One of my favourite places on earth is the Alhambra, the amalgamation of fabulous Arabesque palaces and a fortress complex built by the Moors on a steep wooded hill during the mid-14th century in Granada, Spain. It’s straight out of the Arabian Nights, and is startling for its beauty and its impact on the imagination.
Nowhere else did the Moors create such decorative art and such exuberant splendour: centuries of craft, design and technique delicately carved in stone, marble, plaster and wood, with gushing fountains and canals, a glorification of a long-distant past. Here, within these silent walls, where the shadows and echoes of the past confront one at every step, where the ghosts of emirs, slaves and beautiful princesses move through the corridors with silent footsteps; here in this wonderful and mystery-laden atmosphere dwells romance.
The palace features in my new novel, Indiscretion.The heroine, Alexandra, spends several weeks in Granada and takes the time to explore every part of the Alhambra. I intend to run a series of posts on this beautiful setting, which is so rich with history and legend, and to start off today I’m focusing on the stunning Hall of the Abencerrages.
The room is a perfect square and rises to a high dome, which is decorated in blue, brown, red and gold in the mocárabe style – an ornamental design that originated in the 12th century and incorporates prisms that resemble stalactites. When I visited this room, I couldn’t take my eyes off the vaulted ceiling. Here’s a view of it:
The Hall of the Abencerrages is undeniably beautiful. But I also felt a chill as I stood in it, because of the legend associated with the room.
The Abencerrages were a prominent noble family who lived in Granada in the 15th century. Legend tells that the head of the family, Amet, fell in love with the Sultan’s favourite concubine, Zoraya. One night, he was climbing into her window when he was spotted. The Sultan was furious, and intent on vengeance. But he was not hot-headed; he was cunning. Sultan Abu Al-Hassan invited thirty-six members of the Abencerrage family to a banquet in the hall. There, he had them massacred until the fountains ran with their blood.
A ghoulish legend, it is true, which makes it a little unsettling that a man who covets Alexandra’s heart, the torero Don Felipe, tells it to her. When she shudders at the horror of it, his response is this: ‘What man wouldn’t go to extreme lengths to protect what is his?’ This is just one perspective on love, passion and death in the Spain of the era in which the book is set (1950s). Is it one that Alexandra will respect and admire? Or will she find brutality associated with such possessive love repugnant? Will such details of her Spanish heritage root her in the country of her birth, or send her fleeing for England once more?