You Cannot Move Me: Ode to Alhambra

In All, The Story by Teju Adisa-Farrar

You cannot erase the Islamic history that is the Alhambra. It is a monument, it is an historic site, it is a citadel, it is a palace and it is a fortress. Visible from most parts the historic center of Granada, it is a mammoth of a reminder of the history that was/is. In Spain they may tell you about their Roman history; they may tell you their Visgothic history; but even if they don’t tell you their other histories–those stories will tell themselves. Islamic Iberia is implicated in the architecture and genealogy of Granada. Like Petra, it is a history that tells itself.

Those of us who are African and of African descent are the continued geography of our ancestors. We are the legacies of the empires, the kingdoms, the libraries and the enslavement. We are the legacies of colonialism, resilience, civilization and “its discontents.” We are not who they think we are, but still we are here, rooted in this soil–like the Alhambra–to stay. Both spectacle and ordinary; ignorance may see it as out of place, but indeed it is perfectly in place.

The Alhambra is fascinating and [retroactively] bold. The details are impeccable even though they are worn down, even though they are faded. Nothing was left undone, not the ceilings, walls, floors, landscaping; it was all intentionally constructed for royalty. While it feels royal, there are spaces that feel humble, like the Islamic bathing rooms. They are subtle with shapes carved out in the ceilings so that the right morning light or the bright night moon comes through in the loveliest way. They are compact rooms, which were built to hold heat to warm up the water and now it is almost unbearable to stay in for too long on a hot day in Granada. Their built function still functions even though their use is mostly for spectacle.

Alhambra over looks Granada, adjacent to el rio Darro, a river that is now barely there. On one side one can see a hillside covered in white villas, called Carmens. On another side one can see historic Granada surrounded by contemporary Granada, further out the periphery of Granada, and farther east the Sierra Nevada mountains. From Alhambra we can see it all and to take it all in is at once overwhelming and humbling. As birds dance around the sky overhead one is reminded that history never ended and in fact it is very present. I made up stories about the royals who lived there and the inspiration they experienced on a daily basis walking through their numerous gardens. I wondered what they wrote, studied, and did as they sat looking through the many windows and over the many balconies at the views. What would I do if I lived in this massive complex? Probably try my best to see how often I could get lost and then find myself again.