Heavenly Creations - Anne Maria Clarke explores the secrets of the Alhambra Palace
Sublime architecture and heavenly gardens cooled by fountains and streams from the mountains of the Sierra Nevada
There is a pattern in the heavens, where those who want to can see it and establish it in their own minds. Socrates
Built with a devotional energy rarely seen in any architecture. The Alhambra is a staggering outpouring of immense beauty and heavenly geometries seamlessly interlocking - covering every surface with flaming prayers cascading into pools of crystalline architectural wonder. Alex Gray
It is no surprise therefore that visitors to the Alhambra commonly employ the same set of phrases to express their delight.
An earthly Paradise!
Like stepping into a Persian fairytale!
Yet for several centuries all this lay in ruins after being abandoned by the catholic kings who captured it from the Moors in 1492. For a while it became a royal palace...but was deserted in the mid - 17th century after which it quickly fell into disuse and lay forlorn, inhabited only by a handful of local folk who found shelter there for themselves and their animals.
It was not until the 19th century that the Alhambra found its way back into the collective imagination. The Romantics of the day were particularly drawn to its faded, dreamlike charm. Artists began to congregate and even take up residence. One in particular, the American Washington Irvin lived there for several years composing his now famous Tales of the Alhambra which were published in 1829. So popular were these fanciful stories in Europe and the United States that the Alhambra soon became a popular place to visit and eventually it was even included as a last stop on the prestigious Grand Tour.
These were times when the ideas of the enlightenment – and the relentless march of science were beginning to be being challenged, particularly by the Romantics who yearned for the restoration of the ideals of the pre-scientific revolution – where beauty and the soul had seemingly mattered more. As interest and popularity in the old palaces increased – plans for a grand restoration began to emerge - and today – painstakingly restored to its former glory – the Alhambra is one of the most visited sites in Europe and is protected by UNESCO as an international heritage treasure.
Elements of conception - reflections of an ideal
The story goes that many of the secrets of the classical world were somehow acquired by Islamic scholars who studied, improved upon and incorporated them into their own systems of learning which were passed down until the time of the Alhambra's construction in the mid-thirteenth century.
Within the Islamic paradigm the Divine is believed to express itself in three dimensions - in the universe - in nature and in humanity and the architects of the Alhambra are said to have attempted to bring these core elements together.
The sacred geometry reflects the order and architecture of the universe, the lush gardens and water features revere nature and the numerous verses of prayer and poetry carved into the walls speak directly to all.
Architecture is frozen music - J W von Goethe
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.
It is said that in order to know himself God moved beyond oneness - and sang the universe into being. In sacred geometry this first movement beyond the incorporeal realm of infinite potentiality is represented as the progression from the single point or dot at the core of the circle outwards to the creation of it's radius and onward through a sequence of increasingly complex tessellations and magnifications.
This first geometric progression however is the most significant - for in drawing a circle around itself - spirit, it seems - reaches out into the third dimensional world in its first move toward becoming matter.
As Lao Tzu explained:
The Tao begot one. One begot two. Two begot three. And three begot
Ten Thousand Things.
It is said that the contemplation of these patterns was an important preoccupation of the ancient mystery schools - for in understanding the progressions and magnifications through the dimensional sequences one could come to understand the manifest stages of becoming.
Throughout the Alhambra we see these sacred geometries reflected in both the architectural design of the palaces and in the intricate patterns decorating and embellishing walls, floors, pavements and ceilings - incorporating squares - stars - rectangles - triangles - pentagons - hexagons - octagons - and so on, all beautifully combined to express the progression through a multiplicity of mathematically and poetically precise magnifications that include geometric references to the Fibonacci sequence, the five platonic solids, the golden mean proportion and the exquisite sacred flower of life - all of which if contemplated closely can be imagined as fractels spinning outwards and inwards to infinity.
And the reason all this appeals, the reason people are routinely stopped in their tracks - in awe at the absolute beauty of the Alhambra - is because the sacred geometry and heavenly propotions of its construction mirror the geometric forms from which our entire universe is created and re-created in nature.
For sacred geometry is the blue print of creation and the genesis of all form - from the molecules of our DNA to the cornea of our eye, snow flakes, pine cones – flower petals – the branching of trees - a nautilus shell - the star we spin around – the galaxy we spiral within. wwwspiraloflight.com
Ten thousand reflections - multiple dimensions - and yet for all this, nothing is changed. The divine still resides in oneness - in the unity of infinite potential and matter it appears is the great illusion. Maya if you like - as is believed in Hinduism. For when from our outer world we look back inwardly - we see clearly - with the aid of quantum physics - that in each atom the proportion of mass is infinitesimal. Our world of form is truly illusory - we are more like holographic energy bodies - animate and seemingly inanimate alike - resonating at multiple frequencies - and yet having the appearance of solidity - whilst in truth all is but the dream of the divine.
It is the forgetting of these things - that is at the root of our feelings of separation and disconnection - and conversely - it is the re -membering that brings us home.
Poetry & prayer
There is no victor but Allah
His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and he feeleth no fatique in guarding and preserving them for he is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory)
I am the garden appearing every morning with adorned beauty; contemplate my beauty and you will be penetrated with understanding.
You know round the time of the Alhambra's construction, the great tradition of Alchemy thrived in Europe and Islamic Spain. Cordoba close by was the epicenter of such study and I couldn't help wondering - looking on at these poetic animations whether they were not infact oblique references to the first great goal of the alchemical journey - the rescue of spirit trapped within matter.
Below one of the numerous arched tacas or water niches that would have contained jugs of water announces herself and her desire to quench the thirsts of those in need of refreshment.
For, are there not in this garden wonders that God has made incomparable in their beauty,
a sculpture of pearls with a transparent light, the borders of which are trimmed with seed pearl?
Melted silver flows through the pearls, which it resembles in its pure dawn beauty.
Apparently, water and marble seem to be one, without letting us know which of them is flowing.
Nature - Gardens of Paradise
Sacred art is heaven descended to earth – rather than earth reaching towards heaven. Emma Clarke lecture on Islamic Gardens
The Islamic garden of which those of the Alhambra are widely regarded as the most exquisitely preserved examples in the world is intended to reflect this divine ideal – to re -present it in the outer world of form & in so doing create a bridge, whereby through reflection, contemplation & prayer within its sheltered confines – one may be led to the inner realms of the soul, to the incorporeal garden of paradise within.
Interestingly the old Persian word for paradise - paridayda - refers to a walled enclosure - a quiet sanctuary where one may be sheltered from the harshness of life beyond its enclaves. The dust & heat of the day are kept at bay & one is refreshed by the shade & cooling effects of sparkling fountains & glimmering pools. In myth the paradise garden is beyond time – a place where one is completely removed from the concerns of worldly life – where even the memory of sorrow & loss is said – for the duration - to be forgotten – & one is utterly embraced in the love of the divine.
In hot arid landscapes & particularly for desert peoples for whom the oasis with its date palms and fresh water springs is the only possible source of replenishment, the symbolism of the Paradise Garden takes on an even greater significance. In colder, wetter climes the preciousness of its elements – of which water and shade are paramount - is perhaps not so keenly understood & yet the notion of water as both a reflection of the soul and symbol of God's mercy is universal.
It is impossible to imagine the Alhambra without the soothing sounds of water – it is essential to its tone, its song, its very being in the corporeal world. It is the supreme element & inhabits the heart of Islamic garden design.
In her beautifully evocative book Underneath which Rivers Flow -the Symbolism of the Islamic Garden – Emma Clark shows us how the many charming courtyard gardens of the Alhambra unfold around this central element. In the heavenly archetype she explains, four rivers are said to flow forth from from a central source - represented as a fountain - creating and irrigating gardens of a fourfold geometric structure.
The uniquely Islamic flat-rimmed stone fountains at the heart of the Alhambra gardens sit close to the ground. The sounds of such fountains are always - as was brought to our attention – barely audible, tranquil murmurings, more conducive to meditation and prayer than the high pressure renaissance fountains with their high plinths and louder pronouncements of presence.
The symbolism of the four is deeply significant too - mirroring the earth with its four cardinal directions which combined with the circle at the center – reflects the marriage of heaven & earth.
The gardens of the Alhambra with their fragrant flower blooms and heady scented tree blossom are blissfully harmonious fusions of each of the elements of Islamic garden design - both in relation to one another and to the architectural complex as a whole.
It is said that the only words spoken in the heavenly garden are those of peace - and certainly, as the hours pass and one is drawn more and more deeply into the mysteries of the Alhambra - it gradually weaves its potent spell - and we are en-chant-ed - we are brought into harmony with it's sacred song – so that like our heavenly prototypes who have somehow glimpsed the paradise beyond, we too may forget our sorrow and pain – and for the duration – we may rest in the serene embrace of the divine.
And in so doing they have enabled us all to glimpse a divinity at its very heart - a sacred consciousness - a soul if you like - to which we are all eternally connected.
Whoever shall make the hidden manifest - say the alchemists - knoweth the whole work.
you have such a treat in store.
( God Willing )
Anne Maria Clarke
x x x
Much love & gratitude to our special guide
Martín González Mata
A dscourse on the various aspects of the Sacred Geometry Archetype known as The Golden Mean
Nassim Haramein -
Sacred Geometry and the Unified Field
Beneath which Rivers Flow - the Symbolism of the Islamic Garden
The Great Work of Alchemy - the process of the soul's transformation
Quantum Reality and the Spiritual Mind
An introduction to Sacred Geometry
Fairy-stories, myths & legends by
Anne Maria Clarke