The Alhambra


One of the most famous and impressive monuments of Islamic architecture is the Alhambra - a fortress complex in Granada, Spain built by the Moors between 1238-1358. I discovered this structural wonder in Owen Jones' The Grammar of Ornament.

Detailing the intricate and complex patterns of tiles, arches, and panelling, Jones uses brilliant illustrations to give us an idea of the magnificence of the site. It seems like every inch of this fortress is covered in tile mosaics. The patterns are exquisite - psychedelic even. I found myself getting lost in the patterns and colors and wanting to see more. I quickly discovered that before writing the Grammar of Ornament, Jones spent a considerable amount of time at the Alhambra with French architect, Jules Goury, to study the place. This resulted in a massive two-volume work entitled Plans, Elevations, Sections, and Details of the Alhambra (1836-1845).

I decided to follow the rabbit hole and see if I could find this book. So, I called the downtown library and - they had it! I made an appointment with the rare books department and had a lovely hour with the library person as we feasted our eyes on an amazing piece of work.

First of all, the books were massive. It took two of us to turn each page, to avoid tearing or bending the pages. The lithographs were incredible. It almost looked like each drawing was made with a needle. And this was before they could snap a photo and draw from that. So, they must have spent a painstaking amount of time recording what they saw in person. Their work is truly impressive, and the patterns they were observing are otherworldly.

Man's expression of the "glory of God" through different religions is so varied and interesting. In Christian churches, we see a lot of imagery - depictions of saints and the crucifixion of Christ. Islam does not allow the use of imagery or statues, so God is manifested through mathematically-based decoration. I really like this. Even through illustrations in a book, I could understand the idea of reverence through geometry. I've been in many cathedrals to experience "the glory of God" through architecture and imagery, I have felt the intense beauty of absence in a brutalist church, and now I would like to lose myself in the awe-inspiring tessellations of the Alhambra. I'll report back when I make it there.  

A few photographs from Plans, Elevations, ...

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