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Tales of the Alhambra

Mementos of Boabdil.
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Mementos of Boabdil.

Patio of the Lions Granada

Abu `Abdallah Muhammad XII (c. 1460 – c. 1533), known as Boabdil (a Spanish rendering of the name Abu Abdullah), was the twenty-second and last Nasrid ruler of Granada. He was also called el chico, the little, or el zogoybi, the unfortunate. Son of Abu l-Hasan Ali, he was proclaimed sultan in 1482 in place of his father, who was driven from the land.

WHILE my mind was still warm with the subject of the unfortunate Boabdil, I set forth to trace the mementos of him still existing in this scene of his sovereignty and misfortunes. In the Tower of Comares, immediately under the Hall of Ambassadors, are two vaulted rooms, separated by a narrow passage; these are said to have been the prisons of himself and his mother, the virtuous Ayxa la Horra; indeed, no other part of the tower would have served for the purpose. The external walls of these chambers are of prodigious thickness, pierced with small windows secured by iron bars. A narrow stone gallery, with a low parapet, extends along three sides of the tower just below the windows, but at a considerable height from the ground. From this gallery, it is presumed, the queen lowered her son with the scarfs of herself and her female attendants during the darkness of the night to the hillside, where some of his faithful adherents waited with fleet steeds to bear him to the mountains.

Between three and four hundred years have elapsed, yet this scene of the drama remains almost unchanged. As I paced the gallery, my imagination pictured the anxious queen leaning over the parapet; listening, with the throbbings of a mother's heart, to the last echoes of the horses' hoofs as her son scoured along the narrow valley of the Darro.

I next sought the gate by which Boabdil made his last exit from the Alhambra, when about to surrender his capital and kingdom. With the melancholy caprice of a broken spirit, or perhaps with some superstitious feeling, he requested of the Catholic monarchs that no one afterwards might be permitted to pass through it. His prayer, according to ancient chronicles, was complied with, through the sympathy of isabella, and the gate was walled up.

* Ay una puerta en la Alhambra por la qual salio Chico Rey de los Moros, quando si rindio prisionero al Rey de Espana D. Fernando, y le entrego la ciudad con el castillo. Pidio esta principe como por merced, y en memoria de tan importante conquista, al que quedasse siempre cerrada esta puerta. Consintio en allo el Rey Fernando, y des de aquel tiempo no solamente no se abrio la puerta sino tambien se construyo junto a ella fuerte bastion.” MORERI'S Historical Dictionary.

[There was a gate in the Alhambra by which Chico the King of the Moors went out when he gave himself up as a prisoner to the King of Spain, Don Ferdinand, and surrendered to him the city and the castle. This prince asked as a favor, and in memory of such an important conquest, that this portal always remain closed. King Ferdinand consented to this, and from that time not only was the gate not opened but also a strong bastion was constructed around it.]

I inquired for some time in vain for such a portal; at length my humble attendant, Mateo Ximenes, said it must be one closed up with stones, which, according to what he had heard from his father and grandfather, was the gateway by which King Chico had left the fortress. There was a mystery about it, and it had never been opened within the memory of the oldest inhabitant.

Patio of the Lions Granada

Legend has it that as the royal party moved south toward exile, they reached a rocky prominence which gave a last view of the city. Muhammad XII reined in his horse and, surveying for the last time the Alhambra and the green valley that spread below, burst into tears. When his mother approached him she said :

"Thou dost weep like a woman for what thou couldst not defend as a man."

He conducted me to the spot. The gateway is in the centre of what was once an immense pile, called the Tower of the Seven Floors (la Torre de los Siete Suelos). It is famous in the neighborhood as the scene of strange apparitions and Moorish enchantments. According to Swinburne the traveller, it was originally the great gate of entrance. The antiquaries of Granada pronounce it the entrance to that quarter of the royal residence where the king's bodyguards were stationed. It therefore might well form an immediate entrance and exit to the palace; while the grand Gate of Justice served as the entrance of state to the fortress. When Boabdil sallied by this gate to descend to the Vega, where he was to surrender the keys of the city to the Spanish sovereigns, he left his vizier Aben Comixa to receive, at the Gate of Justice, the detachment from the Christian army and the officers to whom the fortress was to be given up.

Palace of the Alhambra Granada

Puerta de los Siete Suelos

* The minor details of the surrender of Granada have been stated in different ways even by eye-witnesses. The author, in his revised edition of the Conquest, has endeavored to adjust them according to the latest and apparently best authorities.

The once redoubtable Tower of the Seven Floors is now a mere wreck, having been blown up with gunpowder by the French, when they abandoned the fortress. Great masses of the wall lie scattered about, buried in luxuriant herbage, or overshadowed by vines and fig-trees. The arch of the gateway, though rent by the shock, still remains; but the last wish of poor Boabdil has again, though unintentionally, been fulfilled, for the portal has been closed up by loose stones gathered from the ruins, and remains impassable.

Mounting my horse, I followed up the route of the Moslem monarch from this place of his exit. Crossing the hill of Los Martyros, and keeping along the garden wall of a convent bearing the same name, I descended a rugged ravine beset by thickets of aloes and Indian figs, and lined with caves and hovels swarming with gipsies. The descent was so steep and broken that I was fain to alight and lead my horse. By this via dolorosa poor Boabdil took his sad departure to avoid passing through the city; partly, perhaps, through unwillingness that its inhabitants should behold his humiliation; but chiefly, in all probability, lest it might cause some popular agitation. For the last reason, undoubtedly, the detachment sent to take possession of the fortress ascended by the same route.

Emerging from this rough ravine, so full of melancholy associations, and passing by the puerta de los molinos (the gate of the mills), I issued forth upon the public promenade called the Prado, and pursuing the course of the Xenil, arrived at a small chapel, once a mosque, now the Hermitage of San Sebastian. Here, according to tradition, Boabdil surrendered the keys of Granada to King Ferdinand. I rode slowly thence across the Vega to a village where the family and household of the unhappy king awaited him, for he had sent them forward on the preceding night from the Alhambra, that his mother and wife might not participate in his personal humiliation, or be exposed to the gaze of the conquerors. Following on in the route of the melancholy band of royal exiles, I arrived at the foot of a chain of barren and dreary heights, forming the skirt of the Alpuxarra mountains. From the summit of one of these the unfortunate Boabdil took his last look at Granada; it bears a name expressive of his sorrows, la Cuesta de las Lagrimas (the Hill of Tears). Beyond it, a sandy road winds across a rugged cheerless waste, doubly dismal to the unhappy monarch, as it led to exile.

I spurred my horse to the summit of a rock, where Boabdil uttered his last sorrowful exclamation, as he turned his eyes from taking their farewell gaze; it is still denominated el ultimo suspiro del Moro (the last sigh of the Moor). Who can wonder at his anguish at being expelled from such a kingdom and such an abode? With the Alhambra he seemed to be yielding up all the honors of his line, and all the glories and delights of life.

It was here, too, that his affliction was embittered by the reproach of his mother, Ayxa, who had so often assisted him in times of peril, and had vainly sought to instil into him her own resolute spirit. "You do well," said she, "to weep as a woman over what you could not defend as a man"; a speech savoring more of the pride of the princess than the tenderness of the mother.

When this anecdote was related to Charles V by Bishop Guevara, the emperor joined in the expression of scorn at the weakness of the wavering Boabdil. "Had I been he, or he been I," said the haughty potentate, "I would rather have made this Alhambra my sepulchre than have lived without a kingdom in the Alpuxarra." How easy it is for those in power and prosperity to preach heroism to the vanquished! how little can they understand that life itself may rise in value with the unfortunate, when nought but life remains I

Slowly descending the "Hill of Tears," I let my horse take his own loitering gait back to Granada, while I turned the story of the unfortunate Boabdil over in my mind. In summing up the particulars I found the balance inclining in his favor. Throughout the whole of his brief, turbulent, and disastrous reign, he gives evidence of a mild and amiable character. He, in the first instance, won the hearts of his people by his affable and gracious manners; he was always placable, and never inflicted any severity of punishment upon those who occasionally rebelled against him. He was personally brave; but wanted moral courage; and, in times of difficulty and perplexity, was wavering and irresolute. This feebleness of spirit hastened his downfall, while it deprived him of that heroic grace which would have given grandeur and dignity to his fate, and rendered him worthy of closing the splendid drama of the Moslem domination in Spain.