Evolution of Photography In the Alhambra

This article was a brief study about the early pioneer photographers of the Alhambra who came from all of Europe to document its beauty.

As background information, cameras were invented in 1839, originally being printed as daguerrotypes, which were single inverted image onto a steel copper plates. After this great invention the first photographers came to the Alhambra a year later in 1840. Their names were Theophile Gautier and Eugene Piot. The two were so taken aback by the beauty they even wanted to live in it.

After this preliminary trip, daguerrotypes began to be commissioned by the elites of society. Some of the most notable photographers were Alexander Dumas and Edward King Tension in 1841. Tension in 1841 is regarded as the taker of the best early photographs. Technology rapidly advanced in these few years, but it was still very rare to be a photographer back then.

A couple of interesting themes to early photography was that people didn’t realize it was still a subjective form of art. The photographer still portrays his own views onto the photographer. Photographs are filtered, everyone looking at a photo is once removed from the artistic process. The second is that photography spread the popularity of alhambra through commercialization of photographs. The photography for commercial purposes is first time you can start to see commercialization and financial gain out of the beauty of the monument.

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Constable: Christian Conquest and Settlement (13th Century)

This set of readings basically outlined, as the title would suggest, the Christian conquest and settlement of parts that were inhabited by the Muslims starting in 1238.  The first piece outlined the conquest of Valencia.  I was surprised by how noble and peaceful this whole ordeal came off.  I was expecting a document describing a blood bath and forced exile of the Muslims, but actually the it revealed that the Christians were quite compassionate towards the Islamic people.  The noblemen decided to give the Muslims five days to leave, allocated for the amount of time it would take to pack up and gather themselves.  To add to this, the Christian conquerors vowed to protect the Muslims on their journey all the way to Cultera.  It was clear that the Christians wanted a peaceful transfer of power.  I could not help but remember Obama’s speech about a peaceful transfer of power to Trump.  However, it seems that the upcoming transfer of power may be less peaceful than the one back in 1238.  Once Christians got settled, they divided up the land as fairly as possible.

The next reading displayed what a typical surrender agreement looked like in those days.  It talks about the protection to Cultera along with the proposal that Moors have the option of staying and those who do will be protected.  The document continued with a “surrender constitution” outlining the rules and procedures of a surrender.  The next document talks about the conquest of Seville, including a Muslim perspective.  In this perspective, a poem is written by Abu al-Baqa al-Rundi as basically a call for help in fighting the Christians and keeping Seville.  After all, it is known to have the most praised and beautiful land in Spain.

The last third of the readings gave a military perspective and described the resettlement and the redistribution of land.  One of the more interesting discoveries I found regarding the soldiers was that each soldier was paid based on the weaponry that they had.  The better the weaponry, the more they were paid when they would conquer a new village.  It never gave much of a reason as to why this was the case, but made it clear that these were normal proceedings.  As for the resettlement and redistribution of land document (translated by none other than Thomas Glick), it described the process of how this was done.  Clearly one of the most important things you can do right after a conquest is to populate the new land with your people.  The land was distributed to each person based on their status in society.  This included from knights and foot soldiers down to the peasants.

These readings directly relate to the Alhambra.  For one, the Alhambra was inhabited by Muslims originally and then taken over by Christians.  In the conquests of Seville and Valencia, the soldiers were clearly not savages to the Muslims.  They did not burn down the villages and kill the people.  They respected the the former inhabitants and the significance of their space.  The same happened with the Alhambra in the transfer of power to the Christians.  Some of the Muslim architecture was destroyed.  However, much of it still remains.  As we have read previously, the ruling Monarchs made a conscious decision to keep some of the Muslim structures and simply wanted to add Christian markings to the spaces around them.  The Christians had a sense of nobility and honor during their conquests and a lot of that is reflected in the architecture.

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Ruggles: Inventing the Alhambra (1-21)

Ruggles: Inventing the Alhambra (1-21)

The article is immensely descriptive and guides us through a history of those who have walked through or even inhabited that Alhambra. It starts off describing the different dynasties that have ruled throughout– I was surprised to see that at one point even the French had control of the magnificent city. Throughout the text, the author seems to place emphasis on the features of the Alhambra that no longer stand. For example, she mentions features that were torn down to make room for Charles V Palace. Ruggles really tries to create an image of the Alhambra as it was in its original form before alterations and conquests from others. For example, the Palace of the Lions and Commares have easy access to one another but originally the Palace of the Lions was closed off by a door and not as visible to see. She spends some time talking about tourism in the Alhambra and how people consequently damage the structure although they have good intentions. She also talks about ownership of the Alhambra throughout the ages and how people could “rent” rooms, which consequently led to many relics being removed from the palace. The remainder of the article is spent as a criticism of how the restoration of the Alhambra is not as authentic as it is made out to be. However, she wraps the article up on a positive note talking about Torres Balbás, and archeological architect, who he praises. Ruggles states that Balbás’ goal, as an archeological architect, when restoring the Alhambra was to fill in the missing pieces with aesthetic coherence. Unfortunately, Balbás was banned from further work in the Alhambra during the Franco period, but this did not stop him from writing about how fundamental archeological evidence was in restorations of the Alhambra.

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Sala de la Justicia Dodds

It was clearly apparent that under Nasrid rule, relations between the Muslims and Christian Castilians were rough around the edges. In certain instances both groups were depicted as “the other,” signifying that no common ideology or recognition for each other existed.  However, contrary to this point the Hall of Justice (Sala de la Justicia) also called the Kings Hall (Sala de los Reyes) portrays through the numerous paintings on the central domes that their existed a common appreciation for “the other’s” architectural style. That style I am referring to is the Christian Gothic style that is so prevalent within the Nasrid court.

As Jerrilynn Dodds mentions in her essay Hunting in the Borderlands, the clear presence of paintings on the wooden vaults depict tournaments, especially hunting scenes but as well as scenes of conquests and adventures of Muslim rulers. While the paintings themselves portray Christians and Muslims at odds, in a war for domination and control, the style of the paintings are clearly Christian made, begging the question who was the artist and who was the client?

Moreover, we know there was cooperation between the two religions as the Christian artists mixed Gothic Italian aesthetics with Islamic styles thus proving that a form of friendship or understanding had been established. It is almost as if that all these vaults in the Hall of Justice, that in many circumstances depict Christians and Muslims arguing or engaging in battle, are really just symbols of respect or tolerance for “the other.” Interpretations of these paintings located on the three ellipse-shaped wooden domes are still highly debated and often a point of disagreement among scholars, but it is agreed that there was a Castilian Christian influence in the Nasrid dynasty.

The Christian influence in the hunting scenes in the Hall of Justice can certainly be related to the readings by Puerta Vílchez. With a strong friendship between Mohamed V and Pedro I of Castile the geometric decorations of the Palace of the Lions are substituted for a more naturalistic style. Perhaps within Castilian aesthetics a greater emphasis was placed on nature rather than geometry.



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Christian Account of The Life of Muhammad

This short chapter is an outside and heavily biased perspective on the life of the prophet Muhammad, by a Christian author. The text, which is translated, is considered to be one of the earliest Latin accounts of the life of the prophet Muhammad, yet the author and exact date is unknown. It goes through the rise of Muhammad portraying him as an irrational and grandiose individual by saying he was fooled by the “spirit of error [who] appeared to him in the form of a vulture and…said it was the Angel Gabriel” to believe he was a prophet. The account then decrees that he began to preach to “irrational animals” and convinced them to follow him with no reason whatsoever. It doesn’t stop with making Muhammad look foolish, but rather continues by illustrating Muhammad “giving his soul to hell” and the atrocities this prophet supposedly committed.
While the author most likely had no contact with Muhammad himself it is evident that he had a basic understanding of the Muslim tradition and view on history. Like the doors and poetry illustrated in the Puerta Vilchez reading, this account is short and almost poetic, but serving a viewpoint much different than what would have been put on the Alhambra. This basic understanding of the life of Muhammad, although objectively changed, illustrates a conviviencia that is a step above ignorance: something that would not have been possible without these cultures living together. However, despite the author’s understanding he tailors his story in such a way that Muhammad, Islam and his followers to be nothing short of barbaric. I believe this is even more dangerous than complete ignorance because this author is presenting his information as if it were fact (and to the uneducated they would take it as so). This account is almost like a scare tactic and if mass produced to the people of this time, much like we see with a certain presidential candidate over a thousand years later, it could have a real influence on the mindset of the average citizen.

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An Uprising Against the Amir al-Hakam

Ch. 10: An Uprising Against the Amir al-Hakam

I found this to be the most interesting of the three chapters that I read in Constable’s compilation book.  It was written between 796 and 822 by Ibn al-Qutiyya, who was one of the earliest historians of Muslim Spain.  The author served under the Umayyad family, but his name suggests Visigothic decent.  In this piece, he describes some events during the reign of Amir al-Hakam about a group of Cordoban chiefs who tried to start an uprising to overthrow the new realm.

The story goes that this group of chiefs tried to dethrone al-Hakam by attempting to convince his cousin, Ibn al-Shammas, to take the throne.  Al-Shammas pretended to agree, but then went straight to the ruler to let him know about the chiefs’ plan.  Disgusted, al-Hakam executed those involved and whoever condoned this.  Some had managed to escape before al-Hakam could find them.  One of the villagers who supported the uprising, Talut, fled from his house located in the city near the mosque and found refuge in the house of a Jew for a year.  When things quieted down,  Talut found his old friend, a vizier to al-Hakam, and confided in him.  The next morning, the vizier betrayed Talut and turned him in.  Al-Hakam demanded an explanation from Talut, who decided to tell the truth.  ” ‘I hated you for God’s sake…'” (57) Talut explained.  Because of this honesty and respect for God, al-Hakam pardoned Talut.  When Talut told al-Hakam how he had gone to the vizier out of friendship and how he had lived with a Jew for the year, the ruler was outraged with the vizier.  He banished the vizier for his betrayal to an old friend as well as his blatant disrespect towards God and the Jew’s family.  Talut lived his remaining days with great honor and respect.  Al-Hakam attended his funeral.

I found this story particularly moving.  When faced with a predicament, al-Hakam resorted to his values as a human being rather than to his emotions.  Friendship, honesty, and the praise of God all served a higher purpose for the ruler, which is what led to the pardoning of Talut and banishment of the vizier.  This relates to the Puerta Vilchez’ readings and the Alhambra itself in a few ways.  The poetic versus inscribed on the doorways, as Vilchez explains, all have to do with respecting and praising God.  In fact, the poems throughout the Alhambra discuss this as well.  They describe similar values to the ones that this particular Umayyad ruler followed in this story.  Also, in regards to convivencia, the fact that a Jew would risk he and his family’s safety in order to protect a Muslim demonstrates the level of respect and partnership among the religions.  It speaks to how the Jew saw Talut as a human being in danger and in need of help rather than just a Muslim.  This kind of respect and kindness has become nearly impossible to find, especially between religions.  This story as a whole reminds us again how and why history can be helpful when examining our current society.

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Declaration of an Andalusi Caliphate

Chapter 15 describes ‘Abd al-Rahman III’s besiegement of Bobastra in 928 and his assumption of the caliph title in the subsequent year. These assertions of territorial and religious dominance reflect evident political motivations–namely, to project the power and dominance of the Umayyad dynasty to rivalrous Islamic groups. However, the only motivational forces acknowledged in the decree are related to God and his plan for the Umayyads. According to the chapter, ‘Abd al-Rahman III did not order his forces to seize Bobastra merely to expand the region over which he reigned. Rather, it was in response to a message he received from God about the ruler of Bobastra’s hidden Christian devotions. The public crucification of the ruler and his sons’ bodies in Cordoba was thus a fulfillment of God’s will, rather than a simple display of intimidation. Similarly, ‘Abd al-Rahman claims to have declared himself the true caliph in humble recognition and acceptance of God’s will. Failure to assume this title would be a shirking of his pious obligations to act in accordance with God’s plan.

The acknowledgement of God’s grace and will that arises throughout this chapter is reflected in Puerta Vílchez’s discussions of the verses engraved over doorways in La Alhambra. All, whether directly or indirectly, praise God for everything that is accomplished and received in life. Additionally, it is interesting to note the role of poetry in relation to God that arises in both the chapter and in Puerta Vílchez’s discussion. Evidently, a poet had prophesied the crucification of Bobastra’s ruler’s body alongside his two sons in an ode praising the forces of ‘Abd al-Rahman III. This suggests a clear connection between the poetic word and God’s will; it as if poetry is a medium through which God communicates with humanity, and the poet is merely the translator. This is also reflected in the poetic verses throughout La Alhambra, as they are often written from the first-person perspective of God. In this period, it seems nothing occurred or was achieved without the humble acceptance that God enabled all. The poetic verses inscribed throughout La Alhambra reflect this constant, ubiquitous respect toward God present in the society.

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The Loss of Trust: The Edict of Explosion and Construction of Alhambra

The underlying significance of Nasrid architecture in the Alhambra and the Christian expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula are two widely contrasted topics. One of the hand La Alhambra serves as a physical symbol of Muslim openness and acceptance towards Jews and Christians as “Peoples of the Book” and therefore members of the Muslim ruled lands. On the other hand, edicts and documents such as the Charter of Expulsion and the Jewish Account of the Expulsion serve as evidence of the broken and damaged trust that existed among the three faiths, especially Jews and Christians. In the Charter of Expulsion, dated March 31, 1492, the Jews of Spain were accused of intentionally subverting the Catholic faith of many Christians by practicing their own religion, and were therefore seen as a force of contamination trying to undermine Ferdinand’s and Isabel’s Catholic unified empire.  ”Christians have engaged in and continue to have with Jews, who, it seems, seek always and by whatever means and ways they can to subvert and to steal faithful Christians from our holy Catholic faith” (Constable 510). To cure the empire of this subversion and sickness the Jews of Spain would have to leave under penalty of death, “having deliberation about this matter, we resolve to order the said Jews and Jewesses of our kingdoms to depart and never to return or come back to them or to any of them” (Constable 511).

Perhaps what is more so disturbing is the poem written by Judah Abravanel to his son Isaac. This is a personal account of a father that was tragically affected by the Royal Monarchy’s decree. Judah Abravanel was so proud of his family’s Jewish faith that it personally hurt inside when he learned that his son Isaac was forcibly baptized in Portugal.  He could not believe that the Jewish boy he worked so hard to raise was to be converted and taught Christian values and ways of life. “The day the King of Spain expelled the Jews he ordered that a watch be set for me so that Is not slip away through mountain passes , and that my child, still nursing, should be seized and brought into his faith on his behalf” (Constable 518).

We can contrast this loss of trust among these two very important religions, as witnessed in the two aforementioned documents, with a time when trust did exist between two other great religions. In the section entitled Origins of the Alhambra of in Puerta Vílchez’s book, we learn that between the years 1052 and 1056 it was a Jewish vizier Samuel Ibn al-Nagrila, a scholar and secretary to the Muslim Zirids, who had a fortress built for King Badis ben Habus, a Muslim Beber king and founder of the Alhambra (Puerta Vílchez 24). It is a shame to see that in the roughly 450 years following the creation of Alhambra the mutual confidence that could exist between two religions as it did here eventually disappeared.

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Relating Constable to Vilchez

On Chapter 12: Christians in Cordoba

This chapter is composed of two separate parts, and although written by the same author (Paul Alvarus) have somewhat contradictory themes. Part A describes the Christian youth such that they are notably well-versed in Arabic and Semitic liturgy. Alvarus goes on to say that while their knowledge of Islamic culture is deep, their respective knowledge of Latin and the Christian scriptures is lacking. To connect this to Reading The Alhambra, I postulate that a Christian visitor to the palace would quite possibly be able to read the caligram inscriptions on the walls, and recognize the lines of poetry and their origin. Part B describes the Christian martyrs Eulogius and Leocritia. Their self-sacrificial nature in defense of Christianity seems difficult to comprehend with respect to the minimal comprehension of the Holy Scriptures as described in Part A. This is especially true of the story of Leocritia who fled from her life as the daughter of a respectable judge to become a Christian, even though her only knowledge of the faith came through secret discussions with a nun.

Chapter 84 part A describes the encounter between Muhammad XII when he handed over the Alhambra to Ferdinand and Isabella. Part B is far more relevant because it details the “Capitulation of Granada”. Of particular interest is #8 (that at no time will the “arms or houses” be taken from the moors), #17 (that no Christians may enter the mosques during prayer), and #44 (that no changes may be made regarding irrigation or water channels). Each of these capitulations were broken at some point, so it is interesting to see how the tourist-ed Alhambra of today compares with the legacy proposed by these terms.

Chapter 86 has little to compare with the Vilchez reading. It details Columbus’s expedition and his requested rewards for his success. It may be useful to note that it stresses the importance of conquest and imperialism to Christian Spain, and one might compare this journey to that of the conquest of Granada.


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Marriage & Divorce in Muslim Granada (CH78)

Background Information

  • The following documents show a marriage and divorce contract for ordinary people in Muslim Spain – very few everyday documents from Muslim Spain have survived. This is in large part because medieval Muslim society did not place heavy importance on written records like they did in Christian regions. Also, the documents that were not disposed of after use were either lost or destroyed later as Muslims left the peninsula or converted to Christianity.

Marriage Contract

  • This marriage contract is written in a very happy tone and includes many references from the Quran. The contract also lays out agreements between the two families, for example, the father of the bride has received 375 dinars out of the total bride price of 610 dinars with the remaining amount to be paid in two years. All recipients have to be “sound of mind”.  The marriage contract is actually a contract that requires formal consent and guidelines that must be followed.

Divorce Contract

  • While Christians condemned and forbade divorce, Muslim and Jewish law permitted it. In this case, the woman is divorcing the husband which was more unusual. There are certain agreements between the two parties which were laid out in the marriage agreement in case divorce ever occurred. For example, no liability will fall on the husband and the woman must take care of their daughter. The agreements tend to favor the man.

Constable, Olivia R. Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. Print.

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