Our day at the Alhambra of Granada

As part palatial opulence, part crumbling fortress of a bygone era, and part spectacular water gardens, the Alhambra of Granada exemplifies the pinnacle of former Moorish power in modern day Andalucia, and is undoubtedly one of the most important architectural sites in the whole of Europe. Most certainly the main reason that millions of tourists flock to Granada every year (although it would be worth it by itself in our opinion), we knew that we just had to go there…and so we did. But there were a few bumps along the way…

Part of the fortifications of the Alhambra from the outside
Calli – “It was only a matter of time before one of us caught a bug.”
After a few migraines and an initial week of cold/congestion in London (the result of rain one night at the Reading Music Festival), I was sidelined for a day in Granada by a flu-like bug. After whining and complaining and apologizing over and over about ruining the day I decided there was nothing left to do but sleep and sent Travis off to explore on his own (he returned a couple hours later with lunch, so sweet!).
Unfortunately colds and flus don’t stop while traveling, and can often be more common due to little sleep and poor diet. Although the cure is often simple – rest – slowing down for a day or two can be frustrating. With two days in Granada I was not prepared to spend both in bed and miss out on the Alhambra, especially considering the complex advanced booking system. We had our day and entry time and it was non-negotiable.
The Alhambra

A bit tired, somewhat sluggish, and very cranky, we made our way to the Alhambra early in the afternoon for our 2pm entry time. Surprisingly, for a site so busy, we barely noticed the droves of tour buses parked outside the gates. Instead, we were immediately entranced by the sounds of the nightingales that call the park home and the smells of the seemingly endless roses, myrtles, and oranges.

The view from the Alhambra towards Sacromonte and the Albayzin
The entrance took a few frustrating minutes to negotiate (it seemed like the most incompetent people ever to travel to Spain were in front of us…isn’t that always the case), but once we were in it was a proverbial festival for the senses.
The Alhambra site as it stands today can be roughly separated into 4 parts – the Generalife, the Alcazaba, the Palace of Charles V, and the Nasrid Palace.
The Generalife are the former gardens that surround the fortress, palace, and other buildings. They Palace located in the gardens and the gardens themselves were a getaway place for the royalty, as well as a place for the public to grow fruits and vegetables. Elegant water features, perfectly manicured gardens, and fantastic views abound here.

A view of the Generalife and its beautiful manicured gardens


The Alcazaba is the former citadel and oldest part of the complex. While some of it has crumbled from earthquakes and neglect over the years, the outer walls, towers, and ramparts still stand and make it an imposing presence even to this day. The main tower offers fantastic panoramic views of the entire city and its surrounds.

One of the Towers of the Alcazaba, with Granada Cathedral in the distance
The remains of the interior of the Alcazaba

The Palace of Charles the V was a late addition to the site. Built by, you guessed it, Charles V, the Rennaisance architecture is a striking juxtaposition to the rest of the site, but it is definitely worth a visit. Apparently the round central patio acts has perfect sound amplification at its center.

The rectangular exterior of the Palace of Charles V
The round patio in the center of the Palace of Charles V

The Nasrid Palace is the crowning jewel of the Alhambra. Built for the last Emirs of Spain as the rest of al-andalus was being reconquered, it represents the greatest example of Mujedar architecture in Spain. Deceptively drab from the exterior, the interior is an architectural gem with scripture from the Koran adorning the walls, intricate tessellations (that inspired M.C. Escher), and ornate stalactite ceilings.

Patio de los Arrayanes (The Court of the Myrtles)
The detailed decorations are amazing
One of our favorites – the ceiling looked like the starry sky
Detailed wall carvings
Patio de los leones (Patio of the Lions)
The exteriors of the buildings were intentionally drab

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Alhambra, even while jockeying for position to take photos among the droves of other tourists. The site as a whole is very extensive, an incredible deal for the 13 Euro price tag, and reason enough to visit Granada.

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