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About A Week: The Alhambra

Peter Hinchliffe visits one of the most famous buildings in the world, the Alhambra in Granada.

While meandering through the Alhambra in Granada you begin to think you’re inside a giant wedding cake.

Intricate swirls and swags of carved white marble cascade from ceilings and stream along walls in this fortress-palace.

On the day we visited Spain’s most famous building it was a very soggy cake. Rain splashed down into its open courtyards. Rain drummed tunes on our brollies as we inspected the semi-tropical Generalife gardens.

No garden looks appealing when viewed from the underside of an umbrella.

Come to think of it I shouldn’t have used that word meandering.. The demand to see this architectural treasure is so great that a limit of 8,000 visitors a day has been imposed. Tickets should be booked in advance.

You are more likely to be herded along in a gawping crowd than to have long minutes in which to stand and stare.

Ibn Ahmar, the chap who made Granada the capital of his Islamic stronghold, would have shuddered at the thought of his home being thrown open to the masses. The hilltop palace was designed to show plain red walls to the outside world. The wondrous decorations on the inside were deliberately hidden from the common gaze.

The Moorish reign administered from the red palace lasted for centuries. Uncomfortable centuries for the palace residents. Only the ruler was allowed to have a chair.

The Alhambra is transcendentally beautiful, a symbol of great power. But in a way, in its heyday, it was also a prison. People possessed of great wealth always seem to find it necessary to shut themselves off from the world.

Nowadays they buy £6,000,000 apartments on sumptuous ships, hoping to float wealthily away, cocooned from all human care.

A town surrounded by towering electric fences is planned for the well-heeled in South Africa’s Western Cape. There will be churches, schools, shops, 2,000 homes - and four barricaded entrances.

The Alhambra syndrome, the desire to shut out the rest of the world, lives on into the 21st Century.

The Red Palace became a Christian court in 1492 when the Moors lost their grip on Andalucía. Ferdinand and Isabel lived there for a while.

Soon though the Alhambra was abandoned by the rulers of Spain. Ironically it then became a squatters’ camp occupied by gypsies and the homeless.

After a long damp trudge through history and a much-needed hot shower we went out to dine in another ancient Arabic quarter of Granada, the Albaicín. Our taxi squeezed its way through narrow streets, up, up, ever upwards, negotiating corners and chicanes.

We stopped in a narrow alley. There was a tiny sign by a door, Terraza las Tomasas. We rang the doorbell. After a brief delay we were admitted into a wonderland, an old restaurant deigned to celebrate the pleasures of eating.

And there, on the other side of the valley, floodlit on a spring evening, were the red walls of the Alhambra. We were looking out on what is perhaps the finest view from any restaurant in the world.

One or two bottles, or maybe three, of fine Rioja wine, fabulous food described and detailed by the friendliest of waiters, excellent conversation with new friends Jackie and Diana, Peter and Don… Ibn Ahmar had no greater pleasure.

The Alhambra is best enjoyed from the outside looking in.

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