Amazing Alhambra

Figuring out how to properly recap our visits to the Alhambra was a daunting task. It’s a difficult place to talk about, because (1) there is so much to cover, (2) a lot of the history is disputed or unknown and (3) it’s difficult to put the experience of seeing the place into words. Even organizing my photographs and paring them down into a manageable collection has been somewhat overwhelming. Bearing this in mind, forgive me in advance for the length of this post!

Here’s a very basic history of the Alhambra to lend some background:

“The Alhambra’s Moorish palaces were built for the last Muslim Emirs in Spain and its court, of the Nasrid dynasty. After the Reconquista (reconquest) by the Reyes Católicos (“Catholic Monarchs”) in 1492, some portions were used by the Christian rulers. The Palace of Charles V, built by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in 1527, was inserted in the Alhambra within the Nasrid fortifications. After being allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, the Alhambra was “discovered” in the 19th century by European scholars and travelers, with restorations commencing. It is now one of Spain’s major tourist attractions, exhibiting the country’s most significant and well known Islamic architecture, together with 16th-century and later Christian building and garden interventions. The Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the inspiration for many songs and stories.”

Jared had been to the Alhambra with his family 5 or 6 years ago (a trip for which I am vexed to have not yet been part of the family!) so he knew that we were going to need to give it the proper amount of time to get the full effect, and booked us both an evening and a daytime entry. Though there wasn’t an enormous difference between how the Nasrid Palace looked at night, I would highly recommend the evening viewing for an introduction to the Alhambra. The evening entry is timed in smaller intervals, more restricted, and only a small portion of the palace is open, so it was far less crowded (and rather romantic). It was also fun to have a view of the Albayzín at night.

We bought our tickets online before we even booked our travel to Granada because they sell out quickly (even this time of year people were getting turned away at the ticket booth for same-day tickets) and were hoping that there would be some sort of kiosk for picking them up. Nope! We had to walk all the way to the top of the hill to pick them up from the ticket office, and then walk halfway back down to the entrance of the Nasrid Palace. And then, because we were so tired from walking up the hill, we forgot to pick up our tickets for the next morning so we had to do the whole walk AGAIN and almost missed our entrance time. Streamline, Alhambra, at least for the evening entry! In the daytime, you can also access the Generalife which is closer to the ticket office, so it makes a bit more sense (more on that later).

This first picture totally cracks me up. I realize that this supply is for when it gets unbearably hot and crowded in the summer, but it was freezing and quiet on Friday night so it was just funny to us:

hmmm, water? or...water? I just CAN NOT DECIDE.

The Charles V Palace is just kind of meh. It seems ridiculously boring and unimaginative compared to what surrounds it. They don’t even charge admission, so we took a quick tour while we were waiting for our entrance time to the Nasrid Palace.

Chapel of the Palace of Charles V

the Albayzín at night

I’ll start by saying that my absolute, unequivocal favorite part of the Alhambra was the Hall of the Abencerrages. The legend (and there are many variations) is that the entire line of Abencerrage chiefs was invited to dinner and massacred here when it was discovered that one of them was dallying with the sultans favorite concubine. Apparently this is total fiction, and seems to have come from a story that Washington Irving was told when he visited, which he then made famous. I’m reading a great history of the Alhambra by Robert Irwin that I bought at the bookstore. After hearing all these fanciful stories, I wanted to hear more!

Even without the stories, the Hall of the Abencerrages is a marvel. The vaulted “stalactite” ceiling seems to disappear into infinity – I wish pictures accurately captured it.

You know what? Looking at these pictures together I totally take back what I said about there being no difference between the day and night viewing. This was WAY better at night.

The Hall of Abencerrages is the prime example of what is so astounding about the Alhambra: ridiculous, meticulous, never-ending details. Islamic architecture forbids pictures, so geometric patterns, calligraphy and foliage motifs fill up the spaces. And I really mean fill up the spaces. At times, it’s difficult to believe that humans made this place.

Also quite striking at night was the Court of the Myrtles. Water is so beautifully integrated into Islamic architecture, and the Alhambra and Generalife are brilliant examples of how it’s incorporated.

Sadly, probably the most well-known portion of the Alhambra, the Court of the Lions (used as the backdrop for many films), was under construction during our visit. Apparently they are restoring the fountain to working order, so that will be quite something when it’s done!

one last look back at the Hall of Abencerrages from the Court of the Lions...just can't let that one go

the garden, viewed from the Mirador of Lindaraxa

the garden

Once we had toured the Nasrid Palace for a second time on Saturday morning, we walked through the gardens and up to the Generalife which was the summer palace and sits on the hill above the Alhambra.

the Partal on the way to the Generalife

Oh, and there were a ton of cats scattered around the grounds, so of course we made a friend:

this little dude was ENJOYING LIFE

The Generalife is pretty small compared to the grandeur of the Alhambra (by design, it was built for the royal family to escape the complexities of the palace in the summertime), but it has some very impressive gardens and views.

looking back at the Alhambra

those are channels of water running down the sides

I should probably note that there have been a lot of modifications over time to the original gardens, but I nixed those photos as I edited for this post because those elements just weren’t as interesting as the original Islamic ones.

Lastly, we took a quick tour of the Alcazaba/fort that sits on the Western tip of the grounds.

looking back at the Alhambra, with Generalife behind it

the Albayzín

You can see that we were not short on amazing views and sights.

In closing, I will say: if you are ever in the south of Spain, do yourself a favor and visit the Alhambra. It’s a wonder of the world in the truest sense, even if it’s not officially recognized as one. It will make you contemplate your tiny place in this world and in history. In a good way.


8 responses

  1. One of the things I loved about it was how they manipulated light, heat, shade and water. It is HOT in the summer and obviously there was no air conditioning in the 1100s (which I believe when it as built?) but with how they built everything, esp with how they used the water in the summer palace – it is cool (relatively) Also, there are no ropes or other barriers between you and the place so it’s amazingly easy for the modern world to fall away.

    • I kept thinking how interesting it would be to experience it in the summer and to see how that worked. It certainly wasn’t holding any heat when we were there! All the buildings here seem designed to let the heat out so our apartment can be difficult to keep warm on cold nights.

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