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August 28th 2008 by Aaron & Tina
The Alhambra

Posted under Spain

Granada is one of Spain’s hippest cities, home to 60,000 college students, countless cervecerias (beer bars) serving free tapas, corner kebab stands and heladerias (ice cream shops). But the reason that millions of tourists flock here every year is to visit the Alhambra, a hilltop fortress-palace overlooking the city. The Alhambra, meaning “red castle”, is another – many would say the finest – example of a structure, marked by the handprints of alternating Muslim and Christian rulers. Stretched atop a hill, it began as a fortress in the 9th century and was converted by Nasrid emirs in the 13th and 14th centuries into a palace complex with an adjacent medina. When the Christians returned to power in the 15th century, the Alhambra’s mosque was replaced with a church and a huge Renaissance palace was subsequently added. The main attraction of the Alhambra is the Palacio Nazaries, built by Mohammed V in the 14th century. Aaron’s meticulous due diligence told us that six thousand visitors a day traipse through the Alhambra but only 2,000 tickets are sold at the door. To ensure admission, you must purchase tickets online for a specific time slot for the Palacio Nazaries and be there on time or be declined entry. After a kilometer walk uphill to the entrance, we arrived sweaty and ready for our 8:30am slot and were among the first to enter.

The palace was exquisite. The rooms were elaborately decorated with mosaic tilework, carved wooden ceilings, molded stucco walls with intricate lace patterns, and traditional Arabic calligraphy. There were picturesque courtyards with manicured gardens, reflecting pools and a labyrinth of covered corridors connecting it all. The design and décor of the Palacio Nazaries was similar to the other medersas and Arab-Islamic palaces that we’ve seen in Morocco and southern Spain but we were awed by it nonetheless. The sheer magnitude of the Alhambra was impressive. The Generalife, or architect’s garden, was a pristinely manicured labyrinth of hedged corridors, arbors, cypress trees, and flowers of every imaginable color. Its magic compelled even the most macho of men to pose giddily for photos among its storybook backdrops.

After the Alhambra, we spent our remaining days in Granada eating gelato, drinking sangria, and fitting in some of the city’s other sights in between. As a side note, Tina got her first-ever stye in her left eye, which did not inhibit our activities but she was nonetheless perturbed about not being able to wear makeup for the next couple of weeks. Thankfully, her husband, a former pusher of eye drops, easily diagnosed the problem and had a bottle of antibiotic drops in the first-aid kit. She is still annoyed about the makeup thing but is on the road to recovery.

The Albayzin, the old Muslim quarter sprawling up a hill facing the Alhambra, afforded the best views of the fortress-palace. The Albayzin was a maze of narrow alleys meandering within the old stone ramparts. The neighborhood, though largely residential, had lovely plazas with outdoor cafes, small shops selling souvenirs and Moroccan imports, and remnants of mosques-turned-churches. The five kilometer walking tour, winding through zigzagging streets, up and down the hillside, was a great opportunity to stretch our legs and work off some of that gelato.

Granada was our last stop in Andalucía, the most quintessentially Spanish region of Spain. We have loved our relaxed travel pace of late. The Alhambra is the city’s star attraction and it was magnificent but, after the exhilarating intensity of that experience, we enjoyed melting into the fold of daily life in laid back Granada for a few relaxing days.


3 Responses to “The Alhambra”

  1. Jean Nelson on 30 Aug 2008 at 7:58 am #

    Hey Tina- you’re beautiful-no makeup required!!!

  2. Mike, Ruth, Meredith, Maaden, and Mark on 30 Aug 2008 at 6:30 pm #

    Happy 1 year anniversary! To think that you embarked on your gran ventura one year ago today! Hope you two are celebrating somewhere!

  3. Becky Moroneso on 02 Sep 2008 at 8:27 pm #

    Hi Tina,
    Granada was one of my favorite places in Spain. So glad you got to experience the Alhambra – it is magnificent!