Thursday, 26 August 2010

Spain, Northern Africa and Owen Jones

The pattern I have made for Spain and Northern Africa is based on the designs of Owen Jones, the eminent Victorian designer, who spent nine years studying the architecture and design of the Alhambra Palace at Granada.

I have also included part of the same thing for a tiny piece of London on the map, which marks both where I live and where the Crystal Palace stood.

Jones was absolutely inspired by the Alhambra. He spoke about it as the 'summit of perfection' and promoted Moorish design and architecture through his seminal work The Grammar of Ornament, as well as by actually building a replica copy of the Alhambra Court at the Crystal Palace, which opened in Sydenham in 1854.

One contemporary visitor described visting the Crystal Palace and seeing 'the Alhambra Court, copied from the ruined Moorish palace of this name at Granada in Spain... [the sight] must strike every eye by the gorgeousness of the colouring, the elaborateness of the ornamentation, and the quaint grace of the architectural style.'

At the heart of the Alhambra Court was a copy of the celebrated Fountain of Lions, a magnificent alabaster basin surrounding by 12 lions in white marble. At Granada, the twelve lions had functioned as a clock with water flowing from a different lion each hour, but the Christians who conquered the city took the clock apart to see how it worked and never managed to put it back together again.

The Alhambra Court at the Crystal Palace was burnt down twice - most disastrously in 1936. This second destruction sealed its fate and it never rose from the ashes again. In 1937, some of Jones mosaics were sold as souvenirs at a garden fete in aid of St Philip's Church at Sydenham and, in 2006, some more were discovered at the back of the Park Ranger's Office.

As for the Moors of Granada, who had created 'this summit of perfection,' and a culture which was as thoroughly Arab and Muslim as Cairo or Damascus, they surrendered to the armies of a Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. By the end of the 15th century, some 100,000 moriscos had died or been enslaved, 200,000 had emigrated, and 200,000 remained in Castile. Many of the Muslim elite, including Granada's former Emir Muhammad XII, found life under Christian rule intolerable and emigrated to Tlemcen in North Africa.

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