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The next stop on our Spanish tour was Granada, which had one major tourist attraction: the Alhambra, a fortified palace complex built in the 14th century by the Moorish rulers of the region then called Al-Andalus. Like most Moorish works, it passed into the hands of the Catholic kings during the Reconquista, and they expanded and added on to it over the subsequent decades. It was eventually abandoned and allowed to fall into disrepair before being rediscovered in the 19th century – thanks in part to the American writer Washington Irving, strangely enough – and today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
A panoramic view from the outside, from a vantage point in the nearby neighborhood of Albayzín:
And some views of the buildings and courtyards from the inside:
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Unlike most of the cathedrals we visited in Spain, the Alhambra didn’t try to dazzle by flaunting absurdly ornate concentrations of wealth, but distinguished itself by the craftsmanship and precision of its construction. Literally every wall surface was covered with these intricate arabesques. Considering they were all made with hand tools (though some of the ones in my photos are restorations), it was an impressive sight.
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I found it odd that the Catholic kings who ruled this palace for several hundred years never defaced or took down the wall decorations, since they consist of carved Arabic script spelling out the Islamic names of God. Did they not know what they meant?
Behind the Alhambra was the Generalife, the palace gardens. These are a restoration, though one that seems more European-inspired than what they originally looked like.
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As beautiful as it was, I don’t want to romanticize the Alhambra too much. One of the buildings on the site (we didn’t come close to seeing them all) was the Villa de los Martires, which commemorates the mainly Christian slaves who were used as labor to build it. Despite all their achievements in art, architecture, math and science, despite everything that they did to keep the flame of knowledge alive until it was rediscovered during the Enlightenment, the Islamic conquerors of Spain showed little evidence of being any more morally advanced than their Christian rivals.