An afternoon spent in Granada’s Alhambra was fascinating if not exactly soothing, with crowds and a three-hour wait for tickets (prepaid!), although there was plenty to do. Spain’s greatest example of Islamic architecture was built in the 14th century by its Berber rulers. After falling into disrepair for centuries, the Alhambra was rediscovered in the 19th century by European scholars and travellers, and was partially restored, although ruined gates and walls still sit in the surrounding woodlands beneath the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The fascination with Islamic architecture continues to grow in Europe. What fascinated in Cordoba was the way in which the Catholic cathedral, encrusted with ludicrously extravagant ornamentation, sat within the mosque, while the Islamic arches lent a simple grace to the building.
I’ve seen some breathtaking Islamic architecture in the Middle East but the setting here was the thing, in warm formal gardens filled with fruit trees, cascades and fountains, backed by the snow-capped mountain range. In the opening of Fellini’s ‘Amarcord’ children chase the puffballs that signify spring, and here the skies and even town centres are filled with them.
There’s no obvious sign of the economic depression in the shopping streets or on the rambles – everyone appears dressed in their finery and armed with bags, but Spain’s situation is unusual, centred on the collapse of private investment rather public expenditure. Tomorrow I head for the mountain town of Gaucin to visit my former agent, Serafina.