Borges In the Alhambra


In a radio interview aired in Buenos Aires in the early 1980s, Jorge Luis Borges said to feel fortunate that blindness came to him after seeing the Alhambra and not before. The writer had visited the Alhambra for first time in 1918 when he was nineteen years old. Ever since he would recall the event as an extraordinary experience that marked his aesthetic sensibility.

Almost sixty years later, while being partially blind of one eye and totally blind of the other, Borges returned to Granada with his companion Maria Kodama. As they were about to enter the palaces, Kodama read a poem carved on the wall.

Give him alms, lady, because nothing could be more sad than being blind in Granada.
— Francisco de Icaza

Sensing Kodama's anguish, Borges told her not to be sad. That he had the opportunity to see the Alhambra through her "oriental eyes", which were from another East, but were Eastern nonetheless. Retelling the experience of that visit, Borges wrote the poem "Alhambra." Reconstructing the site through the senses, the writer lets his hand feel its way over the surfaces as if he could grasp the history hidden in the stone. He listens to the murmur of the fountains, and smells the sweetness of the lemon blossoms. Borges recalls the sadness Sultan Boabdil (Abu `Abdallah Muhammad XII) felt on his last day in the palace as a mirror of his own sadness at not being able to see the Alhambra again. Boabdil was the last Sultan to rule in Iberia. Today, Borges’ poem is featured at the entrance of the Alhambra. Un Ciego en Granada attempts to reconstruct the instances that led to the writing of that poem while simultaneously exploring the palaces and gardens of the Alhambra through Borges' literary references to Islam, medieval Arab history, and culture.