Saturday, August 6, 2011

Spain (part 12)

Alhambra sketch 

Granada is a unique and vibrant city, memorable for its lively atmosphere, free tapas, and absolutely extraordinary Islamic architecture. Walking around the sprawling grounds of the Alhambra was unlike anything I have experienced before, each section was spectacular - the gardens of the Generalife, the ruins of the Alcazaba, and the incredible plasterwork of the Nasrid Palaces. I really enjoyed the opportunity to return to the Nasrid Palaces for a night-time visit, which allowed me to fully appreciate and focus on the architectural details without any of the daytime distractions. At night the plasterwork was dramatically lit, revealing it's true dimensionality and distinguishing every intertwined line, shape and section of script. It was meaningful to me to be able to look up at the rich patterning of a ceiling inspired by the night sky and then to sit next to a still reflecting pool looking up at the real night sky framed by the walls of an open courtyard.

Nasrid Palaces plasterwork sketch

amazing dimensional plasterwork on the ceiling

intricate interweaving of image and text

reflecting pool at night

Also at the Alhambra I also saw "Infinite Universes," a fantastic exhibition of lithographs and woodcuts by M.C. Escher, which placed in context with the architecture really added to my understanding of his work and influences. Apparently Escher travelled to the Alhambra shortly after completing his studies and made numerous sketches. The geometric, interlocking designs of the Islamic tiling, carpentry and plasterwork had a very evident impact on his ideas and artwork. I thought the exhibition text described his work particularly well as "not idealising reality, but rather about provoking the meeting of different realities that act through reciprocity or exchange... worlds embedded within other worlds in a continuous infinite succession."

Escher, "Encounter", lithograph

Granada from the Alhambra

From the Alhambra, it was possible to look out over the picturesque city in one direction and the surreal, snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountain range in another. Seeing the giant mountains from this perspective made me all the more eager to go forth and meet them! I was granted a perfect sunny day, a local bus and a lovely hiking buddy (Kel the Australian graphic designer I met in Malaga) and soon found myself in a beautiful little mountain town called Güéjar Sierra, although the hiking trail itself was nowhere to be seen. After a couple of hours walking in the general direction indicated by friendly locals, including one kind man who drew a detailed map in the dirt, we reached the beginning of the Ruta La Veruda de Estrella. From my experience seeking out special price train tickets I had learnt that Estrella means special or literally star, which led me to believe that this hike would be especially spectacular and it certainly was! We walked along the quiet track all day passing beside mountains, above a river, spotting the occasional ruined hut or nimble goat, while the majestic snow-capped peaks drew ever closer. I honestly found myself having a "wow" moment at every corner :)

going out to meet the mountains


Although, for me, the Sierra Nevada was more awe-inspiring than any man-made cathedral/structure, I did enjoy seeing the Royal Chapel in Granada, a stunning gothic style chapel centred around magnificent tombs of carved stone representing royal figures. There were also some great paintings in the Royal Chapel Sacristy Museum of which I particulary enjoyed the sensitive, finely detailed Flemish painters Rogier Van Der Weyden and Hans Memling. 

Hans Memling, "The Virgin and Child on the Throne"

The Museo de San Juan de Dios was another interesting historic building, the house/hospital of Saint John of God who once cared for sick and needy people in Granada. I had a delightful guide who led me around the museum, speaking good English, but when that failed enthusiastic sound effects usually got the point across! I learnt a lot about the specific symbolism of the house/museum, which was adorned with numerous pomegranates (the symbol of the order of Saint John of God), relics such as the knee-bone, rib-bone and basket of Saint John of God  as well many exotic gifts from numerous countries around the world where chapters of the order of Saint John of God still exist (Australia had a minimal representation with a couple of boomerangs in the bottom of a cabinet!). There were some great paintings, but my favourite objects were a collection of walking sticks with carved handles featuring animals and other fantastic creatures.

Speaking of fantastic creatures, I saw this very cleverly camouflaged giraffe (below) while spending time surveying the plentiful and exciting array of street art in Granada, particularly in the Jewish quarter and Albayzín neighbourhood.

unknown artist, Granada

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