generalife

THE GENERALIFE is situated not far from the Alhambra on a spur of the same mountain. You get to it by a kind of dug out road that traverses the ravine of Los Molinos, which is bordered all the way with fig-trees of enormous glistening leaves, green oaks, pistachio trees, laurels, and rock roses of a remarkably exuberant vegetation. The ground on which you walk is composed of yellow sand oozing with water, wonderful in its fecundity. Nothing is more delightful than to follow this road, which has the appearance of running through a virgin forest of America, so thickly is it choked with foliage and flowers, and so great is the overwhelming scent of the aromatic plants you inhale there. Vines spring through the cracks of the broken walls, and hang from all their branches fantastic tendrils and leaves resembling the tracery of Arabian ornaments; the aloe opens its fan of bluish blades and the orange trees twist their knotty trunks and cling with fang-like roots to the rents in the steep slopes. Everything flourishes and blooms in a tangled disorder full of the most charming effects of chance. A straying branch of jasmin mingles its white stars with the scarlet flowers of the pomegranate, and a laurel leaps from one side of the road to the other to embrace a cactus, notwithstanding its thorns.

Nature, left to herself, seems to take pride in her coquetry, and wishes to show how far she surpasses even the most exquisite and finished art.

After a quarter of an hour's walk, you come to the Generalife, which is, in some sense, nothing but the casa de campo, the country house, of the Alhambra. The exterior, like that of all oriental buildings, is very simple: it consists of large walls without windows and surmounted by a terrace with a gallery divided into arcades, the whole being crowned with a little modern belvedere. Of the Generalife nothing now remains but some arcades and some large panels of arabesques, unfortunately plastered over with layers of whitewash that have been applied again and again with all the obstinacy of a dispiriting cleanliness. Little by little the delicate sculptures and the marvellous guilloches of this fairy-like architecture have been obliterated, filled up, and engulfed. What is at present nothing more than a faintly-vermiculated wall, was formerly open lace-work as fine as those ivory leaves which the patience of the Chinese carves for fans. The brush of the whitewasher has caused more chefs d'œuvre to disappear than the scythe of Time, if I may be allowed to use that superannuated, mythological expression. In a fairly well preserved hall, you notice a series of smoky portraits of the kings of Spain, but these have only a chronological value.

The real charm of the Generalife consists in its gardens and waters. A canal paved with marble runs through the whole length of the enclosure, and rolls its abundant and rapid waves under a series of leafy arches, formed by yews curiously bent and clipped. Orange-trees and cypresses are planted on each border; it was at the foot of one of these cypresses, of a prodigious size, and which dates from the time of the Moors, that the favourite of Boabdil, if we may believe the legend, often proved that bolts and grilles are but slight protectors of the virtue of sultanas. One thing, at least, is certain, — that the yew is very large and very old.

The perspective is terminated by a porticoed gallery, ornamented with fountains and marble columns, like the Patio of Myrtles in the Alhambra. The canal turns sharply and you then enter other enclosures ornamented with water-works and whose walls still retain traces of the frescoes of the Sixteenth Century representing rustic architecture and distant views. In the centre of one of these basins of water, a gigantic oleander of a singular brilliancy and incomparable beauty rises like an Immense basket of flowers. At the time that I saw it, it seemed like an explosion of blossoms, or a bouquet of vegetable fireworks; its ruddy hue was so splendid and vigorous, — indeed almost clamorous, if one may apply that word to colours, — as to dim the hue of the most vermilion rose. Its lovely flowers leaped with all the ardour of desire towards the pure light of the sky; and its noble leaves, shaped expressly by nature for a crown of glory and sprinkled by the spray of the fountain, sparkled in the sunshine like emeralds. Never did anything inspire me with a higher sentiment of the beautiful than this rose-bay of the Generalife.

The water is brought to the gardens down a very steep inclined plane, bordered by little walls, forming on each side a kind of parapet, supporting canals hollowed out and lined with large tiles through which the water runs beneath the open sky with the gayest and liveliest chatter in the world. At yard intervals, well-supplied water-jets burst forth from the centre of little basins and shoot their crystal aigrettes into the thick foliage of the groves of laurels whose branches interlace above them. The mountain gushes with water on every side; at each step a spring starts out, and you continually hear at your side the murmuring of some rivulet turned from its course, and going to supply a fountain, or to carry refreshment to the foot of some tree. The Arabs have carried the art of irrigation to the highest degree; their hydraulic-works attest the most advanced state of civilization; these works still exist today, and it is to them that Grenada owes the reputation it has of being the Paradise of Spain, and of enjoying eternal spring in an African climate. An arm of the Darro has been turned out of its course by the Arabs and carried for more than two leagues along the hill of the Alhambra.

From the Belvedere of the Generalife you can clearly see the outline of the Alhambra with its enclosure of reddish, half-ruined towers, and its pieces of wall which rise and fall with the undulations of the mountain. The Palace of Charles V., which is not visible from the side of the city, stands out with its square and heavy mass, gilded with a pale reflection of sunlight, upon the damask-like slopes of the Sierra Nevada, whose white ridges are strongly notched against the sky. The bell-tower of Saint-Marie lifts its Christian silhouette above the Moorish battlements. A few cypresses thrust their sorrowful leaves through the crevices in the walls, in the midst of all this light and azure sky, like a melancholy thought at a joyous festival. The slopes of the hill running down towards the Darro and the ravine of Los Molinos disappear beneath an ocean of verdure. It is one of the most beautiful views that can be imagined.

On the other side, as if to form a contrast with so much verdure, there rises an uncultivated, scorched, tawny mountain with patches of cere and burnt Sienna which is called La Silla del Moro, on account of some ruins of buildings upon its summit. It was from here that King Boabdil used to view the Arabian horsemen jousting in the Vega with Christian knights. The memory of the Moors is still vivid in Grenada. You would think that they left the city only yesterday, and, if we should judge of them by their traces, it is a pity that they ever left it at all. What southern Spain requires is African civilization and not the civilization of Europe, which is not in sympathy with the heat of the climate, or the passions it inspires.

Romantic Castles and Palaces, As Seen and Described by Famous Writers, Edited and Translated by Esther Singleton. 1901.
The Generalife by Théophile Gautier. Note: From original text; may contain OCR errors.
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