Granada: The Alhambra Complex

The walk up to Alhambra past the first gate
The walk up to Alhambra past the first gate

Today, my last full day in Granada (this will probably be my last Granada post on this trip), I spent most of the day at the Alhambra complex.

I also did a little wandering around Granada, in addition to the walks between my hotel and Alhambra and back. The streets and streetscapes I took in while perambulating outside the walls of Alhambra today were of generally the same quality as those I saw during my strolls yesterday, the day before yesterday, and the day before that. So, to avoid further redundancy, I won’t write anything here about today’s walks except, of course, what I’ve already written in this and the preceding sentence.

If you’ve never been to Alhambra, and you know nothing about it (which was my state before planning this trip), you’re probably thinking, “That damned fool went all the way to Granada and spent most of one day at just one tourist attraction? What a lazy bum!” Then again, some of you think of me that way no matter what I do, so the heck with you.

The mistake you made is thinking that Alhambra is just one attraction. You should have figured out that it’s not from the word “complex” in this post’s title and its first sentence. So, now who’s the damned fool?

Seven Attractions in One

In fact, within a very large walled compound, Alhambra is seven; seven; seven attractions in one!

Sorry for the flippancy. I sometimes do that no matter how truly momentous the subject matter may be.

I’ll try to be more solemn at all times in the future. Yeah, that’s a lie.

In addition to being more than one attraction, those attractions are spread, as I said, over large grounds within Alhambra’s ancient walls. So, there’s a fair bit of walking to do.

Besides, even if it were only one attraction, Alhambra is the big deal in Granada. It’s the number one attraction for a great many kilometres around. It’s why people come to Granada.

A view from the Alhambra compound
A view from the Alhambra compound

To get into the most popular and notable palace in Alhambra, the Nazrid Palaces (Palacios Nazaries), I bought my timed ticket online about a month in advance. Despite buying it so early, the official website had time slots available on only one of the three and a half days I was going to be in Granada. It really is that big a deal.

And, as if all of that wasn’t enough to occupy my attention for the better part of a day, because Alhambra is built at the top of a hill, the views of Granada and the surrounding area, including the mountains, from the grounds and from some of the attractions within Alhambra are astounding.

Below, I describe each of the attractions in Alhambra in the order I visited them.

Charles V Palace

The exterior of Charles V Palace at Alhambra
The exterior of Charles V Palace at Alhambra

The last Moorish kingdom to be defeated in Spain was in Granada. It surrendered to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492. In 1525, Emperor Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor of his time, moved his court to what had been the Moorish royal houses at Alhambra. In 1527, he decided he needed a Renaissance palace fitting a Christian emperor of his time.

Fortunately, rather than tearing down the existing palace at Alhambra or gutting it and renovating it to his tastes, he decided to build a new palace on an occupied spot in the expansive Alhambra compound, near the existing palace. I suppose Emperor Charles recognized the beauty and historical significance of the Moorish palace, not to mention the potential it had to become a mega tourist attraction in the 20th and 21st century. Alright, maybe he wasn’t so prescient as to foresee the tourism angle, but whatever the reason, the Nazrid Palaces (see below) still stand. Thank you, Emperor Charles V.

Courtyard

The courtyard of Charles V Palace
The courtyard of Charles V Palace

Charles V Palace is, in one regard, the opposite of a TARDIS. The indoor space in the palace is much smaller than it appears on the outside. The reason is that it is built around a large circular courtyard. A wide, two-tiered colonnaded walkway rings the courtyard. The building sits behind that.

From the outside, the palace looks like a large, square building. But walk in the entranceway, which leads straight through the building, and the first thing you see is that a roofless cylinder punctures much of the structure. (Note: I took the above picture of the courtyard with my phone’s wide angle lens. The courtyard is big, but not quite as big as it appears there.)

The ground floor of Charles V Palace now houses the Alhambra Museum. It displays mostly archaeological artifacts.

The top floor (there are only two) houses two art galleries. One has a permanent collection of paintings and sculptures. I saw works from the 16h through the 18th century, inclusive. 

True, I didn’t look at all of the placards beside the pieces, but probably most of them. I didn’t see any artist names I recognized among them. That doesn’t necessarily mean that none of the artists were big names of the art world. It may just mean that I’m an ignoramus when it comes to the arts. That is to say, I am an ignoramus when it comes to the arts. That’s not in question. The only question is whether my lack of recognition of the names of the artists presented in the gallery provides yet more evidence of that or whether the artists are, indeed, relative nobodies.

The other gallery contained a temporary exhibit of modern art by a few artists. Most of those pieces dated from 20th century. Again, I didn’t recognize the artists’ names.

The museum and the galleries forbid photography inside, so don’t look here for any pictures of them.

Alcazaba, the Old Fort at Alhambra

A tower at Alhambra's old fort, Alcazaba
A tower at Alhambra’s old fort, Alcazaba

Alcazaba is the oldest part of Alhambra. It was a fort. Alcazaba’s fort towers are still largely standing, but much of the rest is ruins.

In the introduction to this post, I said that the views of Granada and the surrounding area are astounding from some of the attractions within Alhambra. Alcazaba is one of those attractions with incredible vistas.

A tower at Alhambra's old fort, Alcazaba
A tower at Alhambra’s old fort, Alcazaba

Still in the confines of Alcazaba, by the exit of the tourist route through it, is a beautifully peaceful little rampart garden.

Rampart garden
Rampart garden

Views From Alcazaba

Nazarid Palaces, the Jewel of Alhambra

The first room at the Nazarid Palaces at Alhambra
The first room at the Nazarid Palaces at Alhambra

The Nazarid Palaces (Palacios Nazaries) encompass a number of beautifully decorated rooms, halls and courtyards. Visiting them is a jaw-dropping experience.

This is what people buy timed tickets for well in advance, and still have to line up for a little while before going in somewhat after their appointed time. (Time slots are every half-hour. The staff strictly enforced the no-going-in-early rule. You can go in any time up to the next time slot. But, if today was typical, no matter when you arrive you’ll probably line up for at least a couple of minutes to get in.)

Capital of a decorated pillar
Capital of a decorated pillar

An additional-charge audioguide provides rich histories and commentaries of all rooms, courtyards and other important areas of the Nazrid Palaces that are open to the public. Of course, me being me, I was reasonably engrossed with it at the time, but I forgot pretty well everything within minute or two after hearing it.

(The audioguide also provides equally replete commentaries for the other attractions at Alhambra. I listened to all of the entries for all of them and forgot them all equally quickly.)

Decorative Elements

Courtyard with reflecting pool
Courtyard with reflecting pool

Because the Moors were Muslims, the decorations in the Nazarid Palaces are Islamic in flavour. Hence, there are few depictions of the human form because that’s verboten.

Carved Arabic script decorate some of the walls. And, when I say decorate, I do mean decorate. It is artistic.

In some rooms, the ornamentation is carved or sculpted into the walls and ceilings, but in others it is patterned ceramic tiles. In one room, tiles with ornate geometric patterns cover the walls in niches around the room, with a different repeated pattern in each niche.

Another courtyard, this one with sculptures
Another courtyard, this one with sculptures

The Nazarid Palaces are best seen rather than having them described to you, particularly when I’m the narrator. So, enjoy the accompanying pictures. I have a few more that I might inflict on anyone who insists. 

Likewise, the Nazarid Palaces are best seen in person rather than in photos, particularly when I’m the photographer. Sorry about that.

More Nazarid Palaces Images

Partal

Partal Palace at Alhambra
Partal Palace at Alhambra

The Partal is the ruins of the old Partal Palace buildings and its gardens. The buildings are mostly reddish sand-coloured, with, on the main building, lots of columns and arches above the columns.

The buildings sit beside a peaceful reflecting pool.

A pool at Partal Palace
A pool at Partal Palace

Despite being referred to as ruins, some of the buildings are still standing in what looks to me like their full form. They may be reconstructions. I’m not sure. However, reconstructions or not, to preserve them, members of the public are not allowed inside. I’m a member of the public.

Promenade of Alhambra’s Towers

One of Alhambra's towers on the Promenade of Towers
One of Alhambra’s towers on the Promenade of Towers

A lovely little walkway, called Promenade of Towers, passes by a few of the towers of Alhambra. At each, the audioguide explained the specific uses and stories associated with each tower.

Generalife

A garden at Generalife
A garden at Generalife

Generalife was the summer palace of the sultan. If the audioguide said it correctly, it’s pronounced vaguely like, “General Leaf, eh,” but with the syllables smooshed together, not pronounced as separate words

The Generalife palace has some very attractive rooms, some with stunning views, but its biggest attraction is its gardens. There’s an elaborate rose garden, along with other gardens, pools, and fountains.

Another garden at Generalife
Another garden at Generalife

There’s a set of steps called the Water Steps. A tree canopy completely shades the steps. Shallow, half-pipe stone channels border both sides of the steps. A trickle of water flows through both channels. Some small fountains also add to the babbling sounds.

Cypress trees form an arch over one long path exiting Generalife.

More Images from Generalife

Medina

The Tower of the Seven Floors (Torre de los Siete Suelos)
The Tower of the Seven Floors (Torre de los Siete Suelos)

Medina is an old town within the Alhambra walls. It’s mostly just excavated ruins now, with only the bases of structures still standing. But there is enough of the base to show the outlines of the buildings that used to be there.

Some of the ruins in Medina
Some of the ruins in Medina

One building in Medina, a gate building into Alhambra with an interesting door, The Tower of the Seven Floors (Torre de los Siete Suelos), was reconstructed. Tourists are not allowed in that building. Nor could I wander among the ruins of the other buildings. However, at one ruin site a metal walkway allowed me to get fairly close.

Aside

I was reluctant to use the word “attractions” above. It makes it sound like Disneyland. It’s not. It is real. It is historic. And much of it, both the human-made and natural components, is very beautiful.

But what word to use?

Sights? Nah, that has has only a slightly less gaudy ring to me. Buildings? Nope. Some of the attractions comprise multiple buildings. Sites? Closer, but that didn’t seem to be right either.

So I stuck with the pedestrian, Disneyesque word “attraction” because I couldn’t come up with anything better. It’s a good thing no one pays me to write anymore. 

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