Wednesday the 13th
Good morning Granada! The pomegranate state! The abundance of this fruit is symbolically manifest within the province in echo of the wealth of pomegranate plantations which reside here. Hence, the namesake granada literally translates to pomegranate in Spanish. Unfortunately we could not find any of these pink delicacies at the breakfast buffet that morning, so we set off into the world to discover allusions in artwork and architecture instead.
Our guide for the walking tour was named Michael, whose soft narrative voice could have put me quickly to sleep. Yet, as the day was only just beginning, I ignored the sway of my heavy eyes and did my best to absorb the knowledge he imparted. Granada lies at an elevation of 750 metres and has a mediterranean climate that fluctuates between the hot dry summer and snow-capped mountains in the winter. The peak of the highest mountain at 3482 metres is white tipped until the summer climax – it was a strange sight, for who would expect the ice caps could withstand the sweat-inducing 40 degree day. It is said that one can experience four seasons in the space of an hour due to the city’s varied climate between the peak of the mountain, the city and the seaside. The ergonomic arrangement of the countryside is sparse in industry, and instead its macroeconomic dynamic is characterised by tourism and commerce. Also, the Universidad of Granada, founded in 1531 by the King Charles of the Holy Roman Empire, is one of the largest institutions in all of Spain and therefore attracts many students to the beautiful city.
We disembarked at El Albayzin. From the lookout point at which our congress stood, we could attempt to plot our way through the maze of earthy apartments below. When we filed into the labyrinth I was instantly appreciative of our guide, without whom I would have been quickly and possibly permanently lost. The neighbourhood was alive with a peculiar vibrancy I could not liken to any areas I had travelled to in the past, for it was laden with a unique history that made every step feel like a new experience. We were in the oldest province in Spain and home of the Medieval Moors. Flower pots painted with detailed patterns adorned the windowsills of the quaint houses – it must have been fashionable for we even came across a wall dotted with floral arrangements in pots the colour of the vivid blue sky. I struggled to see how this peaceful plaza had been dubbed the ‘miserable quarter’. How could this be true, and it be simultaneously reputed as a UNESCO World Heritage Sight? We arrived in the Saint Nicholas Square to another beautiful view, this time overlooking the Alhambra. Although currently occupied by a church, the area was traditionally occupied by a Mosque, but Christian rebellion in the 16th Century resulted in the expulsion of its local residents and these places of Jewish worship were destroyed and replaced by the Church of San Nicolás. The church was a simple sight next to the drop of the cliff-face that revealed the textured city surrounding the medieval fortress on a backdrop of voluptuous mountains.
The following stop was at the Charterhouse of Granada. Founded in 1506, this was the oldest monastery in Spain and practiced in the order initiated by acclaimed Carthusian Monk Saint Bruno. We were lead into the refectory where a series of paintings by resident monk and renowned artist, Juan Sánchez Cotán, depicted the characteristic acceptance of death. One such artwork portrayed the inception of this religious branch and its founder. Saint Bruno was an academic at the Rheims in France when his recently deceased colleague and close companion became momentarily reanimated with a breath of life to utter the words “do not pray for me, my soul is sentenced to hell”. This feat of God was met with extreme shock and Brabo retired from his teaching career to presume a life of hermitage. This exemplary was the plea of the Carthusian Monks who once lived in this monastery: pledged to poverty and silence in the remote charterhouse. Whilst humble subsistence was the lifestyle practiced in the equally modest living quarters, this was disjointed from the religious extravagance of the connecting rooms. A single corridor down the chapel was divided into three knaves with doors constructed through a complex layering technique that created an intricate pattern in the wood. Materials such as ebony, ivory, mother of pear and even silver were worked into the design giving it a reflective quality. Every inch of the room was decorated in paint or plaster and each room only increased in grandiosity from the last. The sanctuary was met with gasps from our congress, and more gasps as we stepped into the small shrine where the eucharist was kept. The floor was made of tessellating marble pieces in a geometric arrangement and was host to pillars of the same material and colour. Saint Bruno was represented in carved wood shadowed underneath heavy curtains of dense red fabric. The four evangelists were painted on the inner circle of the ceiling. Using an Italian technique called Fresca wherein paint is applied onto wet canvas, each author of the new testament was distinguished using their respective representative symbols of lion, ox, eagle and angel. The use of such expensive techniques created awe-awakening beauty that had to this day required no restoration. The final exuberant room we were guided into was the sacristy: the place wherein the priest prepares for service and his formal robes are stored. The immaculate detail of the textured walls and ceiling was created through the use of negative moulds and plaster. The artists commissioned to make this space worked 36 years, nearly a decade of which went unpaid as the team of two were committed to the completion of their sacred masterpiece and their duty to god. Funds for the charterhouse were donated by the rich and noble whom revered the baroque style at the end of an architectural period and in the hope they would be put to rest on sacred grounds. Being engrossed in luxuriant beauty, it came as a shock that we were the only group visiting this site today. Like a museum, the building requires upkeep however the income was minimal. Whether this lack of traffic is due to unknowing or difficulty in accessibility from the city and central attractions, I do not know.
It had been a busy day already, and still in the early hours of the morning, but we had one final stop in our walking tour of Granada. The burial place of the Royal Monarchs was built in the gothic architectural style at the request of her highness whom occupies it to this day. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain lay to rest in lead coffins below the floor of the memorial. She was said to be the politician and he the soldier. Her library of paintings by flemish populars of the time were on display throughout the hall. A second memorial is located next to that of the commissioning royals for their oldest daughter Joanne the Crazy and her husband King Phillip the Handsome. The fifth and smallest coffin belonged to Michael, prospective king of Spain and Portugal, whose death altered the destiny of these two nations. The international relations of this era were quite different to today as weddings were used to foster alliances. The marble memorial was carved in Italy with Italian white marble before it was shipped and placed above the tomb. We formed a line to view the burial place, descended the stairs and reemerged on the other side having seen the black boxes through a small window.
That afternoon we went to the Alhambra! This medieval fortress was built to protect the reigning dynasty of the 13th century. It is a city isolated in its own reality as though frozen in time. The Alhambra is the most visited attraction in Spain. A surplus of 7000 people visit this community everyday which is equivalent of 300 per 30 minutes! The city is named after the arabic word for red. The current castle was first built on top of roman ruins in the 9th century but has evolved overtime with renovation facilitating its changing purpose, in the 1300s a royal palace, in the 1500s the acting court of the aforementioned Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. For some time, the fortress was left for ruins but it has since been restored and acclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The citadel was divided into three sections: the public, the private and the political. A motif of arabic symbols were used in the architecture but my personal description of this castle cannot do justice the majesty of the Alhambra – best to see for real or, if not, in pictures!