Alhambra is the biggest tourist attraction in Spain. This place is so spectacular, it was used as a setting in Game of Thrones and is on Top 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Europe! It should be visited because of its exquisite artwork and long and interesting history, which affected all of Europe.
I have been so lucky to visit twice- once in with my husband in great weather in 2002 and once with my sister and my father in 2009 in cold weather. The best pictures are taken by my sister (thanks! sis). And no, we didn’t book tickets in advance back then and still got in without problems.
Alhambra is a palace and a fortress for the Moorish rulers of Spain. Alhambra means the Red Castle in Arabic, and the castle is strategically placed on top of the hill with a view over the city.
It’s not only a palace, but a complex and has a important history for both Muslims, Christians and Jews. The complex consists of the old fortress Alcazaba, the Nasrid Palaces, the towers and the higher Alhambra and the Generalife and the Charles V Palace.
The Alcazaba is the oldest part and much is in ruins, but there are nice views of the city.
The first historical mentioning is from 889, when the Moorish caliphate controlled Granada and a guy had to seek refuge in the Alcazaba. Alcazaba means citadel or fortress, and you can find them in several cities including Malaga. There are 4 gates in the walls.
This is the beautiful palaces, you’ve seen pictures of built by the Nasrids.
In the 9th century, the Alhambra was built within the ramparts. The most glorious period started in the 13th century, when the Nasrid Dynasty began and the king Mohammed ben Al-Hamar (Mohammed I, 1238-1273) established a royal residence in the Alhambra.
He reinforced the old fortress and added substantially to the buildings – including running water. His successors Mohammed II and Mohammed III continued building. The Patio of the Lions and many of the artwork you see everywhere were added by Mohammed V and Yusuf I in 14th century.
One of the first sights is the Mexuar. It has been heavily reconstructed, so there’s no secure dating. But already here you know this is something special. The oratory is at the back of the Mexuar. It was restored in 1917 much needed, since it blew up in an explosion in 1590.
You will not find any images or carvings of people or animals, although this has been part of Islamic art in earlier times. Instead the beautiful carvings are geometrical shapes or stylized quotes from the Qur’an.
Remember to look up in every room in the Nasrid Palaces as some of the most elaborate artwork is above you. I’m in awe over the skills shown here.
The 8-pointed star represents the convergence of heaven and earth.
→ PALACIO AND PATIO DES LEONES
This was the private chambers of the royal family. It is so called because of the twelve lions that throw jets of water in the fountain in the middle of the patio.
No water spouting on my first visit. On my second visit, it was being restored and wasn’t visible.
→ THE COURT OF MYRTLES
This is probably the most iconic part of Alhambra along with the Garden of Partal.
The myrtle bushes was one of the things brought here by the Moorish rulers – also oranges and roses. Thanks!
The Comares Tower is the highest tower in the Alhambra and holds the Hall of the Ambassadors and the Hall of the Boat. According to legend, the Council that decided to surrender the city of Granada to the Catholic Monarchs took place inside this tower. It is also suppose to be here Christopher Columbus convinced the Catholic Monarchs to give their approval to his expeditions to the Indies towards the West.
→ TOWERS AND HIGHER ALHAMBRA
One of the most beautiful areas on the site is the Garden of the Partal, and the Ladies Tower on the picture has the oldest decorations in the Alhambra. This is the hot spot for pictures.
In the 18th century Alhambra was abandoned, and in the 19th century the French blew up some of the ramparts! Hence some parts are restored, but it doesn’t change the enchanting atmosphere.
When the Kings got tired of their buzzy palaces, they would retire to the garden of Generalife. Remember to look out for the open bannister with cold water flowing for cooling down!
The gardens are are all Islamic Gardens meant to resemble Paradise! Water is a necessary element mentioned as well as shade. This is probably thought out by someone living in a dry, hot place… Also important: the purpose is not strolling, but contemplation. So…One of my favourite thing about Alhambra is precisely the peace and tranquility (not counting the tourists…). I just want to live like this!
PALACE OF CHARLES V
But also other people were jealous ans wanted to triumph over the old kingdoms… The Europeans wasn’t so nice to the place. King Charles V destroyed some of the old palace to built himself a new Renaissance mansion. If it wasn’t placed here it would be fine, but in comparison it looks like a heavy square.
There are 2 museums inside the Palace of Carlos V, but we didn’t see them. Usually this palace is in the beginning or in the end of your visit, and many skip it entirely.
- Remember to buy tickets beforehand or you’ll never get in → Ticket Office.
- You can walk to the Alhambra from the city center, which is very nice. There are two roads. Choose the one starting from Plaza Nueva.
- Visit during spring or fall, so you can experience the garden. I’ve tried once in February and it was not nice. The summer is too hot though and the light to sharp for good pictures.
- Don’t expect to get a picture without people in it! But if you’re lucky it’s a wedding couple…
- If you want to get a good shot of Alhambra the Mirador de San Nicolas has a great view (hence Mirador)
See behind the scenes of Game of Thrones recording inside the Alhambra.
The mighty Alhambra is located in the city of Granada at the edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s only medium size, but there’s of course a lot of tourists because of the Alhambra.
Legends have it the city was founded by Noah, or Hercules or at least some ancient people… It was most likely a tribe and then the Romans elaborated on it.
The Moors invaded in 711, and later the founder of the Ziri dynasty made Granada an independent kingdom in 1013. This dynasty reigned until the Nasrid Dynasty began, which built the Alhambra. They reigned until 1492, when the troops of the Catholic Monarchs conquered the last Muslim city in the Iberian Peninsula and Boabdil, the last Nasrid king, surrendered. (I love the name Boabdil!)
Other sights in Granada include the Capilla Real, Basilica de San Juan de Dios, the Albayzin and the Monasterio de San Jeronimo.
Have you been?
More time in Spain? Go to Seville – the cultural frying pan of Spain!