Granada’s my favorite city in Spain mainly because of the majestic Alhambra.
It is beyond spectacular— from its intriguing history and breathtaking views to its ingenious and incredible architecture.
I do not know how to perfectly describe this fortress and palatial city in one post so I will just share with you my list of reasons on why I fell in love with this magical place:
1. It has a very interesting history to tell you.
The literal translation of Alhambra from Arabic “Qa’lat Al-Hamra” is “the red female,” to describe the red walls of the castle and towers.
It has existed since the 9th century. Originally built as a small fortress on the remains of Roman fortications, it was only renovated by the first king of Nasrid dynasty, Mohammed ben Al-Hamar in the mid-13th century. The Torre de la Vela (Watch Tower) and Torre del Homenaje (Keep) were constructed. His son and grandson continued Alhambra’s transformation into a palatine city by constructing public baths, mosques, irrigation system and gardens.
It was eventually converted into a royal palace in 1333 by the Sultan of Granada, Yusuf I. King Yusuf I created Cuarto de Comares (Chamber of Comares), Puerta de la Justicia (Gates of Justice), towers and baths. His son Muhammed V, further transformed it into a beautiful palace by adding Cuarto de los Leones (Chamber of the Lions) and other rooms.
2. It was not built in a single era and it was influenced by Islamic kings and Catholic monarchs.
It has seen its Islamic glory days but it has also witnessed extreme transformation after the Christian conquest of Granada in 1492.
The Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel altered the complex. They opened the windows in the wall and inscribed the motto “TATO MOTA” which was an abbreviation of “Tanto Monta el Rey Como la Reina” or “The King sits as firmly in the saddle as the Queen. Most paintings were erased and Moorish furniture were removed.
It was progressively built, modified, damaged, renovated and restored. But it’s still majestic.
3. It’s one of the best architecture and art that I’ve ever seen!
I have never seen ceilings decorated with intricate stalactites (muqarnas) and it’s just jaw-dropping.
I do not know how humans are capable of exquisitely carving these masterpieces!
Walls are also covered with beautiful ceramics and plasterwork.
Horseshoe arches and wooden carvings are also striking!
4. Water played an important role in the design of Alhambra.
The architects of Alhambra did not just create fountains, canals, and pools out of functional necessity. They also kept in mind the aesthetics behind their designs. It’s amazing how they made the complex water system work. The canal, parallel with Calle Real, flowed downward, sending water through a maze of canals covering the entire Alhambra. In each court and garden, you’ll see fountains, water jets, and pools with running water— because the relaxing sound of water from fountains is essential to Moorish architecture.
5. The Alhambra tiles are not just breathtaking.
The use of symmetries visible from the tiles inspired tessellation in mathematics.
6. Alhambra has been an inspiration for a lot of people
Alhambra is the famous setting for numerous books like Washington Irving’s Tales of Alhambra, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh and Philippa Gregory’s The Constant Princess.
7. Even a main belt asteroid was not spared. It was named Alhambra after this beauty.
8. The Palace of Comares will make you imagine Alhambra’s glorious period.
Everything’s snazzy and idyllic here. From the elaborate handcrafted woodwork…
to these amazing patterns, shapes and ornamental designs:
Built in 1370 by Muhammad V’s people, this palace is a great example of Moorish art.
One area was used for administrative activities while the other side was for the family of the Sultan.
9. Walking inside the Salón de los Embajadores (Hall of the Ambassadors or Hall of Comares or Chamber of the Ambassadors or Throne Room) is like a dream.
It is the largest room in Alhambra and worked as the grand reception.
This is also where the throne of the sultan was located.
Its nine windows or mirador are so bewitching. They’re decorated with colorful tiles, geometric patterns and epigraphic pieces.
The ceiling, decorated with gold inlays shaped like stars, circles and crowns, is divine.
And look at these walls! Every centimeter is covered with lovely decorations!
10. Patio de los Arrayanes (Court of the Myrtles or Patio de la Alberca) is a superb example of how pools were used to decorate the palace during the olden times.
A symbol of power, this birka (pool) also acted as a mirror to reflect the surrounding structures.
11. This impressive court, The Court of the Lions, was portrayed in the movie Assassin’s Creed .
12. The hydraulic system of the Fountain of Lions is the genius mother of all fountains.
Whoever invented fountains in this world is a total genius. It’s amazing how the designers of this fountain made this complex and creative water system work during a time when there was no high technology yet. The central cylindrical part of the fountain basin makes the water flow in and spill out to the mouths of the twelve lions, then distributes the water throughout the courtyard.
The twelve lions, made from marble, symbolizes strength, power and sovereignty.
13. Patio de los Leones is also an incredible example of Moorish design.
The 116 feet by 66 feet oblong courtyard is enclosed by a low gallery supported on 124 marble columns.
Inside is a marvelous site! Arches are covered with stucco arabesques. And the walls and ceilings are pure perfection!
14. Sala de los Abencerrajes (Hall of the Abencerrages) is WOW.
This is my favorite part inside the Nasrid Palace. It’s decorated with intricate 'stalactites'
The dome has an eight-point stalactite star design that spreads out with more mocarabe vaulting from the ceiling down to the windows.
16 trellised windows allow light to pass through inside the Hall with so much beauty and drama.
It also has an intriguing backstory about its name origin. According to legend, Boabdil, the last sultan of Granada, massacred chiefs of the line Abencerrages in a banquet here. If it was true, it’s such a beautiful undeserving sight to witness a gruesome murder.
15. Hall of Kings is another exquisite part of Palace of Lions.
Its ceiling is also covered with honeycombs or stalactite cupolas.
And its arches are covered with more stalactites!
Ever wondered what this gorgeous hall was for? They used this fancy place for relaxation and celebrations.
16. Sala de las dos Hermanas (Hall of the Two Sisters) will also amaze you.
The second main chamber of the Palace of the Lions is a MASTERPIECE. Like Sala de los Abencerrajes, its dome is covered with star-shaped stalactite vaulting. The wooden windows are also beautifully laced with geometric patterns.
17. Mirador de Daraxa will give you a breathtaking view.
The former dressing room and bedroom of the Sultana has spectacular windows.
The windows were built very near the floor that one can even sit while marveling at the countryside.
18. Alhambra has numerous lovely sights for chilling and relaxing--
The Court of the Lindaraja with its open air garden and fountain
The Court of the Grated Window
The Partal Palace portico and Partal Gardens
Palace of Yusuf III with its long pool and gorgeous courtyard
It’s too beautiful that it deserves a separate post. Read more about this breathtaking palace and gardens here.
20. It is a reminder of how places can be changed by religion.
The former Great Mosque of Alhambra once stood on this area.
But during the 16th and 17th century, the Catholic rulers built St. Mary Church.
Picture taking is not allowed inside but the church is famous for its Baroque altarpiece.
21. The walls of Alhambra are not just full of decorations. It’s also a great example of how poetry was centuries ago, during the Nasrid dynasty.
Most of the walls in Alhambra are full of cursive and kufic writings like “Only God is victor” and poems by different poets.
22. Its oldest part, Alcazaba, will give you picturesque views over the whole city and Sierra Nevada mountains.
Read more about Alcazaba here.
23. Palacio de Carlos Quinto has a very interesting history to tell you.
Read more about this intriguing palace here.
24. It has withstood time.
It has survived plenty of damages but it is still standing magnificently.
During the 18th century and early 19th century, the Alhambra was abandoned and was occupied by thieves and beggars. It was further destroyed by the French from 1808 until 1812. Towers of Alcazaba were blown up and were turned into barracks. It was only in 1870 when it was declared a national monument.
25. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984.
TIPS WHEN TOURING THE ALHAMBRA:
1) Buy tickets in advance since the number of daily tickets is limited.
2) Access to the Nasrid Palaces is only allowed within the hour indicated on your ticket so be sure to arrive in Alhambra before your allowed time. Remember, you still have to walk from the main entrance to the access point of Nasrid Palaces.
3) Wear comfortable shoes because you’ll walk a lot here.
5) It takes about four hours to explore Nasrid Palaces, Generalife and Alcazaba. If you’re planning on spending a lot of time here, bring your own food because the food here is disappointing. There are plenty of benches with superb views so you have plenty of options for your picnic.
6) It can be crowded everywhere so do not expect to have postcard-like pictures sans tourists.
7. Take your time, do not rush the tour, and enjoy the views ;-)
HOW TO GET TO ALHAMBRA:
The best way to get here is by foot so you can enjoy the views. From the city, you can enter through 1) Cuesta de Gomérez Street from Plaza Nueva. (Distance to entrance: 1KM) or 2) Cuesta del Rey Chico or Cuesta de los Chinos (Distance to entrance: around 800 meters)
You can also take the bus via line C3.
ALHAMBRA TICKET KINDS AND COST:
Morning (General Pass): 8:30AM-2:00PM 14.00 €
Morning (Gardens): 8:30AM-2:00PM
Afternoon (General Pass): 2:00PM-8:00PM (March 15-October 14), 2:PM-6PM (October 15 to March 14)
Afternoon (Gardens): 2:00PM-8:00PM (March 15-October 14), 2:PM-6PM (October 15 to March 14)
Evening (Nasrid Palaces): 10PM-11:30PM, Tuesdays to Saturdays (March 15-October 14), 8PM-9:30PM, Fridays & Saturdays (October 15-March 14) 8.00 €
Evening (Gardens and Palace of the Generalife): 10PM-11:30PM, Tuesdays to Saturdays (March 15-October 14), 8PM-9:30PM, Fridays & Saturdays (October 15-March 14) 5.00 €
*seniors and students have discounts while kids are free of charge
Where to Purchase Alhambra Tickets Online:
You can either purchase:
1) the Granada Card (with free public transportation and other tourist attractions in Granada): http://en.granadatur.com/granada-card
2) an ordinary ticket through www.ticketmaster.es
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