Thursday, October 15, 2015

Alhambra and Basilica de San Juan de Dios

Gardens went on forever.  All over the site
at Alhambra and Generalife.

For a variety of reasons I have been negligent in updating this blog over the past month or so.  Mostly because once we left Aguadulce there has been no sharing of internet access aboard S/V BeBe.  The only internet access has been on the main computer at the nav station and that seat is too uncomfortable for my arthritic hip for me to sit there longer than 10 minutes.  Plus, we have been kind of busy for a change!

Bill was freezing for the first few
hours at the higher elevation.
But it warmed up nicely once
the sun was high.  He is using
2 hand dryers to warm up.
We enjoyed the marina at Aguadulce.  It was less expensive than most other marinas along the Med coast of Spain; our berth was out in the middle of the marina so the loud music at the bars all night long on weekends was not too troublesome; and, most importantly, it provides excellent shelter from heavy weather from any direction.  It is a perfect place to tuck in for a week or more.  And a perfect place to leave the boat for a day trip to Granada.  We shared a rental car with Dennis and Virginia on S/V Libertad who had arrived in Aguadulce a day or 2 after us and headed inland up the mountains for a long day of touristy sight-seeing.

Virginia and Dennis of S/V Libertad with Bill in
front of main entrance to Palace of Carlos V
First stop was the Alhambra.  Confession time:  we had never heard of Alhambra until other cruising friends ahead of us mentioned it in their blog this summer.  And it supposedly is one of the most popular tourist sites in all of Europe!  It is imperative that one purchase advance tickets online before visiting Alhambra, or be prepared to stand in a ticket queue for average 2 or more hours.  Even with tickets purchased online it can take 45 minutes in the queue to exchange the online purchase voucher for the required paper tickets.  When I first checked online in early September there were no tickets available until 1 November!  

Dennis suggested that maybe they open up more tickets just before dates to visit and he was right.  On 21 September Virginia was able to purchase 4 tickets online for us to visit on 23 September, although on the previous day it was shown to be sold-out until 1 November.  So, if you cannot purchase tickets just keep checking daily and something might become available.  Worked for us.  We also purchased separate tickets for the Nasrid Palaces which are inside Alhambra.  Only a limited number of visitors are allowed into the Palacios Nazaries per hour in an effort to control crowds.  We visited in late September and it was still crowded.  During summertime it is even more crowded.

Gate to the Alcazaba.  These entryways
are called gates.  No idea why.

I am writing this blog on a laptop without internet access as a Word document and will upload it once the very limited internet access is working again, so I can provide no historical details about Alhambra – just whatever I remember from the audio guide.  And our visit was 3 weeks ago so memory likely is incorrect about details.  Here are a couple of links for info about Alhambra for those who have interest:

Exterior of Alcazaba from inside Alhambra. Only 1 small
entry door and then inside the entry passageway winds
many times. If attackers gained entry they would have
had a difficult time getting to the occupants.
Alhambra was a small walled city built by the Moors long ago when they occupied Spain.  It is the only remaining intact palace built by an Arabic prince and at least 4 princes or emirs lived here, each enlarging the compound.  Eventually the Moors were driven out of this area of Spain and it has remained Spanish since then.  There was a mosque here that was so beautiful that the Christians did not destroy it as was common practice.  Instead, they converted the mosque to be used as a temple even after a large church was built.  But eventually the mosque became structurally unsound and had to be demolished.  Today a beautiful church stands where the mosque once stood.  I believe the name of this church is Santa Maria de la Alhambra.  It is located behind the large Palacio Carlos V.  We did not go into the church.  I think we were all ‘churched out’ on this day after visiting so many cathedrals in other parts of Spain and Italy.

Weird interior of Palace of Carlos V. No roof over center 
The Palace of Carlos V is an unusual building.  From the outside it appears to be a typical palace of that time period but inside is totally different.  Inside is round and open to the sky above.  This is unlike any palace we have previously visited.  It is more like the Arabic style of having the interior space open and the actual building surrounding this open space, but there were none of the fountains or gardens inside that are typical of Arabic style buildings.  Seemed like a huge amount of wasted space to me and I could not understand the purpose of this style building.

Note the large cracks in this tower.  We did not walk
to the top of this one.

After a brief visit inside the Palace of Carlos V next up was the Alcazaba section of Alhambra.  The Alcazaba was the defense or military section of Alhambra.  There were at least 3 towers, 2 of which were for defense and the remaining 1 was where a prince or emir lived or sought refuge during attacks. The ‘king’ tower had some major structural cracks in it.  Seems like those should be addressed if they are going to continue allowing millions of visitors up there each year.  

We did walk to the top of this tower.  It
looked more structurally sound.

Pretty views from top of a tower in Alcazaba section
of Alhambra.  Dennis, Virginia & Bill.

The cathedral in Granada.  Viewed from the tower top.

Dennis & Virginia inside Alcazaba

Exterior part of Alcazaba facing
outside Alhambra
View of the military housing ruins inside Alcazaba as seen
from a nearby tower.  Great security up this high.

See how high we were in the top tower!  This view
looks down onto another tower of the Alcazaba.  

We did not walk up to the top of the tower where the king once lived but we did walk to the top of the other 2 defense towers.  One had a spectacular view of the mountaintop valley where the city of Granada is situated.  It was easy to see how the topography made this such a desirable area.  

One of a thousand arched passages in Nasrid Palaces.

Next up was our scheduled tour of the Palacios Nazaries.  The Nasrid Palaces were home to a minimum of 4 Arabic princes or emirs of the Nazarid family (or however they spelled it; the mixture of Arabic and Spanish and English creates some strange spellings).  There might have been 5 princes or emirs or even more who resided here before the Moors were forced out; I do not remember. 

Beautiful detailed door
These structures are beautiful beyond imagination.  None of my photos do justice to these buildings.  As common in all Arabic influenced architecture  the exteriors are nothing special to look at.  The exteriors are plain.  Oh…but those interiors!  Just gorgeous!

One of the beautiful walls

The lower 3 to 4 feet of all interior walls were covered in ceramic tiles or porcelain tiles, often in geometric patterns and always brightly colored.  This was done because it is always the lower sections of walls that suffer the most wear and tear of occupancy.   The upper walls and ceilings were covered in elaborately ornate plaster work.  Almost every room and hallway had plaster with Arabic script flowing around windows and doorways.  The audio guide stated that this would be religious in nature.  It created a beautiful design effect.

One of the pools inside Nasrid Palaces

Inside the many interior courtyards were fountains and gardens and sculptures, each more beautiful than the last. These seemed to go on forever, but maybe that was because of all the crowds making progress slow.  According to the site map the palaces encompassed approximately the same square footage as the Alcazaba but the palaces seemed much larger.

Incredible plaster work on upper walls

Such intricate details in the plaster

A window seat in tile. Note how thick is the plaster and detailed.

A particularly beautiful small room.

A courtyard fountain supported by statues of lions

And then there were more gardens.  And more gardens.  And even more gardens.  This place must have quite the staff of landscapers working every day! 

Small part of the Hall of the Two Sisters

The last building we looked at inside Alhambra was the Hall of the Two Sisters.
Rather than type this out to be part of this blog,
here is a photo of the description of this building.

After seeing this cathedral from the top of the tower
in the Alcazaba of Alhambra, we searched it out when
we drove down to Granada.  This is the main entry
which opens onto a tiny square.
We were all tired of walking and decided we had seen enough.  We found a lovely restaurant with outdoor seating with a pretty view for a relaxing lunch.  Then drove down to central part of Granada to check out a cathedral and a basilica.  Cars are not allowed in central old Granada, only small buses and taxis; so we parked and walked the narrow stone streets.  The basilica was closed for a few hours; rather than sit and wait we walked the area and soon found a cathedral to visit.  But there was an entrance fee and none of us wanted to pay to see the interior of yet another cathedral so we skipped it.  By the time we made our way back to the basilica it was just opening for late afternoon visitors.

Basilica of San Juan de Dios,
St. John of God

Main altar inside basilica
The Basilica de San Juan de Dios is very small compared to any basilica we have seen elsewhere.  It seemed no larger than the Catholic church in Texas where Bill and I were married.  Oh, but the interior! 

One of 6 or 8 alcoves along sides of basilica

Gold, gold, gold and more gold!  Flash photography was not allowed so my photos are terrible of this ultra-richly decorated basilica as it was quite dark inside.

Interior of basilica

Another view of interior of basilica

We had never heard of the Order of San Juan de Dios, but the tour info stated that this is an order of the Church like the far better known Jesuits.  But they did not tell us what the focus was for this Order. An online search revealed that he had been a shepherd, farmer, soldier and bricklayer before devoting his life to helping the poor and sick; and the Orden de Hospitalarios (Hospitaller Order) was founded.  The first hospital for this Order was founded in 1578, and later a college was established in 1913.  Today there are several hospitals and welfare centers established by this Order around Spain and in the Philippine Islands and a few other locations.

Remains of San Juan de Dios 
On an upper level was the reliquary.  In the center of the main section of the reliquary were the relics of San Juan de Dios inside much silver and gold.  How many poor people could be fed with the worth of that ostentatious display of church wealth!  Supposedly there were bone remains of 140 people inside the reliquary.  There were small glass ‘boxes’ containing skulls and crossed small bones covering the walls from floor to ceiling.  This gal who was raised in the Baptist church still finds this practice of keeping bones of important people and saints inside churches to be creepy.  This one was creepy to the max.

These particular jellyfish were clear or translucent.
But others we have seen have been dark blue.
The drive back to Aguadulce was just as pleasant as the early morning drive had been.  We enjoyed the mountain scenery.  This was an enjoyable short trip.  We remained in Aguadulce marina for a few more days and then moved on toward Gibraltar.  There are millions of jellyfish in this part of the Med.  Literally...millions.  Just to show that it is not all beautiful churches, palaces and interesting old ruins in our lives at the moment, here is a photo of the jellyfish remnants that Bill had to suck out of our sea chest the afternoon before leaving Aguadulce.  We were watching a movie in air-conditioned comfort on a hot afternoon when the water alarm sounded, indicating insufficient water flow.  Upon inspection Bill found the sea chest clogged with jellyfish.  Note to future cruisers: you will need a wet/dry shop vac.  We use ours frequently.  Came in handy that afternoon.

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