Andalucian Adventures – Part Eight

Granada – Day Two

The Alhambra Palace

There is one attraction in Granada which has to be on every traveller’s itinerary – The Alhambra Palace. It’s pretty hard to miss as it dominates the skyline. We first visited the palace back in 1995 on a day trip from a wonderful albergue called Cortijo Rosario which, sadly, doesn’t seem to be in business any more. Back then we just rocked up at the ticket office and purchased a ticket. Nowadays you have to purchase in advance, either on the internet (which I don’t think was even a word back in those dark days) or by telephone. But, as then, you can still only book timed tickets for entry into the most important part of the complex, the Nasrid Palaces.

As we were staying in Granada and being the clever people that we are we thought we would book tickets for 10am, before the tours arrived and when it would be quieter. Which would have been great except that the whole city and the mountains around it were shrouded in low cloud. We got out of our taxi, pulled on all of the layers we had and walked into the site. Since our tickets wouldn’t yet allow us entry to the main palace area we walked around the Generalife – from the Arabic ‘Garden of the Architect’.

The Generalife

It was constructed in the early 14th Century as a summer palace. With terraced gardens, pools and fountains it’s a very peaceful area. In sunshine it does, of course, look more beguiling but even in the mist it was delightful to wander.

Fountains and running water provide a place for quiet contemplation
Part of the vegetable garden

The Alhambra, which is from the Arabic for The Red Castle, was originally a fortified citadel and the name probably derives from the rammed red soil which formed the ramparts. It probably originated in Roman times but it was in the 13th and 14th centuries that it was developed by Granada’s Nasrid rulers into a palace complex. Following the Christian Reconquest in 1492 the palace fell into disrepair and by the 1700’s was occupied by ‘beggars and thieves’ and was much ruined. It was further partially destroyed by Napoleonic troops in the early 1800’s. Restoration began in the mid 19th century and continues to this day.

The time on our ticket was fast approaching so we joined a growing queue of visitors patiently waiting for the allotted time. There were certainly considerably more visitors than 28 years ago and you can understand the need to maintain a through flow of people. This is, after all, the most visited monument in Spain with 3 million visitors. That is a lot of feet tramping through this delicate space.

Once you are in the palace you can take as long as you like to admire the wonderful architecture and marvel at the intricately carved stonework. You enter first the Mexuar, a 14th century hall where minsters would adjudicate on citizen’s legal matters.

The Mexaur
The Mexaur – a 14th Century Old Bailey

From the Mexaur, through a stunningly carved arch, you pass into the Patio del Cuarto Dorado, a courtyard where Emirs gave audiences

Entrance to Cuatro Dorado
Patio of Cuatro Dorado

The carvings on the wall facades contain Arabic script including quotations from the Qur’an and slogans for the Nasrid dynasty. The most commonly repeated script is probably the Nasrid motto – ‘There is no victor but God’.

Ancient political sloganeering

From here, via several corridors and through several stunningly carved rooms you reach one of the most iconic parts of the whole complex – the Patio de los Arrayanes (Courtyard of the Myrtles). Named after the myrtle hedge which surrounds a rectangular pool, it is the central space of the Emir’s private palace.

Entrance to the Courtyard of Myrtles

It really is a wonderfully reflective space and if you leave time for the majority of the crowds to wander on you can spend time just drinking in the beauty of the palace with its perfect proportions.

Whilst waiting for the majority of visitors to make their way through the courtyard we got chatting to a member of staff. He told us that when he was young the locals used to be allowed into the palace for free on a Sunday. The whole family used to take a picnic and explore the whole complex with very few other visitors about.

Moving on into the Salon de los Embajadores if you look up to the ceiling you will see more than 8,000 pieces of cedar wood arranged in an intricate star pattern which represents the seven heavens of Islam.

The Seven Heavens of Islam

The ceilings in this palace are every bit as carved as the walls so that you are forever gazing up at them leading to many a cricked neck!

Through more rooms and we came to another famous space – the Lion Courtyard. Named for the fountain at its centre which features 12 marble lions this area has beautifully slender columns supporting the intricately carved pavilions. There are 124 columns in all placed in such a way that they are symmetrical in several axis.

Entrance to Lion Courtyard
The slender columns holding up the pavilion
The central fountain with its 12 lions

In the Hall of the Kings, leather lined ceiling alcoves have 14th Century paintings which have recently been restored. One of them is thought to represent the succession of the 10 Nasrid Emirs who ruled from the palace.

Ceiling in Hall of the Kings

From here we descended to the Patio de la Lindjara with its shapely fountain and cypress trees, before emerging into a garden area. Here another reflecting pool stands before the Palacio del Partal.

Looking into the Patio de la Lindjara
Time for reflection

From here you can get an excellent overview of the Albaicin and central Grenada.

The Albaicin
Central Granada

Opposite the Alhambra is an area called Sacromonte, located on the hillside above the valley of Valparaiso. After the Christian conquest of the city muslims and jews were evicted from their homes and retreated to this area to live in caves dug into the hillside. They intermixed with nomadic Romani Gypsies, adopting some of their customs.

Flamenco is closely associated with the Gitano, or gypsy, subculture and is said to have originated in Andalucia. Many of the cave dwellings in Sacromonte advertised flamenco shows, though none were open when we visited the area as it was only afternoon. By now we were pretty tired anyway so made our way back to the apartment to rest before a final night out.

Walking up to Sacromonte

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