The AlhambraI’m back after a week away in Spain soaking up some culture in Granada and Cordoba and walking in the Alpujarra region of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was really enjoyable and beautiful and I saw some very interesting sites.

First of all there was the Alhambra in Granada; the name derives from the Arabic Al Qal’a al-Hamra meaning ‘The Red Fort’. It’s a palace complex situated on an outcrop overlooking Granada and was absolutely fascinating to look around. There are three main sections to it: the Alcazaba fortress built in the eleventh century; the Nasrid Palaces, which date from the fourteenth century; and the Generalife Gardens, also of the fourteenth century. I don’t know that much about medieval Spainish history, but basically Andalucia was Muslim-ruled from the eighth to the thirteenth century, and the last foothold of the Islamic rulers of the Nasrid dynasty until Isabel and Ferdinand conquered it in 1492 was Granada. It was during the rule of the Nasrid dynasty that Granada was at its peak as a thriving, bustling and rich city, and the Alhambra complex eloquently reflects the city’s glory days.

The Alcazaba is imposing and impressive because of its size and location with incredible views over Granada. It is a very functional military building which might seem architecturally uninteresting but in context vividly evokes the power and skill of its eleventh century builders.

However, it is the Nasrid Palaces which are the main attraction.Decoration Every room is covered with elaborate and beautiful carved plaster panels, intricate mosaics and colourful geometric tiles. The rooms are all arranged around courtyards, most of which have still pools or bubbling fountains at their centre.Courtyard Garden The overall effect is one of tranquillity and luxury. You get the sense, rather like at Versailles, that the rulers, tucked away in their inpenetrable and ornate palace, must have been a little out of touch with the realities of the busy city below them.

Repeated over and over in the carvings is the phrase (in Arabic) Wala galiba illa Allah (‘there is no conqueror but Allah’). Plaster CarvingWhilst the context of the Crusades and the fifteenth century between Muslims and Christians for control of Spain means this could be taken as a defiant statement, I prefer to think of it as a testament to the quiet power of the private faith of those who lived there. The Palaces as a whole are witness to the breathtaking beauty and complexity of Islamic art, culture and history, something which I think needs to be remembered, studied and emphasised today.