Granada by Day, the Alhambra by Night

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Yesterday, our big activity was revisiting the Nazaries Palace at night. Tom wanted to get some night shots, and had brought his massive carbon-fiber tripod all the way from California for just such an opportunity.

A side note: I planned quite carefully for this trip. We had been told it would be sweltering hot in Spain at this time of year–some people even asked why we were going now instead of in the fall. So I selected thin, lightweight, cool clothes. I did not bring a jacket. I left many things at home out of consideration for airline weight limitations, figuring if I really needed something, I could probably buy it here. As a consequence, I had lots of room in my suitcase, which I happily anticipated filling at least partially with gifts for loved ones. Tom saw the possibilities at once, and solved my extra space problem by shoving his tripod into MY suitcase. Greater love hath no woman.

Incidentally, it has been quite pleasant weather. Yesterday was a trifle cool, in fact.

Our ticket to the palace was for 10 pm, so we had an entire day and evening to spend exploring Granada. Our tour bible on this trip has been “Rick Steve’s Spain,” and so far, it’s been reliable (as well as entertaining). We decided to start with the Alcazar, the ruined fort next to the Nazaries Palace, because Rick Steves said it was free. Apparently, “free” means “available,” because they wanted a ticket. So we decided to explore the Alcaizin, the old Moorish quarter. After the perilous car trip into the old town the night before, Tom was no way going to drive, so we caught a cab. (By the way, among many interesting and odd vignettes that I don’t have time to record, on our way back through the narrow, twisty passages that night, we came upon an elderly woman carefully washing the cobblestones outside her door. She had to step back into the doorway to allow the car room to pass, and glared at us as we drove over her nice, clean cobbles.)

The cab dropped us off at Iglesias San Nicholas, an old church now under restoration. The Plaza San Nicholas has a wonderful view of the city and the Alhambra. There was a band of gypsies (I mean a musical band composed of gypsies, not an entire tribe) playing and singing there for tips, and a gypsy selling leather jewelry. The band–well, let’s just say they were no Gypsy Kings. The leather jewelry seller had a surefire technique, though. He had the most adorable tiny puppy with him, running around and greeting tourists.

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The  Great Mosque of Granada has this tiny, half-hidden door around the side for women only.

The Great Mosque of Granada has this tiny, half-hidden door around the side for women only.

We wandered downhill along the cobbled streets, taking pictures of this and that until we came to a pedestrian street lined on both sides with tiny shops, with colorful merchandise displayed outside. It looked like my mental image of a souk, or traditional Arab/Moorish market. Colored glass Moorish lanterns, gorgeous fabrics, tooled leather goods, scarves, hookahs, the lot, were displayed on the street. I explored one shop that had  steep steps down from the street level. On the way out, I stumbled as I emerged onto the street. Two men rushed forward, hands outstretched to catch me, dear, foolish creatures, but I recovered, panting, “Gracias! Gracias!”

I popped into several shops, but didn’t buy anything. Some of the things I really liked were just too big and/or heavy, like Moorish lamps and gorgeous tiles and pottery with jewel-like patterns resembling the tiles we saw in the palace. A lot of the shops had the same stuff, store after store, so we walked on down into the Old Town and found a tapas bar in a hotel near Plaza Nueva. We ordered three tapas dishes to share at the bar, then went to sit in an enclosed patio that had obviously at one time been an open-air courtyard of a house. I thought tapas were supposed to be small dishes, but these were HUGE. They were also very rich and not shy about fat. We had been starving, but could not possibly finish these enormous plates of food. Which were absolutely delicious, by the way.

The next stop was to find a phone store where Tom could purchase another SIM card, having run through the data allowance of the first one he bought within 24 hours (the man is a power user.). The stores were closed for siesta, so we made our way to the cathedral to se the Royal Chapel where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella are interred. On the way, we saw an amazing display of swords in a store window, reminding us of the Iron Throne in “Game of Thrones.” We went in, and I found some very satisfactory gifts. Not swords.

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Gorgeous window display for an ice cream store. Unfortunately, we were practically waddling with tapas, and had no room for more.

Gorgeous window display for an ice cream store. Unfortunately, we were practically waddling with tapas, and had no room for more.

The Royal Chapel is part of the cathedral, but don’t let the term “chapel” deceive you; it’s enormous and boasts its own side chapels. It is also extremely Spanish: lots of wrought iron and gold leaf. There are two huge marble tombs in front of the elaborately tiered high altar. Ferdinand and Isabella, who are revered here as the founders of modern Spain, have the lower monument, while Philip the Fair and Juana the Mad enjoy the higher place of honor for some reason. (Apparently Philip the Fair was quite the playboy, and drove Juana the Mad mad with his infidelities.) The monuments show the individuals in question resting on catafalques, robed and crowned. Their faces are supposed to be very accurate renditions from death masks.

I was walking around these massive massive tombs and nearly fell into the crypt. There was a steep flight of stairs that just opened up in the floor of the chapel and led down to a glass door where you could view the uncharacteristically plain coffins of the people depicted above.

The high altar started at the ceiling with a 3-D sculpture of God, then fell in golden tiers to the altar itself. Each tier had niches with various scenes from the New Testament depicted as realistically painted sculpture. St. John the Baptist was particularly gruesome; you could see all the anatomical details of his severed neck.

Tom and I agreed we both liked the Moorish style a lot better. Then we disagreed about whether or not the chapel  was stylistically influenced by Moorish art. (I was for, Tom against.) Then off to buy a SIM card at a phone company called MoviStar, a transaction that took approximately forever and required showing both passport and driver’s license. I was expecting them to ask for a blood sample.

After a late afternoon siesta and a small dinner, we duly arrived at the palace at 10 pm, only to find that Tom was not allowed to use the carbon-fiber tripod he had brought. We were allowed to carry it, though. Guess who carried it? As I said, greater love hath no woman.

By night, the palace has an even more mysterious beauty. I noticed different things about it, and sometimes didn’t even recognize rooms I had previously been through by day. There were fewer tourists and it was sometimes easier for Tom to get shots than before. I will share some of his photos later; my iPhone camera wasn’t up to the challenge, though I got a couple of nice photos. Some of the rooms look as though you are in a cube of stone lace, delicate and insubstantial–though these walls of lace haven’t stirred in almost a thousand years.

Ceiling detail of Nazaries Palace at night

Ceiling detail of Nazaries Palace at night

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Ceiling, Room of the Kings, Nazaries Palace at night

Long before I was ready to leave, the guards shooed us out and closed the palace. We happened to be in my favorite room at the time. It is a tripartite chamber off the Lion Courtyard. The center of the room has a fountain, and the ceiling spirals up and up, in exuberant fountains and sprays like frozen waterfalls, accented here and there by the ancient remnants of gold leaf and blue and red paint. The two side chambers were for dining, and their ceilings, while lower, were just as spectacular. What I really wanted to do was to lie on the floor and gaze up at the ceiling for a while, maybe three or four hours, but no, they shooed us out into the night.

My beloved in the Alcaizin

My beloved in the Alcaizin

2 thoughts on “Granada by Day, the Alhambra by Night

  1. If you took those pictures inside the ‘chapel’ with your IPhone….kuddos!! So beautiful and does look like lace. Hope you write to Steve about the ‘free’ being changed to ‘available’. I’ve read he wants to know. Still loving your travelogue!


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