Enter eden in Alhambra
Sheila Kumar, Bengaluru, Nov 23, 2014, DHNS:
ALL PICS BY SHEILA KUMAR
The gardens of heaven
If the Alhambra palace in Spain is a beautiful
diadem, Sheila Kumar finds the
Alhambra Gardens the jewel in this crown
Blame it on the window views. There I was, taking the tour
of the Nasrid Palace in the Alhambra, stopping every few feet to admire the honeycombed ceilings and intricate canopies, the ornamentation on tile and stone, the soaring
arches, the pristine marble columns. And listening to the tour guide, Enrique. Our
Enrique was one witty guy. ``You Americans know all about Al Capone and Al
Pacino,`` he said. ``Now, get to know Al Hambra.`` Which statement instantly
grabbed the fragile and wandering attention of our tour group, which comprised
The 14th century al-kalat al-Hamra, the Castle
of Red Earth, was marvellous, there was no gainsaying that. And the Nasrid Palace
was just one of the gems in that diadem, the others being the Alcazaba and the
Palacio Generalife. It’s just that every time we stopped to marvel at something,
my eyes wandered to the gleaming plate glass windows, to the vistas beyond. For
vistas they were… of dun- coloured courtyards, neatly laid flower beds
sprouting a riot of colour (we were there in early summer), fat, well-manicured
hedges, softly murmuring fountains. At least, I presume the last lot were
softly murmuring, the windows were soundproofed so I could hear nothing.
After I’d stopped at a simply gorgeous mirador, a turret window, to inhale sharply in
delight at the sight of an orangery
outside, I decided I needed to get my priorities right. Which was how I slowly,
stealthily, slipped outside, through the first door I could.
To cut a long and glorious story short, I spent the next
hour in a state of suspended bliss, walking from arbour to fountain to allee to
courtyard. After a while, I climbed the spur of the adjoining hill and found myself in another
kind of Eden, otherwise and locally known as the Generalife gardens. The name is derived from the Arabic Jannat al- Arif or `garden of the Architect,` in what could possibly be a poetical reference
to god the creator, the architect. The sun shone but not too
brightly, I could hear bees buzzing (or maybe they were wasps), and the air was
very definitely scented with the fragrance of a thousand blooms; 267 species and 20 hybrids
and counting, I was informed.
and High Gardens here contain a veritable riot of flowers. Rows upon successive
rows of lavender blossom, jasmine in bloom suddenly evoking memories of my
garden in Bangalore, crepe-myrtle, carnations, violets, stocks,
irises, spilling out of giant ornamental stone planters and containers or
sitting neatly in orderly beds. Huge
damask roses shone a gorgeous red from pergolas, water lilies glowed white from small circular
tanks. I walked past fragrant herb gardens with oregano, lemon balm, mint
thyme, rosemary, I walked past hedge
after thick hedge of myrtle. And as I walked, I had an epiphany. A lot of
sightseeing in Europe involves admiring things totally and radically unlike
anything we find in our own backyard. That was not the case with these gardens.
The layout, with channels of running water dividing carefully arranged plants,
the architecture of the buildings, all evoked Mughal architecture at its
prettiest; in fact, the Generalife in parts put me in mind of the three
beautiful gardens of Srinagar, the Chashma Shahi, Nishat and Shalimar.
One could hear the soft gurgle of flowing water,
the best outdoor muzak ever, wherever one was in the gardens. The immaculately
laid out gardens, the wide stone-flagged promenades, the arresting view of the sienna
coloured Nasrid Palace in the near distance, all seemed like a panoramic cliché
come alive, a sharp composition of beautiful hues. The dull green of the olive
trees, the sharper green of the naranja (orange) groves with small bright fruit
slowly ripening on them. Blue skies, scudding white clouds, the sun on the tall
lines of cypress, on the shorter stands of fig trees.
gardens of Andalusia, I later read, were laid out following the irrigation system
brought to the region by the Romans; the plants, though, were not all indigenous to the area, some came
from distant parts of the Islamic empire, taking root and soon becoming an
intrinsic part of the Spanish landscape.
Given that the Alhambra has suffered some damage through the years through
explosions and fire, and underwent extensive renovation, too, experts have
concluded that some of the plants now seen in the gardens would have been unknown
in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Actually, don’t just take my words for the
Alhambra gardens. Federico García Lorca, who was born near Granada, was
intoxicated by the Alhambra, so intoxicated he used to play at fancy dress, dressing
like a Moor and wandering through the gardens. Washington Irving wrote paeans
to the place, as did Salman Rushdie, Philippa Gregory and Paulo Coelho. These
guys sure knew a good thing when they saw it.
Back to my guidebook. `` The best and most-famous late-Medieval castle gardens in
Europe,`` it says. Even as I nod in assent, I hear Enrique calling. It’s time
to go back inside the magnificent palace. I’ve had my time out.
Labels: Alhambra, Spain, Travel