This great palace’s exterior is no match for what’s inside – it’s ornately carved, colourfully tiled, dotted with fountains and lined by orange trees. Every corner presents a new spectacle, guaranteed to leave you in awe. And, every now and then you get a glimpse of the white-wash buildings crawling up the hill on the other side of the valley in the Albeyzin.
The name Alhambra comes from the Arabic Qalat Al-Hamra or Red Castle and is perched high on a hill overlooking Granada. It is a series of royal and military sites dating from the 13th century.
Though the area was first established as a strategic site by the Romans, it wasn’t until the final years of the Nasrid dynasty of Muslim emirs that the beautiful palaces that are present today were constructed. It had been rediscovered by European scholars in the 1820s and since then, its been reclaimed and is still undergoing restoration – and this is only a small proportion of what existed from bygone days. Amidst the backdrop of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountain range, the Alhambra looks like something straight out of a storybook.
The Alhambra is fascinating. And, as you can probably guess, the Alhambra gets crowded – at times you have to get creative if you want to take photos without people in them. Our visit commences at the gates to the complex (Bosque Alhambra), above Plaza Nueva. from here, the walk up the steep incline takes you past the old Bib-Rambla city gate, which was relocated to the forest some time ago.
Early Moorish influence is seen in the Alhambra in its decorated archways, tiled walls, and intricate carvings. The highlight of any visit to the Alhambra are the incredible Palacios Nazaries (Nasrid Palaces). They are featured in most Alhambra photos and rightly so.
The Mexuar is part of the Nasrid Palaces inside the Alhambra. The Mexuar houses the functional areas for conducting business and administration and provides a passage through to the Oratory and the Gilded Room and Patio of the Gilded Room which forms the entrances to the Comares Palace.
Providing a central focal point for the Palace, the beautiful Court of Myrtles follows traditional Moorish design. The pool full of goldfish was used to cool the palace and was seen as a symbol of power. The pool acts as a mirror, reflecting structures and creating a calming environment within the walls.
The official residence of the king and it comprises several rooms that surrounded the Court of the Myrtles. Some examples are the Hall of the Boat and the Hall of the Ambassadors inside the Comares Tower.
The largest room, the Hall of the Ambassadors, was the sultan’s grand reception and throne room. In its Christian days, it was here that Christopher Columbus received support from Ferdinand and Isabella to set sail on his famous journey. Talk about historical significance!
The Palace of the Lions sits at the heart of the Alhambra.
It is the entrance to the palace of the lions and it was so called because of the vault of mocarabes that covered it.
The famous centrepiece of this courtyard is the Fountain of Lions which decorated with twelve white marble lions. The courtyard is split into four quarters, which symbolise the four parts of the world according to the traditional design of Persian gardens. Each area is irrigated by a water channel which cuts straight through the stone floor and symbolises the four rivers of paradise.
The Hall of the Abencerrajes is located in front of the Hall of the Two Sisters.
This stunning ceiling is from the Hall of Two Sisters – part of the queen’s rooms within the palaces. The room is named for the two marble slabs that form part of the floor, however, while they are impressive, your eyes are drawn to look upwards.
One of the more gruesome legends of the Alhambra is said to have taken place in this room. It is said to be named after the Abencerrajes knights who were beheaded under this spectacular star shaped dome. We could have stared at this ceiling for hours with its intricate tile work and star pointed stalactites that seem to drop from above – my favourite part of the whole Alhambra thanks to that incredible ceiling.
The Hall of the Ajimeces is so called because of two twin balconies on its north wall, which overlook the garden. The hall connects with the Hall of the Two Sisters and with Daraxa’s Mirador.
From the Hall of the Ajimeces you enter into Courtyard of Lindaraja. The inside of the mirador is a rectangular little room, with arches looking at patio overlooking the courtyard. The roof lead light shone onto the lattice work of the wall.
The Patio of the Wrought Iron Grille is quite austere by comparison to ther courtyards, but beautifully shaded and having a wrought iron grille that is on one of its walls.
A respite from the crowds is the peaceful Courtyard of Lindaraja. A fountain made of stone and babbles quietly in its centre. This space is more cloister-like and is the most garden-like of the patios and a green oasis in this stunning palace with its orange and cypress trees.
Incredibly detailed carvings and tile work throughout the palaces contrast with the simple dimensions and design. Despite the crowds, this is a serene place full of wonder and beauty around every corner. The Nasrid Palaces are the central palace area, which is characterised by glazed tiles, honeycomb vaulting and geometrically carved wooden ceilings. Beautiful is the only world.
We briefly popped in to the Palace of Charles V, which sticks out from the beautiful Moorish buildings surrounding it like a sore thumb.
The Palace of Charles V was built by the Christians after they captured Granada from the Moors. It’s an imposing building and inside there is a large courtyard and Alhambra museum. The courtyard was set up for a concert and was in no way photogenic. The museum on the other hand was informative.
The Partal houses one of the oldest structures in the complex. It had been covered with vines and crude plasterwork but now the buildings around the Partal are home to some really stunning and intricate Arabesque walls, which, although you see them all around the Alhambra, never stops being fascinating.
The Garden of the Partal covers a large area that surrounds the royal palaces, with terraced and walled gardens recovered during the restoration process this was the garden complex of the magnates that lived around the royal palace.
The Alcazaba fortress is located at the west end of the Alhambra’s grounds. The Alcazaba is a series of stone walls and watchtowers with grand views across the city…and let the wind mess up your hair. This is the oldest part of the Alhambra complex and was the site of the original red castle.
This is the oldest area of the Alhambra and is the most visible and dominating feature from the city. from the Torre del Cubo and Torre de la Vela, you have the most amazing views of the city and the Alcazaba complex. The surrounding walls has three towers: the Torre de la Vela (Watchtower) from which the flags fly and you have an impressive view across the city with the Alcazaba complex….
…the Torre Quebrada (the “Broken” Tower from which we look to the watchtower) and ….
…the Torre del Homenaje (the Keep), which, as part of the Alcazaba, was the main military residential area and where the soldiers responsible for defending the Sultan and the Alhambra lived.
Our final stop was the Generalife Gardens (Generalife translates to overseer’s garden and not an insurance company!), which sit on a hill slightly above the main Alhambra palace complex. The gardens were first built in the 1200s but have been rebuilt over the centuries.
Today, the gardens draw from traditional techniques and are considered to be an authentic example of Moorish garden design. This is a small summer palace on the other end of the rocky outcrop. The structure of the garden is, maybe not unique, rather very well planned and executed. It is a mix of solid structure (terraces and patios to rest) and fluid structures with its many fountains and pools.
From the Generalife garden terrace, there are magnificent vistas back to the Nazrid Palaces and the Partal Houses.
The Court of the Sultan’s Cypress has wonderful views from the terrace across to the Alhambra and is a peaceful place to relax. This patio has a central pond surrounded by a myrtle hedge and in the middle of the pond there is another little pond with a stone fountain. The patio is so called because of the old cypresses that are in the verandas.
The highlight of the Generalife is the Patio de la Acequia or Water-Garden Courtyard with its long channel of water bounded by myrtle hedges, pomegranate trees and playful fountains.
A stone staircase with a portico lead to the high part of the gardens. It is supposed to be the oldest staircase in these gardens. The staircase is divided in three flights, each with a fountain and handrails that are channels with running water. A truly cooling effect and cool refuge from the heat of the day. We enjoy the views and listen to the trickling sound of the water fountains.
In the courtyards, tiny birds are singing. Flowers and lush vegetation add beauty to this verdant tapestry. The palace is lofty and open. Wide open arcades, catching any cooling breeze in the heat of the day.
The Puerta de la Justica is one of the important outer entrance gates of the Alhambra
Beauty is everywhere in the Alhambra and Generalife, man-made and grounded in nature. The Alhambra and Generalife, amongst the most beautiful buildings and gardens in the world – true perfection.