Ever since the early 70’s when I studied Spanish history in college, I have wanted to visit two iconic Spanish landmarks, Granada’s Alhambra and Córdoba’s Mezquita-Cathedral. Both of these monuments can be found in the region of Andalucía, largest in area and second largest in population of the 17 Spanish autonomous communities. Stretching from Alpine slopes to the Mediterranean Sea, it offers a wide-range of geographical landscapes. Andalucía has the distinction of being Europe’s southernmost point and possessing one of the warmest climates. Currently, we are enjoying very hot but dry weather reminiscent of the many years spent living in the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs, California… thankfully, minus the sand. We are certainly getting our dose of vitamin D. Fortunately, we’ve had a lot of practice staying cool and comfortable in this kind of weather.
Eight centuries of Moorish influence on the Iberian Peninsula is most notable in Andalucía and that’s what makes it so attractive to me. The unique architecture with such attention to detail, design, and especially patterns are quite intriguing.
We began with the Alhambra which spans a vast property on top of a hill in Granada. Like many monuments in this region, it has gone through several architectural transformations over the centuries leaving behind remnants of each. It served as the palace of the Muslim rulers until the Christian Monarchs took over in the 13th century. Later it housed the royal court of the Reyes Católicos (Catholic Monarchs), Fernando and Isabela who received Columbus here and set him off on his legendary exploration of the Americas from an Andalusian port in 1492. Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, attempted to make his home here in the early 16th century by constructing a separate renaissance palace but never completed the project.
There is so much to see that it’s impossible to take it all in at once. We focused on the three Nasrid palaces which belonged to the last Muslim rulers.
I have always been fascinated by patterns and symmetry. When I taught elementary school, I used M.C. Escher’s tessellations in my math instruction. My students and I were captivated by them. It was interesting to learn that Escher’s visit to the Alhambra in 1922 inspired his work in this field. There is a certain mathematical classification of two-dimensional repetitive patterns based on symmetry referred to as “wallpaper groups”. Remarkably, evidence of all the 17 possible arrangements exists in the Alhambra tiles. Much of our knowledge in math and science can be attributed to ancient Islamic scholars.
If you are familiar with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, you might be interested to know that author Washington Irving wrote a collection of essays, verbal sketches, and stories titled Tales of the Alhambra. Irving lived in the Alhambra palace while writing the book and was instrumental in introducing the site to Western audiences.