Tuesday, July 1, 2008

We made reservations weeks ahead to take Ben to the Alhambra in Granada, the last palace of the North Africans and the first palace of the Spanish kingdom. Completed towards the end of Muslim rule in Spain by Yusuf I (1333-1353) and Muhammed V, Sultan of Granada (1353-1391), the Alhambra is a reflection of the culture of the last days of the Nasrid Kingdom. It is a place where artists and intellectuals had taken refuge as Christian Spain won victories over Al Andalus. The Alhambra mixes natural elements with man-made ones, and is a testament the skill of Muslim craftsmen of that time.

Again, as we've seen before, the Arabic architecture was astonishingly light and airy! I caught myself thinking several times, "I wonder where they studied engineering?"

We were amazed by the intricate wall carvings and the beautiful tiles, typical of Islamic architecture. Although their religion bans them from making "images," their walls are highly decorated with inscriptions from the Koran, as well as geometric patterns. Balance and equilibrium brought a sense of stability to the architecture.

When Ferdinand and Isabella ran the last reigning North Africans from the Alhambra, they did very little in the way of remodeling. Thank goodness! the whole place is a wonder and a beauty to behold.

Rows of arches, repetitive shapes, matching elements, and other features make the Alhambra a jewel of a place!

Within the Alhambra is the Palace of Charles V, built in 1527.

The monarch certainly enjoyed their privacy and the beauty of these gardens! everything was enchanting.

One can easily spend all day enjoying the beautiful architecture and the many gardens. John and Ben had a hard time dragging Jan away from the flowers – there was every shade of pansy imaginable

Come and see us and we’ll make sure to reserve a day at the Alhambra – bring your walking shoes!

Cazorla is a small town up in the hills east/southeast of Ubeda, in the middle of a national park. We went up there with friends John and Pam, from JBU days. The castle in the background guarded a border crossing in the old days, but became outdated after the conquest. they've turned it into a great museum, and you can climb all the way to the top (inside, of course)! The town boasts winding, narrow streets, and if you don't know exactly where you're going, and how to get there, I'd suggest parking the car and walking! which we did!

Surrounded by mountains, and fairly high up, Cazorla gets a lot of winter snow. the "snow chain" sign was still up on the highway, although it wasn't too cool out. we need to come back in the fall, and see the trees turning colors.

You can still see evidence of the Arabic architecture in the town, with light-weight arches and columns set against the heavy European stone construction.

Took a trip in the countryside, up in a Cazorla national park near here. We ate lunch by the roadside – baguettes with ham and cheese, chips ahoy, carrots, etc. The view from the lunch shelter was a beaut! You can hardly see it from the photo below, but there’s a quaint little town down in the valley below. Back to the right of this shot are the head-waters of the Guadalquivir River that finally winds its way down to the southwestern coast - the principle river of Andalucia. Crystal clear and VERY cold water. We went back later on with a church group from Ubeda, and did a lot of rock jumping, reminded me of the "good old days" back at school. Somehow Ben's glasses got lost, so he'll have to get a new pair in the US.

This was such a beautiful sight - looking down on soaring eagles and up at sailing vultures. clean air, fresh breezes, clear skies and deep valleys. We wandered all over on graveled country roads looking for a waterfall. never did find it, but we had a great time.

Ben climbed down a little ways form the lunch shelter – and if you can see him there, perched on the rock, you know how far it was! He went down there looking for the rusted out carcass of some vehicle that left the road at one time, and never made it back up. Of course, Ben made it back, it just took a long time to climb back up!

We took a trip to the royal palace, and did the tour thing. They said there were around 2800 rooms, of which we only saw about 28. That was enough! Tired feet and weary bodies demanded a rest! The palace was really beautiful, with lovely statues, decorations, wallpaper and even the molding around the ceiling. It must cost a fortune to keep up, and those poor house-girls who have to do all that sweeping and mopping! Seriously, myriads of tourists kept pouring in and out of the place. Maybe it IS a going concern after all!

Even though we all wore jackets, I got a pretty good sunburn. We rode a “topless” double-decker bus all over town, stopping off whenever we wanted to see something; museums, statues, plazas, and even a “Friday’s” restaurant! Ben found stuff on the menu that he loved to eat in Guatemala, but didn’t show up on the US menus in Dallas.

These "living" statues in Madrid provided a lot of fun. drop a nickel in their basket, and watch them move!
We took Ben to Cordoba to see a former mosque turned into a cathedral for Ferdinand and Isabel, kings of Spain in the late 1400’s. The light airy Arabic architecture had been slightly hidden been the overpowering northern European heavy stone style, where modifications had been made. However, several niches were left unoccupied, no doubt waiting for worthy (rich, famous, handsome, and enchanting) individuals?????

The Arabs used light, well-chosen materials, and several tricks to give a light feel to this very big mosque: slightly bulging columns, stylish capitals, pointy arches, repetitive, well-spaced members, stripes and colors among other things. High ceilings and well-placed sky-lights added to produce a great effect.

The changes made by the Spanish conquerors produce an almost heavy effect to the building, filling in arches, large massive monuments to by-gone heroes, and burial crypts for all the rich and famous. Still, it was easy to imagine thousands of devout Muslims standing, bowing and kneeling as they chanted their “sala” five times a day.

The adjacent “kings gardens” were absolutely beautiful, and very tranquil. We just sat and watched for quite a while.

Spaced out in the garden were different statues, well-groomed trees and bushes, as well as other attractions. My favorite was Columbus with Ferdinand and Isabel, seen here. It was the same F & I who finally subdued the Arabic/North African kingdom in the south of Spain the same year that Columbus sailed to the new world.

We took a trip to the state capital of Jaen, about an hour from here. They had a marvelous castle there, and we able to look out over the great countryside! We were even able to recognize the great smoke stacks from the olive processing factories outside of Baeza. The castle has a great history of occupation, from the Moors, the French, and the Spanish. We met fellow-CAMers the Saxes there, and had a great picnic in the woods. The hill was real steep, and there was something dizzying about the whole thing. Turns out the trees grew perpendicular to the ground, not vertically like most trees. So, as we walked along, everything was “cattywompussed!” reminded me of the “spirit beings” in the C.S. Lewis science fiction books, that were never quite vertical with our world because they were oriented with a different other-worldly axis.

The town of Jaen down below had a fairy tale cathedral. Looks like a post card, but it’s the real thing! We wound our way down the twisty roads and streets of town, and stopped for a coke in the shadow of the great building. Warm day, cool coke! Great combination!

Had to take a shot of Jan for the record. Looks as good as ever. Right? I think life in Spain agrees with us.

Ben has been visiting for a few months, and enjoyed being a tourist in Spain.