Granada is definately part of the serious tourist track through Spain and rightfully
so. The Alhambra and Generalife take an entire day to visit, and that's probably all
you'll get there because tickets are rationed on a daily basis. Granada is basically the
highlight of Moorish history in Spain concentrated onto a couple of hills which rise
above the town. Behind the hills are the Sierra Nevada which are apparently snow-covered
through much of the year (although not August when we visited).
We arrived at dusk, checking into our hotel, showering once more in case of lingering
tomatoes (see La Tomatina page) and then heading out into the Albayzin for dinner. The
Albayzin is the hilly maze-like Muslim quarter of Granada. The first couple streets in from
the main roads are filled with tea-rooms, Islamic bakeries and souvenir shops. Once you get
past that it's a relatively quiet labyrinth of unnamed alleyways and stairs connecting them. It
took us awhile to find our target restaurant, El Agua, but it was worth it. The food was excellent
(Spanish-style fondue) and the view across to the Alhambra was something like this.
And here is the reverse view, from the Alhambra looking down at the Albayzin. Most
of the greenery visible here is actually in courtyards inside residential complexes.
From the streets and alleys within the quarter, one can only see the outside of buildings
and never very far at one time. The Moorish city of Baeza to the north of Granada was
reconquered by the Christians in 1227 and the occupants moved here. Albayzin is a corruption
of the Arabic referring to residents of Baeza.
We had purchased tickets for the Alhambra and the Nasrid Palace before we came to Spain,
so the next morning we headed up to the entrance. There are tourist buses that make this
drive from various points in Granada, but it's not a bad walk if you have the time (although
it is mostly uphill). This is the gate-entrance to the grounds of the Alhambra.
The Alhambra is sort of a theme park of palaces and fortresses built just about every
century since 700 AD or so. The sheer magnitude of it all and the number of things to see
is really overwhelming. The Nasrid Palace is the most stunning piece of it all and so
we've assigned an entire web page to it rather than trying to cover it here. This is one entrance
to the Palace of Carlos V.
This palace was built in the 1500s and although it was never completely finished it is
basically a block with a circular central opening. This is inside the middle courtyard
which is impressively circled by two levels of columns. The ground floor of the palace
is now the museum of the Alhambra (free if you've paid to get this far). The upper floor
is a Granada-related art museum which costs extra and we did not visit it.
The Alcazaba is the fortress/castle section of the Alhambra which dominates the
skyline of Granada. The fortress here started in the 9th century and was massively
expanded by the Nasrid emirs during the 14th century. The Christian reconquest added
a church and a convent to the grounds (the convent is a hotel now) and then Carlos
came along and put his enormous Renaissance palace smack in the middle of it all.
The Torre de la Vela at the far end of this picture is the watchtower for the Alhambra.
The ruins Melanie is sitting on are from barracks which once occupied this courtyard.
Most of the Alcazaba is accessible once you have a general admission ticket. Each area
we visited resulted in having a piece of our ticket torn off, apparently with no real
distinction, so as long as you have some recognizeable ticket left, it appears you can keep
visiting areas (on the day printed on your ticket).
This view is from the Torre de la Vela looking across the Alhambra complex. The Palace
of Carlos V can be seen rising above the Alcazaba walls on the right. The Nasrid palaces
are hidden in this view by the walls of the fortress. In the distance however between the two
towers is another hill which is home to the Generalife (Architect's Garden) and the Summer
Palace (the white building visible in the distance).
The Summer Palace is yet another wonder of the Alhambra. The most famous of the many
Alhambra stories is probably that of Zoraya the one-time Sultana of Granada. In the
Sultana's Garden inside the Summer Palace, she was caught by the Sultan Abu al-Hasan as she
met her lover, a member of the Abencerraj family. For revenge, Abu al-Hasan had the entire
Abencerraj family murdered (in a room in the Nasrid palace in fact).
The gardens of the Generalife are vast and contain a seemingly endless variety of
private alcoves and courtyards. We wandered through here for possibly a couple of hours
as it's sort of hard to tell where you've been and where you haven't. Generally one goes
through them on one path or another to the Summer Palace which deposits you on an upper
level of the gardens so you can work your way back.
The Generalife has good views of the Albayzin and back at the Alhambra as well.
From here you can see the extent of formally landscaped gardens within the Alhambra
as well. If all of that isn't enough hedges and fountains there are more within the
Nasrid Palaces (see that webpage).
This is the court of the water channel (Patio de la Acequia) within the Summer
Palace. The detailing of Arabic script and Islamic geometric designs into the
walls here is fantastic, unless you've just been to the Nasrid Palaces in which
case it only registers as ordinary. The standard tickets give you a half-hour window
to enter the Nasrid Palaces so that will probably constrain any visit to a
certain order. For us, the Generalife was the last thing we saw before the entire
complex closed for lunch. There is a mini-town area outside the main gate of the Alhambra
to service the 8000 people (potentially) who are allowed to visit each day. We walked back
down to the main road between the Albayzin and the Alhambra and had lunch at one of the
outdoor restaurants situated beneath the fortress walls. Granada also features a Cathedral
with more Ferdinand and Isabella mementos than you would ever want to see.