M1626 – Very Moorish

After three days at sea, early on the fourth morning we sailed into our first port of call on this cruise, Málaga in southern Spain. Despite the optimism shown in my previous post M1626 – Five alive that the weather was improving, in fact all three sea days were not the best with cool cloudy & windy weather, and rolling seas causing the open decks to be closed off most of the time. It was therefore a treat to sail into Málaga on a bright sunny morning, knowing that we would be able to stretch our legs ashore.

As we sailed into port we eased past a couple of cruise ships already moored up, one of which was the simply vast Harmony of the Seas. Towering above our ship, she looked the very definition of the phrase I use for such monsters, “floating blocks of flats”. Each to their own, but for me she represents everything I don’t want in a cruise ship!

The benefit we did have from the presence of these larger ships in the harbour is that we were allocated the prime berth very close to the city centre – one of the many benefits of a small ship is that she can fit into small tight berths. However on this visit I would not have time to take advantage of this to explore the city on foot, as I had chosen the longest ship’s tour (8.5 hours) to the Alhambra palace and fortress complex in Granada.

It was just a short walk from the ship to the coach and to meet our local guide for the tour, Pepe. He was excellent, dispensing just the right amount of facts and  information about the area and what we were seeing with a wonderful sense of humour. The drive to Granada took nearly two hours on a dual carriageway, including a comfort stop at a service station. The scenery for most of the way was of olive groves on the dry-looking hillsides.

Eventually we reached the its city of Granada, built in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains at the confluence of four rivers, at an elevation of around 740 metres. High on one of the hills overlooking the city lies the Alhambra complex. Leaving our coach in the Alhambra car park our guide led us to a nearby restaurant where we enjoyed a lovely Spanish meal including salad, gazpacho and tapas, and plenty of local wine for those that drank it.

On leaving the restaurant our party of 39 were divided into two groups, each of which was to be led around the Alhambra complex by a different guide. I was in the group who had a male Dutch guide who was excellent, and at 6ft 6ins was easy to spot in a crowd! We were issued with radio receivers and earphones to hear him talk, which I find ideal as I can still follow what is being said if I wander away from the guide a bit to take my photographs.

We entered through a modern entrance in the defensive walls around the site, and from the ramparts could look down on one of the original well defended entrances, the Islamic hand symbol on the arch keystone indicating its Moorish origins:

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Alhambra’s origins were as a small 9th century fortress built on the remains of Roman fortifications. Following the conquest of Hispania by the Moors in 711, emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada built its current palace and walls. It was then converted into a royal palace by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada in 1333. Following the Christian reconquest of Hispania in 1492, the site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella, who made alterations to the existing buildings. Later in 1526 Carlos I commissioned a new palace to be built within the site, but this was never completed. Following damage inflicted by the French during the Napoleonic occupation, and by an earthquake in 1821, restoration work was begun, and significant work was completed by Leopoldo Torres Balbás in the 1930s.

Our first stop was the incomplete palace built by Carlos I – our guide pointing out how the decoration at the foot of the central pillars portrayed his ambitions to be ruler of the entire world:

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Next we entered the highlight of the tour – the Moorish palace complex. Here the walls are decorated with fabulous mosaic tiles and stucco in complex but repetitive patterns, and the ceilings decorated with patterned marquetry. Our guide pointed out the recurring Islamic themes – the eight pointed stars, the Arabic words, and paradise – symbolised by peoples originating from desert lands by water and gardens. He also told us that the walls would have originally been very brightly coloured, now only traces of blue remain in a few places:

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Yusuf I met visitors in the stunning Salón de los Embajadores (Chamber of the Ambassadors). Here a domed marquetry ceiling uses more than 8000 cedar pieces to create an intricate star pattern representing the seventh heaven:

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Nearby is the Patio de los Leones (Courtyard of the Lions), with as a centrepiece a fountain featuring 12 marble lions which have the water issuing from their mouths. Columns around the outside support fabulous intricate stucco:

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Making our way out of the palace complex we went past windows and across balconies looking down on shady internal courtyards and onto Granada in the valley below:

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Once outside and back into the warm sunshine, we were lead through terraced gardens created early in the 20th century, past palaces and other buildings from Christian times, which had also been refurbished:

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Crossing a ravine using a modern bridge, our final part of the visit was to the Generalife – from the Arabic jinan al-‘arif (the overseer’s gardens), adjacent to the Emir’s Summer Palace. This palace and the gardens, laid out with pools and fountains, pathways and patios, tall trees and flowers are where the Emir would escape from the heat of the palace in the afternoons. However being located outside the safety of the walls of the palace complex, he would return to the latter at night.

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Our guide then led us back to the exit for the palace complex, collecting our radios and earphones on the way. There was just time for a quick visit to the gift shop where I bought a book about Alhambra before it was time to reboard the coach in the car park. On the return journey to the ship I took some photographs of the countryside as we passed:

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By the time we reached the quayside in Málaga and I had reboarded the ship it was just five minutes before my evening meal, so it was a rush to get ready. However it had been a fantastic tour in ideal weather conditions, so it was well worth this minor inconvenience.

Postscript: Following the evening meal, I always go to the show lounge to view a show, which may be by the resident show company or by one of several guest acts brought onboard for that cruise. Just occasionally an exceptional show might cause me to flag up the act concerned in this blog, and this was one of those nights. The show last night was by a violinist called E Sarah Carter, and before her show started we were warned to expect the unexpected. Well she more than delivered on that score, with an astonishing and fabulous show which wowed the entire audience. I won’t detail everything she did in case you have the chance to see her show for yourself, but one of these photos shows one amazing feat she performed:

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Talking with the Cruise Director after the show (as you do!) he said it was the first time he had seen her act and that he was blown away too – in fact he thought it was the best act he had seen on board a ship! Given the number of acts he must have seen and introduced in his career at sea that was an amazing and thoroughly deserved to tribute to her performance.

The show made the perfect end to a fabulous first shore day on this Mediterranean cruise.

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