Architecture - The Alhambra
( Originally Published 1915 )
Of all their buildings, the Alhambra is universally considered to be the masterpiece of Spanish-Moslem art. It is fortified, as such citadel-palaces had to be protected from enemies great and small. But the fortifications are not strong enough to repel a really warlike invasion.
The Alhambra was begun in 1248, enlarged in 1279, and again in 1306. Its chief glory is its ornamentation. Minute and beautiful patterns containing vines and arabic characters are interwoven into a framework of red, blue, black, and gold of indescribable richness.
The Alhambra was the stronghold of the Moorish Kings. The surrounding wall is more than a mile in extent, and in its prime the fortress would have held fully forty thousand soldiers. The situation is one of great beauty; the snows of the Sierra Nevada mountains forming part of the enchanting panorama. It was the last stronghold of the Moors in Spain, and in it, for two hundred and fifty years, they held out against their surrounding enemies.
The famous beauties of the palace are: The Gate of Justice, The Court of Alberca; The Court of Lions, with its fountain, its alabaster basin shedding diamond drops; The Hall of Ambassadors; The Tower of Canaries; The Court of Myrtles; The Hall of Justice; and the many gardens, fountains, panoramas, chambers, towers and balconies.
The royal palace, Irving tells us, forms but part of a fortress, the walls of which,were studded with towers,that stretch irregularly around the whole crest of a hill; and externally it is a rude congregation of towers and battlements, with no regularity of plan nor grace of architecture, and giving little promise of the grace and beauty which reign within.
These courts are of moderate size. Much of the decoration is in tiles, much of it in only stamped plaster, but the geometric patterns are rich in brilliant color and the whole effect is one of splendor and luxury.
STORY AND ANECDOTE The Alhambra might be called the building of story and legend. And this, largely because of a few weeks' sojourn there by Washington Irving. His book, describing the palace, its legends and surroundings, has thrown a glamour over the structure which it would never other-wise have had for English-speaking peoples.
The peculiar charm of the place, he tells us, is its power of calling up vague reveries and picturings of the past, and thus clothing naked realities with the illustrations of the memory and the imagination. So minutely did he describe the more beautiful rooms and features that his book is now a useful guide-book. The traditions of the palace and the town, that he collected and gave to the world in inimitable form, still throng the place and fill the memory or thrill the new reader with the vision of the past.
He calls the Alhambra " an oriental palace amidst the Gothic edifices of the West; an elegant memento of a brave, intelligent, and graceful people who conquered, ruled, flourished, and passed away."
There are many buildings of this style, chiefly mosques and palaces, especially at Cairo, and in Spain, Persia, and other countries that came under the Moslem influence. One of the famous buildings of the world is of this style and is situated in India. Most Indian architecture, like that of Japan, China, and other oriental countries, is so different from that which we have been examining that it is treated in a separate chapter at the end of the book. But, there are also buildings in these countries of the Saracenic style, built from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries, many of them very magnificent mosques. The most famous of all the monuments is the Taj Mahal, at Agra, shown in the illustration. It is the pearl of Indian architecture. The Taj Mahal is of white marble, 185 feet square, rising from a platform 18 feet high and 313 feet square, with minarets at the platform corners. The bulbous dome is 58 feet in diameter. Notice the pointed arches, and the small pavilions on the roof, which were common in this style. The Taj Mahal was built by. Shan Jehan, and was used for a festal hall during his lifetime, and for a tomb after his death.
Many royal tombs and palaces testify to the artistic originality, and to the excellent use of both arched and columnar construction at this time. The rich decorations and inlaying with precious stones, if in good taste, are worthy of the majesty of the design.