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 ebook known as Europe’s High 100 Masterpieces. Right here’s one in all my favorites:
Nowhere else does the splendor of Moorish civilization shine so superbly 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 the Darkish Ages, Spain blossomed underneath Moorish rule. The end result was the Alhambra — a sprawling advanced 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 court docket.
You enter by the aromatic Courtroom of the Myrtles, right into a world of ornately adorned 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 adorned with water, water in every single place: standing nonetheless, cascading, masking secret conversations, and drip-dropping playfully.
As you discover the labyrinth of rooms, you may 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 lined with intricate patterns carved in wooden and stucco. (If the Alhambra’s interweaving patterns look Escheresque, you’ve acquired it backward: The artist M. C. Escher was impressed by the Alhambra.) As a result of Muslim artists prevented making photos of dwelling 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 occasions.
The Generalife gardens — with manicured hedges, reflecting swimming pools, playful fountains, and a breezy summer season palace — is the place sultans took a break from palace life. Its architect, in a manner, was the Quran, which says that heaven is sort of a lush oasis, and that “those that imagine and do good, will enter gardens by which rivers circulation” (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 non-public flats. As a poem carved onto the Alhambra wall says, the fountain gushes “crystal-clear water” like “the total 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, comprised of 8,017 inlaid items of wooden (like a large 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 yr 1492 that the final Moorish king surrendered to the Christians. And it was right here that the brand new monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, mentioned “Sí, señor” to Christopher Columbus, launching his voyage to the New World that might make Spain wealthy. However the glory of the Alhambra lived on, including an magnificence and beauty to Spanish artwork for hundreds of years to return.
At this time, the Alhambra stands as a thought-provoking reminder of a sleek Moorish world that may have flowered all through all of Europe — however didn’t.