Behind the scenes: inspiration for a palace

I have a confession to make. The reason I always wanted to visit the Alhambra was a scene from a rather silly romance novel (that’s still sitting on my bookshelf…)

The hero spends 7 pages taking the heroine to visit the gardens of the Generalife and the Nasrid palace. True, his eyes melt to the consistency of hot chocolate. And white teeth sparkle against bronzed skin when he laughs. But what caught my imagination was the descriptions of the dramatic views over Granada, the shady gardens refreshed by running water, and the beauty of the palace.

In 2008, thanks to an amazing job, I found myself in the south of Spain, following the road up the hill that snakes beside the high, stone ramparts to the principal gate of the Alhambra. And wow, those 7 short pages in my novel didn’t do the Alhambra justice at all.

The Court of Myrtles with beds of myrtle bushes lining the pool. The richness of the decorations reflect the status of those who live there.

What is the Alhambra?

The Alhambra is a palatine city on top of the Sabika hill in Granada. The city is ancient – there are probably Roman ruins under there somewhere. But the Alhambra we know today began with Al-Ahmer, founder of the Nasrid dynasty in the early 1200’s.

Inside the walls and ramparts is the Alcazaba (the military fortress where the Ă©lite guard of the sultan were based), the Nasrid palace complex (where the sultan and his close family lived, along with the administration offices and rooms for public meetings), and the Medina (the town that served the court, complete with public bath, mosque, college, small businesses, workshops, aqueduct and a maze of alleyways, passages and back-streets).

The view of Granada from the Alcazaba, where the sultan’s Ă©lite guard were based.

From the Nasrid palace…

My silly romance novel spent all of 1 page at the Nasrid palace (where the heroine felt strangely possessive of her hero).

But perhaps that’s because words simply cannot describe it. Imagine light playing across vaulted ceilings, richly coloured tile mosaics, columns, arches, gilt lustre ware and lattice screens. Picture intricate honeycomb mocárabes and ornamental carvings…

Maybe photos can help:

Inside the Nasrid palace at the Alhambra.
Inside the Nasrid palace at the Alhambra.

But even the photos can’t really convey the harmony and beauty and how each space is an oasis of calm and peace.

Inside the Nasrid palace at the Alhambra.

…to inspiration for a palace in a painting

This feeling of peace was exactly how I felt when I danced for the reference photo for this painting. So, in the background of the painting, you can see my Alhambra inspired palace.

Detail of …golden silks swirling around her, loath to intrude upon her moment of freedom. by Ailene Cuthbertson. Digital painting (2015)

Do you get a sense of splendour, harmony and peace from the palace in the painting? I’d love to hear what you think.

Keep on shining bright,

Ailene