Palace of the people

AMONG the northern toes of the Sierra Nevada, on a hilltop overlooking the city of Granada, stands the Alhambra – the most complete Islamic fortification and royal palace remaining in Europe. Built as a fortress in 889, it was enlarged in the mid-13th Century during the Nasrid dynasty, and after the fall of Islam in Spain, in 1492, became one the residencies of the Christian monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. It was eventually abandoned, partially destroyed by Napoleon’s troops, became a haven for the homeless, was rediscovered by European intellectuals and restored to its former glory – and is now Spain’s premier ancient monument and number-one tourist attraction . . .

Ancient places stir the imagination – and not necessarily because of their fascinating histories. Sometimes it’s the human stories they do not tell that spark curiosity and our desire for knowledge.

I walk around the Alhambra, with its Muslim fortifications and magnificent Nasrid Palace, and the dates, and the sultans, and the emirs, and the kings and queens, they don’t really interest me. Names and numbers; the history of the rulers interpreted by the rulers – as if the ruled did not exist. But it is the work of the ruled that has survived.

I want to peer inside the lives of the master-masons, the engineers who channelled melt-water from the mountains to this fortified hilltop, and the craftsmen who created the shadowed gardens. I want to touch the fingers of the artisans whose skills and labours embellished the walls with intricate mosaics, filigree and delicate carpentry. And the tilers whose work we tread upon with scarce a glance. And the men who mixed the mortar. And the labourers who made the bricks.

Their stories will remain untold. But they have left their mark in this monument, and in doing so have demonstrated to the world they were as skilful, as imaginative and as accomplished as anyone born since.

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14 thoughts on “Palace of the people

  1. Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving depicts the palaces in a different light getting on for 200yrs ago. That also brings to mind Gerald Brenan’s book South from Granada about his life in the Alpujarras, Yegen, 100yrs ago.
    Your slant on the workers is interesting, I had a similar feeling when I was in Egypt several years ago. I had visited all the fabulous tombs in the Valleys of the Kings and Queens. They are famous for the rich wall paintings glorifying the lives of the nobility. A few days later I found myself in the little visited site of the humble village where the artists had lived, probably a difficult existence. What was interesting was that they had actually created their own burial caves on a smaller scale and the artwork there was of the same high standard. Nice to think they did for their own benefit.

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    1. Hi John. Yes, that’s exactly the kind of thing that adds to the colour of history and goes a long way to completing the picture. In a similar way, recent archaeological digs at places such as Stonehenge have been concentrating on Neolithic communities in the immediate vicinity and the lives of the people who quarried, moved and erected the stones, rather than just the story of the stones themselves. On Orkney, too, we are learning more about the lives of ancient people, and their day-to-day activities, rather than concentrating on the monuments they left. This, to me, is what history is about. It adds flesh and bones.
      I’ve read the Brenan book but not tee account by Washington Irving. I shall look into it.
      Cheers, Alen

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  2. HI Al, when I go to an ancient place I feel like I am transported back in time, I could almost feel the knife twisting in my back on the steps of the senate after I followed the footsteps of Julius Caesar, mind you it was probably George. More recently, I got a shiver when I walked past the old Billingsgate, perhaps in a previous life I ended up in the Thames. As always though wonderful photographs, Kim

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    1. Hi Kim. I think you should experiment with regression and try to determine who you have been in previous lives. It might surprise you. Being from Norfolk, and from a family where red hair is common, there is an obvious link to Boudicca and the resistance against the Romans. That could tie in with the stab in the back feeling. Mind you, I wouldn’t rule out George entirely.
      All the best, Alen

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    1. Hi Cuz. Thanks for that. You’ll have to come down this way again.
      On a different note, I was watching an antiques programme this week and out of the blue it featured a tour of Culzean Castle. I watched it in the hope it would show your uncle’s farm, but it didn’t. Never mind.
      All the best, Alen

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      1. If you’re ever in that neck of the woods you should check it out. The farm is still in McFadzean hands. As for Granada, I would love to teturn as soon as possible but there’s a trip back to Scotland in August so probably not this year sadly. You planning any trips?

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        1. We might pop back to the UK sometime. Other than that, I really need to explore Spain. Been here two years and not really extended our knowledge much. Too much work. It’s not good for you.

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  3. My word! You have captured some of the pictures and articulated the very sights and feelings we had when visiting this work of art earlier this year. We did think about calling in for some of your olive oil but thought it might have been an imposition. Next time we’re that way perhaps?

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    1. Hi Larry. Thanks for that comment. We’ve stacks of olive oil at the moment and it would be a pleasure to furnish you with a bottle or three. But drop me a line first so I can take the duster round or I’ll get into trouble.
      Cheers, Alen

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  4. Truly beautiful architecture – it’s a shame modern architecture is so horrible. Love your stance there where you’re thinking of the actual artisans who built the place and made the materials. We should all take time to think more like that when we look around those places!

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    1. Hi Carol. Yes, it’s a beautiful place. I’ve visited the Alhambra a couple of times now and there’s always something new to see. The night visits are great as well.
      Cheers, Alen

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