Alhambra – Walls And Towers

The fortress of the Alhambra is a walled circuit about half a mile long and seven hundred feet wide. The walls rise to the height of about thirty feet and are five feet thick. At intervals there are towers, to the number of twelve or more, of which the entrance tower of the Gate of Justice and the “Siete Suelos,” or seven stories, out of which Boabdil passed to exile, have already been mentioned. Some of these are well worth a visit, both on account of their situation, their exquisite interiors, and their legendary history.

The Torre de la Vela, which is near the palace, and the last one on the southern point of the promontory, offers the best view from the Alhambra. It contains a bell, which rings to announce to the peasants how long they can use the waters of the river for the irrigation of their fields. This has been a custom from the days of the Moors. On this tower the standard of the Christian conquerors was first raised, and a cross carved in the wall marks the place of the symbol of victory. On the anniversary of this conquest, the second of January, a fete is held in the Alhambra, the fountains play in the Court of the Lions, and the fortress is full of peasants. There is a superstition connected with the festival that any maiden who ascends the Torre de la Vela, and strikes the bell, will be married within the year, and the harder she strikes, the better will be the husband. Mr. Finck, who was at the Alhambra on January second a year or two since, says that from the noise made on this day it has been inferred that marriage is not regarded as a failure by the unmarried women of Spain.

Visitors who stay long at Granada come often to this outlook for the sunset views, which are extremely beautiful. We copy the description of the view from “Studies in Local Color,” by the artist to whom allusion has just been made. “Below lies the Alhambra, so unpromising in its exterior, so fairylike in its interior, and beyond, to the right, are the Spanish Alps, the Sierra Nevada, powdered with snow, and rising twelve thousand feet into the air. On the other side lies the city of Granada, grouped about its giant religious guardian, the cathedral, and along the hill to the right can be seen the habitations of the gypsies, dug into the mountain side. Beyond the city, almost as far as the eye can reach, extends the fertile green plain, studded with villages, gardens, orchards, and farms. . . . Nothing could be more fascinating than sitting here and reading the story of Granada, with a bird’s-eye view of the real battlegrounds before him in place of a map. But when the sun begins to sink the book must be shut, for then the aesthetic sense claims a monopoly of the attention. The snow of a sudden assumes a delicate rose tint, like the Swiss Alpyuhen, while the lower mountain chain on the opposite side, behind which the sun is slowly disappearing, looks like a coalblack silhouette, contrasting vividly with the green sunset sky. For a quarter of an hour this scene may be enjoyed, when all at once the rosy blush on the Sierras disappears, leaving the snow more deadly pale than it had seemed before.”

The Torre de las Infantas, which is the scene of Irving’s legend of the three beautiful princesses, has been carefully repaired; its elaborate decorations, delicate tracery, and machicolated roof are restored to their pristine loveliness. A portico leads into a central hall with a marble fountain, lofty arches, and elegant dome. A pretty gallery runs around the central court, and exquisitely graceful arched windows light the rooms and afford superb prospects. “This,” said my companion, “shall be the model for our summer residence; on a Berkshire hill, or in an Ad.irondack glen, we will build a tower just like this. It will be perfectly lovely!” We agreed about it then, but after looking at the Berkshire hill I do not think the Spanish tower would be a suitable structure for the place, and I fear that a log-cabin in the Adirondacks will be the only outcome of the Torre en Espana. This tower was the reputed residence of the daughters of the Moorish kings, and the legend is that three princesses were once shut up in the tower by their father, a tyrant of Granada, being only permitted to ride out at night about the hills, and that no one was allowed to come near them upon pain of death. In spite of the tyrant’s vigilance, the princesses were seen by some Christian knights, and the flame of love burned equally in the hearts of men and maidens. Under such conditions there was nothing to be thought of but escape, and by the aid of a faithful or unfaithful servant (according to the standpoint), two of the princesses succeeded in descend.ing from the lofty windows and fleeing upon swift horses with their lovers. The courage of the third sister failed at the critical moment. Mourning her lack of courage, she died young, and was buried beneath the tower. According to the account of Irving’s little old fairy queen, “occasionally when the moon is full, the princesses may be seen riding in lonely places along the mountain side, on palfreys richly caparisoned and sparkling with jewels, but they vanish on being spoken to.”

The “Tower of the Captive” has a more veritable history. There is little doubt that it was for some time the residence of the Dona Isabel de Solis, who became the favorite wife of Abu Hassan. He called her Zoraya, “the Morning Star.”It is said to have derived its name, however, from a Christian captive, who was carried off by Abul Walid Ismael from Algeciras, a century before. This captive maiden, when she found no other means of escaping from the design of the king to make her his sultana, threw herself from the tower window into the ravine below, where her lifeless form was discovered by the knight, who had arrived too late to rescue her. The interior of this tower has been repaired where needful. Its slender arches, glistening tiles, wonderful arabesque, and inscriptions from the Koran are well preserved, or have been conscientiously restored. One of its most beautiful double-arched windows, divided by a slender column, looks across the deep moat or ravine to the tower of the princesses; the thickness of the wall forms a deep window-recess, whose sides and ceilings are elaborately covered with the finest kind of stucco work, gilded and painted, and wainscoted from the floor up -with ancient azuelos. We spent hours in this and a few of the other towers, never tiring of the varied beauties of the interior, and of the charming pictures of landscape, and ruined wall overgrown with vines and herbage, and distant hills and lofty mountains, which were framed in the unglazed windows and came out clear and well defined in the beautiful atmosphere of Granada. Every tower has its legend or cluster of legends. The Siete Suelos, besides the story which makes it the scene of Boabdil’s exit, has the tale, so often told, that beneath its romantic ruins two Moors sit guarding a heavy chest full of gold and jewels. As the tower is close to the hotel, and a part of its wall is used for store-rooms of tools and water-pots and other agricultural implements, I am quite sure that the Moors and their treasures, if they were ever there, have long since passed away. My window looked out upon this tower, and I am prepared to testify that its lower story is anything but a treasurehouse of gold or romance, and that the only Moor who guards the treasures in that neighborhood now sits in the office, and makes out the bills of travellers who eat the rissotto and drink the Malaga wine at his comfortable hotel.