That which is lacking in sober Toledo is evident everywhere in glowing
Granada. The fiery Andalusian sun gilds and colours the city, and the
whitened houses cast a deep blue shade in the narrow streets. No
forbidding portals bar the way to the flowing patios, those courtyards
that are to-day one of the chief charms of the Andalusian towns. The
climate is soft and languorous; the air laden with the scent of blossoms
and roses, and the people gayer in their garb and bearing than the
natives of Castile.
On twin outlying hills stands Granada, divided into two parts by the
deep ravine of the Darro River, whose waters flow into the Genil at the
base of an eminence crowned by the noble Alhambra Palace and the old
Around stretches a territory of singular fertility, where fruits of many
kinds are plentiful, and the earth yields lavish crops of grain, with
scarcely any period of inactivity. Grapevines and olive-trees flourish
here, and the orange, lemon, and pomegranate thrive. In the distance
gleam the snow-capped peaks and blue ridges of the Sierra Nevada, a
savage range, with foothills here and there under cultivation, glens of
exceeding beauty, and rocky streamlets that swell to torrents when the
snows melt. The vegas (plains) are dotted with hamlets and farms;
vineyards clothe the lower slopes; the ferruginous soil is well watered
by innumerable runnels from the hills, and so made richly productive.
Christianised Granada remains Moorish in aspect to this day, and so it
will remain until the end, a mighty “living ruin.” We cannot escape in
modern Granada from signs of the Moslem influence; the architecture, the
decorations of the houses within, the utensils of daily use–everything
recalls the Moors. Before the coming of the North African hordes to
Spain, there was probably a city on the banks of the Darro and Genil,
called Illiberis, which was seized by the invaders. Rival tribes of
Moslems strove for Granada for centuries until Al Ahmar, a doughty
general and ruler, became the sovereign. It was he who began the
building of the splendid palace during his long sway. Al Ahmar was
succeeded by Mohammed, his son, in 1273, who, like his father, was
cultured, and an encourager of learning and the arts.
Another great monarch of Granada, who added to the Alhambra, was Yusuf
I. He was murdered in the palace by a fanatic, and following him came a
line of Mohammedan rulers, all more or less distinguished in arms and in
the art of governing.
Granada was the last stronghold of the Moorish sovereigns in Spain; and
hither, in 1491, came the Christian host, led by the zealous Queen
Isabel, who camped within a few miles of the walls. No succour came
during the long siege for the imprisoned Moors, who at last besought
their leaders to make a sortie on the foe. This course was, however,
disapproved by Boabdil, the leader, and a treaty was made with the
Christians, in which it was enjoined that the city should yield within
two months. But the starving populace preferred to surrender at once,
and the last of the sultans in Spain went forth to bend the knee to
Fernando, the Christian king.
The capitulation of Granada broke the last link of the Moorish chain of
dominion in southern Spain. A Christian governor was appointed, and
soon the “reconciled” Moors learned that their conquerors were faithless
in their promises of toleration. Libraries of Arabian literature were
destroyed, and force was used in imposing the rites of the Christian
Church on the subdued Mohammedans.
“There was crying in Granada when the sun was going down,
Some calling on the Trinity–some calling on Mahoun.”
To quell the Moorish malcontents, Cardinal Ximenes was sent to Granada,
with the royal permission to enforce baptism or to compel exile. The
Cardinal carried terror into the city. There was no more clemency for
the heretics and “heathen”; their temples were desecrated, and they were
coerced into acceptance of the Catholic religion. “The Knights of
Granada, gentlemen, though Moors,” as the Spanish poets had written of
them, were treated with callous cruelty. Some fled to the fortresses of
the Alpujarras; others remained in ignominy in the city of their birth,
exposed to harsh exactions.
It was the humane Archbishop Talavera of Granada who opposed, with all
his courage and energy, the importation of the Inquisition into Spain.
Let it be clearly remembered that this tyrannous institution was
resisted by all the enlightened Spaniards, and that the mass of the
people regarded its introduction with horror. Many of the chief
Inquisitors went in fear of their lives through the hatred which they
aroused in the people.
Ximenes was of a very different cast from Talavera. He was sufficiently
powerful to have contested the establishment of the tribunal, but he
was, on the contrary, responsible for many of its worst excesses of
The Moors in Granada, after the reconquest by Fernando, were commanded
to wear the garb of Christians, to speak the Castilian language, and to
abandon their ritual of cleanliness. Philip II. even destroyed the baths
of the Alhambra, to prevent the ablutions of the “infidels.” The
beautiful Morisco painting and decorative work were plastered over with
whitewash. Christian vandalism ran riot in the fair city of the
The Moors who sought refuge in the glens of the mountains soon began to
till the land, and to transform the wilderness into a garden. After a
spell of peace, and a recovery of some measure of wealth, the community
of refugees rebelled. Terrible is the tale of reprisal. Christians were
driven to bay and slaughtered ruthlessly. The Moors gained sway over the
district until their leader was slain by one of his own race. Then came
the final routing by the Christian soldiery by means of the sword and
firebrand, and Moorish might was for ever crushed in Andalusia.
For what counted all this bloodshed? The answer is written in the
history of Spain after the expulsion of the intelligent, industrious
Moriscoes. The lesson is plain. The fall of Granada was the beginning of
the decline of Spain, and not, as the Spaniards thought, the dawn of a
golden epoch. With the Moors went their culture, the arts and industry;
and only traditions in craftsmanship remained among the Spanish
artisans. The half million inhabitants at the time of the surrender of
Granada very quickly dwindled under the Catholic kings. To-day there is
scarcely a sign of industrial and commercial energy in this city of the
past. The population seem to subsist principally upon providing for the
continual influx of visitors, while there are hundreds of beggars in the
The Alhambra was considerably marred by Charles V., who used it as a
residence. Philip V. and his consort were the last of the sovereigns of
Spain who sojourned in Granada. In the wars of 1810-1812, the French
troops were quartered in the Alhambra, and they are responsible for the
destruction of the mosque built in the fourteenth century.
The architecture of the Alhambra is of a late Morisco order. If we enter
by the Puerta de Judiciaria we shall see the inscription of Yusuf I.,
who built the gateways and the towers. There are two arches to this
entrance, the inner one is smaller than the outer, and both are of
horseshoe design, with decorations above the curves. The inner side of
this portal is an extremely beautiful example of Moorish art.
The several buildings enclosed within the walls form the Alhambra, the
palace itself being only a comparatively small part of the whole. Towers
guard the walls, and starting from the eastern side of the puerta,
before which we now stand, we come to the Prisoner’s Tower. The next
tower is known as Siete Suelos, and the others, in their order, are
Agua, Las Infantas, Cantivá, Candil, Picos, Comares, Puñales, Homenage,
De-las Armas, Vela Guardia, and Polvora.
The Palace of Charles V. was reared in the midst of these Morisco
surroundings, and to the injury of the Alhambra. It is, however, a fine
quadrangular building, with richly decorated puertas. Around the centre
court are a number of apartments. At the back of the palace is the fish
pond, overshadowed by the imposing Comares Tower, and from here we enter
the Court of the Lions, so called from the twelve lions supporting the
fountain in the centre. This beautiful court dates from the time of
Mohammed V. It is surrounded by an arcade with very delicate columns and
Writing of the lions, in “The Soul of Spain,” my friend Havelock Ellis
says: “I delight in the Byzantine lions who stand in a ring in the midst
of the court which bears their name. No photograph does justice to these
delicious beasts. They are models of a deliberately conventional art,
which yet never becomes extravagant or grotesque. They are quite unreal,
and yet have a real life of their own.”
The Sala de los Mocarabes is approached from this court. Its walls are
decorated in the vivid colours used by the Moors, and it has a ceiling
of later Gothic style.
The Hall of the Abencerrages has fine stalactite arches, and a
bewildering wealth of decoration. The wooden doors are beautifully
ornamented, and the whole effect is fairylike and enchanting. A fountain
plays in the centre of the chamber.
The Hall of Justice has been likened to a grotto. It is one of the most
wonderful of these apartments, approached by a range of exquisite arches
from the Court of the Lions. The pictures on the walls are said to be
portraits of the sovereigns of Granada. There is a brilliant centre
painting on the ceiling, with quaint Moorish figures, and the gilding
and colouring of the arches and alcoves are gorgeous. The Apartment of
the Two Sisters has a marvellous roof of honeycomb pattern, the walls
are decorated with blue tiles, and the floor is of marble. This was the
room occupied by the brides of the kings of Granada.
The inscriptions in this chamber are numerous, and I quote two
“Look upon this wonderful cupola, at sight of whose perfection all other
domes must pale and disappear.”
“How many delightful prospects I enfold! Prospects, in the contemplation
of which a mind enlightened finds the gratification of its desire.”
The Hall of the Ambassadors was built by Yusuf. It is domed, and the
roof is exquisitely carved, while the decorations here surpass those of
any apartment in the Alhambra, and are of an infinite variety of design.
From the windows there are fine views of Granada. Many of the patterns
on the walls of the palace are really inscriptions ingeniously employed
as decorations. The reproduction of animal forms in the adornment of
buildings was prohibited by Mohammedan law.
The Council Chamber (the Mexuar) has been restored. The palace proper
contains, besides the apartments described, the Bath Court, the Court of
the Reja, and the Court of Daxara, a very charming patio, shaded by
trees, with apartments surrounding it.
The mosque was reconsecrated by Charles V. and used as a Christian
chapel. There is a fine carved roof, and superb colouring on the walls,
with an inscription, extolling the power of Allah.
An oratory adjoins the chapel. The court of the mosque is elaborately
embellished, and has graceful columns and arches.
Several of the towers are provided with chambers, and those of Las
Infantas were occupied by the princesses of the Moorish rulers. This
tower was erected in the time of Mohammed VII. Within, Las Infantas
Tower is delightfully decorated. The interior of the Torre de la Cautiva
is even more brilliantly adorned.
The Generalife, the “Palace of Recreation,” or, as other authorities
have it, “the Garden of the Architects,” was originally an observation
tower, and was used afterwards by the sultans as a villa. This summer
residence is separated from the Alhambra by a gorge, and approached by a
path through a garden. The Acequia Court is one of the most beautiful of
the patios in the buildings comprising the Alhambra. A gallery surrounds
it, supported by tall pillars and arches, most richly ornamented. We
look between the slender columns upon a lovely Oriental garden, with a
series of fountains playing in jets. The gardens of the Generalife are
delightful; the trees are luxuriant from the moisture of the soil, and
the flowers grow in riotous profusion. Here the very trees are aged, for
the cypresses were planted in the days of the sultans. There is an
expansive and impressive view from the belvedere adjoining.
Unfortunately most of the internal beauties of the Generalife have
suffered decay, and the brush of the whitewasher has coated the walls.
But the cypress court, the curious gardens, the fountains, and the
beautiful arches and pillars must be seen.
The Darro that flows beneath the hill of the Alhambra contains gold, and
it is said that when Charles V. came with his empress, the inhabitants
presented him with a crown made from the precious grains collected from
the bed of the stream. A little silver has been found in the Genil into
which the Darro flows.
Looking back at the magnificent Alhambra on its proud summit, we can
imagine the distress of the Moors when their city was captured by the
army of Fernando. We leave this monument behind, and, as we descend to
the Cathedral, our thought turns to the period of Christian domination,
and of the triumph of the old faith of Spain.
The first architect was Diego de Siloe, and the work was continued by
his pupils, and by the renowned Alonso Cano, who designed the west
front. As a specimen of Renaissance work, the Cathedral of Granada is
one of the most splendid churches of Spain. The dome is vast and
magnificent, there are five naves and many side chapels, all containing
splendid works of art. Over the principal doorway are relief carvings,
dating from the eighteenth century. But a finer portal is that of Del
Perdon, where we shall see some of Siloe’s characteristic decoration.
Alonso Cano, painter and sculptor, was buried in the choir. This artist
was a native of the city, and the only great painter that Granada
produced. Before his day, the artists of Spain painted with an intensity
of religious seriousness, to the end of leading men to worship God and
the Virgin. Their work was sombre and dramatic. Alonso Cano struck a
secular note; he had a relish of the life of this world, and his fervent
temperament found expression in depicting love episodes, and portraying
the women of his day in the guise of saints and madonnas. His “Virgin
and Child,” in the Saville Cathedral, expresses his emotional art. Cano
has been called “the least Spanish of all the painters of Spain.”
He was born in 1601, and the register of the Church of St Ildefonso
records his baptism. In his sixty-sixth year he died. As a lad he
studied painting in Seville, in the studio of Pacheco, at the time when
Velazquez was a student, and afterwards he learned the methods of Juan
del Castillo. He was patronised by Philip IV., and he painted many
pictures for the cathedrals of his country, among others at Madrid,
Toledo, and Granada. Alonso Cano was made a priest, and afterwards a
prebendary of Granada, where an apartment was assigned to him in the
In the Capella Mayor the frescoes of the cupola are by Cano, depicting
episodes in the life of the Virgin. The paintings are joyous in temper,
and brilliant in colouring. “The Purisima,” one of his most finished
statues, is in the sacristy, and among other examples of his carving are
the wooden painted figures of “Adam and Eve”; and “The Virgin and Child
with St Anna” is most probably the work of Cano. “St Paul,” in the
Chapel of our Lady of Carmen, is also one of his pieces. The pictures in
Granada from Cano’s brush are in the Capella Mayor, the Church of the
Trinity, the altar of San Miguel, and in the Chapel of Jesus Nazareno.
His carved work is seen in the lectern of the choir, the west façade,
and the doors of the sacristy.
El Greco, whose work we have seen in Toledo, is represented by a picture
over the altar of St Jesus Nazareno, “St Francis.” The other pictures
are by Ribera. Montañez designed the crucifix in the sacristy.
In the Chapel Royal we trace late Gothic work. There is a beautiful reja
here (lattice or grating) by Bartolomé, and the altar is adorned with
statues of Ferdinand and Isabella. The ornate memorial of these
sovereigns is by an Italian, Fancelli.
These are but a few of the objects of art in the cathedral. There are
still many churches and historic places to visit in the city, and I must
perforce hurry in my descriptions. Siloe’s architecture is seen in the
Church of Santa Ana, and other churches should be inspected, though few
of them are important. The Charterhouse or Cartuja stands on the site of
a monastery, and the church is a very resplendent example of later
Gothic decoration, the effects being gained within by a lavish use of
pearl, ebony, tortoise-shell, and marble. The Audencia is a handsome
building with a gorgeous façade. In the Church of San Geronimo is the
burial-place of El Gran Capitan, whose effigy and that of his wife are
at the altar.
If we wish to see the types of Andalusian character among the poorer
class–such as Murillo painted–we must stroll in the Albaicin Quarter.
This is a district of picturesque squalor, and not over-sweet are the
odours that may assail sensitive nostrils. But the Albaicin must be
seen. It was the resort of the Moors who remained after the taking of
Granada by Fernando, and it is now largely populated by gypsies such as
George Borrow describes in “The Bible in Spain.” The city has been a
haunt of Gitanos for about three hundred years, and many of the swarthy
tribe live in caves, which they have delved in the hillsides. For a
“consideration,” the gypsies will perform one of their curious symbolic
“One of the most enchanting prospects I ever beheld,” writes the
Chevalier de Bourgoanne, in the eighteenth century, after his visit to
Granada. Travellers of all nationalities since that time have praised
the wonderful spell of the city. Washington Irving, Ford, O’Shea, and
many others have depicted its beauties with the pen, while a large
gallery could be filled with the pictures painted here by artists from
all parts of Europe.
There are quaint Moorish-looking towns and villages within reach of
Granada, some within walking distance. “In Granada God gives all the
necessaries of life to those by whom He is beloved.” So runs a local
proverb, and it seems a justifiable statement from the evidence of
plenty that delights the gaze of the traveller through the richly
fertile province. The vega that lies betwixt the city and Cadiz is
screened by mountains, and thoroughly irrigated by hundreds of rivulets.
Here the cactas is grown for the sake of the cochineal insect. The
vegetation is marvellous; the earth is so generous that lucerne can be
cut from ten to twelve times in the year. No wonder that Romans and
Moors craved this sunny land of plenty.
- The Project Gutenberg EBook of Old Continental Towns, by Walter M. Gallichan