On the Alhambra

The Alhambra is a mystical, beautiful place, a Moorish fortress palace sitting atop a hill rising above the Spanish town of Granda. It is a relic from the time when the Moors ruled Granda and filled it with music, artists, poets and poetresses who dreamt up poetry “like the language of doves”. Granada, the birthplace of the spirited poet Federico Garcia Lorca and his passion for duende. Lorca, Leonard Cohen’s greatest influence and probably the greatest Spanish poet to have graced this earth, lived and died in his beloved Granada at the hands of fascist soldiers during the Spanish Civil War.

Lorca, who weaved immortal words from duende, Spanish nights and roses:

Today in my heart
a vague trembling of stars
and all roses are
as white as my pain.

Listen to Frances Mayes describe the Alhambra’s Courtyard of Lions:

“The root of the word paradise means “walled garden”. The enclosed Islamic gardens profoundly influenced the western medieval gardens. The cruciform designs of the monasteries conveniently paralleled Christian iconography, but the design previously reflected the Islamic concept of paradise, with four rivers flowing out in the cardinal directions from a single source. “Four-chambered heart,” Ed muses. “Did they think of that too?”

Leslie Stainton speaks of the view from the Alhambra:

“From the heights of the Alhambra I have often watched the sun linger on the horizon and contemplated the mournful sound of Granada’s church bells at dusk. Lorca said there were a thousand of them. They blend with the music of the city’s two rivers and its hundreds of fountains and hidden springs. The water in Granada is somber. In its presence you feel you have touched the city’s pulse.”

Intricate and elegant Arabic inscriptions have been carefully carved into the walls of the Alhambra. Tourists and visitors continue to be perplexed by the artful words, a language beautiful but incomprehensible. “The form of script is angular kufic, whose uprights sprout into decorative foliage, or intertwine; curlicue cursive; or a mixture of forms. In a culture that banned human images, the form as well as the content of the calligraphy was designed to exalt temporal and heavenly rulers.” These writings have been decoded by researchers and they reveal stunning lyricism.

On the basin of the Fountain of Lions:

For, are there not in this garden wonders
that God has made incomparable in their beauty,
and a sculpture of pearls with a transparently light,
the borders of which are trimmed with seed pearl?
Melted silver flows through the pearls,
to which it resembles in its pure dawn beauty.
Apparently, water and marble seem to be one,
without letting us know which of them is flowing.
Don’t you see how the water spills on the basin,
but its spouts hide it immediately?
It is a lover whose eyelids are brimming over with tears,
tears that it hides from fear of a betrayer.
Isn’t it, in fact, like a white cloud
that pours its water channels on the lions
and seems the hand of the caliph, who, in the morning,
grants the war lions with his favours?

And in the Hall of the Two Sisters, it is declared:

I am a garden adorned by beauty:
my being will know whether you look at my beauty.
Oh, Mohammed, my king, I try to equal
the noblest thing that has ever existed or will ever exist.
Sublime work of art, fate wants me to outshine every other moment in history.
How much delight for the eyes!
The noble one renews his desires here.
The Pleiads serve as his amulet;
the breeze defends it with its magic.
A gleaming vault shines in a unique way,
with apparent and hidden beauties.
The hand of a devoted to Gemini;
and the Moon comes to converse with her.
The stars wish to rest there,
and not turn around the celestial wheel,
and they wish to await submissively in both courtyards,
and serve tenaciously like slaves:

The Alhambra stands as one of the pinnacles of Islamic architecture, overflowing with light, shadows and the Arabic love of numbers, poetry and geometry. I shall continue to dream of it, hazy in the golden sunlight, the sound of water trickling past walls carved with untold stories, a paradise tended to by the hearts, hands and minds of men.

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