Barcelona I, the Eixample

Barcelona is our favorite big city so far.  It’s Spain’s 2nd largest city (1.7 million in the center, 5 million in the greater city), but it doesn’t feel like a big city.  Public transportation is fabulous, making the city seem smaller, and wherever you go there’s a neighborhood feeling.  It’s a delightful city – anywhere you look there’s a feast for the eyes and an outdoor bistro for the stomach.  Everywhere the surroundings are funky, or whimsical, or gorgeous, or all three together.  Wide, tree-lined pedestrian boulevards are bordered by arresting architecture, chic shops, and relaxing sidewalk cafes that serve amazing tapas.  Narrow alleys and winding lanes open to surprising plazas lined with classic architecture, palm trees, sculpture and – por supuesto (of course) – more delightful cafes and boutiques.  In this amazing setting, the people bubble with life; how Pedestrian walkway with Sagrada Familia in the backgroundcould you not?  And did I say the food is fabulous?  We’re here in December, and the weather is delightful (we suspect the summer might be tough).  At night we can still dine in outside cafes wearing only light jackets, while street vendors sell roasted chestnuts that harken back to a colder climate.  This city has charm.  Are you sold yet?

There’s one problem in showing you this city – there is so much to show!  Where to start!  How to organize!  I’m going to divide Barcelona into several areas and many posts: the Old City and its “Barri Gotic” quarter; the elegant Eixample which was built just beyond the Old City walls and was the heart of the Modernista movement; the city’s main street, La Rambla; Park Guell; the art museums; the Art Nouveau Sant Pau Hospital, and finally, saving the best for last, the stunning, incredible Sagrada The Sagrada Familia, from the internet (with the construction cranes digitally removed)Familia Cathedral that was started in 1882 and is still under construction.  Just to whet your appetite, here’s a picture of Sagrada from the internet.  My!  Doesn’t that look just like 1882!  No? Although that list of what I’m going to cover in Barcelona might sound like ‘way too much, I think you’re going to be as captivated by this city as we were.

One of the joys of Barcelona is its amazing architecture, so in this first post – por supuesto – a little background on that topic is in order.  Barcelona has Roman ruins, a medieval cathedral, vestiges of a city wall, twisty Gothic lanes, and we’ll touch on those in later posts.  Mostly, however, I’ll be focusing on Barcelona’s Modernisme architecture.

By the late 1800’s Barcelona had became an industrial powerhouse, and like other large cities in Europe there was an artistic reaction against industrialization, leading to the Arts and Crafts Movement in England, the Glasgow Style in Scotland (see post Glasgow I, The City), and ultimately Art Deco in the 1920’s.  Barcelona developed a unique artistic style that it named “Modernisme” (Catalan for “modernism”), which lasted from the 1880’s to about 1914.  Its main expression was in architecture but it included painting, sculpture, and decorative arts.  Joan Miro was born in Barcelona, Salvador Dali nearby, and Picasso lived here as a teenager.  Imagine asking these three to collaborate on architecture, and you’ll come close to understanding Modernisme.  The three main Modernisme architects were Lluis Domenech i Montaner, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and (the most famous) Antoni Gaudí.  Their styleSt. George fighting a dragon, decoration on the Casa Amatller incorporated rich decoration and detail, frequent use of plant motifs, a predominance of the curve over the straight line, a taste for asymmetry, and … what to say … fantasy?  Tomorrow’s future chic?  You’ll see.  It’s a hundred years later, but I think Modernisme is still ahead of its time.  Oh, one other piece of information: the main symbol of Catalunya is the dragon, which was slain by St. George, the region’s patron saint.  In Barcelona, “there be dragons”; they are everywhere.

I’ll start the Barcelona posts with a tour of the Eixample region.  There’s much to show, so be forewarned – you’re going to see a lot of amazing buildings (and some interiors).  The expansion out of the Old City at the turn of the century was an opportunity for the newly rich to build urban mansions designed by architects doing the bold experimental designs of Modernisma.  It’s still the ritzy part of Barcelona.  I’ll start with the mundane – the sidewalks of one of the major main streets, the swanky Passeig de

Gracia, shown above.  Interesting, yes?  They’re copied from floor tiles designed by Gaudi for one of his buildings.  These wild sidewalks go for miles down the Passeig.  The street itself is divided by a central very wide tree-lined pedestrian way that is filled with outdoor

seating for the cafes across the streets – picture harried waiters racing back and forth across those street carrying trays of amazing tapas.  The pedestrian way also has occasional art, like those pasta sculptures above (and yes, young kids are allowed to play in them).

One of the first buildings we come to is the Casa Rocamora, built in 1914 in Neo-Gothic

style.  Notice its fancy decoration!  Almost universally in Barcelona, examples below, a building’s external walls are for embellishment (sgraffito, tiles, glass, colored stucco) and

the display of stone carvings; rooftops are for fanciful artistic displays; and doors are for fancy wrought iron.

As if the Passeig de Gracia needed more elegance, there are 31 fanciful street lamps with

incorporated benches that were installed in 1906 to light the boulevard.  They’re pretty cool!

As we walk along, we come to an area set slightly back from the street, and we stop to investigate.  We discover that “El Nacional” is an 1870’s textile factory converted to a restaurant complex that now houses 4 restaurants and 4 bars that also serve tapas.  Oh,

this is soooooo much more than a food court!  We’re talking upscale.  For instance, at the fish restaurant shown above, you pick out the particular fish you want, and they cook it for you right there in the open.  Some of the food options from the bars are shown below.

This swanky area of the Eixample is called the Golden Quarter (Quadrat d’Or), but we’re about to encounter the “Block of Discord” with 3 major Modernista buildings in very different styles.  Here we go!  The first house, Casa Lleo Morera, converted by Montaner

from a previously existing building in 1905, has been described as “Renaissance-influenced”.  There’s a lot of decoration!  There are art muses lurking on the balconies representing music, photography & theater, attack parrots and dragons protecting the

entrances, and awesome column decorations.  However, the outside can not compare with

the incredibly beautiful Modernista design and art on the inside of this building.  I’ll show it to you in a subsequent post.

A few doors down is the Casa Amatller, also a previously existing building, this one redone in Neo-Gothic style by Cadafalch in 1900.  Neo-Gothic?  I see quite a mix – an extravagant

Dutch-style gable combined with Moorish influences in the windows and in the sgraffito designs in the ochre-and-white stucco.  Mongrel-ian comes to mind, but the facade is interestingly attractive.  Entry into the foyer is allowed, where one can see that the

opulent exterior design extends into the building.  A staircase leads to an upper landing and a continuation of the extraordinary detail, plus an impressive stained glass ceiling.

The next house over is Casa Batlló, and it too was a previously existing building, redone in 1904 in a unique Modernista style by the most famous of the Modernistas, Antoni Gaudí.  The facade is pure fantasy, as shown below.  The lower levels are stone, with

organic-looking windows whose columns are disturbingly reminiscent of carcass bones.   The upper levels of the facade are decorated in colorful mosaics and circular disks, the balconies look like carnival masks, and everything is crowned by a roof that looks like a

scaly reptile’s back.  Pretty wild, yes?  Well, the inside is also wild, and wildly, crazily beautiful; and not just a pretty face – the design combines amazingly clever functional elements – I’ll show it off in a subsequent post.

Everywhere in this city there is incredible eye-catching detail on the buildings – stone carvings, sgraffito, tile, wrought iron and stained glass.  Below are some examples

of this diverse architectural embellishment – like that on the Palau Montaner building from 1896, shown above, and on a variety of buildings shown below.

OK, let me show you just 4 more houses, near the end of the Passeig de Gracia.  The house below is the elegant Palau del Baro de Quadras, built by Josep Puig i Cadafalch in 1904.

This next house is Casa Bonaventura Ferrer, built by Pere Falques in 1906.  It has an

outside door and an inner door with marvelous handles.  The interior was under construction upstairs, so we snuck in long enough to shoot some pictures in the foyer.

Isn’t that woodwork gorgeous?  I love the Modernista infatuation with floral motifs.

The third house is Casa Comalat, by Gaudí-influenced Salvador Valeri i Popurull in 1911.  The front of the house is symmetrical and urban-looking, although there are some

impressive Gaudí-like fluorishes.  The rear of the house, however, is something else!

It’s Clark Kent shedding his suit and glasses!  Modernista is on full display, in a breathtaking way.  In the last picture, a look through the upper floor window suggests a very interesting interior – so let’s go look through that door at the front of the house, shown below.

Remember, this is 1911!  I could just as easily believe the building was from 2111!  The Modernista architects were all control freaks; in addition to designing the building, they insisted on doing the internal decoration and even the furniture.  Isn’t it interesting?  And this is just to whet your appetite for what’s to come.

The final house is Casa Fuster, the last house that Domenech i Montaner built in Barcelona (1911) – and also the end of the Passeig de Gracia.  The end of a long day of

sightseeing (and blog reading!) deserves a culinary celebration, yes?  Some tapas and good wine?  We’ll finish this blog with a look at a colorful fountain near the beginning of the

Passeig de Gracia, with Casa Rocamora in the background.

Well, it’s been a long post! Hope you enjoyed our initiation into Modernista down the Eixample.

Next post we’ll look at the interior of one of the more spectacular Modernista buildings (the exterior was shown earlier in this post), the Casa Lleo Morera by Montaner.

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking School (Cook & Taste), Barcelona

Let me interrupt my on-going blog on Britain, just recently started, and jump ahead to share with you this cool cooking class we took – in Barcelona, Spain.  My, we do get around, eh?  Well, we’re here for several reasons – it’s warmer here, for one – but mostly we’re here because there are travel restrictions on how long you can stay in different parts of Europe, so we have to move around and play this silly traveling game.  A real pain for us long-term travelers.

While walking down a narrow twisting alley in the barrio (the Gothic Quarter) of Barcelona, intentionally lost, we came upon a cooking school (Cook & Taste, http://www.cookandtaste.net).  Opportunity!  The food in Barcelona is really, really good, but in addition we had fallen in love with an Andalusian dish in Malaga, Spain (post of 7/10/13, “Malaga, Costa del Sol”), called berenjenas con miel, or eggplant with honey, a version of which we had found here in Barcelona.  Could they show us how to make that dish?  Sure, next week.  And sure enough, next week it was offered, and here we are!  This is what we learned.  Disclaimer – things move fast when cooking, so many pictures are not in good focus.

FLATBREAD WITH TOMATO

In Granada, everybody was eating this tomato flatbread for breakfast in all the restaurants.  Eh?  We passed on it – I’ll have the apricot jam, please.  Here in Barcelona, flatbread with tomato pretty much comes automatically when one orders jamon (cured

Green olive and jamon iberica startersham) – and it goes really well together!  It’s also really simple to make!  Start with toasted bread, rub it lightly with garlic, cut a small tomato in half and rub one of the halves over the bread (a little garlic, a lot of tomato), drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, cut to a good size (in this case 4 slices) and you’re ready to chomp.  It’s great with appetizers. (shown above).

CREMA CATALANA

Crema Catalana recipeThis desert needs to be prepared ahead and refrigerated.  It’s like a creme brulee, but a softer custard with less egg, and I think a slightly thicker, well-carmelized sugar coating.  Obtain lemon peel – our chef, Davíd, prefers to cut a large slice rather than using a grater to get the peel, since the grated peel can find it’s way into the custard and make it grainy.  One needs to cut thin slices and remove any pith, which can be bitter, from the slices.  Davíd  also scored the inside of the

lemon peel a few times with his knife.  Bring the milk just to a simmer (small bubbles only), add the peel and cinnamon, and let steep at least 10 minutes to infuse the flavors.  The longer you let it infuse, the stronger the flavor.  Meantime, blend the egg yolks with

the corn starch and sugar in a bowl until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture becomes foamy and almost white.  Bring the milk mixture just to simmer again, and very slowly pour the mixture through a strainer into the egg mix, whisking to avoid cooking the egg; whisk all together.

Pour mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring vigorously all the time with a wooden spoon until the cream thickens and one can make a line on the back of the spoon, as shown.  Pour into traditional terracotta dishes before the cream cools down.  Shake and tap to level the cream.  Place in refrigerator to chill.

Just before serving, sprinkle with sugar to coat and caramelize with a blowtorch.  In order to avoid burning the sugar, you’ll probably need to do alternate torching with brief periods of cooling until you have the desired degree of carmelization.  Let the sugar harden for a

couple of minutes.  Add fruit for presentation, then have at it!

BERENJENAS CON MIEL y QUESO de CABRA  [Eggplant chips w/ honey & goat cheese)

RecipeCut eggplant crosswise into paper-thin rounds with mandolin.  Keep cuts circular (Davíd had to trim the eggplant to fit the slicer).  Soak the slices in milk to reduce their bitterness – around 10 minutes.  Fill a deep skillet halfway with oil (not extra virgin) and heat over moderate heat to 170° C.  Blot the

 

eggplant slices with a paper towel to remove the milk.  Dredge eggplant slices in the flour until thoroughly coated, lightly pressing if necessary to help the coating adhere, and gently shake to remove excess (the idea is to produce a very thin coating that will become crisp when fried). Drop the floured pieces into the 170° C oil.

Only do a few at a time (our pan dictated 4).  Submerge, separate and turn slices in the oil with a slotted spoon until they begin to brown (golden brown), 1-2 minutes (or longer).  Transfer the chips to paper towels to drain.  Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.  Repeat for remaining chips.  Cut cubes of goat cheese.

Berenjenas con mielPlace chips over cheese squares, drizzle with honey, and add toasted pine nuts and a presentation item (Davíd used viola flowers).  Fight for your share.  In Andalusia, the dish was a little different – no cheese, and they used a molasses-like cane sugar instead of honey.  Both are good!

FRIED ARTICHOKES

As an added bonus, Davíd showed us how to fry artichokes using this same system.  First he removed the scales to get to the heart, then removed the stem and trimmed the base.  The top part of the artichoke, about half of it, is removed, the artichoke cut in half longitudinally, and the choke is cut out.  It is then placed in water with parsley to prevent

the browning reaction (I didn’t know parsley did that!).  When ready to fry, the artichokes are sliced very thin, dried on a paper towel, dredged in the flour like the berenjenas, and

fried.  They fry quickly!  Drain on a paper towel, sprinkle with sea salt, and they’re ready to go.  Thanks Davíd, they were great!

COCA DE SEPINACAS A LA CATALANA CON BACALAO CONFITADO                                 (Catalan style Spinach Flatbread with Confit Cod)

Cod on flatbread with spinachActually, before we started this recipe Davíd prepared a quick appetizer with the cod.  The cod came from a farmers’ market where chunks had been soaking in salt water for 3 days.  Davíd sliced off the remaining skin and cut 4 small pieces off the fish chunk.  He drizzled the pieces with (infused) olive oil (see below) and added a garnish of chive

sprouts and chopped pistachio nuts.  Ready to eat!  It was good, but next time I would add some sea salt.

For the flatbread, work all ingredients as a normal bread dough.  Let it rest until if rises for 1 hour.  Meanwhile, warm the oil in a saucepan, remove from heat, add the bouquet of spices (whatever you want), and let infuse for awhile.  When the dough is ready, roll it out, trim to a rectangle, and cut it to size.  Place the pieces on parchment on a tray, and brush with the infused oil.  Cover with parchment, put weight on the top (another baking tray), and bake until golden brown (180°C, 10 minutes).  Brush with infused oil again.

Cut the cod into pieces and put into infused oil that has just come to a simmer; remove from heat and let stand until cod looses transparency and becomes flaky.  Clean the

spinach under tap water and remove stems.  Let the raisins soak in Moscatell wine for 30 minutes.  Brown the pine nuts for 2 minutes in a nonstick frying pan with a few drops of olive oil.  Remove the pine nuts and add the infused raisins with their liquid; stir until thickened (this happens quickly) and pour back into their bowl.  Add more oil and saute the spinach briefly, adding a sprinkle of salt; do this in small batches, adding a little oil

each time.  Put some spinach on each piece of flatbread and arrange large flakes of the cod on top.  Add some of the raisin mixture and pine nuts.  Move to a plate and add more

raisins and pine nuts.  Davíd also added a dollop of reduced raspberry balsamic vinegar on the side.  It came from a bottle, and was a nice addition to the flavors.  I would have added a little sea salt.

PAELLA DE MARISCO (Seafood paella)

Seafood PaellaTo this list of ingredients we added some fava beans, a red bell pepper as well as the green, asparagus, some of the unsliced artichokes, and smoked paprika.  Prepare all the ingredients.  Dice the onion and garlic.  Cut some peppers into strips (for presentation) and dice the rest.  Wash the asparagus and remove their lower stem.  Grate the tomatoes

as shown.  Cook the fava beans, drain and let cool; remove the outer skin.

Soak the clams in salty water and then rinse.  Check that the clams and mussels are alive (if they are open, knock them on the table and discard if they stay open).  De-beard the mussels and clean their shells (we scraped them with a knife).  Clean the squid interior by scraping with a paper towel.  Cut the squid into squares, about 1.5 inches.  If desired, trim the whiskers off the prawns.

When everything is ready, heat the oil in a paella pan (until a drop of water sizzles) and saute the prawns briefly (count to 20, turn, count 20 again, remove).  Turn on the outer

propane ring.  For the paella you want even heat, and since you don’t want more than a layer or two of rice, you need a large skillet with a wide heat source (or two skillets …).  Add the squid to the pan, spread out the squares, and wait until the squid squares are “popping up”.  Add more oil to the side of the pan as needed.  Do not turn.  The longer you cook the squid the more tender it will be, so cooking it for something like 45 minutes

(overall) is good.  Brown only 1 side (you’re going to be adding water).  When the squares have popped up, stir and add the onion and the diced peppers and carmelize, constantly scraping the pan to deglaze.  Add some wine to continue the deglazing as the water evaporates.  90% of the taste is this “attacking the brown”.  When onions are browned, add the garlic and when it starts to brown, sprinkle with smoked paprika and add the grated

tomato on top of the paprika, mixing quickly so the paprika doesn’t burn.  Scrape and deglaze and let all the liquid from the tomatoes evaporate.  Add the asparagus, artichokes

and remaining pepper slices, stir, and cook for a few minutes.  Add the rice and stir well to coat, a minute or two.  Flatten the food to a layer, with no holes.  Add the saffron to the boiling stock, then add the stock slowly to the preparation.  Do not stir!  Rice can’t be touched beyond this point!

Increase the heat to medium-high and cook for +/- 8 minutes.  (Davíd used high heat for 5 minutes).  Then add the clams and mussels, pushing them slightly into the remaining liquid.  Taste the stock for seasoning – it must taste slightly salty (rice will absorb and dilute it).  Reduce heat to a minimum (say the notes) and cook for an additional +/- 10 minutes (Davíd says cook for a total of 15 minutes).  Davíd didn’t really time it so much as check it.  As the liquid went down, he turned the heat down.  It was done when there was

essentially no liquid at the bottom of the pan.  You want rice with some dryness.  Davíd also noted that after adding the clams and mussels one could take the pan to the oven at 180°C for 12 minutes (gets even heat!) rather than keeping it on the flame.  Right near the end, add the fava beans and arrange the prawns in a decorative pattern and allow them to heat up.  When the time is up, take the pan off the heat and cover with a cloth for 3 – 4

minutes to steam (the notes say only “stand for about 5 minutes before serving” [no mention of a cover]).  For Davíd, wanting rice with some dryness, if the rice is done and there is still some water, he doesn’t cover or he covers with a cloth to let the steam escape.

One could cover with aluminum foil to keep the rice wetter.

You’re ready to go!  It tasted every bit as good as it looks.

Well!  Hope you enjoyed this diversion from our travel blog.  The next post will be back in England, visiting the fabulous city of York.

 

Granada’s Alhambra

DSC_0126The magnificent Alhambra fortress was the last stronghold of the Moorish kingdom in Europe, with a palace that highlighted the decorative splendor of that civilization.   While the rest of Europe dragged through the Middle Ages, Granada blossomed from the 1200’s to nearly the 1500’s.  What you see today is merely a glimpse of what the magnificence must have been.  Time marched on, and in this case not for the better.  The Christians built their own version of beauty on top of some of the Alhambra, it fell into ruin and was populated by the homeless, Napoleon stationed his troops there in the 1800’s contributing substantially to its ruin (he blew up several of the gates), and of course time itself dulls or eliminates the paint and gilding that was once a source of its beauty.  Nevertheless, as you’ll see – it ain’t bad!

You need tickets to see the Alhambra, and they verge on scarce.  Only (!) 300 visitors are allowed A road up to the Alhambrato enter the palace every 30 minutes, and with up to 8,000 visitors a day, that’s a problem.  The good news is that some areas of the Alhambra are accessible and free, and we’ll visit those first.  We’ll walk up the hill, which is pretty steep, as you can see in the picture to the left (and as you want in a fortress).  Note that The Alhambra with surrounding old wallsthe walls of the Alhambra connected with the walls around Granada, the remnants of which you can see in the photo above.  There’s a reason this place was the lone hold-out for 200 years.

Granada goes back in time a millennium or much more, so it is no surprise that there are walls on top of walls on top of repaired walls, and ruins here and there.  When one encounters the fortress walls/towers, they are impressively vertical and remarkably well-preserved.  At one point there were 30 of these towers.

Pictures below show the Justice gate into the fortress (there were only 4 gates).  As you can see, it was built for defense!  Big motha’.  In addition to the gate’s four 90º turns for better defense, it has a metal door that looks pretty sturdy.  And it’s not just a functional gate – there are remnants of decoration.

The sultan's summer palace - and water channel                                                                                                                                                                                                                       The Moors had a thing for water.  To the Moors, coming from the desert, water was precious; they reveled in it and surrounded themselves with ponds, fountains and gardens.  There is a river at the base of the Alhambra’s hill; the Moors diverted water from that river at a point upstream and uphill, running it down through the sultan’s summer home and garden, the Generalife, and then via aqueduct into the Alhambra city complex and palace (summer home and water path shown to the left; details later in the post).  Much of that infrastructure still remains and some is still functional, as shown below.

Once through the Justice Gate, the Wine Gate greets you.  One of the oldest constructions of the Alhambra, it separated the fortress (Alcazaba) from the town (medina) and palace within the Alhambra walls.

Nearby is Charles V’s palace; the conquerors should have their own palace, right?  Not that old one, the Moors’ Palacios Nazaries that we’ll visit shortly.  So in 1533 good ol’ Charles V Charles V's Palace(you remember him, right?  He OK’d construction of the Catholic cathedral in the middle of Córdoba’s Mesquita [post of May 13, 2014; “Córdoba”]) started construction of a new palace, financed by a poke-in-the-eye tax on Granada’s Muslim population.  However, a few years later Charlie lost interest and the project was abandoned without its planned roof.  Like the cathedral within the Mesquita, the architectural style of the palace (Renaissance) looks VERY much out of place in the Alhambra, but it is interesting in its own right.   On the exterior, the building is square, with pilasters framing the entrance.  The blocks beneath the bases of the pilasters have some fine carved battle scenes showing who won and who lost and why this building sits here, just in case you forgot (below, left).  Going into the building, a big

 surprise is that most of it is an open, completely circular courtyard, a circle within a square.  The large courtyard is surrounded by marble columns that create a covered balcony and a gallery (above, right).

THE ALCAZABA

The AlcazabaWith tickets in hand, we now pass through the Wine Gate and face the Alcazaba, which certainly looks imposing even from inside the walls.  The courtyard in the front was originally a moat, which would have made it even more impressive!  The fortress is old, from the 1200’s, but is mostly in ruins, much of the destruction caused by Napoleon’s troops.  Pictures are shown below.  Note that the entrance into the fort, shown from different levels, is a back-and-forth path protected by several gates, the approach incredibly exposed from above.  I would NOT want to be part of the attacking party!

We’re now going to walk to the Generalife, the summer palace and gardens of the sultan.  It’s at the other end of the Alhambra complex, past what used to be an urban town (medina) of 2,000 people who lived up here.  The medina was also destroyed by the invading French, and ruins are only sporadically visible.  It is, however, a pleasant walk (see below).

One of the interesting buildings we walk past is the Parador de Granada San Francisco.  A Parador is an historical building that the Spanish government runs as a fancy hotel.  Within the Alhambra the building was a Moorish palace but was subsequently converted to a Franciscan monastery.  As you can see below it’s quite attractive.  How cool would it be to sleep here within the Alhambra!  But, alas, it’s far too expensive for our budget.

THE GENERALIFE

Path to the Generalife

We continue to walk to the Generalife.  Tall evergreens line a charming path to the extensive gardens, where more evergreens in many shapes form shady, secluded, hidden areas around fountains and pools.  Everything seems to be in bloom.  It’s hard to capture the beauty of such an expanse in the small area of a photo, but I do take some side shots of flower areas with a view of the Alhambra.

At the end of the gardens is the sultan’s summer home, a cool and quiet escape.  You saw the overview of the summer home earlier (above) when we discussed the aqueduct.  Now we’ll go inside this house.  Even after all these centuries, it’s still pretty spectacular for a “get-away” place.  Pictures below.

THE PALACIOS NAZARIES

Finally, it is our time to enter the Palacios Nazaries (miss that entry time by 30 minutes and you don’t get in).  This is the jewel of the Alhambra, the reason most people come to Granada.  The royal palace was built mostly in the 1300’s and is the best example of the elegant Moorish civilization of that time.  Remember that gorgeous palace in Sevilla’s Alcazar (post of May 1, 2014, “Sevilla’s Alcazar”)?  It was copying the real McCoy here.  We are going to deluge you with photos!  There is much to admire – rooms decorated with molded plaster from top to bottom, beautiful and intricate carved wood ceilings, stucco “stalactites”, intricate ceramic tiles, and beautiful filigree windows.  Notice our repeating “beautiful” and “intricate” words.  What you will see is a lot of repetition in a decoration.  It just keeps going, yet it is not too much – well, maybe some of the tile patterns are optically active, but usually not.  The overall effect is what I call a “visual mantra”.  Something beautiful repeated and repeated and repeated, and you stare at it and your heart rate goes down, your blood pressure drops, and tranquility descends.  And your mind says “Jeez, is this ever beautiful”!  And you turn your head and see a new and different wonderful pattern and the feeling repeats along with the patterns.  We’ll just be showing you picture snippets, but we think you’ll see.  Enough talk!  I’ll divide the tour by rooms.  We’ll start by walking through a few “administrative” rooms, including an oratorio (a Mecca-oriented prayer room).

Administrative Rooms

No words – just walk with us.

The Oratorio

OK, mea culpa, we’re showing this room a bit out of order within the administrative rooms, but we just wanted to highlight it.  Not only is this room beautiful, it has a beautiful view of Granada’s Albayzín.

The Court of Myrtles

It’s named for the two fragrant myrtle hedges.  It’s pretty.  Some chambers were demolished to make room for Charles V’s palace, but happily only a few.  The lateral sections were living quarters for the women (harem).

The Boat Room

It’s so named due to a corrupted Spanish translation of the Arabic; it should read something more akin to “Room of divine blessing and luck”.  It’s a waiting room before entry to the Grand Hall of the Ambassadors, the sultan’s throne room.  My guess is that it was a bit more ornate back then.

The Grand Hall of the Ambassadors

This is the palace’s largest room, the Sultan’s throne room.  It’s a perfect cube – would you expect anything less from these lovers of geometric design?  That domed wooden ceiling is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, with over 8,000 inlaid pieces.  The cornice consists of wooden “stalactites”; the stucco walls are still glorious even without their original paint and gilding.  The filigree windows once held stained glass (and had heavy drapes to block out the heat).  The calligraphic inscriptions are of poems, prayers or praises.  An example:

Oh, God, fighter of the devil, please help me.  In name of God, who is merciful and has mercy.  Oh, God, please be company and salvation for our Master Mohammed and his generation.  And say: May the anger of God and of every devil that allows the disturbance of hell help me; and deliver me from the evil of the envious ones when they are going to be envious.  And no deity but God is alive, whom we must praise eternally.  Praise to the God of centuries“.

The floor was originally marble, but is now tiles from the 1500’s – not a bad update!

When in use, the room would have been in semi-darkness, with the lighting concentrated on a throne opposite the entrance.  A visitor would have stepped from the glaring Court of Myrtles into this dim, cool, incense-filled, intensely decorated world to meet the silhouetted sultan.  Of course you have to imagine the pillows and Persian carpets and throne and ivory-inlaid chairs and vases and hookah pipes and probably gorgeous ladies and scribes and bustling aides.  We would have been impressed, and struggling to make eye-contact with the all-powerful sultan!

Connecting Rooms

There are connecting passageways to private rooms of the royal family (and servants, of course).  We’ll just show pictures.

The Courtyard of the Lions

This is the private quarters of the royal family, and probably the most famous area of the Alhambra.  We’re just going to show you the pictures (a lot of pictures), and then we’ll talk.

The design of the courtyard refers to Persian gardens of old.  It’s divided in quadrants symbolizing the four corners of the world, and irrigated by water channels (that went to the apartments of the royal family) symbolizing the four rivers of the Quran’s Paradise ; the theme is thus an architectural manifestation of Paradise.  The slender column forest has been said to represent the palm trees of an oasis in the desert.  Originally there was a below-level garden in each of the 4 quadrants, the top of the plants cut to be level with the courtyard.  Today the courtyard floor is white marble, in the center of which is a white marble fountain from the 1000’s, a dodecagon-shaped basin resting on top of 12 lions – one of the more important examples of Moorish sculpture (which ordinarily prohibits images of animals or humans).   There is a (long) poem in calligraphy on the basin rim, part of which is:

…Such a translucent basin, sculpted pearl!
Argentic ripples are added on it by the quiet dew
And its liquid silver goes over the daisies, melted, and even purer.
Water and marble seem to be one,
without letting us know which of them is flowing.
Don’t you see how water overflows the borders
and the warned drains are here against it?
They are like the lover who in vain
tries to hide his tears from his beloved…”

Another poem decorating a wall goes:

“How beautiful is this garden
where the flowers of Earth rival the stars of Heaven.
What can compare with this fountain, gushing crystal-clear water?
Nothing except the fullest moon, pouring light from an unclouded sky.”

The Courtyard is beautiful indeed, then and now.

Hall of the Abencerrajes

This was the Sultan’s living room, with an exquisite ceiling in the shape of an eight-sided star.  It has a history – a sultan took a new wife and wanted to disinherit the children of the first marriage, so he invited them (the Abencerrajes) to dinner and killed all 36 – nearly the entire family – but he missed the son who would ultimately assume the throne (some of the blame for the decline of the Muslim world had to do with such constant infighting.  The Catholics weren’t your only enemy).  Why am I not showing you pictures of this incredible room?  It was closed.  Bummer!  Below is a picture of the outside of the building, and next to it an internet picture of the ceiling.

Hall of the Kings

This is just a connecting hall at the back of the Courtyard of the Lions.  It is, of course, gorgeous.

Hall of Two Sisters

It’s named for the two slabs of white marble on the floor flanking the fountain carrying water to the Courtyard of the Lions.  It is the center of a series of chambers where the sultana and her family lived.  The ceiling is incredibly beautiful.

Well, that’s the shooting match.  There is still some beauty to be seen on the way out of the Palace, such as the Patio of Lindaraja, but it’s not on the same scale.

The sultan and his favorite wifeThat’s it!  It is a beautiful palace, putting the monstrosity of Charles V’s palace to shame.  He thought he could improve on the Palacios Nazaries???  We thought the art of the Moors was amazing.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Our next stop in Spain is Madrid.

Grenada

Hills of olive treesThroughout most of Spain, the trip to any city is past hill after hill planted in rows of olive trees.  Grenada, nestled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, is no exception.  Pretty, isn’t it?

As Cordoba declined, Granada grew, and for a time Granada was the grandest city in Spain – and ultimately the last city in Spain under The AlhambraMuslim rule.  The  Alhambra fortress, the last stronghold of the Moorish kingdom in Spain, finally fell to the Reconquista in 1492.  Until then it was the greatest Moorish palace, highlighting the splendor of a Moorish civilization that nowhere else shone as brightly.

The modern city of GranadaToday Granada and suburbs have a population approaching half a million; it’s a modern city, as shown to the left, but the historical center is absolutely a world apart.  It dates back a thousand years, and as one of Europe’s top sights, draws up to 8,000 visitors a day (!), mostly to see the Alhambra.  However, Granada offers many more antiquities to see, among them a beautiful cathedral and the Albayzín, the best-preserved Moorish quarter in Spain.  The Albayzín The Albayzin, taken from the Alhambraflows down a steep hill across the river from the hill on which the Alhambra was built.  It’s a picturesque place, and strikingly different from the rest of Grenada!  That picture of  modern Grenada shown above was taken from the Albayzín; you stand in a Moorish world from the 1400’s, and look through a time warp into a modern, bustling city.

THE HISTORIC CITY CENTER

Let me start by showing you this historic center, home of a grand cathedral, the burial chapel of kings, the old silk market, Moorish baths, and a surviving caravanserai (a roadside inn for merchant travelers and their camels).  Although the modern city has infiltrated and surrounded these landmarks, the shops and plentiful restaurants absorb both the locals and hordes of tourists remarkably well.  Also doing well are the street performers, who are quite good, as shown below.

Some of the city’s North African heritage can still be seen in the open-air market for spices and herbs, and the many open-storefront grocery shops that abound.

THE HISTORIC CITY CENTER – THE CATHEDRAL AND THE ROYAL CHAPEL

Granada was under Muslim rule for 700 years, the last 200 seeing it grow as the Reconquista slowly drove refugees here.  By 1400 Granada held 120,000 people, very large for Europe at that time.  The plazas here were bustling with the city’s main (and rich) markets.  Later, under Catholic rule, this area became the Moorish ghetto.  Then, with the Inquisition (1500), thousands of Arabic books were burned, the mosques razed, Muslims evicted or forced to The Granada Cathedral (and adjacent Royal Chapel)convert, and the Cathedral built on top of the old mosque.  And oh my, a statement was made with the Cathedral!  It’s the 2nd largest in Spain after Sevilla’s (post of July 11, “Sevilla and its Cathedral”).  It was built in Spanish Renaissance style, and finished 181 years later with Baroque decoration.  It’s hard to get a picture of the Cathedral from the outside, since it’s surrounded by other buildings, but it practically screams “Triumph!”.  A picture of the impressive exterior, and pictures of the equally impressive interior, are shown below.

The Cathedral houses a collection of illustrated music sheets, mostly Gregorian chants from the 1500’s.  The artwork in these miniatures is amazingly beautiful!!

At about the same time as the Cathedral was being built, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel decreed they wanted to be buried in the city of their final Reconquista triumph and ordered a Royal Chapel be built for Royal Chapelthat purpose.  500 years ago, this was the finest that money could buy – they spent 1/4th of their wealth on it.  It was completed in just 15 years.  The style is Plateresque Gothic – Gothic simplicity combined with Mudejar decoration.  Externally there is not much to see, since 3 sides are connected to other buildings (including the Cathedral).  Pictures were not permitted inside; the marble figures of the king and queen in repose are impressive – carved in Italy.

THE HISTORIC CITY CENTER – THE ALCAICERÍA

Originally this was an important Moorish silk market with 200 shops (sufficiently important that all of it’s 10 gates had armed guards ).  Destroyed by fire in 1850, it was rebuilt later that century for the tourist trade.  Today it has (unmanned) gates, a series of interconnecting narrow walkways, and marble columns defining the many very touristy shops.

THE HISTORIC CITY CENTER – CORRAL DEL CARBÓN

The name “carbon” comes from the earlier use of this building as a coal storage facility(!).  This is the only survivor  of Granda’s original 14 “caravanserai”.  Here, just a block away from the Alcaicería, merchants could rest their camels, get a bite to eat, and get a good night’s sleep.  It was built in the 1300’s and has a pretty fancy Moorish door for your roadside inn, as shown below.  Inside it’s plain but elegant, with surviving architecture and

brickwork .  The 1300’s!  Doesn’t the inside look an awful lot like today’s motels?  You park your camel instead of your car.  It’s always amazing how the basic things we need really don’t change that much through time.  Even 2000-year-old houses that we saw in Pompei, Italy looked very livable and inviting!

THE HISTORIC CITY CENTER – MOORISH PUBLIC BATHS

Public baths were a big part of Muslim community life, not only for cleansing but as a place to socialize or do business.  After the Reconquista, the Christians assumed that conspiracies might also be hatched there, so few survived.  Below is a survivor from the 1000’s, with the traditional cold room, warm room and hot room, and the heating below the floor.  It’s all very Roman, except the Romans had pools; the Muslims just doused.

THE HISTORIC CITY CENTER – THE OLD MADRASSA

The Christian City Hall Just across from the Royal Chapel is the Muslim madrassa or school, which became Christian Granada’s City Hall.  Today the outside has a strange paint job – those mortar joints are not real (picture, left)!   But inside, there is a lot of true 1400’s Muslim decoration (not Mudejar), and it is outstandingly beautiful.

THE ALBAYZÍN

We’re staying in the Albayzín; on arriving we discover that it has a dearth of streets allowing car access; most “streets” are much too narrow, steep, and often have stairs; foot-traffic only.  Read: we had to struggle up cobblestone streets  with our backpacks quite some distance to reach our apartment!  The streets are narrow for a purpose, so that the surrounding buildings will provide shade from the hot sun.  For unknown reasons the streets are also maze-like, and even with a map you will get lost, guaranteed.  Finding the apartment we’d rented was not easy!  The instructions were to go to the cafe –

The 4 Gatos (you can see the patio umbrellas and awning in the first picture above) – and turn left.  Well, that takes us into a closed courtyard surrounded by building walls!  Eventually we discovered an alley at the very end of that courtyard that goes off to the right but was invisible from the street, (red arrow in left picture above – you’ll need to click on the picture to see it) – and eventually found the right building. Welcome to the maze!  Our small apartment is on the 2nd floor of the house shown by the blue arrow in the left picture above.  On the inside, picture to the right, it’s definitely Moorish; old wood timbers and columns and an interior courtyard that was the style then.  The apartment isn’t much, but that courtyard is pretty cool.

The “streets” are also interesting.  Down near the base of the Albayzín, just off one of the cities’ main avenues, there are small food stores, pubs, cafes, and a bit further up, a lot of

tourist shops, many of the latter sprawling into the street itself.  As you climb (and climb) higher, all that falls away and its just you hemmed in by close-set buildings on narrow twisting streets/alleys, until you turn a corner and are surprised by a small stone water fountain, or colorful tiles, or a cafe with umbrellas, a view of a residential patio garden, or a delightful small shady park.  Stopping at a cafe for a sangria or mojito on the hot climb is pure heaven!  Let me show you examples of the streets.  Notice that many of the streets are actually steps.

Examples of nice surprises.

There are 20 or so small churches here in the Albayzín, all sitting on spots that were once mosques.  They are often simple, to make it easier for the (you-better-convert-or-else) ex-Muslims who were not used to worshiping among images.  Below are two pictures of such a church (the alter was not so simple!), along with a picture of a picture of a convent from the 1500’s – it looked like it would be impressive, but it was closed when we came by.

There is another interesting aspect to Granada – it has a distinct gypsy population of about 50,000, and although they’ve been in Granada since the 1400’s, they remain unassimilated.  Many of these gypsies live in a district directly connecting with the Albayzín, the Sacromonte.  This very colorful low-rent district (cave-dwelling is common, for example) also attracts “hippies” and some of Spain’s youthful unemployed (50% The Alhambra at night, from the Albayzínunemployment for the under-25!).  Many gypsies work the tourist crowds, and in general, deserved or not, they have a less-than-sterling reputation.  Put it all together, and guide books voice strong concerns about being in the Albayzín after dark.  Certainly Ginger had some reservations – after all, the place is nothing but dark alleys – but this is Spain, the land of the mid-day siesta producing a time-offset; restaurants don’t open for dinner until 8 or 9pm, it’s cooler then, and the Alhambra seen from the Albayzín is gorgeous at night, as you can see from the picture on the left.  So with a little prodding from me, off we went into the nights, and happily we had zero problems.

I really wanted to see the Sacromonte; there are tours that take tourists to bars and the gypsy Zambra dance (a flamenco variation), but we’re wary of (non-authentic) tourist shows.  I decide to walk there (in daylight), but Ginger is not enthusiastic; I’m on my own.  So I scale the Albayzín, and then down, and then up the Sacromonte, and it is sunny and I am hot, but it’s interesting.  From where I am the Sacromonte looks normal and well kept, until I realize that it’s not quite normal; most of the buildings and houses I’m seeing are just fronts with no depth; the houses are built into the hill (or into a cave, who knows?).

It’s similar to an Italian hill town, except the town is mostly hill!  Also I notice that I seem to be the only person in the world.  It is siesta time, and other than an occasional car coming by, nothing but nothing is stirring.  I see a sign announcing there is a  restaurant/bar up this driveway, and I’m hot and thirsty, and maybe I can find me a gypsy!   So up I go, up quite a steep, curving driveway, which continues up for much longer than I anticipated.  And up!  It’s a bloomin’ mountain!  I get there, and it is closed.  Drat!  Learning: Gypsies take their siestas very seriously.  Time to go home.  On the way out, I come across a guide with a family on tour, on Segways.  We’re at the top of a quite steep and long hill, looking down, and the guide is talking to a young lady on her Segway “You just release the brake and lean forward ….”   Think Olympic ski jump ….  After I reached the bottom, walking, the Segways were still up there.

Let me finish with a view of Granada food.  It wasn’t too shabby!

San Nicolas Viewpoint from the AlhambraNot only is the food quite good, but it often comes with a great view, particularly in the Albayzín.  One of our favorite restaurants has an impressive view of the Alhambra.  It’s at a popular spot, the San Nicolás viewpoint, and as you can see in the picture a lot of people hang out in the small park there to catch the sunset.  Just below that gray wall (and across the street) is the restaurant – those dark bays above the white wall are the restaurant windows.  In the pictures below we’re inside that restaurant looking out, and we’ll share the view of the sunset with you – oh, and maybe you’ll notice the Alhambra is part of the view ….

Romance?Is that romantic or what???

Next post – inside the Alhambra!

Córdoba

Córdoba is a fascinating city, and the highlight of our Spanish trip.  We loved it.  It’s dripping with history; the intersection of Christianity and Islam is most vivid here.  It was an outpost of the Roman Empire, but by the time of Julius Ceasar it had become Rome’s regional capital.  The Visigoths took over in the late 500’s, but in the early 700’s it was captured by the Moors.  Then it flourished!  In the 900’s it became the regional capital of the Muslim world, and surprising to me, the world’s most populous city and it’s intellectual center (the rest of Europe was mired in the Dark Ages).  It was famed for its artistic expression, dedication to philosophy and science, and its religious tolerance (although Islam was preeminent, Judaism and Christianity co-existed [and it still has an historic Jewish Quarter]).  The “Ornament of the World”,  it reportedly had 3000 mosques, splendid palaces, 300 public baths, and the largest library in the world, housing as much as a million volumes.  All of that changed quickly with a new hard-line ruler in the late 900’s.  Gone was religious tolerance, books on philosophy were burned to please the Muslim clergy, and the other volumes were sold or lost in the ensuing power struggles/battles (some things don’t change in the Muslim world).  The city declined steadily, and in the early 1200’s it was captured in the Christian Reconquista.  Today, Córdoba’s big draw is the mosque-turned cathedral called the Mezquita.  Remarkably well-preserved, the Mezquita gives a fabulous glimpse into the Muslim world of the 900’s, and stands in stark contrast to the Catholic religion that replaced it.  It’s visually and emotionally breath-taking.  It blew us away.  You’ll see.

Modern Córdoba is an attractive city (see below) but we’re staying in the medieval town,

Córdoba, medieval regionquite striking in it’s own right (picture on the left).  Sevilla has taught us well (June 24, ’13, “Sevilla – Getting there”); we’re  getting used to driving and parking in impossible places; as you can see in the picture below, medieval streets are narrow and make right-angle turns with little room for error, and Narrow medieval streets still permit car trafficwe’re driving these streets and not even breathing hard!  Well … maybe a little.  Maybe an occasional “Eeek …. Eeek!” from Ginger.  Much better than the screaming and beating I was getting before.

The barrio is quite attractive, although many of the stores have a decidedly tourist nature to them.  The jewelry in some of these stores is actually pretty amazing; artisans are at their benches.  Much of the area has white-washed walls, with flower pots hanging everywhere.  We haven’t been to Greece yet, but we think it must look something like this.

 

Residential areas are quite attractive, and courtyard gardens are a big deal here – which is also reflected in the greenery in some of the restaurants, as shown in the last two photos below.

First we’re going to show you the Alcazar – Castle of the Christian Kings.  It’s an impressive fortress from the outside and the inside gardens are attractive.  We didn’t pony up the admission fee, but did buy tickets for an evening concert being held on the grounds, hence the evening pics of the gardens.  Alas, the concert was cancelled when it started to sprinkle just before starting time (musicians have expensive instruments).

Now for the Mezquita.   We are going to show you a lot of pictures, because it is such an amazing place.  It was built and expanded from the 700’s to the 900’s so it’s – what? – about 1300 years old.  Today it’s one of Europe’s most breathtaking examples of Spanish Muslim architecture; back then it was the heart of what was the grandest city of the

medieval world.  From the pictures above, you can see that the mosque is absolutely massive!  It goes on forever.  Also note that the walls are far from plain; even after 1200 or so years the (no longer used) entrances are impressively beautiful, shown below.

Now let’s go inside.  One enters first through a grand portal into the Patio de los Naranjos (Courtyard of the Oranges) where Muslims would perfom a ritual washing before entering to worship.  The massive bronze door at the entrance looks exactly like the one in the cathedral in Sevilla (July 11, 2013, “Sevilla and its Cathedral”).  It’s magnificent.

From the courtyard, with its orange trees arranged in spaced rows, one enters the mosque – into a forest of delicate columns that line up with the rows of orange trees in the courtyard, essentially joining outside to inside.  The 900 columns, some from as early as

AD  780, seem to recede to infinity, in all directions, as if reflecting the immensity and

complexity of Allah’s creation.  These are double arches, made from alternating red brick and white stone, sitting on top of marble, granite and alabaster columns (many of the materials are recycled from Roman ruins and Visigoth churches).  The arches are a neat engineering trick:  supporting the ceiling with such  thin columns required extra bracing using double arches.

At the start of this post we mentioned in passing that this mosque is now a Catholic cathedral.  During the Reconquista (which arrived in Córdoba in 1236), the normal process for dealing with a conquered populace was to destroy existing mosques and build Catholic churches on the ruins – making a subtle statement!  With a mosque so beautiful, the conquerors chose, instead, to simply reconsecrate the mosque as a Catholic church.  It acrued only minor changes over the next 300 years, but in the 1500’s King Carlos I was prevailed upon, over city council objections, to build a cathedral on the site.  The workman, however, respecting the beauty of the mosque, chose to build the cathedral smack dab in its center, thus leaving at least a portion of the mosque for future generations.  The juxtaposition of these two religious buildings is jarring (which we’ll revisit later).  For now, let’s note the ongoing Muslim/Catholic conflict at this site; the mosque was actually built on the ruins of a Visigoth church – there are stone carvings and mosaics from that period within the Mezquita, pictures below.  Muslims want more say

concerning the Mesquita, including its use for prayer again.  The Catholics argue that the Mezquita was always a Christian church, and the Muslims were just temporary residents (for 500 years!).  The battles continue ….

Below are pictures of some of the beautiful ceilings in the mosque.  There are many, many patterns in these decorated ceilings, some of them similar, but we couldn’t find an actual repeat.  They’re gorgeous.

In the center of the pictures below, you’ll notice three highly decorated arches, distinct from the red and white striped arches seen in the rest of the Mesquita.  This is the

approach to the mihrab, the mosque equivalent of a church’s high alter.  The mihrab is a decorated niche/room where the imam would stand facing toward Mecca, with his back to the crowd, and read from scripture, give sermons and pray; the dome of mihrab was specifically designed to amplify the voice of the imam throughout the mosque.

The  mihrab, in all its gloryThe mihrab is spectacular!!!  This artwork, done in the AD 900’s, still sparkles and bedazzles more than a millennium later!  Its beauty and its amazing intricacy are mind-boggling.  It is impressive from afar, but even more impressive the closer you get.  Decoration is on everything, everywhere you look, yet the effect is not excessive.  Reflecting the incredible wealth of Córdoba, the art was fashioned by Byzantine mosaicists using 3,000 lbs of glass-and-enamel cubes to depict stylized leaves, flowers and quotations from the Quran.  The pictures below do not do it justice, but they should give you a hint of its exquisite beauty (This artwork is also the wallpaper background of this blog).  The surrounding stone carvings are also amazingly beautiful.

The mihrab is mirrored on both sides by studded doors each topped with a similarly beautiful arch.  Even the grates above the arches are gorgeous.

I hope you’re suitably impressed.  Now return to the mihrab; with all that beauty in front of you, there is yet more to see by looking up!  The effect is the visual equivalent of surround-sound, a full-amp display of sparkling beauty.

Looking up at the dome, it’s fascinating!  Eight beautiful intersecting arches form bays for eight skylight windows and frame a scalloped octagonal dome.  Within that interior space the dome’s intricate ribs create a flower, the petals inscribed with beautiful flowers themselves.  It’s spectacular!  Curves within curves, octagons within octagons – the Muslim artisans were masters of geometric design.

The mosque is absolutely vast – it could hold 20,000 people on their prayer rugs – yet the low ceilings and nearby columns create an intimate, enclosed and worshipful atmosphere.  Well, when the mosque was turned into a church, what to do?  No way were the Catholics going to be able to get 20,000 attendees from a Muslim city already in steep decline.  So initially the conquerors did very little, replacing just 16 Mezquita columns with Gothic arches to make a small chapel.  In the late 1300’s a Royal Chapel was built for the tombs of the now Christian Kings; it was never open to the public, and isn’t now, but I was able to take pictures from afar; the well-preserved Mudejar walls and dome are beautiful, as shown below.

Peripheral regions of the mosque were re-purposed for Christianity, such as the incorporation of small chapels, tombs, baptismals, and the Treasury, examples shown below.