I first saw the Alhambra, the great Moorish palace in Granada, Spain, in 1976. My sole preparation prior to the visit consisted of reading a description in “Europe on $25 A Day” (or whatever the per diem was in those days). Even with my scanty knowledge of the nearly 800-year Islamic rule of Spain, I enjoyed the experience.
I returned in February and was, again, bowled over by the beauty of the fortress, palace and gardens of the Alhambra and neighboring Generalife, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. This time, prior to my visit, I steeped myself in Moorish history and culture at two museums that opened since my first visit: The Parque de las Ciencias (Science Park) and the Caja Granada Memoria De Andalucía (Museum of Memory), located across the street from each other on the southern end of Granada.
The solar-paneled roof of the Science Park’s Macroscopio building, designed by the architectural firm Carlos Ferrater & Jimenez Brasa Arquitectos, resembles the peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the north. The sprawling campus includes Macroscopio, an observation tower, a planetarium and gardens. Macroscopio houses exhibitions of the human body, technology and a children’s discovery area.
The space not to miss is the Al-Andalus science pavilion. An hour here will give you a firm grounding in the Arabic influence in the Andalusian region of Spain, of which Granada was considered the “Moorish jewel.” Signage in Spanish and English interprets the Moors’ contributions to astronomy, science, architecture, gastronomy and everyday life. Though the Christians eventually expelled the Muslims (and the Jews) from Spain, it has been said the Moors never left. Their influence remains throughout Andalusia; our guide told us that 20% of the Spanish language is from Arabic.
Across the streets stands the Museum of Memory. Cut into the square shape of the building is a blindingly white circular courtyard and ramp. On the two lowest levels of the museum are four exhibits explaining the history of Andalusia from the eighth century to the present.
To enter the museum, you pass under a wide, slim building, which houses a library and a restaurant. If you have time, visit the library for its ceiling. Rendered in letters of varying sizes and weights are portraits of 12 of Spain’s lions from the literary and arts world, including Federico García Lorca and Pablo Picasso. The restaurant, on the top floor, offers panoramic views of Granada and the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas.
The museum brochure states that you’ll “see, touch, hear and sense,” and it’s no exaggeration. Video presentations are launched not by touchscreens but rather by your own hand motions. Point at the desired language (Spanish or English) and the time period you want to learn about, and a video featuring a costumed actor begins to plays.
The ground floor exhibits interpret the history of the countryside and cities, while the ones on the first floor focus on daily life, art and culture. Covering all four halls requires walking around the circular hall. Architect Alberto Campo Baeza based the dimensions of the courtyard on the palace that Carlos V (Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor) constructed (but never finished) at the Alhambra.
Like Science Park, the Museum of Memory is an expression of ethnic pride. Both museums helped me understand the term “Andalusia” not strictly as a geographic region, but a rich culture that began long before Moorish rule.