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  13. Spain: The Alhambra

Our plan for the day was to tour the Alhambra, a large palace and fortress complex that sits high on a hill high above the old city of Granada. It is one, if not the most visited tourist site in the whole of Spain. The Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the inspiration for many songs and stories

The Alhambra translates from Arabic as “The Red One”, was originally constructed as a small fortress in 889 AD on the remains of Roman fortifications, and was then largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Moorish emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada, who built its current palace and walls. It was converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada. After the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492, the site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella (where Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition), and the palaces were partially altered to Renaissance tastes. In 1526 Charles IV commissioned a new Renaissance palace, which was ultimately never completed due to Morisco rebellions in Granada.

From our hotel, it was 25 minutes to the Alhambra, a walk that took us up cobbled streets and through the park that sits outside the palace walls. I had bought tickets for myself and Karen to do the full 3-hour tour, but I had decided not to drag Jack and Emily screaming and kicking along with us. They were still able to do the parts of the palace that are open to the general public, which was probably enough for them.

Whilst we were milling around outside Alhambra, getting a sense of where to head, we were approached by a friendly local chap who was happy to give us directions. He then wanted to clean our shoes – I had on sandals and everyone else had trainers. I let him do mine and he had a half-hearted attempt to do Jack’s. He wanted to charge $10 each for this and got nasty – so I paid him $10 and left. Experiences like that can add sourness to the day!

The tour started at the main gate and was divided into four sections.

The renaissance palace is typical of its age and is large and rectangular. On the inside, it is constructed around a central courtyard – which is massive. All the rooms lead off this courtyard, with a double-storey of cloisters to protect those travelling from room to room from the hot summer sun. The courtyard had been turned into an auditorium for events run here throughout the summer months.

One of the main gates to the Alhambra
Renaissance palace
Inside the renaissance palace – now a concert venue

The next stop was the Nasrid Palaces built by the Moorish Emirs, which was what we were most looking forward to. The decorative designs on the walls and tiles were exquisite. There were numerous delicately carved, symmetrical designs carved into the plasterwork throughout the palace. Originally, these carvings would have been coloured, but the passage of time has seen these fade, but nonetheless, this work was still beautiful. Sadly, some of the carvings had been damaged by people of Granda who the occupied palace when the Moors and Spanish royalty left. During this time there was much damage but surprisingly, and luckily for us, a lot of the original work survived and is now preserved by the City of Grenada who owns the palaces and grounds. We passed from one room to another and were amazed at the size and scale of the palaces. The most spectacular of all are the residences of the Emirs and their families; especially the harems.

Views across to the surrounding hills from the Alhambra
Inside a reception room within the Emir’s palace
Exquisite arabic script carvings
Private courtyard with beautiful carvings and tiles

We like a nice door – and this is stunning
The detail of the carving is stunning

Light from a stained glass ceiling reflected on the walls

After the tour of the palaces we moved on to the Alcazaba, which is the oldest part of the complex. Its tall walls and imposing towers provided protection from potential invaders and was an impressive vantage point to see any approaching armies for miles around. The main tower is the highest point in the Alhambra and gave us the most spectacular views across the city below.

The Alcazaba, the original Moor fort
The fort tower – an ideal viewpoint to see any oncoming enemy

The final destination of the tour was the Palacio de Generalife, which was the summer palace and country estate of the Nasrid rulers of the Emirate of Granada. It was a little walk from the main palaces, which took us through a series of spectacular gardens. The palace itself was humble compared to the grandeur of the main palaces of the complex but it had an amazing feeling of peace within it. At the start of the tour we thought 3 hours may be too long, but there was so much to see and the time just flew by. We had an amazing guide who bought the history and culture alive at every turn.

The gardens of the Generalife
View from the Generalife across to the other parts of the Alhambra complex
View across the Alhambra

Getting there:

Beware Granada is very, very hot in the summer and there will be a lot of tourists visiting!

Granada is in the region of Andalucia in the South-East of Spain. It had a small region with limited flight options.

Málaga and Seville offer more flight options. Málaga is around 150km from Granada and Seville is about 260km.

Once in Granada getting the Alhambra is relatively easy by foot (about 15 minutes if you are in the downtown area and don’t mind hills) bus or taxi.

There is limited access to the Palaces so you need to book your tickets in advance and it is well worth taking the guided tours.

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