The Generalife of Alhambra

From the terrace of San Nicolas church in the Albaycin of Granada, one gets a good view of the Alhambra complex. In the featured photo you can see, on the right, the palace complex which is together called the Alhambra. The white building on the left, nestled into a hill called Cerro del Sol (Peak of the Sun), is called the Generalife today. The word is a corruption of the Arabic Jannat al-Arif, meaning the Garden of the Architect.

Generalife: Patio de la Acequia

We had a ticket which would take us through the gardens and pavilions of the Generalife, as well as the Alhambra. These are on two separate hills. On the burning hot day when we walked through them, these distances looked enormous. I was happy for the water fountains dotted around, where one could refill bottles and splash water over one’s face.

We walked through the gardens. What remains of the Moorish garden is hard to spot. The present design is from the middle of the 20th century. The flowers are chosen for their colours rather than fragrance, testifying to an European sensibility. The main building here is called Patio de la Acequia, meaning the courtyard of fountains. The photo above is a view along this courtyard.

Generalife: Inside Patio de la Acequia

The sultan would retreat here for peace and quiet in the 14th century CE. The building is simple today, although one does not know where ancient arabesques have been hidden under centuries of whitewash. Those decorations which are still visible are similar to the work in the Alhambra. We walked through the passages of this structure, marvelling that a sultan would spend extended times here. Once one of them was here long enough that a rebellion broke out in the Alhambra.

Albaycin viewed from the Generalife

There is a marvellous view of the Albaycin from this hill, as you can see in the photo above. I did not spend too much time in the garden, because I liked this more. The Family was more practical; she figured that we would see grander work inside the Nasirid palace. So she spent more time in the garden, while I sat on a bench after splashing water on myself and waiting to dry out.

The Bañuelo

We walked along the little stream called the Darro on a narrow road. This was the lowest part of the Albaycin in Granada. A tourist bus went by and we had to flatten ourselves against a wall to let it go. I saw an opening next to me and a sign for the old bath-house or Hammam that we were looking for. This is called El Bañuelo, which simply means the bath. We walked in, and just after a little reception found an open space with a little square pool full of water.

Granada : arches inside the hamam

We walked past this into the main baths. This 11th century CE bath would have been lost if it had not become part of a private house. Originally the baths were attached to a mosque called the Mosque of the Walnut Tree. Hammams played almost as important a social role in Al Andalus as mosques. Both were places where people could gather and socialize. Women, who were generally supposed to be inside houses, could go to both these places. A mosque would have separate rooms for the segregation of genders, but in a Hammam this would be done by having different timings for men and women.

Granada: Hamam with skylights

The different rooms were for hot and cold water. The openings which you see in the ceiling were meant to allow light in, and steam out. At the back was a room whose roof had fallen in. Apparently this contained the boilers. The tiles on the floor are original, but the plaster-work has not survived the centuries. When I started taking photos, I found that the light was beautiful. I can imagine the wonderful play of light on the rising steam in a working Hammam.

A walk with Carmens

We walked up and down the world heritage district of Albaycin in Granada on a hot day. Narrow paths wound between closed doors framed with tiles. Dazzling white walls of Carmens struggled to hold back flowering trees and creepers. It took me some time to figure out that although carmen means a garden in Spanish, in the Albaycin it has the added meaning of a house surrounded by a garden. Through gaps in the walls one could get a view of the Alhambra. I’d not paid much attention to descriptions of walks through this old Moorish part of the town, but it is one of my most pleasant memories of Spain.

The old houses were made with bricks and limestone mortar. Although there is a tremendous amount of study of the old materials in order to restore the most important buildings, the results are mainly applied to public property. Most of these carmens are private property, with their doors firmly shut. I could see more modern materials used in various places. As we walked between these white walls, The Family and I talked about the name of this area.

Albaycin or Albayzin apparently comes from an Arabic root which means the (place of) falconers. Baaz is a word that we knew. It is the Hindi word for a falcon, a loan word from Persian. That was intriguing. Were there really Persian influences in al-Andalus? I found later that in al-Andalus other words related to falconry, for example, dastaban for a falconer’s gloves, also come from Persian. How did the Moorish kingdoms of the far west carry the influence of Persian?

The rooftops of Granada

Few people mention the wonderful views of Granada which you get from the hilltop fortress of Alhambra. The city of Granada is surrounded by mountains, which is the reason for the fanciful name. Someone thought it looks like the crown on top of a pomegranate, called granada in Spanish. The picturesque town nestles in a large and fertile valley between them.

The medieval part of the town is called the Albaycin. We climbed through the twisty maze of little streets in this area. Behind high walls you can see gardens. We found that this kind of single house surrounded by a walled garden is called a carmen. It was hard to get a good view of these from the narrow streets. Closer to the river the houses ran into each other.

This ancient Moorish quarter is visible better from the Alhambra. The river Darro separates the Albaycin from the Alhambra. Since there was a medieval city, a Medina, within the fortress, I wonder whether there was an easily understandable difference between those who lived in the Medina and those in the Albaycin. In any case, the white walls, red-tiled patios and the fired clay tiles on the roofs of the houses in the Albaycin look immensely picturesque when viewed from the Alhambra.