Granada – The Albaicin

The Alhambra sits high on a hill – opposite, below, is the heart of the old Moorish city of Granada, the Albaicin. At night, you look up, and there on the ridge is the looming bulk of the great fortress and citadel – perhaps with the moon rising behind it.

The Alhambra by night

A warren of steep and crooked streets and alleyways, the Albaicin is bounded, at the foot of the Alhambra, by a winding stream and the ancient, cobbled Carrera del Darro. Narrow as it is, and thronged with sightseers, pedestrians, shopkeepers, buskers, taxis and cars nose through their way through it, and even buses. You squeeze yourself up against a wall, or back to the stone parapet overlooking the river, to allow the vehicles to go by – and then the throng closes like water over the gap they have created, and the busy human world goes back to its business again.

Along the Carrera del Darro are the inevitable Moorish baths, at El Banuelo, and museums – here, in this image, is one of those geometric water features, in a quiet courtyard, that seem to me the embodiment of stillness, perfection and an almost spiritual simplicity.

Fountain, El Banuelo

Start your exploration of Albaicin, I’d suggest, by following the winding path of the Carrera del Darro, then turn up the hill and follow your instincts.

The Alhambra, Granada

Fortress and Palace

The Alhambra in Granada is both fortress and palace – and, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a custodian of memory, Spain’s rich history and the history of civilisations physically embodied in tiles and script, archways and gardens, the quiet flow of water and ceilings that mirror the star-studded sky. It is magnificent.

No matter that parts of it are crumbling, that the historic site has been witness over the centuries to a few ill-judged renovations and repairs, that the flow of tourists is endless and unstoppable. The Alhambra is one of those living monuments – poised imposingly above the town, with elevated views that must have uplifted sultans and kings – that you simply have to see, at least once in your lifetime.

A photographer’s Alhambra

The Alhambra, also, is a photographer’s nightmare and dream. A nightmare, because there is simply so much of it to see, to learn about, to interpret and photograph, so many rooms, gardens, structures, passageways, arches, hallways, histories, legends – and because getting a clear view is almost impossible in the endlessly milling throng. A dream, because the Alhambra manages somehow to be both magnificent and poetic, delicate and monumental, brutal and sensitive, all at the same time.

This first series of images shows something of the monumental side – if you will, Alhambra The Fortress.

Water to cool and delight

Much as you will enjoy the sheer monumentality of battlements and walls, the views over the parapets of Granada, far below, you should take time too to absorb and appreciate the smaller details – the colour and geometry of small enclosed gardens, the use of water – as in the two contrasting images below – to cool and delight, the myriad details.

Take time for the details

In this last set of images, it is the details I have focused on – pushing them, where I can, to a state almost of abstraction, of pure pattern: a creative impulse, I’d like to think, that the sultans would understand.

Ode to Spain

If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might enjoy some of my other posts on our travels in Spain, including posts on Madrid, Sevilla and the pueblos blancos, not least the wonderful little town of Ronda, where we enjoyed an evening of the most marvellous flamenco.

Flamenco at the Restaurant Cinque in Ronda

In Sevilla we heard, live on stage, in a modern, airy, wood-panelled auditorium, the fabulous flamenco guitarist Paco Jarana: a wonderful masterclass that blew us both away. To see flamenco dancing, however, we went to Ronda, to the Restaurant Cinque on the Paseo Blas Infante – a small, dark stage, with three red chairs for the handclapper-singers and the guitarist and just space enough for a single flamenco dancer.

The guitarist was not the great Paco, by any stretch, but he was pretty good; the singers and hand-clappers, likewise, were not in the league of Paco’s accompanists, but what they had was the raw intensity and the enthusiasm that the performance demanded.

And the flamenco dancer – offstage, just a slight, ordinary-seeming young woman – on stage, commanded your absolute attention. Entering silently, down a darkened staircase, she stepped out into the light, and from then until the show ended had us utterly entranced – no, not just entranced, completely riveted.

I chose on this occasion to take the Leica D-Lux, not the Nikon, as the Nikon would have been too large and intrusive. I asked if it was okay to take photographs and was told yes, so long as I didn’t use flash.

Here are some of the results.

A rooftop in Ronda

Back, then, from Paternoster, and back to Spain: Ronda, to be precise. Retracing our steps for the next couple of posts, to pick up on these images from our hotel rooftop before – in an upcoming post – sitting down in a small tapas bar for some foot-stomping flamenco.

The Moorish Keep, Olvera

The Moorish Keep in Olvera, Andalucia stands on a high promontory across the way from the Iglesia de la Encarnacion. I like the black-and-white images, but the image in colour works best in colour. I hope you enjoy!

Olvera, Spain – the Iglesia de la Encarnation

Olvera, one of the ‘white towns‘ or pueblos blancos of Andalucia, is dominated, as you will have seen in my earlier post, by a massive church-on-a-hill, the Iglesia de la Encarnacion

The building itself is in need of some maintenance, but its setting is magnificent, and its brooding presence over the white town below it speaks volumes.

Here are three images, in black-and-white.

Men of Olvera

We drove up the steep hill into Olvera, one of the ‘white towns‘ or pueblos blancos of Andalucia; parked, climbed higher, to the monumental bulk of the Iglesia de la Encarnacion from where we could look across to the Moorish Keep on a rocky outcrop opposite; looked out over the roofs into the streets below and the olive-clad hills in the distance, and then descended once more into the town, where we came across this group of men, retired one guessed, gossiping in the shade.

The Cathedral and the Keep tomorrow or Sunday; but here is my tableaux of old men, today.

A group of men, Olvera

Look out for my next post – Olvera, Andalucia

We took the road via Setenil from Ronda before joining up with the A384 en route to Granada. The back roads took us through rugged, heat-seared, spectacular country, dotted with little white towns with Olvera, pictured, offering dramatic views as we approached.

Needless to say, we drove up into the town, parked, and explored. We were on holiday after all.

More images to follow.

Olvera # 1