For me, one of many nice joys of journey is having in-person encounters with nice artwork and structure — which I’ve collected in a guide referred to as Europe’s Prime 100 Masterpieces. Right here’s one in all my favorites:
Nowhere else does the splendor of Moorish civilization shine so fantastically than on the Alhambra — this final and best Moorish palace in Europe.
For seven centuries (711–1492), a lot of Spain was Muslim, dominated by the Islamic Moors from North Africa. Whereas the remainder of Europe was slumbering by means of the Darkish Ages, Spain blossomed beneath Moorish rule. The end result was the Alhambra — a sprawling complicated of palaces and gardens atop a hill in Granada. And the spotlight is the beautiful Palacios Nazaríes, the place the sultans and their households lived, labored, and held courtroom.
You enter by means of the aromatic Courtroom of the Myrtles, right into a world of ornately embellished rooms, stucco “stalactites,” filigreed home windows, and effervescent fountains. Water — so uncommon and valuable within the Islamic world — was the purest image of life. The Alhambra is embellished with water, water all over the place: standing nonetheless, cascading, masking secret conversations, and drip-dropping playfully.
As you discover the labyrinth of rooms, you’ll be able to simply think about sultans smoking hookahs, lounging on pillows and Persian carpets, with heavy curtains on the home windows and incense burning from the lamps. Partitions and ceilings are coated with intricate patterns carved in wooden and stucco. (If the Alhambra’s interweaving patterns look Escheresque, you’ve bought it backward: The artist M. C. Escher was impressed by the Alhambra.) As a result of Muslim artists prevented making pictures of residing creatures, they ornamented with calligraphy — by carving swoopy letters in Arabic, quoting poetry and verses from the Quran. One phrase — “solely Allah is victorious” — is repeated 9,000 instances.
The Generalife gardens — with manicured hedges, reflecting swimming pools, playful fountains, and a breezy summer time palace — is the place sultans took a break from palace life. Its architect, in a means, was the Quran, which says that heaven is sort of a lush oasis, and that “those that consider and do good, will enter gardens by means of which rivers stream” (Quran 22.23).
The Alhambra’s much-photographed Courtyard of the Lions is known as for its fountain of 12 marble lions. 4 channels carry water outward — figuratively to the corners of the earth and actually to the sultan’s personal flats. As a poem carved onto the Alhambra wall says, the fountain gushes “crystal-clear water” like “the complete moon pouring mild from an unclouded sky.”
The palace’s largest room is the ornate throne room — the Grand Corridor of the Ambassadors. Right here the sultan, seated on his throne beneath a domed ceiling of stars, acquired guests. The ceiling, created from 8,017 inlaid items of wooden (like an enormous jigsaw puzzle), suggests the complexity of Allah’s infinite universe.
The throne room represents the passing of the torch in Spanish historical past. It was right here within the 12 months 1492 that the final Moorish king surrendered to the Christians. And it was right here that the brand new monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, stated “Sí, señor” to Christopher Columbus, launching his voyage to the New World that may make Spain wealthy. However the glory of the Alhambra lived on, including an magnificence and style to Spanish artwork for hundreds of years to return.
Immediately, the Alhambra stands as a thought-provoking reminder of a swish Moorish world which may have flowered all through all of Europe — however didn’t.