Give him alms, woman, because there is nothing sadder in life than being blind in Granada. ~ Francisco de Icaza
Did you ever read James Hilton’s book, Lost Horizon, or see the 1937 movie of the same name? It has something in common with Granada, Spain, our current location. Both included a search for a “paradise on earth” – in the book and movie, it was Shangri-La (the original name of Camp David, by the way); in Granada, Spain, it is called the Alhambra. Every building, fountain, and garden was built on the theme, Paradise on Earth. Most of the current buildings were constructed beginning in the 13th century, but a small fortress was built there in 889, then forgotten until the 13th century renovation and enlargement. The Alhambra, meaning “the red one” due to its red clay walls, was a fortress complex comprised of the Alcazaba, the military component; the Alcazar, palaces for the sultan; and the Medina, the city center.
You can see just about the whole complex in the first photo, taken from the gardens across the way. The gardens fulfill their purpose of helping to make paradise on earth very well! There are fountains, pools, shrubs with cut-out arches, flowers galore, flowering vines, lookouts onto the buildings and over the city, trellises, and walking paths in and around all the aforementioned. Just as there are arches found all over the buildings’ architecture, so there are arches found in a lot of the shrubbery and hedges!
In one photo you will see Roman ruins. Sadly, this is modern, willful destruction. When France invaded Spain, Napoleon purposely targeted the Alhambra, and a lot of the older sections were lost. There are a bunch of ceiling photos…while many rooms of the three palaces look the same, with arches all around, the ceilings set the rooms apart. Some are stucco (albeit stucco like you’ve never seen!), and some are wood. Some of the wood is coated in gold. In their construction, Muslims use materials that will deteriorate and that have finite lives, as they feel that God is the only one that endures through the centuries, not anything human made.
The closeups of tile work in the last six photos are interesting to see for their intricacy and age. This work is 600 years old! The first one is inscribed with the words, “Plus Ultra,” which is the national motto of Spain. It is a reversal of an earlier warning placed on the Pillars of Hercules at the Strait of Gibralter, when they thought that was the end of the world: Non terrae plus ultra, No land further beyond. Once the New World was discovered by Columbus, the motto became Plus Ultra, More Beyond, and the phrase has become a metaphor for taking risks….stretch and go beyond what is known. We also saw this phrase in artwork in the Seville Cathedral and Alcazar.
As you may know, Arabic is read from right to left. In the last photo, the sentence shown means “Allah (God) is the Winner.” The Arabic symbol for Allah is the “W” you see at the left, which is actually the end of the sentence. There were depictions in the Alhambra of Jews, Christians, and Muslims sitting at the same table. It symbolized peace between the three religions, and they said that the God of all three religions was the same God, depicting that we can all get along. We hope that comes to pass!