Thursday, 24 July 2008
Note Card from Al Andalus SL Community
On a Spring day in March 1829, Washington Irving, the American writer and inveterate traveller was ending a 5 day journey by mule across Southern Spain taking him through the heartland of what had once been the muslim empire of Europe. His destination was the old Moorish city of Granada, and the great fortress which dominated it; the Alhambra.
He had come in search of the dream of a long lost palace waiting to be rediscovered. The Alhambra is one of the finest legacies of the 800 year long civilisation of the Moors.
The Moors invaded Spain from the North of Africa in the 8th Century, they dreamt of spreading the islamic faith across this christian continent. There arabic roots were the foundations of building the most sophisticated culture in Europe, centred on a life of refinement and romance.
Once through the awesome gate of Justice, Irving found himself in a dream world:
"The transition was almost majikal, it seemed as if we were transported into other times and another realm and we were tracing scenes of Arabian story."
Irving was allowed by the Govenor of Granada to move into one of the former royal apartments, and under the moonlight he became bewitched:
"I am so in love with this apartment that I can hardly force myself from it. I sit by my window until late at night, enjoying the moonlight and listening to the sound of the fountains and the song of the nightingales."
On one occasion, he caught sight of a Spanish lady and her escort in the gardens below, speaking softly her whispers drifted through the night air. The scene was so memorable that Irving was to capture her words in his diary:
"The hand of love enveloped us by night, in a robe of embraces, which was torn away by the hand of dawn."
When Irving entered the Alhambra or Red Castle he was immediately struck by the balance between the exquisite gardens and the palacial interiors. To the Moors, the garden was the symbol of Paradise realised on earth. This idea was extended to embrace all the elements of nature, water irrigated gardens cooled palace rooms and lifted the spirit.
Washington Irving had discovered a world of pure poetry as echoed in Samuel Butler's elegant words:
"The Moors believe Granada lies directly under Paradise and that they differ both no more than the upper rooms do from the floor."
Visitors to the court of these Moorish monarchs were recieved with high esteem and prestigious ceremony in the Hall of the Ambassador's housed within the Tower of the Comares.
Built in the 13th Century, the Hall of the Ambassador's was the principal audience chamber of the Moorish sultans. Delegations from Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire alike were welcomed with indulgent hospitality. For the Moors were enlightened in embracing all knowledge irrespective of faith or denomination. Here lived tolerance and romance.
As Islam forbids the depiction of the human form, Moorish artists searched for alternative paths to express their genius. They wove abstract patterns which spiral and zigzag with maze-like complexity across the walls of the palace.
Their love of decoration achieved it's highest form in the art of Islamic calligraphy. It was used to render texts from the Qu'ran including one that admonishes:
"Only God knows Peace".
The beauty of the Hall of the Abencerrajes disguises a brutal event for it was here that the ruling Sultan Boabdil in a desperate bid to hold onto power, slaughtered an entire delegation.
The neighbouring abencerraje clan were tricked into attending a banquet and upon entering this room were put to death one by one. The red stain of Iron Oxide mixing into the central marble fountain was said to be the blood of the victims.
Despite such brutal feuding the Alhambra remains a palace of sublime beauty. Irving wrote that no part of the Alhambra gives a more complete impression of it's original magnificence than the Court of the Lions:
"When one looks upon the fairy tracery of the peristyles and the apparently fragile fretwork of the walls, it is difficult to believe that so much has survived the wear and tear of centuries, the shocks of earthquakes, the violenc of war and the quiet, though no less baneful pilfering of the tasteful traveller. There is a mood of delicious langour among these beautiful remains of arab magnificence, the delightful tranquility and beauty of the place have combined to fix me here as with a spell. I wander by day and night through great halls decorated by beautiful reliefs yet where there is everything to delight the senses, there is not a living bing to be seen."
But, the romance of the Alhambra is not without it's tragic phase. The delicate beauty of the Hall of the Two Sisters, conceals a tale of unrequited love.
The legend relates that these two sisters would gaze upon lovers who would meet in the garden below their latticed balcony. Distraught at not being able to taste these forbidden pleasures, the sisters grieved for the love they would never know, and lost the will to live.
The Moors, lovers of legends, were also great engineers, they built sophisticated aqueducts to collect rain water from the snow-clad Sierra Nevada, to irrigate their glorious gardens in Granada's baking summer heat. Nourishing flower beds and trees and feeding gently bubbling fountains and fishponds.
Living within this earthly paradise, the Moors were insensitive to growing Christian might building up beyond their fortified walls.
In 1492, the armies of the catholic monarchs of Spain, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand surrounded Granada. Born from the belly of conflict, Moorish rule ended in surrender.
A witness to the collapse of the Moorish capital was Christopher Columbus:
"On the 2nd day of January, I saw the royal banners of your highness placed by force of arms upon the towers of the Alhambra, and I saw the Moorish King kiss the royal hand of your highness."
Sultan Boabdil, the last muslim ruler of Granada, left the Alhambra through a little used gate.
He preferred to preserve this Moorish jewel rather than to risk all for the glory of a holy war.
He met the christian king outside the city, before going into exile, he handed over the keys:
"These are the last relics of the arabian empire in Spain, such is the will of God."
Boabdil turned for a final look at his beloved Alhambra, he could not hold back the tears:
"When did misfortune equal mine?" he mourned.
His mother was unforgiving:
"You do well to weep like a woman, for what you failed to defend like a man."
400 years later, When Washington Irving left the Alhambra for the last time, he was determined to revive the dream of Moorish Spain. His parting reflections echo his love of the Moors:
"The Alhambra, a muslim palace in a christian land, an elegant memorial of a brave, intelligent and graceful people, I will carry away a recollection of it clothed in all it's beauty."
Source: Readers Digest. Splendours of the world : Imperial Splendours.
It is my hope that with the above gift, I have given to Al Andalus on the occasion the completion of it's first year, something that will serve as a reminder to all who come here to seek whatever path, whether it be the path to wisdom or towards the appreciation of beauty, that all wisdom and experience is the product of the past as much as the present. There must also be a consideration to the future. To this end, let us go forward with an understanding of the great debt of gratitude we owe to people seen and unseen who shaped the world we know, and to know better the duty we have to respect and protect the world and it's people from damage. To educate, and illuminate, to make not only the great and the good, but to see that the small and the weak are as important to the whole structure as the strong. We are all part of a very important projekt, Life, and what we learn in our second life, will live on in our first life and both will be more rich for the experience. It is my dream, as I hope it is yours, that we may live to know a better world than we found when we were born, and that when we leave it, we leave it having left kind footprints, and that people may see that we walked together and not alone.
Rober1236 Jua the Cyber Trekker of Second Life