The Alhambra from Every Angle

Today was Alhambra day.  The Alhambra is a palace built in the 14th century by the Nasrid (Moorish) rules of Andalucia. The area around Granada was the last part of Spain to be reconquered from the Moors, whose empire had once stretched across North Africa and as far as Southern France in Europe.  Faced with a hopeless military situation, the last Nasrid ruler surrendered the city and the Alhambra without a fight to the “Reyes Catolicos” – King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabel the 1st of Castille.

That was in 1492, the same year that Columbus rediscovered America.  After that the Alhambra suffered some ill-judged additions by later Christian rulers and then fell into neglect for centuries, even at one point being occupied by squatters. It was then “rediscovered” in the 19th Century by northern European intellectuals.

Today the Alhambra is of the most beautiful man-made structures in the world.  At the heart of the Alhambra are the Nasrid Palaces, where the Emir and his harem lived – a group of lavish rooms, courtyards and gardens. A sophisticated system captures water from the nearby mountains to provide cooling pools, streams and fountains.

The Alhambra during the day

I had booked tickets for entry to the Nasrid Palaces at 11, so I could have a lie-in and a late start.  More areas of the palaces were open during the day than during my night visit, but there were also more tourists, many of whom seemed more interested in taking photos than enjoying the atmosphere of this special place. I took my time for the visit, enjoying the cool of shaded courtyards and the constant sound of running water.

Flowing water everywhere in the Alhambra
A shady garden

After visiting the palaces, I enjoyed the famous Alhambra gardens. They spread over a huge area, and it took me a couple of hours to see them all.  In the gardens were yet more fountains and running water. I was lucky – after yesterday’s storm, it was pleasantly cool even during the early afternoon, and the rain had also brought out the vivid colours and sweet smells of the flowers.

One of the gardens in the Alhambra complex

I rounded off my visit to the Alhambra by climbing the Torre de la Vela of the Alcazaba, the part of the complex that served as a defensive fort. It offered great views over the city of Granada and back over the palaces and gardens of the Alhambra itself.

The amazing view from the Torre de la Vela

After that, I left by the Gate of Justice, which I now considered to be my own secret back entrance, since it was so close to my hotel and since no other tourists seemed to have found it. I had a quick bite to eat in my hotel before setting out again, this time to visit the city of Granada itself. First, I visited the huge cathedral…………

Granada Cathedral

…………before exploring the twisting maze of small streets that made up the Albaicin, the old Arab Quarter.  

A quiet street in the Arab quarter

The area buzzed with small shops and had tea rooms offering mint tea instead of cafes serving beer and tapas.  I wandered around, choosing the option that led uphill at every junction. Eventually I reached my destination – the Plaza San Nicolas.  Although I’d been to Granada twice before, I had never found this spot, which has the best views of the Alhambra in all of Granada. The palace towers over the city from its steep hill, framed from behind by tall mountains, some still sprinkled with the last of the winter’s snow.

The definitive view of the Alhambra from the Plaza San Nicolas

I found a restaurant for a drink, and enchanted by the view, stayed for dinner as well.  It was a perfect spot to admire the Alhambra from, and despite the area’s popularity (a big queue formed for my restaurant shortly after I had found my table), the food was very good and reasonably priced.

After a leisurely couple of hours drinking a good local wine, eating a tagine (a speciality in Granada) and taking lots of pictures as the light slowly changed, I reluctantly made my way back to my hotel.  There was to be one last surprise in my day – I discovered the hotel’s roof terrace, with its view of the city and, yet again, the inescapable Alacazaba of the Alhambra. I lay on a sun lounger, drinking cold beer and watching the light slowly fade over the city. By this time my phone had long since run out of battery, so sorry, no photos – but maybe it is better that way, since I could better appreciate the stillness of the evening. The city’s many church bells kept me dimly conscious of the passage of time, which seems to pass more slowly here. They finally informed me it was half past eleven, time for bed after another busy day.

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