Fragrance in Literature-From "Spain" by Edmondo de Amicis

"Spain" by Edmondo de Amicis

For a long distance the country offers no new as-
pect to the feverish curiosity of the tourist. At
Vilches there is a vast plain, and beyond there, the
open country of Tolosa, where Alphonso VIII, King
of Castile, gained the celebrated victory de las Navas
over the Mussulman army. The sky was very clear,
and in the distance one could see the mountains of
the Sierra di Segura. Suddenly, there comes over
me a sensation which seems to respond to a sup-
pressed exclamation of surprise : the first aloes, with
their thick leaves, the unexpected heralds of tropical
vegetation, rise on both sides of the road. Beyond,
the fields studded with flowers begin to appear.
The first are studded, those which follow almost
covered, then come vast stretches of ground entirely
clothed with poppies, daisies, lilies, wild mushrooms,
and ranunculuses, so that the country (as it presents
itself to view) looks like a succession of immense
purple, gold, and snowy-hued carpets. In the dis-
tance, among the trees, are innumerable blue, white,
and yellow streaks, as far as the eye can reach ; and
nearer, on the banks of the ditches, the elevations
of ground, the slopes, and even on the edge of the
road are flowers in beds, clumps, and clusters, one
above the other, grouped in the form of great bou-
quets, and trembling on their stalks, which one can
almost touch with his hand. Then there are fields
white with great blades of grain, flanked by planta-
tions of roses, orange groves, immense olive groves,
and hillsides varied by a thousand shades of green,
surmounted by ancient Moorish towers, scattered
with many-colored houses; and between the one and
the other are white and slender bridges that cross
rivulets hidden by the trees. On the horizon ap-
pear the snowy caps of the Sierra Nevada ; under
that white streak lie the undulating blue ones of the
nearer mountains. The country becomes more
varied and flourishing ; Arjonilla lies in a grove of
olives, whose boundary one cannot see ; Pedro Abad,
in the midst of a plain covered with vineyards and
fruit-trees ; Ventas di Alcolea, on the last hills of
the Sierra Nevada, peopled with villas and gardens.
We are approaching Cordova, the train flies along,
we see little stations half hidden by trees and
flowers, the wind carries the rose leaves into the
carriages, great butterflies fly near the windows, a
delicious perfume permeates the air, the travellers
sing, we pass through an enchanted garden, the
aloes, oranges, palms, and villas grow more frequent;
and at last we hear a cry : " Here is Cordova!"
How many lovely pictures and grand recollections
the sound of that name awakens in one's mind !

On I go, at random, from street to street. As I
walk, my curiosity increases, and I quicken my pace.
It seems impossible that a whole city can be like
this ; I am afraid of stumbling across some house or
coming into some street that will remind me of other
cities, and disturb my beautiful dream. But no, the
dream lasts ; for every thing is small, lovely, and
mysterious. At every hundred steps I reach a
deserted square, in which I stop and hold my breath ;
from time to time there appears a cross-road, and not
a living soul is to be seen ; every thing is white,
the windows closed, and silence reigns on all sides.
At each door there is a new spectacle ; there are
arches, columns, flowers, jets of water, and palms ; a
marvellous variety of design, tints, light, and per-
fume ; here the odor of roses, there of oranges,
farther on of pinks ; and with this perfume a whiff of
fresh air, and with the air a subdued sound of
women's voices, the rustling of leaves, and the sing-
ing of birds. It is a sweet and varied harmony that,
without disturbing the silence of the streets, soothes
the ear like the echo of distant music. Ah ! it is
not a dream ! Madrid, Italy, Europe are indeed far
away ! Here one lives another life, and breathes
the air of a different world, for I am in the East !

Such is the mosque of to-day, but what must it
have been in the time of the Arabs ? It was not
surrounded by a wall ; but open, so that one could
catch a glimpse of the garden from every part of it ;
and from the garden one could see to the end of the
long aisle, and the air was permeated even under
the Maksura with the fragrance of oranges and
flowers. The columns, which now number less than
a thousand, were then one thousand four hundred ;
the ceiling was of cedar wood and larch, sculptured
and enamelled in the finest manner ; the walls were
trimmed with marble ; the light of eight hundred
lamps, filled with perfumed oil, made all the crystals
in the mosaics gleam, and produced on the pave-
ment, arches, and walls a marvellous play of color
and reflection. " A sea of splendors," sang a poet,
" filled this mysterious recess ; the ambient air was
impregnated with aromas and harmonies, and the
thoughts of the faithful wandered and lost them-
selves in the labyrinth of columns which gleamed
like lances in the sunshine."

This promenade extends from the palace of the
Duke of Montpensier to the Torre del Oro, and is
entirely shaded by oriental plane trees, oaks, cypres-
ses, willows, poplars, and other northern trees, which
the Andalusians admire as we should admire the
palms and aloes in the fields of Piedmont and Lom-
bardy. A great bridge crosses the river and leads
to the suburb of Triana, from which one sees the
first houses on the opposite bank. A long row of
ships, goletas (a species of light boat), and barks
extend along the river ; and between the Torre del
Oro and the duke's palace there is a continual com-
ing and going of boats. The sun was setting. A
crowd of ladies swarmed through the avenues, troops
of workmen passed the bridge, the work on the
ships increased, a band hidden among the trees was
playing, the river was rose color, the air was filled
with the perfume of flowers, and the sky seemed all

" Let us enter the other deserted place," he re-
plied, smiling, and he pushed me into the great Hall
of the Ambassadors, which occupies the entire interior
of the tower, because the hall of the Barca really be-
longs to a small building which, although joined to
the tower, actually forms no part of it. The hall is
square in shape, spacious, and lighted by nine large
arched windows in the form of doors, which present
almost the appearance of so many alcoves, so thick
are the walls ; and each one is divided in half, toward
the outside, by a little marble column which supports
two elegant small arches, surmounted in their turn
by two little arched windows. The walls are covered
with mosaics and arabesques multiform and in-
describably delicate, with innumerable inscriptions
which extend in the form of broad embroidered rib-
bons over the arches of the windows, up the corners,
along the friezes, and around the niches, in which
vases filled with flowers and perfumed water were
placed. The ceiling, which is very high, is com-
posed of pieces of cedar wood, white, gilded, and
blue, put together in the shape of circles, stars, and
crowns ; and forms so many little ceilings, cells, and
small windows, through a hundred of wdiich falls a
soft light ; and from the cornice that joins the ceiling
to the walls, hung pieces of stucco worked and em-
broidered like stalactites and bunches of flowers.
The throne was placed in a window opposite the en-
trance. From the windows of this side one enjoys
a magnificent view of the valley of the Darro, deep
and silent, as if it, too, felt the fascination of the
majesty of the Alhambra ; from the windows of the
other two sides are seen the boundary walls and the
towers of the fortress, and from the side of the en-
trance, in the distance, the light arches of the Court
of the Myrtles, and the waters of the basin, which
reflect the azure of the sky.
" Well," asked Gongora, " was it worth the
trouble of dreaming three hundred and sixty-five
nights about the Alhambra ?

" What must this court have been," said Gon-
gora, " when the interior walls of the portico were
glistening with mosaics, the capitals of the columns
gleaming with gold, the ceilings and vaults painted
in a thousand colors, the doors closed by silken cur-
tains, the arches filled with flowers, and, under the
little temples and in the rooms ran perfumed water,
and from the nostrils of the lions burst a thousand
sprays which fell back into the basin, and the air
was full of the most delicious perfumes of Arabia ! "

Imagine an immense plain, as green as a field
covered with young grass, traversed in all directions
by endless rows of cypresses, pines, oaks, and pop-


lars, scattered with thick groves of oranges (which,
in the distance, look Hke bushes), and great kitchen
and flower gardens, so filled with fruit trees that
they present the appearance of hillsides covered
with verdure. Across this immense plain flows the
Xenil, shining among the groves and gardens like
a silver ribbon. On all sides are wooded hills, and
beyond these hills, very high rocks in fantastic
shapes, which seem like a girdle of walls and titanic
towers separating this paradise from the world.
Directly under one's eyes lies the city of Granada,
partly stretched over the plain, partly on a hillside
scattered with groups of trees and shapeless masses
of verdure, rising and waving above the tops of the
houses, like enormous plumes, which seem to
spread out, join together, and cover the entire city.
Farther down is the deep valley of the Darro, more
than covered, filled, almost overwhelmed, by a pro-
digious accumulation of vegetation rising like a
mountain, beyond w^hich projects a grove of gigan-
tic poplars which wave their tops under the windows
of the tower almost within reach of one's hand. To
the right beyond the Darro, on a hill rising straight
and bold, like a cupola, toward heaven, is the palace
of the Generalife, crowned by aerial gardens, and al-
most hidden amid a grove of laurels, poplars, and
pomegranates. On the opposite side, is a marvel-
lous spectacle, an incredible thing — the vision of a
dream ! the Sierra Nevada, the highest mountain in
Europe, after the Alps, white as snow, to within a
few miles of the gates of Granada, white as far as
the hills where the palms and pomegranates rear
their heads, displays in all its splendor an almost
tropical vegetation. Fancy now above this im-
mense paradise, containing all the smiling graces of
the East, and all the grave beauties of the North,
which unites Europe to Africa, bringing to these
nuptials all the most beautiful marvels of nature,
and sending up to heaven in one, all the perfumes
of the earth ; fancy, I say, above this blessed val-
ley, the sky and sun of Andalusia, which, turning
toward the West, tints the summits rose-color, and
the slopes of the Sierra with all the colors of the
iris and all the shades of the clearest blue pearls.
Its rays become golden, purple, and ashy, as they
fall upon the rocks crowning the plain ; and sinking
in the midst of a brilliant conflagration, cast, like a
last farewell, a luminous crown around the pensive
towers of the Alhambra, and the enwreathed pin-
nacles of the Generalife. Tell me, then, whether the
world can offer any thing more solesiin, glorious, or
iritoxicating than this love feast of the earth and
sky, before which, for nine centuries, Granada has
trembled with voluptuousness and pride.

The roof of the miradoi'- de la reina is supported
by small Moorish pillars, between which stretch
flat arches, that give to the pavilion a strangely
capricious and graceful aspect. The walls are
painted in fresco, and the initials of Isabella and
Philip V, interlaced with cupids and flowers, extend
along the frieze. Beside the entrance door there
still lies a stone of the old pavement, perforated,
on which, it is said, the sultanas were placed, that
they might be enveloped in the cloud of perfume
burning underneath. Every thing up there breathes
of love and joy ! Here, one inhales an air as pure
as that of the mountain tops ; perceives a mingled
fragrance of myrtle and rose ; and no other sound
is heard save the murmur of the Darro, which dashes
between the stones of its rocky bed, and the song
of thousands of birds hidden in the dense verdure of
the valley. It is a veritable nest for lovers ; a hanging
alcove, in which to go and dream of an aerial ter-
race, where they might climb to thank God for
being so happy.

The following day I went to see the Generalife, a
summer villa of the Moorish sovereigns, whose name
is associated with that of the Alhambra, as that of
the Alhambra is with that of Granada ; although
very few arches and arabesque of the ancient Gen-
eralife remain. It is a small, simple, white villa,
with few windows, an arched gallery, and a terrace,
and is hidden in the midst of a thicket of laurel and
myrtle, on the summit of a flowery mountain rising
on the right bank of the Darro, opposite the hill of


the Alhambra. In front of the facade of the palace
extends a Httle garden, and other gardens rise one
above the other, almost in the form of a terrace, up
to the top of the mountain, where a high loggia
rises, forming the boundary of the Generalife. The
avenues of the gardens, the broad steps that lead
from one to another, and the beds full of flowers,
are flanked by high espaliers, surmounted by arches,
and divided into arbors of curved myrtle, and inter-
laced with graceful designs. At each landing rise
small white houses, shaded by trellises and groups
of orange trees and cypresses. The water is as
abundant now as in the time of the Arabs, and gives
to the place a grace, freshness, and life which is
quite indescribable. On all sides you hear the
murmur of brooklets and fountains. You turn from
one avenue and meet a jet of water, look out of a
window and see a spurt that comes up to the
window-sill, enter a group of trees and receive the
spray from a cascade in your face. Everywhere
you turn there is water, which is leaping, running,
falling, gurgling, or sparkling amid the grass and
shrubs. From the top of this loggia the eye falls
upon all those gardens descending in slopes, and
stairs ; sinks into the abyss of vegetation which
separates the two mountains ; takes in all the bound-
ary of the Alhambra, with the cupolas of its little
temples, distant towers, and paths that wind among
its ruins ; extends over the city of Granada, the
plain, and hills ; and traverses with a single glance all
the summits of the Sierra Nevada, which seem within
an hour's reach. While you are contemplating this
spectacle, your ear is soothed by the murmur of a
hundred springs, and the distant sound of the city
bells, coming up in waves, from time to time, to-
gether with a mysterious perfume of an earthly
paradise, that makes you tremble with delight.

Oh, marvel of marvels ! It was the court of an
Arabian house, surrounded by graceful little columns,
surmounted by very light arches, with those inde-
scribable traceries of the Alhambra around the
small doors and mullion windows, the beams and
partitions of the ceiling sculptured and colored,
niches for vases of flowers and perfume urns, the
bath in the centre, and, in fact, all the traces of the
delicious life of an opulent family. That house was
inhabited by poor people !

A patio ! How shall I describe a patio? It is
not a court, nor a garden, nor a room ; but it is all
three things combined. Between the patio and the
street there is a vestibule. On the four sides of the
patio rise slender columns, which support, up to a
level with the first floor, a species of gallery, en-
closed in glass ; above the gallery is stretched a can-
vas, which shades the court. The vestibule is
paved with marble, the door flanked by columns,
surmounted by bas-reliefs, and closed by a slender
iron gate of graceful design. At the end of the
patio, in a line with the door, rises a statue ; in the
centre there is a fountain ; and all around are scat-
tered chairs, work-tables, pictures, and vases of
flowers. I run to another door ; there is another
patio, with its walls covered with ivy, and a number
of niches holding little statues, busts, and urns. I
look in at a third door ; here is another patio, with
its walls worked in mosaics, a palm in the centre,
and a mass of flowers all around. I stop at a fourth
door ; after the patio there is another vestibule, after
this a second patio, in which one sees other statues,
columns, and fountains. All these rooms and gar-
dens are so neat and clean that one could pass his
hand over the walls and on the ground without leav-
ing a trace ; and they are fresh, fragrant, and lighted
by an uncertain light, which increases their beauty
and mysterious appearance.

I reentered the city and enjoyed the sight of
Seville at night. T\\q patios of all the houses were
illuminated ; those of the smaller houses by a half
light, which gave them a mysterious grace ; those of
the palaces were filled with tiny flames, which made
the mirrors gleam, the sprays of the fountain glisten
like drops of quicksilver, and the marbles of the
vestibules, the mosaics of the walls, the glass in the
doors, and the crystals of the tapers, shine in a thou-
sand colors. Within one saw a crowd of ladies,
heard on all sides the sound of voices, laughter, and
music. It seemed like passing through so many
ball-rooms, for from every door there came a flood
of light, fragrance, and harmony. The streets were
crowded ; among the trees on the squares, under
the vestibules, at end of the alleys, on the balconies,
and on every side one could see white skirts floating,
disappearing, and reappearing in the shade ; little
heads ornamented with flowers peeping from the
windows; groups of young men moving through the
crowd with gay shouts ; people saluting each other
and talking from window to street ; and on all sides
a quickened pace, a bustle, laughter, and a carnival-
like gaiety. ' Seville was nothing but an immense
garden, in which a crowd filled with youth and love
was revelling. -

The day fixed for my departure arrived most un-
expectedly. It is strange, but I scarcely remember
any of the particulars of my life in Seville. It is
quite a marvel if I can tell myself where I dined,
what I talked about to the consul, or how I passed
the evenings, and why I arranged to leave on a cer-
tain day. I was not quite myself, and was really
bewildered during my entire sojourn in that city.
Aside from the museum and patio, my friend Segovia
must have found that I knew very little ; and now, I
do not know why, I think of those days as a dream.
No other city has left upon me so vague an impression
as Seville. Even to-day, while I am very sure of hav-
ing been at Saragossa, Madrid, and Toledo, sometimes
in thinking of Seville, I am seized by a doubt. It
seems to me like a city much farther away than the
last boundaries of Spain, and that to return to it I
should be obliged to travel for months, cross un-
known territories, great seas, and meet people quite
different from us. I think of the streets of Seville, of
certain little squares and houses, as I would think of
spots on the moon. At times the image of that city
passes before my eyes, without my mind being able
to grasp it at all ; I see it in smelling an orange
with my eyes closed ; and in taking the air at certain
hours of the day, at a garden gate ; or in humming
a melody which I heard sung by a boy on the stair-
case of the Giralda. I cannot explain this secret to
myself, for I think of it as I would do of a city still
to be seen, and I enjoy looking at the pictures and
books I purchased there, because they are the things
which prove to me that I have been there.

Shortly after the steamer had started, there rose
one of those light breezes which play, like the hand
of a child, with the bow of the cravat and hair on
one's temples ; and from bow to stern came the
voices of women and children, as is always the case
with a party of friends at the first snap of the whip
which announces the departure for a gay trip into
the country. All the passengers gathered at the
stern under an awning as variegated as a Chinese
pavilion, some sitting on the cordage, some
stretched out on benches, others leaning over the
railing, and all turning toward the Torre del Oro,
to enjoy the famous and enchanting sight of Seville
as it withdraws and disappears from view. Some
women's faces were still bathed with the farewell
tears, the children were still bewildered by the noise
of the machinery, and some ladies had not yet fin-
ished scolding the porters because they had ill-
treated their trunks ; but a few moments later all
grew quiet, began eating oranges, lighting cigars,
passing small fiasks of liquor, entering into conver-
sation with strangers, humming and laughing, and
in a quarter of an hour we were all friends. The


CADIZ. 335

ship glided with the ease of a gondola over the
quiet and limpid waters which reflected like a mirror
the white dresses of the ladies, and the air brought
us the odor of oranges from the groves on the shore
peopled with villas. Seville was hidden behind its
girdle of gardens ; and we could only see an im-
mense mass of very green trees, above them the
black pile, the cathedral, and the Giralda, all rose-
color, surmounted by its statue flaming like a tongue
of fire. As we got farther and farther away, the
cathedral appeared grander and more majestic, as if
it were keeping behind the ship and gaining on
us ; now it seemed, although following us, to with-
draw from the shore ; now that it was astride the
river ; one moment, appeared to have suddenly re-
turned to its place, and an instant later was appar-
ently so near as to make one suspect that we were
going back.

We climbed an avenue which runs alono- the ereat
middle boulevard, and winds up toward the summit
of the hill. The trees form a pavilion of verdure
over it, so that not a bit of the sky is to be seen,
and the grass, bushes, and flowers make on the
sides two light espaliers, variegated and odorous,
slightly inclined toward each other as if they were
trying to unite, attracted by the beauty of their
coloring and the softness of their fragrance.

I looked around : the vast deserted plain was
transformed, as if by magic, into an immense garden
filled with graceful shrubbery, traversed in every di-
rection by broad avenues, scattered with little coun-
try houses and huts enwreathed in verdure. Here
and there were fountains playing, shady nooks,
flowery fields, vineyards, small pathways, and a
greenness, a freshness, a spring-time odor, and an
air of gaiety and pleasure which was quite enchant-
ing. We had arrived at Aranjuez. I got out of the
train, made my way through a beautiful avenue,
shaded by two rows of gigantic trees, and found my-
self, after a. few steps, opposite the royal palace.

The principal door of the boundary is at the west,
on the spot where rose the minaret of Abdurrahman,
on the point of which waved the Mahometan stand-
ard. We entered ; I fancied that I should instantly
see the interior of the mosque, and I found, myself
in a garden filled with oranges, cypresses, and palms,
surrounded on three sides by a very light portico,
and closed on the fourth side by the fagade of the
mosque. In the centre of this garden there was, in
the time of the Arabs, the fountain for their ablu-
tions ; and under the shade of these trees the faithful
gathered before entering the temple. I stood for
some moments looking around me, and inhaling the
fresh and odorous air with a very keen sense of
pleasure. My heart was beating at the thought that
the famous mosque was near, and I felt myself im-
pelled toward the door by intense curiosity, and re-
strained by a sort of childish trepidation.

I arrived at a hotel, tossed my valise into a patio,
and began roaming about the city. I seemed to
see Cordova enlarged, beautified, and enriched ; the
streets are broader, the houses higher, and Xho. patios
more spacious ; but the general aspect of the city is
the same. There is the same spotless whiteness,
that intricate network of small streets, the diffused
odor of oranges, the lovely air of mystery, that
oriental appearance which awakens in the heart a
very sweet feeling of melancholy, and in the mind a
thousand fancies, desires, and visions of a distant
world, a new life, an unknown people, and a terres-
trial paradise full of love, delight, and peace. In
those streets one reads the history of the city ; every
balcony, fragment of sculpture, and solitary cross-
road recall the nocturnal adventures of a king, the
inspirations of a poet, the adventures of a beauty,
an amour, a duel, an abduction, a fable, and a feast.
Here is a reminder of Maria de Pedilla, there of
Don Pedro, farther on of Cervantes, and elsewhere
of Columbus, Saint Theresa, Velasquez, and
Murillo. A column recalls the Roman dominion, a
tower, the splendors of Charles V's monarchy, an
alcazar, the magnificence of the court of the Arabs.
Beside the modest white houses rise sumptuous
marble palaces ; the little tortuous streets emerge on
immense squares filled with orange trees ; from the
deserted and silent cross-road one comes out, after a
short turn, into a street traversed by a noisy crowd.
Everywhere one passes he sees, through the grace-
ful gratings of th^ patios, flowers, statues, fountains,
suites of rooms, walls covered with arabesques, Ara-
bian windows, and slender columns of precious
marble ; and at every window, in every garden, there
are women dressed in white, half hidden, like timid
nymphs, among the grapevines and rose bushes.

" All this furniture," he said, " these pictures, and
vases of flowers disappear as autumn approaches,
and go upstairs, which is the spring and winter
dwelling-place. As summer draws near, beds,
wardrobes, tables, chairs, and- every thing are
brought to the rooms on the ground- floor, and the
family sleeps and eats here, receiving their friends,
and working among the flowers and statuary to the
murmur of the fountain. As the doors are left open
at night, one sees from the sleeping rooms the patio
illuminated by the moon, and perceives the odor of
the roses."