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Experience the moorish architecture of Alhambra palace complex in Granada Spain

The red fortress of Granada

Address

Calle Real de la Alhambra, s/n, 18009 Granada, Spain

GPS: 37.178376001012, -3.5860433017598

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The Alhambra palatial complex is an admirable group of royal palaces influenced by Moorish culture. This is one of Spain’s true architectural masterpieces and is one of the most visited monuments in Spain. Overlooking the city of Granada with the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the background, the Unesco World Heritage Site represents the capital of the last Muslim kingdom in Spain until the end of the 15th century.

The Islamic palace complex Alhambra was built in the early 13th century on one of the oldest ancient 11th-century fortresses (Alcazaba) by the founder of the Nasrid dynasty, Muhammad I of Granada. Its monuments within the Alhambra complex served as the residence of the Moorish kings (or sultans) and their courts. In the Middle Ages, the Mediterranean basin was dominated by a civilisation composed of Arabs and Berbers. This supremacy was embodied in turn by the Umayyads, the Abbasids and the Almoravids before the emergence of the Nasrids. Their territory, under Muslim rule, is called Al Andalus. It extended over the Iberian Peninsula and part of southern France between the beginning of the 8th and the end of the 15th centuries. At the time of the construction of the Palace of Alhambra, the caliphs (Muslim rulers) only controlled a small territorial entity in Spain. They retreated to the Emirate of Granada and built a fortified royal residence to protect themselves from the expansion of the Spanish Christians in Spain (this period of history is called the Reconquista). It was during the reign of the sultans Yusuf I and Muhammad V al-Ghanî, in the first half of the 14th century, that the Alhambra’s heritage was adorned with its most refined Moorish elements. As figurative art was not very popular in mediaeval Islam, Granada’s monument is provided with magnificent abstract, geometric and floral decorations as well as texts or poems in Arabic and extracts from the Koran.

The Alhambra in Granada with its impressive enclosure is also known as the “red fortress” (qalat). It includes one of the world’s last vestiges of this mediaeval architecture, the Nasrid Palaces. Reconquered by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile in 1492, the buildings of the Alhambra resisted the desire of their new occupants to destroy them and thus erase all links with Islam. To rival the splendour of Moorish architecture, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V had a new Renaissance style palace built in 1527. This great monument, together with the Alcazaba, the Nasrid Palaces, the Palacio de Generalife and the magnificent lush gardens, are the jewels of this medieval acropolis, which many consider one of the most beautiful in the Mediterranean. If you have time to visit and are able to visit you may take a guided tour depending on the time of the day and buy tickets in advance or take a self-guided tour. When you visit Alhambra and stay in Granada you may take time to walk to the oldest part, the city center or city centre, a moor fountain or arch, the summer palace, the orange trees, the fortress of Alcazaba, the court of the lions, the courtyard or also visit another attraction in the rest of the Alhambra that was well known to the kings of Granada or the Nasrid rulers of the Nasrid kingdom when on your trip to the Alhambra you visit the Nasrid palaces and see views of Granada.

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  • The remarkable and majestic Moorish architecture of the Alhambra; the thousands of rooms that make up this fortified royal residence
  • The medieval acropolis with its elaborate decorations and intricate patterns (using wood, plaster, marble, bricks and ceramics); the massive walls of the palatial complex that hug the hill
  • The remains of the ancient fortress of Alcazaba; the Nasrid Palaces, the Palace of Charles V and the Palacio de Generalife; the gardens (Jardines del Parta), the Court of the Lions (adorned with 12 alabaster lions), the Hall of the Ambassadors, the Tower of Comares, the Hall of the two Sisters, the Court of the Myrtles, the lookout point of Daraxa (Court of the Vestibule), the Hall of the Abencerrages… and a visit to the dungeons and underground structures built by the Moors
  • The Islamic calligraphy with geometric motifs (sculpted or enamelled); the sumptuous decorative elements adorning the various vaults (muqarnas); the marble arches and colonnades; the delicate arabesques, the pendant decorations and the multicoloured ceramic tiles (azulejos)
  • Lush gardens, fruit and exotic trees, shady courtyards, distinguished fountains, refreshing canals, royal baths and ponds
  • The Museum of the Alhambra (dedicated to fine arts and Muslim art)
  • The possibility of visiting the Alhambra site by night (limited places, by reservation)
  • Places of interest near the Alhambra: the spectacle of a sunset over the site from the Albaicín hill; the Arab baths Hammam Al Ándalus in Granada; the Royal Chapel of Granada; the old quarter of the Albaicín and its oriental influence in its architecture; the gypsy quarter of the city, its flamenco shows and its caves
  • South of Granada: hiking or skiing in winter in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada National Park; the series of valleys and villages of the Alpujarra mountain region
  • The walls (13th century) and the Tower of Comare (14th century) were built in rammed earth from a compacted mixture of sand, earth, gravel and raw clay. It is the earth used in this construction method that notably gave the building its name (Alhambra being a derivative of Al-Ḥamrāʾ, meaning “The Red One” in Arabic). This mixture of rammed earth also enabled the site to withstand several earthquakes.
  • The last Muslim sultan in Spain was Boabdil (Muhammad XII of Granada), the 22nd Nasrid ruler of Granada. Nicknamed El Moro (“the Moor’s sigh”), he capitulated in 1492, handing over the keys of the Alhambra of Granada to the Catholic kings of Spain. Forced into exile, a legend says that Boabdil wept at the place known as the “Pass of the Moor’s Sigh” when he looked at his capital for the last time in the distance, while his mother said to him: “you are crying like a woman for a lost kingdom that you were unable to defend like a man”.
  • The Palace of Charles V is one of the first Italian Renaissance palaces to be built outside Italy. It was designed by the Spanish architect Pedro Machuca, who was probably Michelangelo’s former disciple in Rome.
  • The interior of the Alhambra buildings had several routes so that the different social classes (sultan, royal family, bureaucrats, service staff) could not see each other in the corridors.
  • Between the 16th and 18th centuries, the Alhambra was abandoned and subjected to numerous plunders before arousing the interest of many artists, architects and mathematicians, leading to its complete restoration in the 20th century. During this period, the buildings of the palatial complex were used for a long time as a refuge for the gypsies who settled in the troglodyte habitats and caves of the Sacromonte neighbourhood after the capture of Granada by the Catholic kings.
  • A new ticketing system was introduced in 2020 to visit the Alhambra. Six visit options are available but only the general entrance ticket (Alhambra General) allows access to the whole site.
  • Tickets are nominative, limited to 10 people per purchase, and require the national identity card number (for EU nationals) or passport number (non-EU nationals) of each visitor.
  • To avoid disappointment on arrival, it is strongly recommended that you book your tickets in advance online (as access is set for a limited number of visitors, you will be asked for your desired day and time to visit).
  • Be sure to arrive an hour early and start your route from the Nasrid Palaces. If possible, avoid summer weekends and public holidays, when many Spaniards travel to Granada.
  • As part of a short stay in the city of Granada, it may be worthwhile to get the Granada Bono Turístico card. Valid for three or five days, it allows you to benefit from numerous discounts and to combine free public bus transport with visits to Granada’s main monuments.

Where to eat

  • Artesana Pic Nic
    (excellent pizza)
  • La Bodega De Vinny
    (delicious tapas)
  • Cacho & Pepe
    (excellent Italian caterer)

Where to go

  • Mirador de San Nicolás
    (panoramic view of the Alhambra)
  • Alcaicería
    (craft market)
  • Parque de las Ciencias
    (to do with your children)

Where to stay

  • Hotel Mirador Arabeluj
    (spectacular view of the city)
  • Hotel Casa 1800 Granada
    (in the heart of Granada)
  • Parador de Granada
    (superb hotel in the Alhambra)

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