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Sunday, December 6, 2015

El Abaicin: The Ancient Muslim Quarter in Granada

If you wish to rent this home, go HERE. It is a self-serviced apartment and if you have 6 people, it is much less costly than staying in a hotel. The owners of the place are so very gracious. They spent about an hour briefing us about the tourist attractions in Granada and pointed us to their favourite restaurants.

Spain was under Muslim rule from 709 until 1492. In those days, the Muslims were known as the Moors. We are staying in an ancient Moorish house inside the El Abaicin (the ancient Moorish quarter dating from the 900s). There has been fierce fighting in this country's history over a land that is as beautiful as it is rich, with weather that is neither too hot nor too cold.

Houses are designed to be lived outdoors as well as indoors. Half the land area of this Moorish ancient house is garden space. It is a garden with cobbled stones and an age old grapevine spreading its leaves across a trellis to give shade. Imagine what it must be like to sit under that trellis and be able to reach upwards to pluck fat bunches of green grapes hanging down, bursting with cool sweet juice. Plants jostle cheek by jowl along the borders of the garden but they respectfully give way to a fountain in the shape of a lion's head. Water tinkles forth.

The Kitchen

The Living Room

The Outdoor Staircase (in this style of architecture, the staircase is often half outdoors, an extension of the 2nd floor porch). The weather is mild enough in winter that people don't mind stepping out into the cold to go downstairs.

See the Mudéjar style carved pillars lining the 2nd floor porch?

The Garden

The Garden Under the Grapevine

Muslim Art with the inscription "There is no conqueror but God."

The Bedroom

The owner of this house comes from a line of artisans with skills handed down from father to son. The lion's head fountain was carved by her father. Her brother now works on restoration works at the Alhambra (the last abode of the Muslim Kings).

The Muslims ruled Spain from 709 but by the 1400s, they had lost so much ground to the Europeans that only Granada was left under Muslim rule. These last Muslim Kings in Granada were ill equipped to defend their lands. Even as Queen Isabella (of Castile) and King Ferdinand (of Aragon) kept launching attacks, the last Muslim King poured wealth into the decoration of his palace, The Alhambra. Beauty, music and gracious living were the hallmarks of the those ancient Muslim Kings who preferred to rule in peace than go to war. As the barbaric Europeans advanced deep into the Iberian Peninsula (a region now occupied by Spain, Portugal and Andorra), they destroyed Muslim palace after Muslim palace. The Alhambra is the only Muslim palace left standing in good repair.

By 1492, the European conquerors had themselves become impressed by the level of culture and refinement of the Muslim court. Upon conquering Granada, the European Kings moved into the Alhambra, with its singing fountains, marble courtyards and perfectly proportioned architecture. There is nothing tasteless about The Alhambra. Its beauty is neither loud nor gaudy (unlike the excesses of Gothic architecture that was the prevalent European style at that time). The Alhambra is nothing if not timeless elegance. Click HERE to see the beauty of the Alhambra.

Even when the Christian kings took over the city of Granada, they continued to sponsor the art and artisanal efforts of the local Muslim craftsmen but infusing the art with their personal tastes. This gave rise to a style of architecture and decorative art called the Mudéjar. The owner of this house comes from a family that has been expert craftsmen of the Mudéjar style for centuries. The house itself housed craftsmen (in the 10th century) who first worked for the Muslim Sultans and then later made Mudéjar art for the Christian kings (in the 15th century).

I had hoped to show my children The Alhambra on this trip to Granada. I first saw it 20 years ago as a  young girl and it has stayed in my imagination since. Alas, my children said, "Not another palace!"

Yet, this is like no other palace in the world.

When Queen Isabella (of Castile) and King Ferdinand (of Aragon) conquered Granada, they signed a treaty of religious tolerance in 1491. However, by 1641, the Moors were forcibly expelled from Spain. Others were forcibly converted to Catholicism. What with ISIS and the Al Qaeda, it appears that us human beings never learn from the pain of centuries past.

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