I saved it for last when planning my trip to Andalusia, as I was fairly sure it would be the best. And it was, along with the Mezquita in Cordoba. I took a three-hour tour, with 23 other English speakers, and if you go - and you should - I strongly urge you to do so as well. I know I would have loved the beautiful Moorish decor throughout even without a tour, but to get a real sense for the history of and the life in the fortress/palace complex, it should be seen under the guidance of an expert.
I had three days in Granada, and wish I had booked one more. First it is a really cool city to relax in, but in addition to the Alhambra there are places associated with the great 20th century poet/playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, that I did not get to see. I'd also like to have taken a day trip into the mountains outside the city. But who knows? I may even return, though at nearly 71 years of age I have my doubts.
The Alhambra was first occupied by the Moors in the late 9th century, and built possibly on the ruins of a Roman fort. The commanding views from many parts of the site make it a perfect place for defensive warfare.
Most of what we see when we enter was built in the 14th century. The complex remained in Moorish hands until the Christian King Ferdinand besieged it and forced it to surrender in 1492. The last stronghold of Moorish rule had fallen, and it was here that Ferdinand and Isabella set up a court of their own inside it. Their grandson, Charles, who became Holy Roman Emperor (Charles V), made significant changes, tearing down a part of the complex and rebuilding it as a palace for himself. It's not nearly as interesting as are the Moorish sections.
I took a long and fairly steep walk up to the entrance of the complex, arriving early for the 11 am tour. You can also travel up by taxi or bus, and you won't be nearly as sweaty as I was on arrival, but I soon cooled down and was glad I had taken the time. On the way up, in addition to the statue of Washington Irving you'll have seen in my last post, I passed through the Gate of Granada, the beginning of the climb.
I stopped briefly at other pretty sites, good as well for catching my breath as I ascended, including this fountain
and the Gate of Justice
until finally I arrived at the main entrance, found the meeting point and waited for our tour guide to arrive. She was an animated and very bright woman of probably 40, whose English was as excellent as her knowledge of the Alhambra.
She led us first through the lovely gardens of the Generalife, the palace of which we also visited. Below, some of our tour group as we entered the gardens,
which, even in late October were lovely and colorful:
Our guide - I think her name was Aranca - leads us into a maze.
We then entered the palace, a lovely place but quite modest compared to those that we would see later in the day.
We proceeded to the interior gardens of the palace.
A look at a palace courtyard:
Our guide told us a tale, possibly a tall one, about this particular garden (below) in which the sultan spotted his wife making love to one of his knights. He was furious, but could not see the face of the knight - she stopped the story there, but promised to reveal all later in our tour. I promise to reveal all to you too, as I take you on my pictorial tour.
As we left the palace we could look down on it from above:
And as we walked along one of the main paths in the complex our guide pointed to another palace across a ravine. I remember her saying that one sultan wanted a separate residence, outside the Alhambra proper, and chose a spot rather close by. I could not corroborate this information, but it is certainly a pretty sight.
There is a section of the Alhambra which is open for free to the public, in fact there are two hotels on its grounds. The pic below shows a road we walked along in the public area, on the right, part of the exterior of Charles V's palace.
Then our guide took us into the main courtyard of his palace, almost circular, where in fact later bull fights were conducted.
The Emperor's living quarters were set above the courtyard (you can see the tip above the pillars), so that he could literally look down on the rest of the Alhambra, as if looking down on the conquered Moors.
On the outer walls along the palace of Charles V we saw something unusual - humans depicted in battle - the Moors seldom included human figures in their art. Just below, another of the bas-reliefs on the palace wall.
We took a break here, as it was the public area and as such offered public restrooms, along with gift shops and places to get snacks. We were given a time and place - a shady spot next to the Gate of Wine (as wines were stored here at some point after the Christians took over). It's one of the prettiest gates, and very Moorish in style.
From the area between the Charles V palace and the Alcazaba (more in a second on that) there are also fine views of the city. I took the photo below using a zoom, to have a look from above at the cathedral:
There were also views of the Sierra Nevada mountains
After our break we took a brief tour of the Alcazaba, one of the oldest parts of the Alhambra, and the military center of operations.
The Alcazaba and part of the city
The highest part of the Alcazaba
The area in the Alcazaba where soldiers were quartered
Finally, the real highlight of the tour. The palaces!
Aside: One very good reason to take a tour is that when we went in there was a LONG line of people who were seeing the palaces on their own.
Tile work in the palaces is beautiful
I was impressed by the detailed work on almost every inch of wall
The Moors did beautiful work on ceilings - more to come!
An elegant Moorish wall
This is the Courtyard of the Myrtles - beautiful to look at, myrtle also has medicinal uses - the Moors understood this.
The other end of the Courtyard of the Myrtles
The most beautiful way to view the Courtyard of the Myrtles - beauty, symmetry, harmony:
From the Courtyard of the Myrtles we proceeded into the Hall of the Ambassadors, which contains my very favorite ceiling, featuring an abstract rendition of the heavens.
One more of the ceiling, with ONLY the ceiling - more than 8,000 plates were put together to create this effect. The ambassadors, waiting to see the sultan, must have been impressed - I certainly was!
The wall of the Hall of Ambassadors, with a bit of the ceiling
And in the same room, perhaps to remind the ambassadors that "Only Allah is victorious." Rick Steves, travel guru asserts that this phrase is repeated on the walls of the Alhambra 9,000 times!
One of my favorite shots, Moorish arch with water from a pool reflected on it.
The arches begin to take on a "stalactite" look
Arches upon arches
From there we moved forward through an entrance of arches and columns to the Courtyard of the Lions
More of the arches and pillars
The central focus of the Court of Lions is a fountain...of Lions! which of course symbolize power and majesty.
Lions Court from another angle
We moved down an arched hallway leading to...heaven? Nirvana? Bliss?
Into this: The Hall of the Abencerrages
with another spectacular ceiling
And a story to tell - the rest of the story, according to our guide. Remember the sultan who saw his wife making love to one of his knights? He couldn't see the face of the knight. So...because it's very good to be the sultan...he invited several of his knights into The Hall of the Abencerrages on the pretext of hosting a feast. Instead he had them all murdered. Gives a new meaning to "all for one" in a way. He got his man, or his knight, and several others as well!
One more look at that spectacular hall - shimmering symmetry:
And then we moved on, taking in a great view of the Albaizin, on the left and Sacromonte, on the right.
And down into the Patio de Linderajo - beautiful, yes? - where our guide told us that members of the sultan's harem may have had some freedom to move around - just not to leave!
Admittedly, I learned from another source that the Sultana's window overlooked this patio - so maybe no women from the harem? Yet another sourcewrote that it was built in the 16th century, during the Christian rule - ah well! Who knows? There are many Tales from the Alhambra (the title of Washington Irving's book, remember?) and who knows which are true and which are not? And really, who cares?
There we ended our tour - a wonderful three hours of gaining knowledge and appreciating beauty.
I walked down the same way I had come up, finding still another memorial to Washington Irving (trust me, that's what it says on the much worn plaque) somewhat the worse for wear.
And as we made our way down I chatted with a really bright Swedish couple, she an art restorer, he a physician. Then tired and hungry, went in search of food!
I found it very near my hotel, on the street where for three nights I lived. I spotted it just after I looked at the menu on a Moroccan cafe, and chose it instead because they offered some Middle Eastern dishes...AND they served booze. I had a nice table outside, in the tiny street shared by my choice and the Moroccan place - in fact from my table I shot a photo of the latter:
My place, La Castaneda, was more mundane, but festive - my table was the one in front:
And I had tasty chicken in a sauce of saffron dried fruits and raisins - very tasty! And somewhat of the Middle East.
Equally as good was my choice of drink. Our guide had suggested a special beer, brewed by Alhambra (strangely enough heh heh), the local brewery.
This one was a "reserva" thus special, also more powerful than other brews by the same company, according to my guide, and...well, let's just say I didn't need a second one:
I strolled the short distance back to the hotel, looking up still another tiny street packed with hawkers of goods and more than enough tourists to buy them...
but resisted the urge. And that ended my trip to the Alhambra, Granada, Andalusia. I had one more night in Seville and another in Madrid, travel days before flying out. Both were fine but I think I'll end this series of posts on a high note. Saludos!