2 Dec 2010
Warren Singh-Bartlett
I was born in Pakistan. My father is English and my mother is Indian. I was brought up between India, Taiwan, Brazil and almost every industrialised city you can think of in England.

Let me be very clear, I’m not an apologist for Imperialism.

I understand that at some time or another, everyone’s done it – although these days, a large swathe of the world conveniently forgets that long before the Europeans, the Arabs and the Asians were busy conquering chunks of the world for themselves.

I also understand that however ‘natural’ the progression to empire, it’s a bad habit, a bit like war, that may be part of our collective history but which ought to have absolutely no place in our (more enlightened) future.

I’ll say one thing about them, those Imperials of old did have a habit of leaving some lovely reminders behind.

Part of one especially lovely reminder

Granada’s Alhambra is a case in point. Part of the longest-lived, and by all accounts, the most glorious of all the assorted Muslim kingdoms that flourished in Dark Ages and Medieval Spain, Granada was one of the first places the Muslims conquered and was the very last place they left, a stay that totalled just over 800 years. The Alhambra itself was only built in the last few centuries of Islamic rule but it is, without doubt, one of the most magnificent buildings the Moors ever built.


Naturally, I chose to visit it on one of Granada’s rare days of torrential rain. Andalucia is the wettest province in Spain, a fact of which I was unaware until my recent visit. It does not rain for most of the year, but when it does, it’s diluvial.

While the rain occasionally stopped from time to time, thus permitting the clouds to part briefly, revealing the fresh snowfall on the Sierra Nevada behind the palace, the sky remained a sullen, leaden grey for my entire visit.

It is a testimony to the Alhambra’s magnificence that the weather did not detract from the experience. Room after room of sumptuously decorated rooms, rich with exquisite tiling, delicate wooden screens, elegantly carved Lebanese cedar ceilings and mind-bogglingly elaborate arabesques cast from a mixture of plaster and marble dust and then shaped into arches, doorways, intricate panels of calligraphy and elegant geometries and stalactite-like clusters called muqarnas.

Magical muquarnas

Given that most of the palace’s decorations have been removed – the Alhambra was abandoned for decades and until the early 20th Century, it was possible to purchase bits of it from gypsy squatters, who were happy to strip walls and floors of decorative tiles for the right price – what remains is so over-whelming that the original must have been beyond breath-taking.

And so I wandered, centuries after muezzin ceased his morning call, I wandered and I wondered. Through garden courtyards with geometric watercourses, every bit as functional as the day they first brought water into the palace.

Still running after all these years

Through pavilions adrift on a sea of tapering pillars, petrified forests supporting magnificent domes, whose every inch of which were covered in such a profusion of mouldings that their abundance and intricacy capture – if such a thing is possible – a snapshot of infinity, frozen forever until the end of time.

Look closely and you might just see god

Do not let Alhambra’s unadorned, almost cubist exteriors fool you. There is no modesty here. For those reddish walls, which give the palace its name (it is actually called the Al-Hamra or the Red One in Arabic) conceal interiors so lavish they would make a Caliph blush.

Being more mortal, I did what any self-respecting visitor would do. I threw back my head and gaped in open-mouthed, slack-jawed, wide-eyed wonder at the miracle wrought around me in timber and stone.

Wander in wonder

  1. Warren,
    Wonderful! This has to be your best yet.
    I got there without any plan and by accident and still was moved by the beauty of it.
    Rafique Islam, Arizona

    Rafique Islam, Thursday, December 02, 2010 16:04
    • Well, you did ask, Rafique.
      How could I refuse?

      Warren Singh-Bartlett, Thursday, December 02, 2010 17:00
  2. Well dear Warren while the others have stopped posting you can’t stop…:-)

    This place is MAGIC.

    Hurry home my friend…


    Patrick LARBUISSON, Thursday, December 02, 2010 16:53
    • All done now, Pat.
      Merry Christmas.

      Warren Singh-Bartlett, Thursday, December 02, 2010 17:00

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