Day 12 - The Alhambra and Ubeda
The scenery on the way from Ronda towards Granada was still spectacular, miles and miles of olive orchards, windmills, mountains and some crops. A quick stop at a rest stop on the highway that put ours to shame, we arrived at our destination in Granada, the spectacular Alhambra Palace.
It is the best preserved Moorish monument in existence and the grand palace-fortress of Spain’s last Moorish rulers. It was built about the 13th century, and is high atop a hill (think steps!) overlooking the Darro River and the old walls of the city below. Magnificent views.
The Alhambra is the largest tourist destination of Spain, and as such, has huge crowds,e tour groups, and is highly regulated. There was also a significant police presence.
Our guide brought us in the main gate after walking a ways downhill and passing beautifully pruned orange and pomegranate trees.
We walked through several rooms of the Plaza de Nazaríes — the family rooms of the Sultan, his wives, (4), harem (at least 300) and all the other children and servants. Many of the rooms had water fountains fed from the springs of the Sierra Nevada mountains above. A couple of reflecting pools showed artistic views of the Palace. Adorned with all manners of tile, some restored, you could almost picture the members of the royal family lounging, dining, praying and eating inside these rooms.
A number were adapted as modified by Charles I of Spain (also named Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire — same person!). He spent a 6 month honeymoon in the palaces after the sultan had been run out. Comparing the Moorish architecture with Christian Gothic, especially in the wall tiles and ceilings, you could see the obvious aesthetic differences.
There is so much history here, it would make quite a thesis. Indeed Washington Irving, the American writer wrote a very popular "Tales of the Alhambra.
Leaving the official Palace we walked up the hill to the summer palace and gardens, named Generalife (pronounced in Spanish, not the way it looks in English). Supposedly the sultan would retreat to this (cooler) Palace to contemplate and enjoy the beautiful flowers and trees and get away from all the hustle and bustle of his wives and children.
After several hours at the Alhambra, we continued on to the the tiny town of Ubeda and our last Parador. It is another very historical building, having served as the former palace of an important administrator to the king. The town is a UNESCO sight for the over 30 Renaissance buildings, including our Parador, most still in use. It is in a wide square with a church on one side, and other large buildings around.
Emma took us for a walk then this town, just beginning to come awake after siesta. Children playing in the park, beautiful ceramics shops, (one with a unique "birthing jar" in the window, and fig and olive trees.
But the most unique building, and a highlight of the town was yet to come. On a tiny, but busy side street, an ancient synagogue had been discovered when a builder had started demolishing a building to turn it into apartments. When this happens, as it is not uncommon, all work has to stop (well, only if you report it), and excavation work begins.
They found not only the rooms of a synagogue but also a mikvah, the only one in Spain! It is privately owned, and while they do allow for private events like weddings and conversions there, it is not a working synagogue.
The first room shown was turned into the "inquisitors room to portray how Jews had to go before the inquisition (originally located a few doors down) and prove that they had converted. It was somewhat jarring to see Christ on a cross, and other Catholic symbols.
Moving along into the sanctuary area, this has been refurbished with age-appropriate Jewish ritual objects (including an ancient manuscript containing evidence of Jewish inhabitants in Ubeda that was found on Ebay!). There is a women’s gallery upstairs, and 4 cisterns in the corners.
Following some very narrow steep stairs, we descended to the outer room, then the mikvah area with benches along the side. Our guide (who had come in especially to meet with us) explained the use of the mikvah and process to the mostly non-Jewish group. The last rooms contained the large cavernous clay pits where wine was stored, and the inner indentations which were probably ovens.
We felt overwhelmed by the historical significance of this find as we had been hearing for the past five days or so, the history of the expulsion of all the Jews from Spain in 1492.
Late for dinner, we returned to our Parador and had some delicious Spanish cheeses as starters, pumpkin vegetable soup, and very tasty chicken. It was great, but as always, is very hard getting finished eating at 10 or 10:30, then getting a good night’s sleep. (Luckily, we did.)