TO sit down with the deliberate intention of attempting a description of the Alhambra is discouraging. No better evidence of the indescribable character of the palace should be needed than the fact that it never yet has been adequately described, although much has been written about it. The world is flooded with travelers’ tales of its ethereal magnificence. Close students have expended immense pains on its manifold intricacies of detail. Irving has woven into a matchless tapes-try the scores of legends that cluster about its walls and courts. Histories of the Moors and of Granada have sought to make the world familiar with its traditions of war and peace. And yet the Alhambra as an actuality defies them all to give in words the true idea of its almost unearthly beauty, its marvelous lightness and fragility, and its unfading, undying charm. Never did any building give less promise of permanence, yet few have come through as many centuries so perfect and unharmed. It is almost like that curious survival of the ancient glassware that one finds dug up from the ruins of antiquity, unshattered and with iridescence undimmed, seemingly the most fragile of all human handicraft, yet outlasting the massive temples and houses it adorned.
Much of the Alhambra to-day is as perfect as in the days of its kingly occupants. Restoration has been sparing and cautious. There is none of that garish gaudiness that so sadly mars the rejuvenated alcâzar at Seville, but everywhere prevails the soft coloring of the olden time as well as its incomparable grace and lightness, each due in large part to the fact that so much is the original work untouched by modern hands. To add to the existing mass of literature on this fairy palace might well seem a supererogatory work, and at least one to be undertaken with hesitancy. For the palace must be seen. Photography fails almost as signally as word-painting, and even the brush of the artist cannot hope to reproduce more than a tithe of the effects that crowd upon the eye. Investigating the details with undue minuteness spoils the charm and reduces the Alhambra to a scientific problem too much concerned with individual members of the decorative scheme, which, however beautiful they may be in themselves, are best considered as parts of one stupendous whole.
It is certain that the Alhambra could not be reproduced today with anything like success, how-ever accurately architects and builders might copy it to the minutest feature. Attempts to simulate it, or to adapt Moorish architecture to modern conditions, have resulted uniformly in abominations which show that the Christian has not been vouchsafed the Moor’s celestial vision. The former’s work is dry and uninspired, and even the attempt to furbish up the great alcazar of Seville is a lamentable failure. The Alhambra is so loaded down with adornment that the visitor cannot but wonder that it succeeds, but succeed it certainly does, and the secret must be that the Alhambra, more than almost any other ancient building, has an undying soul of its own which age cannot wither nor custom stale, although such a building springing up to-day would instantly be voted a wearisome infinitude of variety.
The name Alhambra, as intimated hitherto, is by no means to be taken as applicable to a single building, however much our long usage has led us to associate it exclusively with the palace of the Moorish kings. The word signifies as well the whole fortification of the hilltop which the Moors made their citadel and within which they reared their regal residence. It is a spacious hilltop, broad and nearly flat, protected on almost every side by natural moats and fosses in the form of abrupt ravines, and further fortified by massive walls of reddish stone, the color of which gives the place its name, the ” red palace.” The space within the walls is not more than half built upon. Its eastern end is a broad, open field. The northern and western portions are occupied by the palace and its gardens and the diminutive hamlet of modern buildings that has been allowed to take root there. Of the multitude of towers that once broke the undulating line of the wall at regular intervals, many remain in almost perfect preservation. From their feet the cliff drops away sheer on every side, and most precipitously of all on the side next the modern city. It is small wonder that, in those days of meagre artillery, the Moors deemed their fortress impregnable, and graved on the successive arches of the outer gates the symbolic hand and key, haughtily averring that until the one should grasp the other the stronghold of their kings should not fall.
Our first view of the Alhambra, as our carriage rattled through the gates and up the narrow streets of the hamlet, was disappointing. Of the Moorish palace nothing whatever was to be seen, and the one prominent building was the ruined palace of Charles V, blatant and obtrusive, decidedly the greatest architectural crime perpetrated in that monarch’s name. In the nature and coloring of its stone it harmonizes with the rest of the Alhambra, but in no other way. It makes no pretense of following Moorish lines, but is frankly of the Renaissance. Down in Granada, as an ayuntamiento or an office building, it would shine. Up in the Alhambra it is as out of place as a power plant would be on the acropolis of Athens. It encroaches on the domain of the Alhambra palace, almost half of which was torn down to make room for it, and completely hides the modern approach thereto. It never had the slightest excuse for being, and, indeed, it was never completed, so that its sole function from the first has been that of a blemish, colossal and inescapable, in close juxtaposition to one of the most beautiful buildings ever erected by human hands.
Having taken up our quarters in the neighbor-hood, for we had elected to live in the Alhambra rather than abide in the more pretentious hotels outside, we hastened forth to make immediate acquaintance with the palace and its grounds. The entrance proved difficult to find, hidden as it was behind Charles V’s monstrosity, and indeed the very existence of the ancient palace would never be suspected from its exterior. It certainly is not fair to outward view. Rather does it resemble a very ordinary shed or stable. It is long and low, tile-roofed, and few indeed are the points whence its walls are visible at all from without. Tradition says that this unattractive exterior was deliberately encouraged as an offset to the luxuriant magnificence within, the Moors entertaining, in common with most other primitive peoples, the notion that it was dangerous to appear too prosperous outwardly, lest the wrath of Heaven be visited upon the ostentatious. Therefore the Alhambra was made as plain as might be externally to avert the evil eye ; but within the Arab artisans wrought magic, apparently held in no fear that the knowledge of Allah could by any chance pierce this unpretentious and rather hypocritical roof-tree, or view with any such disapproval the glittering mosaics, iridescent tiles, graceful arabesques, and pendant stalactites which adorned the inner chambers.
The sun was setting when we finally discovered the humble door which today gives access to the royal abode, and no time remained for an inspection of the maze of rooms and courts within. But it was the time of all times to wander through the fragrant gardens outside, snuffing the sweetness of the box hedges which lined the path to the westernmost tower, the Torre de la Vela, whence one may best see the glories of the sunset. A young man of the town who was loitering at the foot of the tower assured us in careful English that there was yet time to ascend, and an aged woman with a Roman lamp led us by a winding stair through intense darkness to the summit.
Over our heads hung a great bell, which is used during the night to regulate the hours for drawing on the Darro for irrigation ; and a pretty local custom further permits the tolling of it on certain festivals by the maidens of Granada in the hope of attracting thereby proper husbands within the year.
At our feet, but far below, lay Granada spread out like a map, her houses huddling close around the base of the hill in a great lunette of gray ; while beyond and stretching away to illimitable distances was the vega, a smiling meadow, purple in the evening light and traversed by a thread of gold which we knew for the Genil. The snow mountains to the east glimmered coldly against the approaching darkness, but the jagged western peaks were glorious bulks in the warmth of a crimson twilight. Surely nowhere are the sunsets finer than from the Torre de la Vela !
Close by the foot of the tower and at intervals along the walls that mark this verge of the precipice there are formal gardens whose walks are bordered with the inevitable myrtle and box, and whose beds are aglow with iris and roses. Through these we could see wandering many people of the town as well as a multitude of foreigners, all quietly enjoying the coolness of the air and the brilliance of the sunset sky. But one by one the colors faded, the glow departing last of all from the snow-fields of the mighty Sierras ; and one by one the stars lighted themselves in the deepening blue of the heavens. The forms of the distant mountains faded out of view and left Granada in the midst of a shoreless sea of plain. The cold of the Spanish night made itself felt, and silence, broken only by the murmuring of the wayside streams, settled down on the Alhambra.
Morning found us early at the gateway of the palace. Visitors are freely welcome, and there is no admission charge of any sort, the one requirement being that on the first visit one shall be accompanied by an official guide. Subsequently no guide is required, and none ever offered his services after our first appearance. Just how the others knew that we were not novices I was never able to discover.
We set out with a dapper individual through an echoing corridor and out into the great Court of the Myrtles, bathed in sunshine. The perfection of the architecture, and the reflections in the placid mirror of the fishpond, framing a vision of inverted arches, invited photography, and I unslung my camera preparatory to taking my first shot, when the guide interposed. He said we must get a permission. What happened to us I never knew, but I never succeeded in getting any formal permission at all. Instead, the first guide disappeared and a second took his place as if by magic, a much better one who had no absurd scruples about photography, and we learned to love him well. He unburdened himself of a great deal of honest information in wonderfully intelligible Spanish, manfully abstaining from the traditional attempt to show us blood-stains in the Hall of the Abencerrages, and sensibly remarking that the marks in the fountain were not blood at all.
When Washington Irving came to Granada in the early part of the nineteenth century, he was assigned a room in a wing of the palace itself, which was then in a ruinous condition that threatened its very existence. Irving and he was not alone in the apprehension confidently predicted the ultimate ruin of the building through neglect, and congratulated himself on having seen its beauties before their final decay. This gloomy foreboding was natural. The Alhambra was tenanted by bats and beggars, and its custodians, if they cared to do so, were seemingly powerless to arrest the slow progress of dilapidation. It was only the timely awakening of Spain to the value of preserving this incomparable monument of a conquered people that forestalled the devouring process of time. To-day, fortunately, no speedy destruction is to be feared. The Alhambra is not now suffered to lie in neglect. Its roofs and walls are no longer going to ruin. Workmen are constantly at work upon it, retouching here a little and there a little. Its garden paths and courts are swept and garnished. In the shade of its many porticoes an army of somnolent custodians is always dozing. Naturally it is agreeable to think that the delicate palace is so well protected against destruction, though I cannot but envy Irving his haunted chamber overlooking the little garden of Lindarraxa, and his intimate association with every nook and corner of the place. Then, if ever, might one hope to do justice to the Alhambra.
Roughly speaking, the palace as it remains today consists of but two great courts, adjoining one an-other and inclosed in two hollow quadrangles by low-roofed buildings which form the palace proper. The first and larger quadrangle, variously called the Court of the Myrtles from its hedges, or the Court of the Fishpond because of its placid and spacious pool, is perhaps the less celebrated of the two, although it would be somewhat dangerous to attempt any comparison on the score of beauty.
Today the court shows almost no traces of the fire that once ravaged it, and nothing could well be more peacefully charming than this spacious close with its fragrant, close-cropped hedges and its glassy sheet of water reflecting alike, with photo-graphic accuracy, the slender grace of the delicate porticoes at either end, the greenery of the myrtles along the marge, and the fleecy clouds that go floating by in the blueness of the open sky above. The tone of the stonework within is as warm and tawny as without, but instead of the massiveness of the outer walls there is everywhere airiness and lightness, an impression produced by the slenderness of the marble columns and by the incredibly graceful and intricate tracery which swarms over every wall.
Let critics quarrel as they may over the dominant architectural influences that manifest themselves in this palace, be they Byzantine, Greek, Persian, Arabian, or really and peculiarly ” Moorish “; all agree at least that never was there another such combination of fragile elegance with enduring strength. After almost four centuries of neglect it remains practically unharmed, its original coloring doubtless mellowed but thereby improved, and its wealth of tracery and tiles but slightly marred.
Down along the edge of the pool within which numberless goldfish darted to and fro, we wandered to the cool and lofty chamber still called the Hall of the Ambassadors, because it was here that the kings were wont to receive emissaries on missions of peace and war. Here later stood the thrones of the Catholic kings, and a thoroughly untrustworthy rumor insists that in this very chamber they received Columbus.
The room occupies a massive, square tower, en-trance to which is gained through a portico, vaulted like a hollow ship and somewhat marred by fire. Within, it is a marvel of art. The lower portion of the wall is set with figured tiles (azulejos), possessing a metallic lustre which modern science strives in vain to reproduce. Above this succeeds the main surface of the wall, covered with a bewildering in-finitude of arabesque patterns which seemingly were impressed on the buff-colored stucco with moulds while the stucco was still warm and plastic. And at the top the great room closes in a dark and mysteriously lofty dome, adorned with the curious stalactite formation which the Moors understood so well how to employ. Deeply recessed windows of graceful outline, their coupled arches separated by columns of a marvelous slimness, afford a view out over the glens below, deep glens whose feathery treetops do not reach as high as the Hall of the Ambassadors. From one of these very windows and down into this very glen it is claimed that his mother lowered the ill-fated Boabdil by a rope of scarfs, that he might be borne away by faithful servants and escape the death which his jealous and sanguinary father plotted for him.
What is true of the adornment of the Hall of the Ambassadors is equally true of the numerous other pavilions and chambers which surround the quadrangular courts. Everywhere is the same wealth of azulejos. Always the bewildering mazes of the stucco work, wherein delicate geometric figures combine with Arabic texts to produce at once a scheme of adornment and a sentiment of piety. Over and over again occurs the text, and even one who knows no Arabic will soon learn to identify it out of a thousand, ” There is no conqueror but Allah” ; with which fervent abnegation the founder of all this magnificence, Mohammed I, greeted his subjects on returning, humbly triumphant, from a successful campaign.
The second and inner quadrangle, universally known as the Court of the Lions from its most impressive characteristic, the central fountain, differs from the Court of Myrtles chiefly in being smaller and arcaded on all sides instead of merely at the ends. There is much more to be seen of the Moorish arches and decorative work, and above all there is the fountain, a quaint basin borne on the backs of twelve stone lions all facing outward radially from a common centre. When the water is running it gushes from the mouths of all twelve, but ordinarily the fountains of the Alhambra are silent, and are active only on state occasions. ” Please make the lions play,” pleaded a lady of my acquaintance as she stood before the astonished guard. ” Play? ” he returned with bewilderment. ” Madame, they cannot play ! They are of stone ! ” And stone they surely are, curiously carved and highly conventionalized ; but rude as they are no one could mistake them for anything but lions, any more than one could mistake the stone pigs of Avila for sea-horses.
Practically the whole court is lined with the graceful portico or colonnade of horseshoe arches, which here reach their highest perfection. And yet it is interesting to know that the horseshoe arch was by no means a Moorish invention, but was found in Spain, ready to hand, when the Moors arrived, brought there in all probability by the Visigoths, who in turn got it from Byzantium. So, according to the archæologists, this ancient invention of Arabian, or Islamic, craftsmen came to the Mohammedan invaders of Spain overland and met them there, instead of journeying to Granada with them.
The several sets of chambers that surround the court are not greatly different from that described in the Hall of the Ambassadors, although the tracery seems here to excel slightly in delicacy, and the windows, instead of looking out into deep ravines and over precipices, face upon fascinating gardens close at hand, with dark cypress trees pointing upward in sombre rows. Of course there is a legend to go with each, and notably the gory tale of the murdered Abencerrages, once a powerful clan of Granada, who were summoned to a feast in the Lion Court by the king, and then one by one called aside to the gloomy chamber that still bears their name, only to have their heads lopped off and mingle their lifeblood with the waters of the fountain that still plays there when fountains in the palace play at all.
To attempt any description of the manifold de-tails would be even more discouraging than to give a general idea of the palace, and happily it is not necessary. The true charm of the Alhambra lies not in such details at all, but rather in the unanalyzed tout ensemble, wherein all components blend and go unperceived, like individual instruments in a great orchestral harmony. Splendid as the great chambers are with their tiles, their arabesques, their stalactites and wondrous lanterns, their coupled windows and their delicate columns, they are not the pictures the mind carries away, nor are they the ones to which one returns with the keenest pleasure. Rather does one learn to love most of all, I think, the open courts with their pools and fountains, and above all their vistas, long vistas of cool, dark halls, whose distant windows, destitute of glass, frame bright and glowing pictures of sunlit green.
Our own favorite and particular spot in the Alhambra came to be a little balcony entirely outside the more ancient Moorish building, and connected instead with some small modern apartments added by more recent Spanish kings, mainly, I believe, by Charles V. Access to these separate chambers is obtained by turning to the right as you enter the Hall of the Ambassadors and traversing a narrow gallery which is extremely attractive in itself. It leads one to the tocador, or royal boudoir, its interior still adorned with rude frescoes representing the naval victories of old Spain, which are interesting in their way despite their crudity and bad state of preservation. Just outside this, and almost completely encircling it, is the balcony that we cherished most of all the rare spots in the building. Looking from this toward the mountains up through a long vista of green trees, one could get a delightful glimpse of the glittering summit of the Velata, the one mountain of the magnificent chain behind Granada that possesses any semblance of a peak. The fresh verdure of the trees, the gleam of the distant snow, the blue of that cloudless sky, the dull red of the receding procession of the Alhambra towers, all these combined to form a picture which I shall not soon forget.
Down below in a cool and dusky portion of the building that lies between the two great courts and beneath their level, is still to be seen the royal bath. In fact, despite the warmth of the April sun in the courts above, we found this ancient toilet apartment to be a decidedly chilly place ; and it was a comfort to read later, in a description of the palace by an English clergyman, that the several rooms were warmed on occasion by a ” subterraneous hypocaust.” Surely something of that nature must have been required when these apartments were in regular use, especially as there were bedrooms adjoining, similarly clammy and cold and in dire need of the hypocaust too. The beds were spread, it appeared, on a raised dais of stone adorned with azulejos, doubtless made soft and comfortable by the use of rugs and blankets; and high above a gallery was to be seen whence musicians discoursed soothing music, either to invite slumber or to while away the hours of wakeful royalty when fresh from the bath.
This portion of the palace is all that is left to give any intimate idea of the life of its occupants, the courts above being more in the nature of state chambers. Here one feels that one is in the bosom of the family, and it is interesting to see how their life was ordered. It should be remembered that this remaining fragment is the summer portion of the old palace, intended for occupancy mainly in those warmer months when subterraneous hypocausts cease from troubling. The winter side of the structure, also consisting of two quadrangles, disappeared to make way for Charles V’s gigantic folly. That monarch, great and valiant emperor that he was, can hardly be pardoned for this ; and indeed it is curious that the man who so stingingly rebuked the canons of Cordova for their ruin of the great mosque, should himself have been far more guilty in his treatment of the palace of the Moors. Charles’s huge palace is windowless, roofless, and ugly today, as one comes into its curious central court from the Court of Myrtles. Its circular patio with its admirable colonnades is the only interesting feature of the building, aside from the fact that it shows the curious instability of rather a massive structure contrasted with the enduring properties of the Alhambra.
Behind the palace proper and before one emerges from the narrow lanes into the open field that covers the eastern end of the height, there are secluded gardens, hidden by the high wall of the street. It was a glorious garden, already abloom with many flowers, and on its farther edge stood a most at-tractive little mosque or “mezquita,” quite as well furnished with azulejos as any apartment in the palace.’ Beyond rose the many towers of the narrowing hilltop, each with its legend or actual history, this one the “tower of the captive princess,” that the ” tower of the Infantas,” and last of all the remnant of the gate of the ” Siete Suelos,” Tower of the Seven Floors, through which poor, impotent Boabdil passed out of the Alhambra for-ever, “weeping like a woman over the loss of a kingdom he could not defend like a man,” and out across the bare hillside still called the ” Last Sigh of the Moor.” The gate, in accordance with his last wish, was closed up and never used again. Today it is a ruin.
Limitations of space will not permit any extended reference to the romantic history of the building of this palace and its ultimate conquest by the Catholic kings. It is worthy of remark, however, that Ferdinand and Isabella, on taking formal possession in 1492, were enchanted with their new abode and proceeded to occupy it as a palace, restoring it wherever there was need ; and a royal résidence it continued down to the days of the weak-kneed Philip V, who decided that, as between the Alhambra and its costs, he would rather have the money, and therefore allowed it to fall into decay. Then came the French invaders, who abandoned Granada so recently as 1812, and who proposed, as a parting token of their esteem, to blow the whole building to atoms. A fuse was even lighted for that fell purpose when a Spanish soldier spied the sputtering thing and quenched it, a quick-witted act which was all that saved the Alhambra from sharing the melancholy fate of the Parthenon.
Between the hill of the Alhambra and the over-hanging height still higher above it, commonly called the ” Seat of the Moor,” there is a sunken road which follows the deepening ravine down to the Darro, at first gradual but later increasingly steep and stony as it drops from the levels of the Alhambra to the very base of its cliffs. On a shelf of the upper hillside, overlooking this road and its glen, surrounded by Moorish gardens and ancient cypresses, stand the white walls and towers of the Generalife, once the summer palace of the Moorish kings, but now a villa in private hands. It stands somewhat higher than the Alhambra, with which it once had direct connection by a passageway; and today it is to be reached only by making a long detour from the highroad that leads away to the southeast.
Merely as a matter of Moorish architecture, the Generalife is not to be mentioned in the same breath with the more famous palace. As a sample of Moorish gardening, however, it is probably supreme. Admission to it is freely granted, but for some reason the present owners choose to make the obtaining of tickets as inconvenient as possible, decreeing that every one shall seek the Casa de los Tiros down in the city and obtain his gratuitous tickets there. The latter house is not particularly easy to find without the help of boys ; but there are always armies of those about, so that the one complaint is the inconvenience of going downtown and back. The Generalife at any rate is to be seen without money and without price, but for every visit a permission is necessary. With a very little practice one can school one’s self to call it the ” Henry Leafy” without looking too conscious.
The way to the Generalife gardens lies through an avenue of cypress trees, close clipped, some pointed, some truncated, but all sombre, and forming together a shady tunnel down which one has a rearward vista to the snowy Velata. Through an unpretentious gate, which, like that of the Alhambra, is wholly unrelated to the magnificence within, one steps into a miniature paradise. It is a court much narrower than that of the myrtles in the great palace below, but it recalls it at once by reason of its long hedges, its fragrance, and especially its long and narrow pool of water. On either side of this placid canal for it is much too attenuated to be called a pond range multitudes of flowers and shrubs ; and across the two ends stand porticoed buildings, not fairy palaces like the halls and towers of the Alhambra, but light and airy houses of white, with plainer arches and dainty pillars. Open balconies above give superb views down upon the Alhambra with its tawny towers just across the deep and shady dell that lies between. There is also a quaint portrait gallery in the upper rooms of the principal building, interesting less because of the quality of the painting than because of the subjects portrayed. But its interest pales sadly before the attractiveness of the gardens that lie outside and above, on the terraces that mark the steep ascent of the hillside to the impending ” Seat of the Moor,” the rocky brow that looks down on even the lofty Generalife.
There are in all five terraces above the palace, all very similar in design. They are reached by easy flights of brick steps, the balustrades of which are often grooved to permit the flow of water from one level to another. Nowhere, save in the more spacious and less attractive royal gardens at Seville, does one obtain so good an idea of the passion of the Moorish invaders for hydraulics and geometric gardening. Cypresses, many centuries old, with gnarled and ancient trunks, cast a dense shade over these narrow terraces. There are many walls, but one is not conscious of them owing to the luxuriant vegetation that covers everything ; and indeed one is hardly conscious of the smallness of the gardens themselves. The whole air of the place is more free and easy than is the case with the Alhambra. It is not by any means unkempt, yet impresses the beholder with a sort of unstudied and comfortable neglect that makes it far more ” livable” than the showy splendors of those gorgeous state apartments below on the adjoining hill. When we were there the water was not running, and the one thing needful was the cooling plash of the streams and fountains to complete the indescribable charm of the spot. Not until the authorities arrange for the continuous playing of the waters will the Alhambra and the Generalife come fully to their own.
The environs of Granada abound in pleasant walks. If you will but pass out of the Alhambra and take the road up through the elms past the Washington Irving Hotel and the gateway that leads to the Generalife, you will come in a few moments to a cart-track leading off to the left. Strike boldly into this, and follow it through an olive orchard and up a narrow valley between two bare hills, and in a little space you will attain the top of that long, treeless ridge that lies behind Granada. It is an easy and gradual climb, and the view well repays the effort. Swinging around to the left along the still ascending hillside where a roughly marked sheep path indicates the way, you will find your-self Lat length in the ” Silla del Moro,” the seat of the Moor, with the Generalife at your very feet. It is from this eminence that one obtains the best idea of the Alhambra which lies below, spread out like a toy plan, the entire circle of its walls and towers visible at a glance as in a bird’s-eye view, the palace courts and gardens showing in a fascinating miniature, while beyond and still farther below is the city, shorn of its last remnant of sordidness. The point is even better chosen for viewing the sunset than the Torre de la Vela because of the grander view of the Sierras, which remain in sight most of the way home and afford more ample opportunities for enjoying the afterglow that lingers when the sun is gone. Besides there is the broad prospect of the country on either side, the immensity of the fertile plain with its checker-board of green fields and chocolate soil, the violet bulks of distant mountains, and the infinitesimal olive trees so far below that the ladies declared them to look “like French knots! ” At the feet is the deep canon of the Darro and the bare, bald heights that rise so grandly opposite ; and back, far back of Granada, are the first foothills of the snow-mountains, yellow and scarred by innumerable furrows like wrinkles in the skin of some huge giant. As a vantage-ground for overlooking Granada and its environs, the Seat of the Moor is unsurpassed.
Should one desire a still more comprehensive view of the country outside, however, there is that limitless ridge running back along the Darro, where the cart-track traverses a vast and silent upland moor. It has neither trees nor shrubbery, and its herbage is a symphony of lavender and sage-green. The panorama of the mountains is magnificent. The sheer drop to the Darro is appalling. The desolation is in striking contrast with the abundant fertility of the vega. As for the Sierras, it is true that they are often sadly clouded, but when they are clear the spectacle is truly Alpine in its contrast of white against the blue. There are no marked peaks, to be sure, and it is rather a succession of regular domes, giving the general effect of a snowy ridge. The only point of any prominence is the little rise that marks the summit of the Velata, and the loftier and more distant Mulhacen shows to very little advantage when it can be seen at all. The guards of the Alhambra are accustomed to point out the Velata from the little balcony of the tocador, and call it the Mulhacen; but as a matter of fact that snowy dome is to be seen only from the bald mountain just across the Darro, a splendid hill dominating the district of the Albaicin from whose midst it towers.
To see that smooth and neighboring eminence as we did on our first scramble to the Seat of the Moor was an invitation to climb and conquer it ; and on the following afternoon, when the burden and heat of the day had begun to abate, we set off for it, passing down to the river by the sunken road and over into the Albaicin by the bridge at its foot. The way thence among the houses of the town proved somewhat blind, but chance served us well. While we were hesitating over the way to turn and attracting an increasing army of clamorous children whose one thought was centimos, a head was thrust from an upper window and a voice inquired if we were in quest of the road to the monastery above. We were. Whereupon the voice gave us the desired directions, adding, ” I know you very well. It was I who the other night directed you to the tower of the Vela ! ”
The begging host who followed us to the very foot of the hill abandoned us as hopelessly uncharitable when we prepared to begin the actual climb through a rough and cactus-grown field where stony goat-paths afforded the only road ; and from there on we met none but goat-herds and occasional groups of peasants. On the brow of the first rise stood the monastery, whence high walls radiated in every direction over the hillside, pierced here and there by gates; and at one of these which seemed to afford the speediest access to the open smoothness of the mountain-side we found a dozing officer, doubtless supposed to be sitting at the receipt of custom. He was an affable soul, and made us sit down to rest. Poor man, few chances for conversation fell to his lot, and it seemed a relief to him even to greet three hot and weary Americans whose limit of small talk was a wave of the hand toward the imposing row of Sierras and a heartfelt “buena vista ! ” We tarried but a little while with him, however, for the day was far spent and the summit towered still far overhead. The most direct path was entirely too steep to be tempting, but by circling around, the climb was made less arduous and the summit was attained in something like half an hour. The view was easily worth the trouble, even if the Mulhacen was a disappointment and far less impressive than the Velata after all. Over behind our hill we had a glimpse into a new and attractive country, a country of low hills as smooth and bare as our own, separated by deep vales through which a glistening ribbon of white road led to distant villages. The adjacent steeps were patched with gray herds of grazing sheep, and at our feet lay a lazy boy dreamily watching his scattered goats. I suppose it is these numerous herds and flocks that keep the hillsides so close cropped, giving them an almost startling nudity when seen from afar.
Besides, centuries of rain have worn innumerable deep furrows in the skin of the earth which the shadows bring into sharp relief until they resemble nothing so much as huge wattles and giant rolls of fat ! The bareness of the hills and vales constantly recalls the relief maps which geographers sometimes make out of plaster.
On the way down the mountain we came upon a company of children tending the family flocks not far from their outlying home, and instantly a small lad broke from the group and ran after us, madly waving a brazen chocolate-pot of comely shape and moderate size. It was his evident desire to convert this metallic vessel into silver by the subtle alchemy of bargain and sale ; and in due season we arrived at a price satisfactory to all, whereupon title was passed to this needless but altogether fascinating chattel. We had barely reached the foot of the steep and were about to emerge from the cactus hedges when there was a clatter of feet behind, a great rolling of stones and loose pebbles, and a very agitated and breathless boy precipitated himself gasping into our midst, anxiously announcing, ” Mi madre no quiere ! Madre no quiere ! ” (Mother, in other words, dis-approved the sale recently consummated ; whether because of the price we paid or because of a desire to keep her chocolate-pot at any cost, we never knew.) The pot was returned, to the lad’s intense relief, and the major part of the purchase price duly restored ; whereat he departed up the slope as hurriedly as he had come, with much scrambling of feet and dislodgment of stones in the gully that does double duty as footpath and watercourse.
I have found it absolutely essential to exclude from this chapter with stern but reluctant hand all attempt at relating the myriad legends of the spot. There is not a tower in the Alhambra but has its memories, pretty fables, it is true, and generally devoid of any historic foundation, yet sufficiently strong to have conferred upon the various structures names that have endured for centuries. Since the whole mass of legend has been fused together in Washington Irving’s immortal classic, no subsequent writer has had either the occasion or the hardihood to essay a task so certain to fail by comparison. To this day, Washington Irving has high honor both in Granada and in the Alhambra which he celebrated to the Western world. He has even achieved the apotheosis of having a hotel named in his honor, and the guards of the palace still point out his room, overlooking the gardens of Lindarraxa, from the windows of which he saw such visions, and in the cool shades of which he dreamed such exquisite and romantic dreams.