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Review: Alhambra

Attraction - Historic house or stately home

Granada, Spain

The Alhambra - Visiting and some history

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2468 reviews

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  • November 2016
  • Solo

37 people found this review helpful

The Alhambra is probably one of the best known as well as most visited places in Spain. Everyone recognises pictures of it. The actual building is even more impressive and really does take your breath away. It is a wonderful example of Moorish architecture with its tiles and decorative plaster work and ceilings. It really is a microcosm of Spanish history. To keep the review manageable I’ve broken it down into four parts. There are more detailed reviews for the Alcazaba, Nasrid Palaces and Palace of Charles V. Unfortunately time didn’t allow a visit to Generalife.

Set above the city of Granada, it is a World Heritage Site and I’d almost go as far as to describe it as one of the modern wonders of the world. Daily ticket numbers are limited and sell out quickly, especially in the tourist season. There is a strict timetable controlling entry to the Nasrid Palaces. There is so much to see and it is easy to spend a whole day and still not see everything. It is worth doing some initial reading before visiting as this helps put the site into context and helps you understand what you are looking at. This Alhambra website is a good place to start and particularly the ground plan showing the different parts of the Alhambra.

Visitors are given a short guide with a plan. More detailed guides are available from the shop near the Puerto del Vino. (Check how much you are charges as I reckon I was overcharged for a guide book and four postcards with stamps.)

I bought The Alhambra Architecture, History, Maps and Legends; Editiones Miguel Sánchez
which gave a very clear account of the Palace and I would have benefited from reading this before visiting.

It is also possible to book guided tours of the place or an audio guide on their website.

We had a guided tour which took us through the gardens, into the Palace of Charles V and then into the Nasrid Palaces. The guide was very knowledgeable and rather swamped us with history and names. Although his English was good, he spoke very quickly and I found it difficult to listen and assimilate and understand the information. He hardly took time to breathe and there was no chance to hop in and ask a question. He was throwing so much information at us that I went into overload after 5 minutes and rather gave up. The Palace complex is confusing and I came out feeling frustrated that I’d not learned much, although others found his stories entertaining. It wasn’t until I sat down with the guide book that I began to make sense of it all.

Photography around the site is difficult with the stark contrast between light and shade. It is also very busy,especially of people taking pictures of each other and selfies.

The name Alhambra comes from the Arabic and means ‘red castle’ from the colour of the sun dried bricks used to build the walls. It glows red in the setting sun.

It is necessary to understand some history to begin to understand the site. Built on the top of a hill commanding the surrounding area, it was designed as a walled fortress in the C13th by Muhammad I al-Ahmar, founder of the Nasrid dynasty. It served as both palace and seat of government, with a military area and the Medina, linked by two main streets, Real Alta and Real Baja, with gateways which could be shut to isolate parts of the town in event of siege.

The oldest part of the site is the"Alcazaba,":http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/spain/alhambra/alhambra_two/index.html the formidable defensive fortress at the top of the site. This housed the barracks of the Royal Guard. Defensive walls with gateways and towers protected the Medina, where the general population lived and worked.

Ismail I was responsible for building the Mexuar, the first of the Nasrid palaces in the early C14th. This was designed to provide luxurious accommodation for the Royal court and to impress visitors. Yusuf I, the seventh Nasrid ruler, built the Comares Palace behind the Mexuar with the beautiful Court of the Myrtles, which must be one of the most photographed views in the Alhambra. This was extended by his successor, Muhammad V, with the Palace of the Lions which is regarded as one of the masterpieces of Islamic architecture with its plasterwork and magnificent ceilings.

The Generalife below the Alhambra walls, was designed as leisure palace for the Nasrid rulers for rest and retreat. It is a mix of palaces and gardens.

This part of Spain was the last to fall to the Catholic Monarchs who eventually defeated the Moors and captured Granada in 1492. Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon as joint rulers of Spain, were so impressed by the Alhambra, that they installed themselves in the Palace, living in rooms attached to the Palace of the Lions. It is the only medieval Arabic Palace to survive.

Their grandson Charles V, after his marriage to Isabella of Portugal, began the last of the palaces to be built but it was never completed. This is completely different to the Nasrid Palaces and is a large Renaissance style building, which completely dominates the smaller Nasrid Palaces next to it.

The Medina became the seat of government and courtiers and members of nobility lived here. The Church of Santa Maria de la Alhambra was built on the site of the Great Mosque from 1581-1618.

When the Bourbons assumed the Spanish crown in at the start of the C18th, the Alhambra fell out of favour as a Royal Residence. It suffered severe damage during the Spanish War of Independence at the start of the C19th when Napoleon’s troops attempted to blow it up and destroyed much of the Medina area. It was inhabited by squatters and used to house convicts as well as serving as a hospital.

It was ‘rediscovered’ in the C19th by the Romantic movement, including Washington Irving who raised public awareness with his “Tales from the Alhambra”. The Alhambra was declared a National Monument in 1870 and underwent restoration in the early C20th. It is now a World Heritage Site.

A few palaces and the Monastery of San Francisco survived and are now up market boutique hotels. The rest of the area has been landscaped with gardens.

I visited here as part of a ‘Flavours of Spain’ holiday arranged with Solos Holidays.

My detailed trip report with all my pictures is
here.

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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.

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Other Members' Thoughts - 3 Comment(s)

  • ESW
    almost 5 years ago
    It was somewhere I've been wanting to visit for a long time, so expectations were high. It definitiely lived up to them plus some....
  • Difne
    almost 5 years ago
    This is definitely on my bucket list.
  • wallers
    almost 5 years ago
    Good review. I loved my visit there & will always remember it.