Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

DEBATE

Iraq's Christians - Nowhere to Run? (part 2)

Read more

DEBATE

Iraq's Christians - Nowhere to Run?

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Towards a "Third Intifada"?

Read more

FOCUS

What solutions for California's overcrowded prisons?

Read more

MIDDLE EAST MATTERS

Gaza conflict: Palestinians mark sombre Eid

Read more

WEB NEWS

Celebrities in the Israel-Gaza crossfire

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Israeli strike takes out Gaza power station

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

French newspaper apologises for Sarkozy story

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

Last-ditch talks aim to avert Argentina default

Read more

  • Deadly strike hits Gaza market despite four-hour 'truce'

    Read more

  • Fourth female suicide bomber targets Nigerian city

    Read more

  • Russia defiant as US, EU unveil 'phase three' sanctions

    Read more

  • US rebounds to 4% growth in second quarter

    Read more

  • Suspect in Jewish Museum attack charged with 'terrorist' murder

    Read more

  • Women should not laugh in public, Turkey's deputy PM says

    Read more

  • Video: Coping with rocket attacks in Israel’s Sderot

    Read more

  • Rats on the rampage at Louvre museum gardens

    Read more

  • France evacuates nationals, closes embassy in Libya

    Read more

  • Dozens killed in stampede at Guinea rap concert

    Read more

  • 'Compelling' signs Kosovo leaders trafficked organs, prosecutor says

    Read more

  • Graphic: Ebola spreads across West Africa

    Read more

  • Video: How tourism is helping Rwanda’s gorillas, ex-poachers

    Read more

  • Islamists seize key Benghazi army base as fire rages on

    Read more

  • In pictures: ن - a sign of support for Iraq’s persecuted Christians

    Read more

Culture

Solving the ancient riddle of the Alhambra palace

Latest update : 2009-04-06

Thousands of Arabic inscriptions adorn the walls of the Alhambra fortress-palace, in Granada, Spain. Armed with modern technology, researchers are slowly cracking the code.

AFP - For centuries, visitors to Granada's Alhambra fortress-palace, built by Spain's medieval Moorish rulers, have wondered what the thousands of Arabic inscriptions that are carved into its walls and ceilings mean.

 

Now researchers, armed with modern technology such as digital cameras and 3D laser scanners, have embarked on a mission to catalogue and decipher for the first time all the words that adorn Spain's most visited tourist attraction.

 

And what they have found so far is that, contrary to what was widely believed, verses from the Koran and poetry represent only a tiny minority of the messages in classical Arabic that cover the Alhambra, Europe's jewel of Muslim architecture.

 

"They do not make up not even 10 percent of what has been studied so far," said Juan Castilla, an investigator with the School of Arabic Studies at Spain's Higher Scientific Research Council, which is directing the project.

 

Instead the phrase that appears most frequently is the motto of the Nasrid dynasty that ruled Granada from 1238 until the Spanish reconquered the city in 1492: "There is no victor but Allah."

 

"It is repeated hundreds of times," said Castilla, whose team has so far decoded 3,116 inscriptions of the roughly 10,000 that cover the sprawling complex since work on the project began in 2002.

 

The next most common messages are single words like "perpetual happiness" that are thought to be expressions of divine wishes for the Muslim rulers of Granada.

 

Many other inscriptions consist of aphorisms, terse sayings embodying a general truth, such as "Be sparse in words and you will go in peace" and "Rejoice in good fortune, because Allah helps you."

 

Until now there have only been partial studies of what the inscriptions meant, including one ordered by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella who sought to purge Spain of Muslims after the reconquest of Granada in 1492.

 

"It seems incredible that there is no exhaustive catalogue (of the inscriptions) in the 21st century," said Castilla.

 

Many of the inscriptions are wrapped around arches and pillars, making them hard to read with the naked eye from ground level.

 

Further complicating the task is the fact that artisans who did the engraving used an elaborately cursive script, which can be difficult to read. Calligraphy was a major art form in a culture that banned human images.

 

The researchers hope to have 65 percent of the inscriptions catalogued and translated into Spanish by the end of the year and the entire project finished in 2011.

 

The inscriptions will be translated into English and French as well later on.

 

Those that have been translated so far are available on a DVD and a book which outlines where each one appears and when it was created.

 

The Alhambra, which was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994, received 3.1 million visitors in 2008, according to the company that manages ticket sales for the 13th century palace and fortress complex.

 

It suffered pillage and decay over the centuries but remained intact and in recent years has undergone extensive restoration.

 

According to legend, when the Spanish reconquered Granada in 1492, the city's last Arabic ruler burst into tears as he surveyed the Alhambra for the last time as the royal party moved south toward exile.

 

When his mother approached him she said: "Do not weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man."

 

Date created : 2009-04-05

COMMENT(S)