' shops and
estancos. The plan of the whole fortress no doubt
varied from age to age, but in the main agreed with
that according to which most European strongholds
were constructed. There was the outer wall with its
mural towers and gatehouses ; a strong inner ward, in
place of a keep shut off by a ditch or ravine ; and two
or more other enclosures, each defended by a wall
with a fortified entrance. It does not seem that the
portcullis and drawbridge were used by the Moorish

While the Kasba is generally attributed to an earlier
dynasty, the outer wall and the other Moorish
buildings are almost unanimously ascribed to Al
Ahmar and his successors of the Nasrid dynasty. To
reach the Alhambra Palace, called pre-eminently by
foreigners the Alhambra and by the Spaniards the
Alcazar, or Palacio Arabe, you pass across the plaza,
leaving the unfinished Palace of Charles V. to your
right. Behind it you find not an imposing and
gorgeous structure, but what appears to be a collection
of tile-roofed sheds. A mean, characterless entrance
admits you to the far-famed palace.


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The building belongs to the last stage of Spanish-
Arabic art, when the seed of Mohammedan ideas and
culture had long since taken root in the soil and
produced a style purely local in many of its features.
Some authorities trace the first principles of Arabic
architecture back to the Copts ; the Spaniards argue
that their style is derived from Byzantine works they
found before them in Andalusia, The germs of
Arabic art are certainly not, if travellers' tales be true,
to be found in Arabia. The Saracen conquerors were
warriors, not artists, and their ideas of form and
ornament were undoubtedly borrowed — like their
vaunted culture — from the more civilized nations with
which they came in contact. With Morocco just
across the strait, it is not safe to claim too much of
native genius and refinement for the Moor. Whatever
may have been the primitive models of Andalusian
architecture, as time went by it lost much of the
dignity and simplicity of its earliest examples — such as
the Giralda and the Mezquita. The Moors of Granada
had wearied of the fanaticism and austerity of Islam.
If not precisely decadent, they had lost the fire and
enthusiasm of youth, and wanted to enjoy a comfortable
old age. If the palace we are about to enter seems in
parts more like the ^ower of an odalisque than the
seat of royalty, we must remember that the sultans
wanted to enjoy life here, and had no fancy for the
stern, military-looking palaces of their Christian rivals.
Your Oriental, like the cat, values luxury very highly,




and yet, from our point of view, does not seem to
secure it. A European would have found himself
hopelessly uncomfortable at the court of Al Ahmar and
Mohammed V.

— Architecturally the Alhambra Palace has little merit.
It is impossible to trace any order in the distribution of
its parts, which ought not of course to be expected in
a building repeatedly added to in the course of two and
a half centuries. Moreover, a portion was demolished
to make room for the Palace of Charles V. The
Moorish builders were fond of conceits which our
taste condemns. They liked to conceal the supports of
a heavy tower, and to leave it seemingly suspended in
the air. There is nothing imposing about the edifice,
nothing stately. Its great charm consists in its decoration,
which is wonderful and, in its own line, beyond all
praise. It is based on the strictest geometrical plan,
and every design and pattern may be resolved into a
symimetrical arrangement of lines and curves at regular
distances. The intersection of lines at various angles
is the secret of the system. All these lines flow from
a parent stem, and nothing accidental or extraneous
is permitted. The same adhesion to sharply-defined
principles is conspicuous in the colour-scheme. On
the stucco only the primary colours are used ; the
secondary tints being reserved for the dados of mosaic
or tile work. The green seen on the groundwork was
originally blue. To-day, when the white parts have
assumed the tint of old ivory and time has subdued the


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vivid colouring, the effect is more harmonious than it
could have been originally.

Epigraphy, or long flowing inscriptions, proclaiming
the merits of the sultans or of the chambers themselves,
enters largely into the decoration. Those who can read
these at a glance must find the halls less monotonous
than most people are likely to do. The beauty of the
ornamentation consists in its exquisite symmetry, and
this is not apparent to every comer, who may fail to
realize with Mr. Lomas " that the exact relation
between the irregular widths of cloistering on the long
and short sides of the court [of the Lions] is that of the
squares upon the sides of a right-angled triangle " !

The inscription that most frequently recurs in the
decoration is the famous " There is no conqueror but
God " — the words used by Al Ahmar on his return
from the siege of Seville, in deprecation of the acclama-
tions of his subjects. The newer parts are readily
recognizable by the yoke and sheaf of arrows, the
favourite devices of Ferdinand and Isabella, whose
initials, F and Y, are also seen ; and by the Pillars of
Hercules and the motto " Plus Oultre," denoting
work executed by order of Charles V.

The oldest part of the building — by which I mean
that which appears to have been the least altered — is
round about the Patio de la Mezquita, more properly
named " del Mexuar," after the divan or " meshwar "
that held its sittings here. The southern facade of this
small court reminds one very much of the front of the



Alcazar at Seville. From this you enter the disused
chapel, an uninteresting apartment consecrated in 1629.
The Moorish decoration has almost completely dis-
appeared, but much of the work in the little apartment
adjacent, called the Sultan's Oratory, seems to be original.
There never was a mosque here, but there may have
been a private praying-place. Yusuf I. is supposed to
have been stabbed here. The tragic deed was more
probably done at the great mosque outside the palace
where the Alhambra parish church now stands. From
the Patio del Mexuar a tunnel called the Viaducto
leads to the Patio de la Reja, the Baths, and the Garden
of Daraxa.

The Court of the Myrtles (Patio de las Arrayanes,
or de la Alberca) is the first entered by the visitor. It
is an oblong space, the middle of which is occupied by
a tank of bright green water. This is bordered by
trimly kept hedges of myrtle. The side walls are
modern, and do not deserve attention. The front to
the right on entering is very beautiful. It is composed
of two arcaded galleries, one above the other, with a
smaller closed gallery — a sort of triforium — interposed.
The arches spring from marble columns, with variously
decorated capitals. The central arch of the lowest
gallery rises nearly to the cornice, and is decorated in a
style which Contreras thought suggestive of Indian
architecture. Fine lattice work closes the seven
windows of the triforium. The upper gallery is equally
graceful, but looks in imminent danger of collapse.


Southern Spain

Above a similar but single arcade at the opposite end
of the court rises the square massive upper storey of the
Tower of Comares, with its crenellated summit. To
reach its interior we cross the gallery beneath a little
dome painted with stars on a blue ground, and a long
parallel apartment (Sala de la Barca) gutted by fire in
1890, and enter the spacious Hall of the Ambassadors
(Sala de los Embaj adores), the largest hall in the
Alhambra. Here was held the final council which
decided the fate of Islam in Spain. Looking upwards
we behold the glorious airy dome of larch-wood with
painted stars. The decoration is magnificent — mostly
in red and black — and may be divided into four zones :
(i) a dado of mosaic tiles or azulejos ; (2) stucco work
in eight horizontal bands, each of a different design ;
(3) a row of five windows once filled with stained glass
on each side ; (4) a carved wooden cornice, supporting
the roof. On three sides of the hall are alcoves,
each with a window, the one opposite the entrance
having been near the Sultan's throne.

The Hall of the Ambassadors probably never looked
very different from what it is now. It was never a
private apartment. We can imagine it occupied, when
no function was proceeding, by a few slaves dozing on
mats or reclining dog-like on the richly carpeted floor,
ready, however, to spring up and make the lowest of
salaams as some bearded dignity entered.

This splendid hall and the other apartments adjacent
to the Court of the Myrtles are supposed (I know not on




what authority) to have constituted the official or public
part of the royal residence, together with the apartments
demolished to make room for the Palace of Charles V.
The rest of the building, on this supposition, was the
private or harem quarter. A narrow passage leads from
the Court of the Myrtles to the Court of the Lions.
" There is no part of the edifice that gives us a more
complete idea of its original beauty and magnificence
than this," says Washington Irving, " for none has
suffered so little from the ravages of time. In the
centre stands the fountain famous in song and story.
The alabaster basins still shed their diamond drops ;
and the twelve lions which support them cast forth
their crystal streams as in the days of Boabdil. [The
fountain nowadays plays only once a year.] The
architecture, like that of all other parts of the palace,
is characterized by elegance rather than grandeur ;
bespeaking a delicate and a graceful taste, and a dis-
position to indolent enjoyment. When one looks upon
the fairy tracery of the peristyles, and the apparently
fragile fretwork of the walls, it is difficult to believe
that so much has survived the wear and tear of centuries,
the shocks of earthquakes, the violence of war, and the
quiet though no less baneful pilferings of the tasteful
traveller ; it is almost sufficient to excuse the popular
tradition that the whole is protected by a magic charm."
I fancy that the gifted American was himself
responsible for that tradition, for the Spaniards, as
Lady Louisa Tenison observed sixty odd years ago,

137 '^

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are not an imaginative race, and whatever legends or
traditions are current relate almost exclusively to the
Virgin and saints. Spanish folk-lore knows nothing of
fairies and goblins. The palace which Irving tells us
the people regarded as enchanted had been used by
them for years as a factory, as store-rooms, as a laundry,
as a caravanserai. This hardly suggests that it was
looked upon with superstitious awe. The truth is that
the palace had enchanted Washington Irving, as it has
done many others — not natives — since.

The Court of the Lions is an oblong, surrounded by
a gallery formed by 124 marble columns, eleven feet
in height and placed irregularly, some in pairs, some
single. The arches exhibit a similar variety of curve,
and the capitals are of various designs. The tile
roofing of the galleries rather mars the effect, but the
stucco work within them is of the richest and finest
description. In the centre of the short sides are two
charming little pavilions, with " half-orange " domes
and basins in their marble flooring. The court is
gravelled, and derives its name from the twelve marble
animals that support the basin of the central fountain.
These creatures are called lions, but why I am at a
loss to understand. They look more like poodles than
any other living quadrupeds. Ford humorously
remarks : " Their faces are barbecued, and their manes
cut like the scales of a grifl^n, and their legs like
bedposts, while water-pipes stuck in their mouths do
not add to their dignity." An Arabic inscription




reminds us that nothing need be feared from them, as
life is wanting to enable them to show their fury. That
fury would no doubt have been directed in the first
instance at the sculptor who had made of the unfortu-
nate creatures such grotesque caricatures.

The court is surrounded by four splendid rooms —
the halls of the Mocarabes, the Abencerrages, the Two
Sisters, and of Justice. The second and third resemble
each other, and are covered with the most marvellous
specimens of the artesonado or carved wood ceiling.
The stalactites or pendants, though in reality following
a strict geometrical plan, exhibit complications and
varieties that it is impossible for the eye to follow.
The style may well have been suggested by the honey-
comb. It is confusing, beautiful, glorious — certainly
the most remarkable achievement of the art of the
Spanish Moor. The walls are covered with lace-work
in stucco of the most exquisite pattern, with mosaic
dados, and friezes decorated with inscriptions in praise
of Mohammed V. At the sides of the rooms are the
alcoves characteristic of Oriental domestic architecture.

The Hall of the Two Sisters is so called from a
couple of slabs of marble let into the flooring. The
other chamber derives its name from the thirty-six
chiefs of the Beni Serraj tribe, fabled to have been
decapitated within it by order of Boabdil. The story
was a pure invention of a Gines Perez de Hita, a
writer who lived in the sixteenth century. It has now
spread through all lands, thanks to the version of


Southern Spain

Chateaubriand. The tribe is supposed in this story to
have espoused the " Little King's " cause against his
father, Mulai Hasan. Later on their chief, Hamet,
was suspected of intriguing with the Castihans ; and,
what was still more criminal in the eyes of a Moslem,
of carrying on a love affair with one of the sultanas.
A cypress in the gardens of the Generalife is pointed
out as the lovers' trysting-place. The sultan resolved
to make an end of this pestilent brood, but Hamet
himself, warned at the eleventh hour, escaped the fate
of his kinsmen. The frail sultana would have shared
their fate, had not four champions presented themselves
and vindicated her reputation against all comers in the
lists. Thus the affair ended happily — except for the
thirty-six chiefs. Thus the story. I hope it will
stimulate your imagination. For myself, there is an
utter absence of the personal and human note about
these gorgeous Moorish halls. It is certainly easier to
believe that they sprang into existence at the bidding
of an enchanter than that they were ever the scenes of
men's loves and hates, hopes and fears.

The Hall of Justice (Sala de la Justicia), at the far
side of the Court of Lions, is a long apartment, divided
into alcoves specially remarkable for the paintings on
its ceiling. These have been the subject of endless
controversy. To begin with, it was doubted if a
Mohammedan could have painted them, since the
representation of living objects is contrary to the
injunctions of the Koran. I have it on the authority of




a very learned Moslem friend, a recognized authority
on Mohammedan law, that the plastic arts are not
forbidden by the Prophet, but merely pointed out as a
possible snare and stumbling-block in the way of the
believer. Painting has been a recognized art in Persia
for centuries, and I have seen some pictures from that
country which reveal no mean degree of skill. There
is therefore no good reason to doubt that these curious
works were executed by Moorish artists at the end of
the fourteenth century. They are done on leather
prepared with gypsum and nailed to the wooden ceiling.
The colours (red, green, gold, etc.) are still vivid, but
mildew is covering them in parts, and in places the
gypsum is peeling off. These valuable specimens of
Moorish art ought to have been taken down and
placed under glass long ago. The first of the three
represents ten bearded, robed, and turbaned personages,
who may with some degree of probability be identified -
with the first sultans of the Nasrid dynasty. According
to Oliver, the Moor in the green costume occupying
the middle of one side is Al Ahmar, the founder
of the race. Then, counting from his right, come
Mohammed II., Nasr Abu-1-Juyyush, Mohammed IV.,
Said Ismail, Mohammed V. (in the red robe), Yusuf II.,
Yusuf I., Abu-1-Walid, and Mohammed III. The
family likeness between these potentates is striking, and
the red beards suggest a liberal use of the dye still largely
used by the Oriental man of middle age. The other
pictures are more interesting. The first represents


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hunting scenes. Moors are seen chasing the wild boar,
while Spanish knights are in pursuit of the lion and
the bear. In another part of the composition the
huntsmen are seen returning and offering the spoils of
the chase to their ladies. The Moor greets his sultana
with a benign and condescending air, the Christian on
his knees offers his prize to his lady. In the next
picture is another hunting scene, with a page, with
sword and shield, leaning against a tree, awaiting his
master's return. In another quarter of the picture his
master (presumably) is rescuing a distressed damsel
from a wild-looking creature who is quite undismayed
by the tame lion accompanying his captive. Further
on, the same knight is unhorsed and overthrown by a
Moorish huntsman, two ladies from a castle in the back-
ground most ungratefully applauding the Christian's
discomfiture. The pictures evidently were intended
to record the incidents of a border warfare not
dissimilar to those commemorated in our ballad of
Chevy Chase.

In this hall a temporary chapel was set up, and mass
was celebrated, on the taking of the city by the

Crossing the Hall of the Two Sisters, we enter the
beautiful Mirador de " Lindaraja," the most charming
and elegant of all the apartments in the palace. Through
three tall windows, once filled with coloured crystals,
we look down into the pretty Patio de Daraxa, which,
like the chamber, does not derive its name from an




imaginary sultana, but from a word meaning " vesti-
bule." It is a delightful garden, where shade is always
to be obtained between the closely planted cypresses,
orange, and peach trees, rising between twin hedges of
box and bushes of rose and myrtle. In the centre is a
seventeenth-century fountain. Here you will always
find some artist committing to canvas his impressions
of one of the fairest gardens men have fashioned for

The rooms on the other side of the patio were built
by Charles V., and include the Tocador de la Reina, or
Queen's Boudoir, a prettily decorated belvedere affording
an entrancing view. It was in this room that Washington
Irving took up his quarters. Theophile Gautier slept
sometimes in the hall of the Abencerrages, sometimes
in that of the Two Sisters, and was impressed by the
eerieness of the palace at night. Yet there is not a
manor-house in England or a chateau in France that
is not more suggestive of the spectral and uncanny
than these gilded halls and open courts. However,
everyone has his own preconceptions of the weird and
the picturesque.

From the Patio de Daraxawe enter the very interesting
Baths, ably restored by the late Don Rafael Contreras.
The Sala de las Camas, or chamber of repose, is among
the most brilliantly decorated rooms in the palace, yet,
as elsewhere in this neglected pile, the gilding is being
suffered to fade and the tiling in the niches, I noticed,
is loosening and breaking up. From a gallery running


Southern Spain

round the chamber, the music of the odalisques was
wafted down to the sultan reclining in one of the divans
below. He must have been in no hurry to leave this
spot, where he dreamily puffed at his hubble-bubble and
watched the play of the fountain. The light came
from apertures in the superb artesonado ceiling.
Without, on a stone seat, the eunuchs mounted guard
and preserved their lord's repose from interruption.
The actual baths are contained in two adjacent chambers.
A staircase ascended to the Hall of the Two Sisters
above, for the use, not improbably, of the ladies of the
harem. On leaving the baths you may follow the
tunnel across the uninteresting Patio de la Reja and
beneath the Tower of Comares, to the Patio del

No visitor to the Alhambra must omit to walk round
the outer wall or enceinte, and to inspect the towers.
The Torre de las Damas, a fortified tower dating from
the time of Yusuf I., was inhabited by Ismail, the
brother of Mohammed V., and marked the palace limits
on this side. It contains a tastefully decorated hall.
Adjacent to it is a beautiful if gaudy little Mohammedan
mihrab or oratory, approached through a private garden.
Here was the house of Anastasio de Bracamonte, the
esquire of the Conde de Tendilla, to whom was assigned
the custody of the Alhambra at the Reconquest. The
Puerta de Hierro, a little further on, was restored at
the same time, and faces the gate and path leading to
the Generalife. Passing the Torre de los Picos, we




reach the Torre de la Cautiva, which contains a beautiful

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Online LibraryAlbert Frederick CalvertSouthern Spain → online text (page 9 of 13)