Granada & the Alhambra

No Andalucían visit is complete until you have been to see the wonders Granada holds.

The Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex located on the southeastern border of the city of Granada. It was constructed during the mid 14th century by the Moorish rulers in al-Andalus, occupying the top of the hill of the Assabica.

The design of the complex included plans for six palaces, five of which were grouped in the northeast quadrant forming a royal quarter, two circuit towers, and numerous bathhouses. During the reign of the Nasrid Dynasty, the Alhambra was transformed into a palatine city, complete with an irrigation system for the gardens of the Generalife located outside the fortress. Previously, the old Alhambra structure had been dependent upon rainwater collected from a cistern and from what could be brought up from El Albayzín (see below). The creation of the Sultan’s Canal solidified the identity of the Alhambra as a palace-city rather than a defensive and ascetic structure.

Palacio de Generalife

Palacio de Generalife

The Palacio de Generalife was the summer palace and country estate of the Nasrid Emirs (Kings) of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus, now beside the city of Granada. The palace and gardens were built during the reign of Muhammad III (1302–1309) and redecorated shortly after by Abu I-Walid Isma’il (1313–1324).

The complex consists of the Patio de la Acequia (Court of the Water Channel), which has a long pool framed by flowerbeds, fountains, colonnades and pavilions, and the Jardín de la Sultana (Sultana’s Garden). The former is thought to best preserve the style of the medieval Persian garden in Al-Andalus.

Originally the palace was linked to the Alhambra by a covered walkway across the ravine that now divides them. The Generalife is one of the oldest surviving Moorish gardens.

The Alcazaba or citadel is the oldest part of the Alhambra complex and is built on the precipitous foreland which terminates the plateau on the northwest. The massive outer walls, towers and ramparts are all that is left. On its watchtower, the Torre de la Vela, 25 m (85 ft) high, the flag of Ferdinand and Isabella was first raised in token of the Spanish conquest of Granada in January 1492. A turret containing a large bell was added in the 18th century and restored after being damaged by lightning in 1881. Beyond the Alcazaba is the palace of the Moorish rulers, or Alhambra properly so-called; and beyond this, again, is the Alhambra Alta (Upper Alhambra), originally tenanted by officials and courtiers.

Torre de la Vela, Alcazaba

Torre de la Vela, Alcazaba

Unfortunately due to the time of day we arrived, we weren’t able to see much more of the Alhambra than the Generalife and the Alcazaba. After our visit, we wandered down into Granada town centre to catch the bus to the Albayzín.

Flamenco in El Albayzín

Flamenco in El Albayzín

El Albayzín (also Albaicín or El Albaicín) is a district of present day Granada that retains the narrow winding streets of its Medieval Moorish past. It was declared a world heritage site in 1984 along with the Alhambra. El Albayzín rises on a hill facing the Alhambra and many people journey into the area primarily for the spectacular views from the church of San Nicolas and the bars immediately below.

The square or plaza by the church of San Nicholas is host to street entertainers and small make-shift stalls selling hand-made jewellery and crafts. At the time of our visit there was a group of medical students holding their “rag week” with improvised tom-foolery and high jinks a-plenty. Purely by chance some street musicians met with the students for a fantastic and impromptu display of flamenco which roped in some of the more “senior” visitors to the area, one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever witnessed – what an absolutely fantastic afternoon!

There are some amazing and unexpected photography opportunities to be had in Granada, I have been there about four or five times now and each time has been wonderfully different. So if you’d like a personalised tour of the area and you have a whole day to spare, contact me and we can make it happen! My email address is: martyn@martynthompson.net

For further information about Alhambra, please visit their website http://www.alhambra.org.

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Underwater Photography

I love to snorkel and take photos underwater but as you can appreciate this is a fairly high-risk activity. There are a few options for this;

  • a complete camera-spedific housing which costs in the region of £1,000 / €1,200 – these are excellent and are a must have for a diver specialising in underwater photography at any depth.
  • a camera bag, these are purpose built water-proof bags for D-SLR and compact cameras. You cannot take these to any great depth – those of you who follow this blog will know I have already ruined one camera using one of these bags, but I have also had good results so buyer beware!!
  • an underwater camera, there are enough of these on the market at varying prices, I wouldn’t know where to begin in recommending one. I just bought a Pentax Optio WG-1 but I’m still getting used to it.

I can’t justify the expense of the first option but have tried the second two. I used to love taking my D-SLR in the camera bag but having lost a camera to a possible leak (still can’t work out how), I am less trusting of it. The Pentax will take some getting used to as I’m not used to using a screen for focusing, only a view finder.

Salema Porgy

Those of you who have tried underwater photography will know how difficult it is focusing and being quick enough to “frame” a fish – they don’t pose for you as you might hope!

The water around San José during the past week has been a little bit agitated and the churned up sand has inhibited visibility to some extent. Better results were to be had on the beaches of Cabo de Gata where the sand is more coarse and water clearer.

More practice is needed methinks which means more time on the beach… well it does, doesn’t it?

Herrera Ornate Wrasse

Ethiopian New Year 2004

No doubt you all realised yesterday was New Year 2004 in Ethiopia… yes? Well to tell the truth, I’m not sure I’d have known if I hadn’t received an invite to a New Year’s celebration from Timbé of the Pita Escuela.

Ethiopia still retains the Julian calendar and is 8 years behind the more western Gregorian calendar. New Year or Enkutatash is celebrated on 11 September or 1 Meskerem and the day starts at 6.00am unlike ours which starts at midnight.

Enkutatash means the “gift of jewels”. When the Queen of Sheba returned from her expensive jaunt to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem, her chiefs welcomed her bolts by replenishing her treasury with “inku” or jewels. The date traditionally marks the end of the season of heavy rains and is more recently or historically set by the return of the Queen of Sheba. Flowers and cards were traditionally exchanged, nowadays it’s often just cards.

Timbé serving coffee

The festivities at Pita Escuela began with a coffee ceremony; freshly roasted Ethiopian coffee was served in glasses / small cups from a tray decorated with flowers. This was accompanied with a delicious roasted seed mix and cake. After enjoying a few cups of the surprisingly smooth coffee, we were treated to a slide-show and short film about an orphanage, both detailing projects that Pita Escuela are committed to in Ethiopia.

A big part of the Enkutatash celebration is music and dance and Pita Escuela honoured that tradition. There was a nicely chilled musical jam to round of the evening. Saxophone, keyboards, percussion and bass in one harmonious union playing from the soul – Musicá del Alma.

Agavé together with Chumbos (Moon & Sun)

Now, as it was a full moon there was only one thing left to do and Timbé was good enough to show me around for some moonlight photography… without being attacked by wild boars. Yes, wild boars! We could hear them snuffling about as we were walking around.

The valley around Los Molinos del Río Aguas is fairly unique; an oasis of wonder in the Paraje Natural de Karst en Yesos de Sorbas. Without the spring waters which originate not far up the ravine (barranco) from the village of Sorbas, Los Molinos del Río Aguas probably wouldn’t have come into being. Rainwater percolates down through the gypsum rock beds (for which the area is famous) into underground pools from which it finds it way to the surface at the lowest point in the ravine. The bamboo cane along with many other species of succulent plant, thrives along the ravine  floor where the spring water flows to it’s destination, the sea at Mojacar.

Los Molinos del Río Aguas is an absolute photographer’s paradise offering a wide variety of lush vegetation and wild-life. Watch this space for details of Photography Experiences in this haven of beauty.

Please also visit http://www.edget.org for details of the Edget Baandnet Children Center project.

Kinderdijk & Rotterdam

Plastic blow-up church, RotterdamKinderdijkKinderdijkKinderdijk
KinderdijkKinderdijkKinderdijkKinderdijkBeating the building, RotterdamCubic Houses, Rotterdam
Rotterdam LibraryRotterdam LibraryRotterdam LibraryOud Binnenweg, RotterdamOud Binnenweg, RotterdamRotterdam
Delfshaven, Rotterdam

 

Kinderdijk & Rotterdam, a set on Flickr.

There are so many varied photo-opportunities in Rotterdam from the oldest surviving port of Delfshaven to the modern architecture around the Oud Haven; a riot of colour, shape and size.

Around 1740 approximately 19 windmills were built near the Dutch village of Kinderdijk to drain the excess water from the Alblasserwaard polders. They have been well preserved to the present day and in 1997 were put on the World Heritage List by UNESCO. Kinderdijk is (it’s fair to say) a big must for the tourist trail but also presents fantastic photo opportunities.