Take a look around and see if you find old friends or stumble upon posts you may have missed. I like to think that these blog posts are my gifts to the world. As always, I welcome any and all feedback. See you next year!
We began our trip to southern Spain in Granada. When I stood inside Granada’s Cathedral, I suddenly – and very vividly – remembered what and how I’d seen it 40 years earlier. At the Alhambra, my memories were blurry remembrances of running water.
A few days later in Córdoba, I had a further experience with spatial imprinting. We spent a half day in the Mezquita, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Mezquita was first built in the mid-6th century as a Visogoth church, built up in the 780s as The Great Mosque of Córdoba, and finally re-dedicated as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption (Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción) in 1236. The Mezquita’s altar incorporates and blends Catholic iconography and design into the original Moorish structure.
The early Muslim prayer hall is filled with rows of arches in colored bands of stone. They seem to stretch into Eternity.
This hypostyle hall (meaning that the roof rests on pillars) contains a grand 856 columns of finest jasper, marble, onyx and granite. These columns are topped with the arches, which are futher topped with more arches.
If Granada’s Cathedral is all soaring heights, the Mezquita in Córdoba is an endless repetition of forms. Gaze in any direction and turn your body in a slow circle. The repeating arches always bring the viewer back to the beginning again.
The repeating patterns are beautiful. They’re haunting, too; it’s no accident that what I recall best from my first trip to Andalusia are deeply buried memories of graceful forms in plaster, stone and tiles.
What would I say if you were to ask me to select one thing I remember most after my first visit to the Mezquita as a teenager, all those years ago? I’d say: A sense of wonder.
Islamic architects and artists are masters of geometric decoration. Their patterns’ deeper purpose is to bring visitors and viewers to a sense of another, underlying reality. Maybe it’s just the beauty in the world. Perhaps it’s the presence of God. I’m perfectly fine with either explanation.
I rediscovered the whimsical and the wondrous as I gazed at repeating, interlocking, intertwined squares, circles, triangles, flowers, tessellations and stars.
Artwork both secular and sacred is woven into every stroke of calligraphy that embellishes gorgeous walls and doorways and niches at both the Alhambra and in Córdoba. The effect is one of standing in a house of mirrors or an echo chamber with lights and patterns extending on and out into Forever.
No single detail stayed. Just… a fleeting glimpse of the Divine.
“Perhaps there never was a monument more characteristic of an age and people than the Alhambra; a rugged fortress without, a voluptuous palace within; war frowning from its battlements; poetry breathing throughout the fairy architecture of its halls.” ― Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra
I just made a second trip to southern Spain. It had been over forty years between visits, and I had no idea what – if anything – I might remember. My first trip was with my high school Spanish Club. We were all young, and boy were we excited to be able to drink legally for a change!
In an earlier post I wrote about my spatial memories in Granada. At the Alhambra I had strange wavy recollections of reflecting pools and intricate walls.
To visit the palace rooms of the Alhambra is like stepping inside one gigantic extended scrollwork of interlocking geometric design.
I can remember loving the symmetry. I sure don’t remember any specific part of it. As I say, my memories are a blurry recollection of warm stone walls with ingenious decorations. Just… an impression of a harmony that contains a hundred thousand details you will get lost in once you begin examining the space more closely.
Southern Spain is frequently the hottest region in Europe. At the peak of summer, it stays oppressively hot (100°F and above) and very dry. We visited Andalusia at the very end of September/start of October, and the temperatures were still in the 90s. You seek relief in rooms with the latticed windows that let in light but not heat. Or you walk in the walled gardens.
Water, water, everywhere…. The former Islamic rulers built a sophisticated system of fountains and pools. Those fountains were designed to include the sound of flowing waters, and flowers and fruit trees were planted to delight the senses with their perfumes.
Memory returned vivid and at the same time somehow distorted at the Alhambra palaces’ innermost courtyard spaces. Only those wonderful carved lions at the private fountain were just as I remembered them.
And those were more than enough to make me very, very happy.
“In the present day, when popular literature is running into the low levels of life, and luxuriating on the vices and follies of mankind; and when the universal pursuit of gain is trampling down the early growth of poetic feeling, and wearing out the verdure of the soul, I question whether it would not be of service for the reader occasionally to turn to these records of prouder times and loftier modes of thinking; and to steep himself to the very lips in old Spanish romance.” ― ― Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra