Granada viewed from the Alhambra/Casal Patriu, cc by-sa2.0, edited
Abridged Guidepost Reprint
There exists in the landscape of the mind an ideal place where every sense is touched by velvet and time cannot intrude or alter. It is recorded that the man who, in 1238, began the Alhambra, Muhamed Abu Alahmar, dealt in magic and practiced alchemy. It seems apparent now, seven hundred years later, that the buildings composing the Alhambra, “the red house,” could have been created only in that way. The atmosphere is rarified there just below the Sierra Nevada, the highest mountains in all of Spain, making the air pure and light. Because of the water from the melting snows, the greenery is dark and deep spouting forth in a splattering of sweet smelling flowers.
As the twelfth century crossed over into the thirteenth, the great Aben Hud, who had forced cohesiveness in unsteady Moorish Spain, died and there was a scrambling of the pieces to unite with the leaders of the most strength and munificence. Each leader stumped the country drawing support and uncovering future enemies. One of the best received was Abu Alahmar, who was proclaimed King of the Muslims in Spain and chose to sit upon the throne of Granada. For a few years, peace also reigned and, besides reforming his lands by building hospitals, public bakeries and conservation projects, Abu Alahmar began work on his palace. Marble and limestone were brought down from the mountains and the latter was soaked until, very gently, it was possible to carve lace stonework. The Moors, feeling close ties with the Jews because of the Jewish blood of their leader, Tariq, called upon all their craftsmanship. Delicately, like a ground mist, the buildings began to rise and then the cold wind of war sprung up and threatened.
At first, the Christians were split apart by petty rivalries, and then the Moors, and then the Christians, and it now became the favourable pendulum for the Christians again, who set about for their territories during this time of dismemberment of the Moorish power. Most powerful was Ferdinand III, who had succeeded in uniting the two central kingdoms of Castilla and León, and he moved his army to a point outside the mountainous approach to Granada.
Abu Alahmar, king of one of the most brilliant intellectual and architectural lands in the world, nevertheless, found himself without soldiers to carry on a war and without arms to protect his lacy Alhambra. Alone one night, the Moorish King took a horse and rode down into the camp of Ferdinand. Unarmed, he approached the King and knelt and kissed his hand in submission saying, “I confide in your good faith and put myself under your protection. Take all I possess.” To reward this act of faith, Ferdinand accepted the Moor as a friend, allowing him to keep control of his lands and to fight in the King’s army. It was this last proviso that forced Abu Alahmar to take part in the siege of Sevilla, in which he gained a great victory but was forced to turn against the brethren of his faith. As he returned to Granada after the famous siege, his people cheered him for his victory exclaiming, “No, there is no conqueror but Allah,” which he inscribed as his motto. Now that there was peace in Granada, the Alhambra arched and raised minarets toward completion.
When King Ferdinand died, Abu Alahmar became a vassal to his successor, Alfonso X, and sent a magnificent train of horsemen to attend the funeral and to return each year on the anniversary of the death. The Arab ruler lived until his seventy-ninth year when he took to the field on horseback to repel an invasion of his territories. One of the standard bearers broke his lance against the gate as they left and the councilors of the King entreated him to return at once. At noon, on the field, the omen was fulfilled and Abu Alahmar was struck by illness and carried back to the Alhambra. The brother of King Alfonso stayed with the Moorish King until he died and then ordered that he be buried in the Alhambra that he had built. And thus, the Alhambra was born in the tranquillity of the alliance made between two mortal enemies who were sworn to drive the other from Spain. This was the zenith of the Moorish Alhambra which now had only one-hundred-and-ten years left before it would be captured by the Catholic kings.
Reaching up to the Alhambra is a winding street curving and recurving back upon itself which ends at a plateau filled with pines and eucalyptus among the English elms planted by LordWellingtonn and the protecting walls of the palace. The first of the entrances to the palace is the Puerta de la Justicia on which is carved the hand of Fatima whose five fingers invoke the five laws of the Koran. On the second door is engraved a key. Legend said that the Alhambra would remain inviolable until the hand of the first door opened the second with the carved key on the arch. It is written by Arab historians that the prophecy was fulfilled as the Kings of Granada became dissolute and forgot the rules of Allah and, thus, by their internal warfare, they themselves opened the door to the invader.
When the last of the last of the Moorish Kings was defeated in 1492 in Granada, he asked the Catholic sovereigns to seal up the arch from which he departed, so that no one afterwards could pass through that gate. With the stonemason’s work the end was made to an Empire but when the nights are clear below the snow of the Sierra Nevada, people say that a presence was sealed in within the walls of the Alhambra.