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Volume 57, Number 4July/August 2006

In This Issue

The Alhambra: A Virtual Walking Tour

Photographed by Barry Gross and Michael Gross
Audio guide at www.saudiaramcoworld.comcourtesy of Antenna Audio

“Indeed, when the spectator has attentively examined my beauty, he will find reality to exceed the most extravagant conceptionof his fancy.”
—Abu Abd Allah ibn Zamrak,from an inscription in the Hall of the Two Sisters (shown here)

At www.saudiaramcoworld.com you’ll find a series of unique interactive spherical panoramic photographs of the Alhambra, with an audio tour.

Click here to view the interactive tour.

From the Editors: For the first time since Saudi Aramco World launched its Web edition in early 2004, what you see and read in this article is a scant and even misleading fraction of what is available in its electronic counterpart. In fact, we can’t show you here what you can see there: Our series of spherical high-resolution photographs puts you, the viewer, at the center of images you can “explore”—pan, zoom, examine details, linger or move on—much as if you were standing in the location itself. In each image, you will find “hotspots” in doorways and on neighboring buildings: By clicking on the hotspots, you can move to the next site. Such panoramic photography, made by digitally “stitching together” a series of 13 to 50 still images, is a rather cumbersome, specialized process, and rendering such images on a flat screen presents distortion problems that invert the old cartographer’s challenge of representing a spherical earth on a flat map. Barry and Michael Gross first explored digital panoramic photography while undergraduates at Williams College, and since then they’ve become expert practitioners ofthis new visual medium. For this article, their photographs were made possible by a partnership between Aramco Services Company and the Department of Art at Williams College, which commissioned the brothers to digitally document more than 100 masterpiece buildings in the us and Europe. After you visit this issue’s Web edition at www.saudiaramcoworld.com, we hope you’ll not only appreciate anew the splendor of the Alhambra, but also enjoy your experience with an emerging medium that enlarges our understanding of the world all around us.

Previous Spread: Among the most magnificent of the rooms of the Nasrid palace, at the heart of the royal complex, stands the Hall of the Two Sisters, built in the mid-14th century by Muhammad v. Entered through a succession of three archways, the room is adorned with fine geometric and vegetal patterns and extensive Arabic calligraphy, mostly poetry by a Nasrid statesman named Abu Abd Allah ibn Zamrak. It is topped by a muqarnas dome of stunning intricacy,delicately lit by clerestory windows. This photograph is part of the spherical view of the entire hall at www.saudiaramcoworld.com. Above: “You’re standing in the Partal, one of the many gardens in the Alhambra that complement the beauty of the palaces,” says the narrator of the Alhambra’s official audio guide, parts of which can be heard at www.saudiaramcoworld.com. In this part of the kilometer-long (1000-yd) Alhambra complex, the guide continues, “gardens from the early 20th century sit among architectural ruins from the Nasrid period.” Partal may originate from the Arabic burtulah, a word that refers to a narrow shady area or “a summer shade,” a good description of this garden. “The space begins with the five-arched gateway, and the pool acts as a mirror reflecting the face of the building, breaking the horizontal lines of the architecture. Let’s go into the Partal gardens. You’ll see that this isn’t the typical layout of a Hispano–Moorish orchard garden; rather, it reflects the idea of a western garden, showing a more recent stage of building in the Alhambra. These gardens are laid out in levels marked out by box hedges connected by stairways. As you walk along, you’ll find pools, fountains, and the remains of Nasrid-era buildings. Go up the stairs, and you’ll come to a patio with a central pool.”

Though the Alhambra’s hilltop location was first selected in the ninth century for military reasons, when the Nasrid palaces were built in the 13th and 14th centuries, the views were regarded as part of the architecture. These three double windows overlook the Albacín, Granada’s old Arab quarter that lies across the river Darro, which separates the Alhambra’s hill from the rest of the city. The room is called the Mexuar Oratory, and it is one of the lesser-known gems amid the Nasrid palaces. Located at the end of the Mexuar Hall, which was used by the Nasrid kings as a reception room, this small room was likely used for private conversations and—importantly—for daily prayers. At www.saudiaramcoworld.com, you can pan this photo to the right, and you will find on the wall that, in this view, stands behind you an ornate mihrab or prayer niche, indicating the direction of Makkah. Anywhere in the room you can also zoom in to examine closely the inscriptions and ornamental designs and, if you wish, to take a closer look at the buildings of the Albacín. To your left you will find a doorway with a “clickable” hotspot that leads into the Mexuar Hall, and from there to a number of other locations in the Alhambra, including the Alcazaba (the military fortifications) and the gardens of the Generalife.

Barry Gross ([email protected]) and Michael Gross ([email protected]) have produced virtual-reality projects for Williams College, the Williams College Museum of Art, the University of Virginia, the University of California at Los Angeles and Saudi Aramco World. This year they were visiting fellows at the University of Virginia, where they coordinated the writing of a guide for digital panoramic photography of cultural-heritage sites. Barry lives in Boston; Michael lives in Portland, Oregon.

This article appeared on pages 24-29 of the July/August 2006 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for July/August 2006 images.