Alhambra of Granada
The Alhambra or 'The Red One' in Arabic, is a palace and fortress complex located just above the charming city of Granada in Andalusia, Spain. It is one of the best preserved and most famous monuments of Islamic architecture in the world. Within the complex you will also find fantastic Spanish Renaissance architecture.
As a UNESCO world heritage site, the Alhambra is one of the top attractions in all of Spain. More can be read about the beautiful city of Granada and the land of the pomegranate in the SuitCaseSays.com article on Grenada. A fortress or citadel, was originally built by the Visigoths on this hill overlooking Granada in the 9th century. As the Moores came to power, several more interlocking fortresses were built on the hill. As time progressed, palaces and gardens were added to the complex.
During the Moorish era, the Alhambra was a self-contained city separate from the rest of Granada below. It had a mosque, public baths, roads, houses, artisan workshops, and a sophisticated water supply system.
After the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492, the site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella, where Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expeditions.
Muhammad XII surrendered the Emirate of Granada in January 1492, without the Alhambra coming under attack, when the Catholic Monarch’s forces surrounded the area with overwhelming forces.
After the keys were turned over, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabell found the Alhambra remarkably beautiful and determined that there was no way that this magnificent building and grounds could be destroyed. They then understood why the Muhammad XII gave the Alhambra to them rather than see the destruction of the complex. Some 500 years after the occupation by the monarchs, most of the Alhambra remains intact.
There are different ways to see the Alhambra and you need to pick the one it’s right for you. You can hike to the Alhambra and see the some of interior grounds at no cost. There are plenty of beautiful gardens along with fantastic views to make for an enjoyable afternoon.
Another way to visit the Alhambra is with a tour, which I highly recommend based on all of the historic details provided and the additional access to multiple palaces within the complex. A tour will get you in without delay and is generally worth the extra few dollars. Tickets should be bought online in advance as they fill up quickly. In Grenada on the scenic Carrera del Darro, you can find any number of tours starting points. However, I would recommend booking your tickets in advance if possible, saving frustration and confusion as you may not be able to get a tour guide at your desired time. If you desire access to the Nasrid Palace inside the Alhambra complex, which limits it visitors per day, you must purchase these tickets months in advance.
Expect to climb to the Alhambra from downtown Granada, taking approximately 20-30 minutes, passing through the gates on Cuesta de Gomerez. It’s easy enough climb, if you’re accustomed to walking. Strolling up to the Alhambra, visiting all of the sites in the complex and hiking back down to the city will probably end up being a 8-10 mile journey.
The Palace of the Lions and the Partal Palace are two of the main attractions within the walls. On the Alhambra's western tip is the fortress or Alcazaba. Multiple smaller towers and fortified gates can be viewed along the Alhambra's walls. Outside to the east of the Alhambra is the Generalife, or the Summer Palace of Nasrid, with historic and modern landscaped orchards and gardens.
One of the first sites to visit is the Alcázar, a former fortress, providing a great look at life inside the 1000 year old structure. Along with beautiful views of the countryside, you will also be able to see walls that are 1000 years old from multiple eras.
Once you leave the Alcázar you come into an open courtyard with fantastic views of the city. It also contains a souvenir and coffee shop. The courtyard also serves as the entrance to the Palace of King Charles V or Charles I of Spain, grandson of the monarchs.
So enamored with the beauty of Alhambra, Charles, Holy Roman Emperor, Archduke of Austria, King of Spain, Lord of the Netherlands, Duke of Burgundy, began construction of the palace in 1527. The palace is unique because of its rectangular exterior, and circular interior courtyard. The courtyard contains 32 Doric columns approximately 10-15 feet apart. Charles never lived here, because he chose to move the palace to the center of the country in Madrid in 1561.
From here you walk through the gardens of Palacio del Partal Alto and then onto the Partal Pala, originally built built in the early 14th century by Muhammad III. This area is the oldest surviving palace in the Alhambra complex.
The gardens contain numerous plants and trees from the region such as artichokes, roses, sour orange and of course the pomegranate. A multitude of cypress trees were planted along the walls centuries ago for assisting in the defense and mutual support of the walls and hillside. Their roots dig into the sides and walls the mountain providing needed reinforce against bombardment.
After meandering your way up to the Summer Palace, you must enter in through another ticketed gate. The Summer Palace also known as the Generalife or Garden of the Architect, like many parts of the Alhambra has courtyards with beautiful gardens, water features, reflective pools and fountains in the center. Decorations consists largely of tile mosaics on lower walls and carved stucco above, with much of the Islamic script from nearly 1000 years ago, still in tact.
Generalife was probably constructed in the 1200s by Muhammad II. Taking advantage of a natural artesian well, water trickles through small canals providing irrigation throughout the gardens and lush plants, while providing sound and noise dampening, easier breathing, and soothing effects during the hot summer months.
The Alhambra comes highly recommended for any visitor to Spain. Certainly it is one of the most beautiful locations in Andalusia and the city of Granada. A nearby hilltop with a point called Saint Nicholas Lookout, provides a fantastic view of the Alhambra from a distance.