Secrets of Alhambra revealed

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One of Spain's most enduring historical mysteries is close to being solved as experts undertake a project to decipher more than 10,000 Arabic inscriptions adorning the walls and ceilings of the Alhambra palace in Granada.

Researchers armed with digital cameras and 3D laser scanners are for the first time cataloging and translating the intricately carved words that have fascinated centuries of visitors at Spain's most popular tourist attraction.

Many inscriptions consist of aphorisms, terse sayings embodying a general truth, such as "Be sparse in words and you will go in peace" and "Rejoice in good fortune, because Allah helps you."

What the researchers have found so far is that, contrary to popular belief, verses from the Koran and poetry represent only a tiny minority of the messages in classical Arabic that cover the Alhambra, Europe's finest example of Muslim architecture.

Until now there have only been partial studies of what the inscriptions meant, including one ordered by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella who sought to purge Spain of Muslims after the reconquest of Granada in 1492.

The researchers hope to have 65 percent of the inscriptions catalogued and translated into Spanish by the end of the year and the entire project finished in 2011.

The inscriptions will be later translated into English and French.

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