La Alhambra: The Grand Canyon of Moorish Influence

May 19th, 2010 by admin Leave a reply »

Until today, we had not yet felt like tourists being horded around and squeezed for money. That ended today with our visit to the Alhambra, a 14th century fort / palace constructed by the Muslim emirs. Wars, abandonment, and time caused much of the Alhambra to fall into disrepair. Only once Grenada realized what a goldmine they were sitting on did they begin to repair it, in the 19th century. Now it is THE destination for buses full of elderly tourists.

Moors apparently love hedges and shallow pools

To be fair, the only things in the US which are this old are either carved into cliffs or inside Larry King. And like Larry King, much of the Alhambra was rebuilt to stand up to the wear and tear of many engagements.

What remains of the palace would have been greatly enhanced by artwork, tapestries, furniture, and far fewer tourists. While I love exposed brick as much as any New Yorker, I very much think the emirs would have opted for something more grand. Some parts that remain hint at the former opulence, but even those are under constant reconditioning (e.g., the famous lions circling the main fountain were off getting cleaned – this was the pinnacle of bummers).

The most interesting part of the Alhambra for me was the ingenious ways the architects designed some rooms to be cool, even in the blistering sun. It was in the mid-80s when we visited, and the sun was oppressive enough to slow the older tourists to a crawl. There were rooms in the palace however that — without any doors or fancy contrivances — were 20+ degrees cooler. Marble, it turns out, is quite good at staying cool.

As we exited the palace and explored the surroundings, we discovered that there are scores of semi-wild cats who call the palace home. We noticed that these cats had perfected the ability to perch on the rims of trash cans and reach in to pick out choice morsels. All I could think of is what an amazing bum fight we could have between these cats and the Grand Central trash-diving hobos. Winner gets a bindle full of fish scraps.

My biggest takeaway from today is that even though crossing paths with tourist hordes is inevitable, it is quite nice to watch them pack into a bus bound for the next photo opportunity while you set off to figure out a way to get back to your hotel. Sure, you may end up walking or catching a local bus, but there is some excitement in not having a guide to fall back on. Also, the tapas and beer taste a little better when you had to earn them.

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