Clinton relives the memory of Spain's ultimate sunset

Thursday 10 July 1997 23:02 BST

The documents were all signed, the security operation wound down, but Bill Clinton had one piece of business to complete before leaving Spain after this week's Nato summit: to visit Granada to show Hillary and Chelsea "the most beautiful sunset in the world".

As dusk fell, the US President stood with his wife and daughter to watch the last rays of the sun glow on the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada, turning the city violet and making the ancient Moorish Alhambra palace appear suspended in the air.

He had first visited the city 29 years ago, during his time as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and had been so stunned by its beauty that he resolved one day to return. This week, his wish was fulfilled.

"It was the same time in the evening, the same light, the same colours. Everything is the same, exactly as I remember it," said Mr Clinton, and added, with a little nostalgic half-smile: "Except me: I'm older." To journalists who tried to ask him questions, he said: "Don't work today - just watch."

The presidential party was whisked south in a US Air Force DC9, and King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofia and their son, Prince Felipe, accompanied the Clinton entourage on a tour of the Alhambra and a swift Andalucian supper. Their visit lasted barely four hours, but the city had been subject to security measures for nearly a week. Tourists were turned away on a picture-perfect day, sunny and hot, as the palace was closed to the public.

Hundreds of people lined the highways as the 20-plus cars in the presidential motorcade drove past olive groves with spectacular views of the snowcapped mountains on its way to the hilltop palace.

Inside the palace, Mr Clinton walked the marble floors where the Arab rulers of Granada held court amid bubbling fountains, cool reflecting pools and intricate artwork which make the Alhambra the greatest surviving jewel of Islamic civil architecture.

Prince Felipe accompanied Chelsea, who had joined her parents in Spain at the end of a European tour that followed her high school graduation, along with a friend, Nikki Davison.

There seemed little danger that Mr Clinton would forget such a trip - which he had specially requested to round off his summit - but just to make sure, the Mayor of Granada presented him with the keys of the city and a watercolour by a distinguished local artist of the view that had first captivated him in his student days.

Parts of the Alhambra date back to as far as the 9th Century, but it was built mainly between 1238 and 1358 when the Moors controlled much of what is now Spain.

With the Alhambra as its seat of government, Granada became the last Arab region to fall to Spain when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella ended 500 years of Moorish rule in 1492.

Elizabeth Nash, Madrid

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