Islamic Architecture in Andalucia

Specifically, the two mesmerizing beautifully old and intricate palaces of La Alhambra, Granada and Real Alcázar, Sevilla. The Nasrid palaces of the Alhambra were built by the last Muslim dynasty on the Iberian peninsula during the 14th century, while the Palacio de Pedro I of the Alcázar was built for the king of Castile in the same time period, with various additions and restorations over the hundreds of years since their construction. Both left us in awe of their detail and color and use of light and water to create powerfully peaceful spaces.

I have jumbled the photos here between the two sites, the (hover) titles indicate where each is taken.

Real Alcázar, Sevilla Sunset, Nasrid Palaces, La Alhambra, Granada Real Alcázar, Sevilla

Intricate domes and carved ceilings far above cap many of the spaces, often with further layers of three-dimensional arches, domes or stalactite shapes within. I could have stared at each of these for the entirety of our visits.

Nasrid Palaces, La Alhambra, Granada Real Alcázar, Sevilla Nasrid Palaces, La Alhambra, Granada

Light pours into these spaces from above and all around.

La Alhambra, Granada Real Alcázar, Sevilla

Several materials are used to produce related patterns and effects – whether tile, marble, or wood it may be decorating the walls or arches or ceiling and incorporate painted colors or carved openings for light and air. Somehow to me it has neither the gaudy ornateness or heavy massiveness of much of the surrounding centuries’ architecture.

Nasrid Palaces, La Alhambra, GranadaReal Alcázar, SevillaNasrid Palaces, La Alhambra, Granada

As a lover of geometric pattern (rather than, say, arabic poetry calligraphy), the tile work stands out throughout these rooms – so much variation over simple themes, so many alternate paths to the same intersections of star-filled points.

Nasrid Palaces, La Alhambra, Granada Nasrid Palaces, La Alhambra, Granada Nasrid Palaces, La Alhambra, Granada

Real Alcázar, Sevilla Real Alcázar, Sevilla Real Alcázar, Sevilla

Water, in fountains and pools and rivulets cut in the floors, connects the inside and outside spaces of these palaces. Incredibly worthwhile visits to both, inspiration for art and a life of balance.

Nasrid Palaces, La Alhambra, Granada Real Alcázar, Sevilla Real Alcázar, Sevilla

Semana Santa in Granada

Easter Sunday falls right in the middle of our trip to Spain, and Holy Week (Semana Santa) overlapped with our stay in Granada, in the region of Andalucia known for particularly elaborate processions and intricate massive hand-carried floats called pasos during this high-point of Christian penitence, lament, and celebration.

Procession, Alhambra, Granada

On the train from Barcelona to Málaga that Thursday morning we happened to be seated across from a Swiss-Spanish photographer who has returned year after year to Málaga to document the processions there. Salva Magaz introduced himself and gave us a personal preview on his laptop of the solemn exertion involved in carrying these floats, dozens of men carrying often well over a ton of wood and silver and decoration for hours into the night. Beautiful photography, engaging conversation about religion and world travel, the Andalucian countryside and coast; we talked off and on for the next several hours, a warm connection made with a good human on this cross-country train ride.

Arriving in Granada after dark that night, our taxi driver initially told us it would simply not be possible to get to our apartment – a procession was moving step by step along our street all evening. Winding his car’s way through the narrow hillside cobble roads of the Albaicín neighborhood crowded with pedestrians, he got us close and we walked behind the tail of the clamor to reach our lodgings, nestled below the Alhambra.

Stephanie knows how to pick apartments for our trips. La Alhambra por la Semana Santa con la luna llena.

Four other processions were making their way through town at the same time on Thursday, and onlookers lined the streets waiting for the procession’s return after 2am. Every day of the week has processions by different brotherhoods (lay Catholic organizations), and on Friday we encountered more beginning in the afternoon, some heralded by drums, others marked by lingering clouds of incense.

Procession, Alhambra, Granada

Our tickets for the historical highlight of this visit, the Alhambra, were scheduled for Saturday afternoon, which by luck happens to be the starting point of the only procession that day: Santa Maria de la Alhambra. Led by a marching band, then hundreds of costumed penitents in blue capes and capirotes, women in black veils, children in vestments ready to light the meter-long candles of the procession later in evening, the slowly moving march paused regularly in silence to file its way through the winding road out of the Alhambra. Nearly an hour after it began, the paso depicting Mary at the foot of the cross inched past us with a second band, with sweating men in rough cotton headbands and kneepads already trading places for a rest and water, ready to continue to march down to the Cathedral and return to the Alhambra after midnight.

Procession, Alhambra, Granada Procession, Alhambra, Granada Procession, Alhambra, Granada

A solemn walking vigil into Easter morning, a particularly spiritual time to visit this historic town.