Les Privilèges de la Promenade II

I remember the way to Granada, a city north-west of the Sierra Nevada desert. The city nestles against some hills. There is only one road that leads to the hill where the Moorish palace, the Alhambra, was built. Most people come to visit the palace but I am mainly interested in visiting the Generalife, the garden of gardens. Finally I will experience this bulwark of Vedic principles in the flesh.
Every form we know and everything we build is rooted in Vedic mathematics.
It originated in northern India and Persia and was then adopted and developed by the Arabs. It enabled them to be the first builders of large and complex vaulted structures. In contrast to our modern understanding, Vedic mathematics depends on the inventiveness of the mathematician. The higher his creative insight, the more he is accorded respect.

The basis of this mathematics is a simple square, the Vedic square. The Arabs didn’t know numbers higher than 10. The simple calculation of 8 plus 7 didn’t add up to 15 but to 6, adding up the first and second digit of the first outcome. By using Vedic squares and by linking different, though related numbers, it is possible to create patterns that can be recognised as typically Arabic. These patterns are the basis for the construction and decoration of almost every Arabic building. It can be found in everything from tiles to plastering and ceilings.
It seems amazing that this mathematics, which appears to have been used by Albert Einstein in his discovery of the theory of relativity, isn’t applied more often. Even more so since it fits so well with today’s digital developments. However, ask any mathematician about Vedic mathematics and he will stare at you like a stuck pig.

Not only was the Generalife built according to Vedic mathematic principles, it soon became a research centre for mathematicians – something which superceded its role as a political centre.
Fortunately there are two separate entrances and I don’t have to go through the Alhambra first. Within a few metres you realise there is no comparison between the Generalife and the English or Renaissance gardens we know. Examples like Le Clos Normand in Giverny, the Palazzina Farnese in Caprarola, or Sissinghurst Castle Gardens are all built as additions to existing architecture, conceived to enliven the building, to enhance its status or to ameliorate its position within the landscape.

The Generalife was built independently from the Alhambra. The palace was added later and it was built following the Moorish principles of the garden.
This is still reflected in the small square plaster patterns that you can find in every room of the palace – they reveal a plan of the part of the garden mirrored in the architecture of the room.
The Alhambra, or red palace, so called because of the red brick that was used for its exterior, comes across as a rude, square, block-like fort. Nothing indicates that there is so much refined Arabic art inside. The same goes for the Generalife, which also doesn’t reveal its treasures from the outside. Despite its age, it seems that the Generalife is still in good shape. The main entrance is a long, narrow, slightly sloped lane of soft cypress trees, planted so closely together that they now form a soft dark green wall. The trees to the right have more distance between them, allowing a sight of the breeding pond, compost heaps and outhouses. No European garden architect would ever dream of locating the gardeners’ sheds or compost heaps near the entrance of a garden.

The lane stops after circa 100 metres. To both left and right are squares of flat stones through which trees and bushes grow. It looks less like a beautiful garden than the ruins of an old architectural monument, covered in trees that have forced themselves through the piles of stone.
One comes across an old open air theatre built from narrow, flat, red, partly overlapping stones. Some Italian gardens contain theatres as well but these are always separated from the rest of the garden by high hedges and often marble sculptures. Here the stage set consists of red stones, stairs, podiums and some apparently randomly placed cypress trees in the background. Because the trees are widely spaced enough to look through, you get the impression that the scenery behind them will be part of the stage set when a play is actually being performed.

I’m starting to get excited.
Another square that also belongs to the theatre finally leads to the ‘real’ garden.
A final flight of steps and then to my left and right the softest hedges I’ve ever seen. They feel like velvet. They extend more than 1.5 metres wide and 6 metres high, their colour a soft green. They are the green walls that divide the garden into its many different rooms. Here and there are small corners where you can sit down, elsewhere ‘gates’ are visible through which you can enter other rooms. Low neatly cut box hedges cover the floors with complex mathematical patterns. The squares are filled with perennials, the flowers and the colours of which contrast with the green of the hedges. Sometimes double hedges make up corridors. Every room is different.
The Patio de la Acequia, for instance, is a long room in which water attracts all the attention. Its floor is an extended narrow irrigation channel with inward facing fountains over its entire length and flower beds along its borders. At the end of the garden, that is to say along its long axis, is the Madïnat al-Zahrã. On every floor of this high tower there is a small pavilion from which you can look out on the whole garden, at the same time gaining a panoramic view over the entire region. Then you discover the Generalife is built on terraces high on the hill. You feel as though you were in a roof garden. Looking down from the Madïnat al-Zahrã you have a view on the overall structure of the garden for the time. You understand why it doesn’t really make sense to talk about a ‘garden’. I’d rather call it green architecture. Stretching out before you is a green palace without a roof, divided by living walls. Breathtaking.

Water flows and jumps, disappears and emerges somewhere lower down, sometimes swirling, sometimes tranquil. The subtlety of running and stagnant water has the same architectonic power as the green cypress hedges. In some ponds, the water is almost level with the rim of the tile floor that surrounds it. Again there is a similarity in the patterns comparable to the basic Vedic square.
The fountains work on the principle of water pressure, using the natural water flowing down from the top of the hill. The perfection of the water channel system is such that seventeen fountains put out exactly the same amount of water simultaneously.

The Escalere de las Cascades is one of the strangest constructions of the Generalife. A wide staircase, completely covered in sweet smelling plants, reaches a small pavilion on top of the hill, the former residence of the harem’s leading lady. The buttresses of the staircase are hollow on either side, allowing for fresh water to run though it in abundance. The sound of running water in combination with the sweet smell of the plants makes this into a beautiful, almost erotic experience.

It is said that in the Generalife heaven and earth meet. I don’t know whether I agree with that statement. For me the Generalife is rather a roofless palace, an observatory, a planetarium and laboratory – not just a beautiful garden. Beautiful gardens are everywhere, the ultimate form of decoration and beauty. They depend on the taste of their designers and the gardeners who maintain them. In the Generalife beauty is a result not a cause. I’d rather consider it an elaborate, architectural Vedic monument.
The many different levels create a multitude of hidden and secret places. Three quarters of the garden is secret. The surprise is that you will never see the view you expect. Time and again the outlook is veiled by new, inward facing views, new insights. It is beautiful that this garden has been the model for the Alhambra instead of the other way round.
The flowers are of less importance than usual in a garden, it is their smell – rather than their shape or colour – that is interesting.
The Generalife is in a league of its own.
I wouldn’t mind comparing it to other wonders of the world like the Pyramids of Gizeh in Egypt, the Nara temple in Japan, the tombs at Angkor Wat in Cambodia or the Maharani palace in Udaipur.