Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Public Alhambra: Muhammad V's Contributions - Part I

Hola from cold but beautiful Granada and its famous Alhambra. I’m taking a much-needed break and enjoying my favorite place, which allows for the continuation of my post from last month about the complex as the characters of the Sultana series would have known it. Evidence of restoration is everywhere in Alhambra today, all geared towards the preservation of this beautiful monument. As a result, crowd control has also become stricter, but even this couldn’t lessen my enjoyment. It is a little sad to see some of the further deterioration that Alhambra has undergone since I first visited exactly 12 years ago this week, but the site remains inspirational. This morning as I walked down and up the Sabika hill again, two things struck me. One, medieval Moors must have been in incredible shape, because that hill is a killer, or they had very sure-footed horses. Two, the extensive view of the Granadine plain afforded a natural vantage point for the location of Alhambra and ensured its defense for almost seven centuries.

I spent more time than I ever have in the past within the Mexuar (mashwar in the series) begun by Fatima’s father, Muhammad II in Sultana. Most of the tours had moved through and made it easier to take pictures. Warning: if you’re planning a visit to Alhambra any time soon, the morning tours make it almost impossible to get a shot anywhere without crowds moving through the space.  Try after 12pm. The Mexuar of today reflects the period of Fatima’s great-grandson Muhammad V, the hero of my next, Sultana: The Bride Price. Fatima did not live long enough to witness his ascendancy. During his extensive reign, Muhammad V had the opportunity to shape what we see. From the entryway with its 1362 frieze styled in Nashki cursive script to the poetry along the walls speaks of the majesty of one of the most illustrious sultans of the Nasrid Dynasty. I can’t go into why Muhammad V altered so much of his ancestors’ palace complex without ruining the plot of The Bride Price, but let’s just say he had great reason to celebrate and revitalize the site.
It is impossible to know how much alteration Muhammad V made to the chamber as it might have stood during the reign of his great-great grandfather Muhammad II. The differences between Moorish and Christian influences within the space can be found in the addition of the emblems of the Catholic Monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand to start. In Moorish times, the Mexuar’s floor was at a different height and there were two windows, with a central doorway and another facing west towards the citadel at Alcazaba, not four barred windows. At first glance it would appear as if the upper walls are stark, but closer observance reveals traces of blue and green pigments. Color is everywhere in Alhambra, especially where you least expect it. Unfortunately most of the luxurious tile work and the lantern lighting the cupola between the four pillars of the chamber are gone. In this room I imagined a scene of Sultana might have taken place, where Fatima’s husband Faraj received the governorship of Malaga (Malaka). A poem once adorned the walls of the Mexuar at the direction of Muhammad’s minister Ibn al-Khatib:

“…Muhammad, son of Abu l-Hajjaj (Sultan Yusuf I) built me, and thus is worthy of the truest and most genuine praise.
It is he whose skill – blessed be he – unites with constancy two opponents: generosity and courage...." 
From the Mexuar and its oratory, also redesigned by Muhammad V between 1363 and 1367, an open arch leads to an open space now called the Golden Chamber with its adjoining portico facing north of Alhambra. More on that tomorrow, as uploads of the pictures are painfully slow here. 

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