The Magical Generalife Gardens of the Alhambra

I love to be outside in the garden, digging through dirt and planting things. Rachel Kaplan has written about psychological restoration from fatigue through contact with nature, and I can experience these effects directly on my own skin as I relax among plants, trees and birds. The repetitive physical activities of gardening (digging, planting, pruning) generate tranquility, and the rich sensory experiences at a fine-grained, close-to-the-ground level open one’s mind to new vistas. I know all of my plants, and can easily tell which ones have been browsed by deer. I know where squirrels have buried their nuts, and what new bird species have moved in. Birds seem to habituate to me and take flight at shorter distances from me than they should. I feel that I am the Jane Goodall of avian life in my modest Minnesota garden!

Beautiful gardens of all kinds are an inspiration. The gardens and parks that stand out most in my mind have something magical and mysterious about them. The terraced Alhambra Generalife Gardens are dreamy with their architectural hardscape from a bygone era. I could have easily explored them for hours when visiting recently. I would have liked to have strolled at a more leisurely pace through the garden rooms and along the walkways, while tarrying for a while to listen to the gentle murmur of flowing water. There is water everywhere in these gardens giving the impression of a lush, abundant, easy life. The Moors regarded water as a precious luxury akin to the riches of paradise.

Today’s Alhambra and its gardens are nothing like those that King Boabdil would have experienced in 15th century Granada. The Great Mosque of the Alhambra was later straddled by a Christian church. Much of today’s garden space was utilitarian when the Moors lived there, serving the maintainance of horses and farm animals. A number of buildings are now gone. New plant species, never used in Moorish plantings, are seen in the gardens today. What has surely not changed, however, are the magnificent Sierra Nevada Mountains visible from the Alhambra and its surroundings, as a stage piece that the Moors must have enjoyed for its beauty and utility by harnessing water from the spring snow melts.

I attempted to enter the gardens through a series of two arches next to the Torre del Agua, only to turn around to find that the ticket takers had positioned themselves elsewhere. I adore gateways and portals of any kind, as they offer the promise of something special after crossing their guarded threshold.

A slightly misty day made the distant Sierra Nevada Mountains look dreamy. This is the vista from the lower level of the terraced gardens.

If only the roses were ready to bloom!

Another fountain! Apparently water jets were not used by the Moors, who preferred overflow fountains.

Higher and higher we go into the terraced gardens.

The mass plantings of flowers make patterns that echo the stonework of the walkways. These are modern, and would not have been used by the Moors.

An abundance of water offers a richness of life that is biophilic. People show a preference for outdoor settings with this feature.

The yellow green of the fresh spring leaves and the newly cultivated rows of plantings made my gardener’s fingers itch!

Here is the ultimate room with a view. There are no fabrics today in the Alhambra or the Generalife Palace. I wonder if there were fabrics hung here during the days of Boabdil and his antecesors.

The summer Generalife Palace with a sunken garden and flowing water: Patio de la Acequía.

The Patio de la Sultana.

More water.

The Water Stairway appears to be an orginal feature of the hardscape.

The Medina. Heading towards the Palacios Nazaríes at the appointed hour.

Ruins of residential quarters.

Bibliography

Irwin, R. (2004). The Alhambra. London: Profile Books.

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