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Tales of the Alhambra

Chapter: Yusef Abul Hagig. The Finisher of the Alhambra.
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Alhambra Tours

Yusef Abul Hagig. The Finisher of the Alhambra.

TO THE foregoing particulars, concerning the Moslem princes who once reigned in these halls, I shall add a brief notice of the monarch who completed and embellished the Alhambra. Yusef Abul Hagig (or as it is sometimes written, Haxis) was another prince of the noble line of Nasar. He ascended the throne of Granada in the year of grace 1333, and is described by Moslem writers as having a noble presence, great bodily strength, and a fair complexion, and the majesty of his countenance increased, say they, by suffering his beard to grow to a dignified length and dying it black. His manners were gentle, affable, and urbane; he carried the benignity of his nature into warfare, prohibiting all wanton cruelty, and enjoining mercy and protection towards women and children, the aged and infirm, and all friars and other persons of holy and recluse life. But though he possessed the courage common to generous spirits, the bent of his genius was more for peace than war, and though repeatedly obliged by circumstances to take up arms, he was generally unfortunate.

Among other ill-starred enterprises, he undertook a great campaign, in conjunction with the king of Morocco, against the kings of Castile and Portugal, but was defeated in the memorable battle of Salado, which had nearly proved a death-blow to the Moslem power in Spain.

Yusef obtained a long truce after this defeat, and now his character shone forth in its true lustre. He had an excellent memory, and had stored his mind with science and erudition; his taste was altogether elegant and refined, and he was accounted the best poet of his time. Devoting himself to the instruction of his people and the improvement of their morals and manners, he established schools in all the villages, with simple and uniform systems of education; he obliged every hamlet of more than twelve houses to have a mosque, and purified the ceremonies of religion, and the festivals and popular amusements, from various abuses and indecorums which had crept into them. He attended vigilantly to the police of the city, establishing nocturnal guards and patrols, and superintending all municipal concerns. His attention was also directed towards finishing the great architectural works commenced by his predecessors, and erecting others on his own plans. The Alhambra, which had been founded by the good Alhamar, was now completed. Yusef constructed the beautiful Gate of Justice, forming the grand entrance to the fortress, which he finished in 1348. He likewise adorned many of the courts and halls of the palace, as may be seen by the inscriptions on the walls, in which his name repeatedly occurs. He built also the noble Alcazar or citadel of Malaga, now unfortunately a mere mass of crumbling ruins, but which most probably exhibited in its interior, similar elegance and magnificence with the Alhambra.

The genius of a sovereign stamps a character upon his time. The nobles of Granada, imitating the elegant and graceful taste of Yusef, soon filled the city of Granada with magnificent palaces; the halls of which were paved with mosaic, the walls and ceilings wrought in fretwork, and delicately gilded and painted with azure, vermilion, and other brilliant colors, or minutely inlaid with cedar and other precious woods; specimens of which have survived, in all their lustre, the lapse of several centuries. Many of the houses had fountains, which threw up jets of water to refresh and cool the air. They had lofty towers also, of wood or stone, curiously carved and ornamented, and covered with plates of metal that glittered in the sun. Such was the refined and delicate taste in architecture that prevailed among this elegant people; insomuch that to use the beautiful simile of an Arabian writer, "Granada, in the days of Yusef, was as a silver vase filled with emeralds and jacinths."

One anecdote will be sufficient to show the magnanimity of this generous prince. The long truce which had succeeded the battle of Salado was at an end, and every effort of Yusef to renew it was in vain. His deadly foe, Alfonzo XI of Castile, took the field with great force, and laid siege to Gibraltar. Yusef reluctantly took up arms, and sent troops to the relief of the place. In the midst of his anxiety, he received tidings that his dreaded foe had suddenly fallen a victim to the plague. Instead of manifesting exultation on the occasion, Yusef called to mind the great qualities of the deceased, and was touched with a noble sorrow. "Alas!" cried he, "the world has lost one of its most excellent princes; a sovereign who knew how to honor merit, whether in friend or foe!"

The Spanish chroniclers themselves bear witness to this magnanimity. According to their accounts, the Moorish cavaliers partook of the sentiment of their king, and put on mourning for the death of Alfonzo. Even those of Gibraltar, who had been so closely invested, when they knew that the hostile monarch lay dead in his camp, determined among themselves that no hostile movement should be made against the Christians. The day on which the camp was broken up, and the army departed bearing the corpse of Alfonzo, the Moors issued in multitudes from Gibraltar, and stood mute and melancholy, watching the mournful pageant. The same reverence for the deceased was observed by all the Moorish commanders on the frontiers, who suffered the funeral train to pass in safety, bearing the corpse of the Christian sovereign from Gibraltar to Seville.

* Y los moros que estaban en la villa y Castillo de Gibraltar despues que sopieron que el Rey Don Alonzo era muerto, ordenaron entresi que ninguno non fuesse osado de fazer ningun movimiento contra los Christianos, ni mover pelear contra ellos, estovieron todos quedos y dezian entre ellos qui aquel dia muriera un noble rey y Gran principe del mundo.

[And the Moors that were in the city and Castle of Gibraltar, after they knew that King Don Alonzo was dead, ordered among themselves that no one should dare to make any move against the Christians, nor to start fighting against them, and they all remained quiet and told each other that on that day had died a noble king and a great prince of the world.]

Yusef did not long survive the enemy he had so generously deplored. In the year 1354, as he was one day praying in the royal mosque of the Alhambra, a maniac rushed suddenly from behind and plunged a dagger in his side. The cries of the king brought his guards and courtiers to his assistance. They found him weltering in his blood. He made some signs as if to speak, but his words were unintelligible. They bore him senseless to the royal apartments, where he expired almost immediately. The murderer was cut to pieces, and his limbs burnt in public to gratify the fury of the populace.

The body of the king was interred in a superb sepulchre of white marble; a long epitaph, in letters of gold upon an azure ground, recorded his virtues. "Here lies a king and martyr, of an illustrious line, gentle, learned, and virtuous; renowned for the graces of his person and his manners; whose clemency, piety and benevolence, were extolled throughout the kingdom of Granada. He was a great prince; an illustrious captain; a sharp sword of the Moslems; a valiant standard-bearer among the most potent monarchs," &c.

The mosque still exists which once resounded with the dying cries of Yusef, but the monument which recorded his virtues has long since disappeared. His name, however, remains inscribed among the delicate and graceful ornaments of the Alhambra, and will be perpetuated in connection with this renowned pile, which it was his pride and delight to beautify.