The Legend and the Mystique of Alhambra

Prologue by Zia H Shah MD

The charm and mystique of any good fiction lies in the conflict, tension and drama between the characters.

Alhambra lives in the imagination of every Christian and every Muslim and there are almost 4 billion of them, put together.  It offers all the fascination and drama of a good fiction, like a popular novel by a best selling author.

The seven hundred year rule of the Muslims in Spain and then their complete elimination from the continent, the passing of the torch from the Muslims to the Christians, by centuries of interaction, in Cordoba and Seville and the contemporary presence of 44 million Muslims in Europe, with their potential of social and political success, their new weapon of Jihad with the pen, after their total decimation, while they indulged in Jihad with the sword, Jihad becoming a swear word to the non-Muslim ears, in the present context, yet a significant population of Europe becoming agnostic or atheist and fewer and fewer believing in traditional Christianity, are all parts and parcels of the legend and the mystique of Alhambra.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica:

The most important rooms of the Alhambra are the Salón de los Embajadores (Hall of the Ambassadors), a spatially grand reception room; the Sala de los Abencerrajes (the name of this hall, also spelled “Abencerrages,” was derived from a legend in which Boabdil, the last king of Granada, having invited the Abencerraje chiefs to a banquet in this room, there massacred them).

Conspiracies, deceits and murders aside, but, does the mystique of Alhambra lie in the Muslim Heritage and the debt of Europe to Islam?

Without further ado here I present Dr. Nasir Gondal’s article:

Written by Dr. Nasir Gondal

Today is the five hundred and twenty first anniversary of the Fall of Granada. On this day in 1492, Abdullah Mohammad the Twelfth,  Boabdil left the city as the last ruler of the Muslim Spain.

Granada it is, the ultimate tourist attraction in Spain. More than eight thousand tourists a day, and unless you have bought the ticket months in advance, you cannot see the Nasrid Palace. Yes it is the  Nasrid Palace we mean when we say and speak of Alhambra. Not so big in size; in fact not big at all.

The beauty of Alhambra is not the size, on the contrary it is the economy of space. Moors knew they have not much space on the mountain top to make it big. The geometric illusions make it look a lot bigger than what it is.

And the water. “Alhambra is decorated with water: standing still, cascading, masking secret conversations, and drip-dropping playfully”.

Spaniards were and still are fascinated by the legacy of Moors. They were believed to have power of the occult. There are stories of hidden treasures left by Moors with spell cast so that once the Moors come back, they can reclaim them. It is more or less what we grew up listening to the stories of hidden treasure buried somewhere in the houses and havelis Hindus left in Pakistan. It is perhaps the psychological impact of having apprehensions about the other ‘race’ and one builds myths about their unnatural powers and undue advantages.

All this is expressed in the many tales and fables about Alhambra and its surroundings. Spaniards were really ‘enchanted’ by the beauty and the charm of the palace. They had to believe something magical about it. There are numerous tales, well archived by Washington Irving and the like, in Arabian Night style, about the Moors hiding in the caves,  for centuries only waiting for the right time to strike back.

Most of these tales conveniently describe Moors as cunning and evil magicians, their women beautiful and wide eyed. They usually end with the victory of the good (Christians) over the evil (Moors). These are all fascinating stories and Irving has masterly narrated them.

There is a story of an astrologer Ibrahim ibn Abu Ayub, son of Abu Ayub Ansari, who mastered the art of living for ever, but only in his old age, so he has to live for ever as an old man.. He travels to Granada, then ruled by Tariq Bin Zayad’s lieutenant Abu Hazen. The astrologer helps the king through magic to foresee  the enemies and defeat them preemptively. Eventually the twain end up fighting with each other over a Christian princess and Ibrahim claims the prize by putting a spell on the princess and taking her along with him under the Gate of Justice. They will remain there until the hand carved in the Gate of Justice reaches the key inscribed into it.

Then there is the almost Saiful Malook  like story of Prince Ahmed Kamal who is kept away from women right from the early life by his father as he was told that he will fall in love really badly. Kept in the tower of Generalife Gardens, he is told about love by a bird in love, a dove. He comes to know of a Christian princess Aldegonda in a far away land and is smitten with the unseen love. Then with the help of a wise Owl and a conniving Parrot he runs away and finds his way to Seville, Cordoba and ultimately to Toledo where he wins the hand of the princess in a Soyember like feast. King, the father of the princess, does not agree and Ahmed Kamal runs away on a magical flying carpet attributed to the King of Kings, the fabled King Solomon. It all ends well when the king finds out on reaching Granada in revengeful pursuit that his daughter is now the sultana of Granada.

Then there is the story of Zayda, Zorayda, and Zorahayda, the three daughters of Al Hayzari, the Left Handed king of Granada. Their mother was a Christian princess who died soon after giving birth to the triplets. Al Hayzari was forewarned by sages that something will happen, so he kept them away from public eye as they grew up. The overprotective father was unaware that his daughters fell  in love with three Castillian princes who were prisoners in Granada. In the end the girls plan to run away, by climbing down a rope out of the palace. The youngest one falters and is left behind. Her soul still haunts the palace, until a Christian comes to rescue her and relieve her desperate spirit from the eternal mourning. It is eventually done by a girl who is a descendant of the same prince who were to marry Zorahayda.

Then there are stories of ordinary men finding hidden treasures in Alhambra after striking a lucky charm here and there.

These stories inspired the treasure hunters to find and dig in various places; none has been found so far, except what I consider as the gold mine, mentioned in the end of this post.

Walking through the rooms of Alhambra, one is constantly reminded of these fables which only a century ago may have seemed almost real.

The Alhambra Palace can be divided into three sections. if not four. The tour really takes you through in that sequence. You enter by the outer quarter where the common man was heard for any complaints or official business, the second is the place where the royals met the royal and elite guests, and the last is the private quarter area, which leads to the fourth section, the private gardens.  Read further.

Our collection about the Muslim Heritage.

The Court of the Lions in Alhambra Palace, Granada Spain

2 replies

  1. Dear Brother Shah Sb,

    Assalamo Alaikum w.w.

    Fazle Khuda Ka Saya Tum pe Rahe Hamesha

    Har Din Charhe Mubarak Har Raat Bakher Guzre

    Thank you for posting this pretty Muslim’s Global Village Historical places and Palaces. Happy New Year. May Allah bless you and your family, a happy, healthy and wealthy long life. Ameen

    Kind Regards.

    Munawar Ahmad Bajwa
    Ginnheimer Stadtweg 163

    60431 Frankfurt

    Germany

    Tel. +49(0)69519774

    Mob. +49 01778353306

    Emai: munawar.bajwa@yahoo.de

    “LOVE FOR ALL, HATRED FOR NONE”

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