Despite its languid and sensuous atmosphere, the palace was anything but tranquil. Twenty-one rulers in 254 years means an average of about one every twelve years. Since both al-Ahmar and Yusef I had comfortably long reigns of forty-one and twenty-one years repectively, it can be seen without further research that many other monarchs must have left the throne through unnatural causes.
These medieval Moors, who loved poetry and learning, who studies Aristotle and Euclid, whose knowledge of geography influenced Columbus, and whose advances in medicine laid the foundations of surgery in Europe, were nevertheless often bloodthirsty, cruel and vicious. Whether htey were more so than their Christian brethren of the same period it is hard to say, but theirs was a civilization literally backed into a corner, and perhaps that gave them less time for the amenities.
An often told story about Alhambra concerns the wholesale murder of thirty-six young men of a noble Granadine family , the Abencerrages, whom the king suspected of treason and therefore summoned, one by one, to be beheaded. Only one Abencerrage was warned and managed to escape.
The struggles of the Nasrid kings and their relatives are too confusing and too obscure and are hardly pleasant fare. Better still, than in spite of the most lethal quarrels, there was also a great deal of singing, dancing, and partying in these sequestered courts; also a great deal of tarab. Tarab is a kind of physical reaction to pleasures of the mind and spirit- thus, the recitation of a particularly delightful poem might cause the listeners to faint, foam at the mouth, tear their clothes, or beat their heads against the wall. The Spanish writer, Emilio Garcia Gomez once commented, “The loss of this capacity for great physical emotion-even in its less violent forms- seems to me to show a present day lack of sensitivity. If any trace of tarab remains, it must be sought at the bullfight or other sporting events. But no…. the ole of the canto hondo is still the wallah ( O God!) with which the Arabs cheered every poetic recitation.”
Northern Europeans, whose tarab is confined to a polite patting of the hands together or perhaps an occasinal rusty “bravo” at the opera, in the extreme case, nonetheless are still usually embarrassed by such demonstrations of emotion.” Yet, the sensuous south, the home of emotional excess, has always held a strange fascination for them; and over the centuries that followed the defeat and departure of the Moors, the Alhambra became a favorite of travelers, both armchair and actual.
After Ferdinand and Isabella took it over from Boabdil, Granada ceased to be a royal capital. The treaty of 1492 was remarkably lenient with the Moors and permitted them to stay in Granada without religious oppression. But this treaty was soon violated. In 1556 the fanatical Philip II ordered the Moors who remained in Andalusia to give up their language, religion and manner of life. During the next one hundred and fifty years all Moslems were either executed or expelled from Spain, about three million of them, and al-Andalus became the conspicuous exception to the historical fact that wherever Arabs established their civilization they remained.
Granada became a Christian city and the Alhambra a little used summer palace for the Spanish royal family. In the early eighteenth-century several rooms were refurbished for the honeymoon of Philip V and his bride, Elizabeth of Parma; but in the main the palace drowsed through the centuries, inhabited only by caretakers and their relatives. The relatives proliferated so that the palace was like a little town; but, being there on sufferance of the governor of Granada, they behaved in a circumspect manner , and if they planted cabbages in the royal flower beds, they were careful to leave the roses.