Saturday, January 28, 2017

Nasrid Masterpiece - Granada, Spain

Earlier in my years of studying the Spanish language, I encountered the name "Alhambra".  After learning the fundamentals such as hola and huevos (because huevos rancheros are a wonderful blessing to any breakfast table) I omitted the 'h' from the word.  My teacher, Señora Porter, stopped me and subtly tipped her head side to side and told me that I needed to say the 'h' in this one.  I am curious by nature, but tell me something is different and that curiosity spikes to a whole new level.  I feel old saying this, but the internet was still a fairly new thing, therefore I cracked open a few books to learn more about this anomaly of that day's lesson.  One of the first pictures I saw inspired me to take the image to the right and also started a whole new question for me.  Why is there Arabic written on the walls of a building in Spain?  That explanation is a five pound book in itself but I will give you short and sweet of the history and how this palace helped my love for architecture, linguistics, and of course, travel.  
Today, Alhambra stands upon a lofty hill in Granada which is a major city in Andalusia.  Now, let us take those three words of Alhambra, Granada, Andalusia.  In our world now, they are familiar within the Spanish language.  They, however have been tossed around, bruised and beaten by the linguistic blender.  "Alhambra" is derived from the Arabic الحمراء and transliterates to al-Hamra'  (I put the capital 'h' there being it is what students of Arabic would call the big h with a good push of air in the intonation).  That name comes from "حمر" and those three characters combined have a long list of translations into English but we are going to focus on the contextually correct one for this palace which is red.  Although, you may ask why is there a 'b' in Alhambra.  Remember that blender I mentioned?  As the Arabic language traveled across northern Africa with Islam, the language was adopted but with a handful of eccentricities of the native Berber, Coptic, Egyptian, and other groups of northern Africa up to the Strait of Gibraltar (also a derivation of Arabic!)  That 'b' is just something we have to exception as "linguistic bastardization".  Moving onto Granada. A prime example of eternal etymological disagreement.  The Romans of Iberia cultivated pomegranates in the area and one could say that Granada grew out from the Latin granatum, the word pomegranate.  Turning to the other side of the argument is from the Moorish standpoint.  Granada in Arabic is written as غرناطة.  One issue with dialects of Arabic is how each views the alphabet.  The letters of غ and ق are seemingly used interchangeably within the African takes on Arabic.  Taking that into consideration with borrowing of a Berber word, we can form قرناطة.  Throw that in front of a Moroccan today and they will say it as "Granata".  
Moving this along, that roughly translates to 'hill of strangers' in Moorish Arabic which is understandable being the population of the area at the time of the Moors' arrival would have been strange indeed.  Last but not least is Andalusia.  Keeping this explanation as short as I can, when the Moors arrived to Iberia the remnants of the Gothic peoples from Germania were lingering in what is Spain today.  Those people were of the Vandal tribe.  This is where this gets fun linguistically!  Vandal is believed to come from wandeln (w's sound like v's in German) which is an archaic way of saying 'wanderers'.  Bring that over to the Latin world, we got Vandal.  Now, there are two sounds that Arabic speakers have a hard time grasping are the letters 'p' and 'v'.  Instead of struggling with that, the incoming Moors just threw away the 'v' and tacked on their definite article "ال" meaning "the" and gave us الاندلس or al-Andalus.  All that said, the history of Alhambra has been clearly marked by cross-cultures being fused together in one of the world's most beautiful pieces of human creation.  

Now, that we all know a brief history behind how Alhambra came to be, I would like to share my excitement from my visit to this incredible monument of art, culture, and architecture.  I began my biking adventure on the western side of Andalusia I pedaled with anticipation for twenty days of this visit.  What kind of anticipation?  Let us just say I had a picture of this very palace in my childhood bedroom for years alongside Neuschwanstein and the Acropolis of Athens.   When I had my tangible tickets in my hand early in the morning, the wait until my 1330 time slot for my entry into the palaces had my nerves on end.  Side note, if you are planning a visit here, buy your tickets in advance!  I ordered my tickets a few days in advance and even then the availability was slim!  Although, for me the afternoon was perfect for photography and lunch - because food is muy importante.   

These rooms and gardens of the Nasir sons were crafted over more than two centuries.  They have survived wars ranging from the Reconquista of Isabel in 1492 to the last civil war of Spain in the 20th century.  That in mind, the beauty of the plaster craftsmanship is all the more impressive!  As I stood under one of the vaulted ceilings looking up into the geometric maze of shapes and textures the thought of the artisans did all of this work by hand and without computer based design!  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Alhambra Ardor - Granada, Spain

As I was hashing out the route for my 2015 World Tour, I tried to steer away from the traditional tourist attractions in my travels.  But how could I leave off Alhambra the list?!  As a lover of history, architecture, art, and I will even include the Arabic language to the list although to say 'love' in the same sentence as it makes me cringe slightly.  I am glad I made that sacrifice!

I knew I was going to dedicate a few days to the city so I made my accommodation plans more in advance than usual.  I scouted out the options on AirBNB and CouchSurfing for a place close to it all and friendly to the budget.  My golden ticket stay was with Alessandro in his awesome apartment in the Albaicín area which was founded more than 1,000 years ago.  But with all those awesome features there has to be balance somewhere, right?  As I was chatting before my arrival with Alessandro I mentioned that I was travelling by bicycle and had a small cart in tow.  That is where he warned me.  The Albaicín is an wonderful place... unless you have a bicycle.  He sent me a message of the "easiest" route to make to his apartment and that route had a measly 72 steps where steps were warranted and precipitous 'streets' up to the quiet placeta on top a knoll in this historic quarter.  Sadly, I did not get to meet Alessandro in person being he was called out of the city for work, but Diego, one of his best friends was around to let me in and then gave me a world class tour of the neighborhood!  After I got settled in and showered after the bike ride from Loja, I got the tour of the apartment from the main floor to the top where I had the most spectacular view of Granada!  The image above testifies to that!  Which also makes for a great way to enjoy a bottle of vino garandino as the sun sets.  I ought to know being that is how I ended each of my days during my three day stay!  Day Two I had set aside strictly for touring the Alhambra and her grounds, which I highly recommend spending the entire day being there is almost too much to take in at once!  (Plus, get tickets in advance and for the morning time if at all possible!)

Freshly charged with a few cups of Andalusian coffee racing through my veins and a great night's sleep in an actual bed, I was ready to take on the marvel of the Nasrid legacy!  My journey to the palace and fortress begin as passed in the cool shadows under the Puerta de las Granadas (shown below) with a few other early bird visitors.  When I kicked off this adventure, the morning was quite cool and fresh, but by the time I scaled the cobblestone way upward to the entry I was warmed up and ready for explorations!   Once I had my hard-copy tickets in hand, made my way westward through the gardens to alcazaba which is the latinization of the Arabic القصبة (al-qasba) to take in the higher viewpoint over the city.  While on that walk, I noticed a small diversion over to the baths that most people were overlooking this small feature.  As I entered into the the vaulted rooms of the bathhouse, there were more than one fascinating engineering feature that I spotted.  The one that stood out the most were the skylights that also served as vents in each of the rooms.  To get the image on the left I speed up my shutter and closed the aperture to capture the outline of them.  For the image on the right I did the opposite with my camera to demonstrate how the light pours into the rooms of the bath-goers.  Once I passed through the maze of the baths, I meandered my way to the city overlook and standing upon the walls of the oldest remaining parts of the fortress.

Throughout my day of explorations, I was in awe of the span of architectural styles that are present atop the Sabika Hill ranging from early Peninsular Islamic to Classical Roman with touches of Castilian Baroque and Isabelline Gothic.  Filling the voids between each of these elements are gardens of plants from the reaches of Iberia, Africa, and the Orient all surrounded by fountains of spring fresh water.  Looking back at that day, I am able to say I saw so much of the world all in one place with centuries of history quite literally written on the walls of this magnificent complex of stucco and the red clay that gives Alhambra her name. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

El Órgano Granadino - Granada, Spain

Santa Iglesia Catedral Metropolitana de la Encarnación de Granada is not like any of the other Spanish cathedrals and not just because of its long name either!  The beginnings of this cathedral rose up out of the fall of the Nasrid Dynasty, the last of the Moorish rulers in Spain, and from a mosque that once stood in the cathedral's place.  The dozens of trumpets of the two organ bodies still herald the victory of the reconquista resulting in a reunification of the Spanish kingdoms under Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand.  Not only is the cathedral a dedication to this victory, but the Royal Chapel, one of the first and defining pieces of Isabelline Gothic architecture, is the final resting place for the royal monarchs.  After passing through the three high arches dominating the plaza before the cathedral, all are welcomed by the 181 years of architectural fashions spanning from Castilian Gothic to Spanish Renaissance with Baroque influences.  
Resting high up in the lofty, argent naves are two Iberian twins.  Commanding from the heights of the central nave are two "fraternal twins" have been given the names by the naves in which the sing into.  The first of these to be finished was the romantic style evangelio or Gospel bears more romantic features in comparison to the epístola or Epistle of baroque character.  The Gospel was built over a twenty year period until the pipes finally sang in 1764.  While the Gospel took two decades until completion, the Epistle was built and installed in three years starting in 1764 and giving definition to dozens of Spanish organs from Almeria to Sevilla for the years to come.  The organs are the masterwork of Leonardo Avila who is one of Spain's most highly regarded organ builders and the creator of the instruments that have come to define the following centuries' pipe organs across the Iberian peninsula. 

As I spent the afternoon walking from one chapel to the next, I always found myself being pulled back into sight of these kingly instruments!  The craftsmanship in the casework rivaled the paintings adorning the side chapels.  The pipes were like any other that I had ever witnessed.  There were numerous times that I hoped to find a little sign saying "Want to play them? Ask!" but I had no such luck!  The shear beauty of these two had me captivated.  I do not think I could have brought myself to leave Granada if I were afforded the opportunity to sit at the manuals and have the pipes sing in the immense halls.  But there may come a day when the dream of playing on Europe's great organs may come true!   Until then, I have appreciated this monumental piece of art, engineering, and cultural from below in one of Spain's grandest cathedrals and look forward to my return one day again.