In our first blog on Andalusia we had mentioned that this region was ruled by Moors for close to eight centuries till 1492. Granada, the last Moorish kingdom to fall, was ruled by the Nasrid dynasty during the final two centuries of Moorish rule. It was at this time when one of the finest legacies of the Moors was built – the Alhambra.
We repeatedly mentioned Alhambra in our previous blog without actually explaining what it exactly is. Is it a fortress? Is it a palace? Is it a garden? Well, it is all of them. Alhambra, situated on a hill overlooking the city of Granada, is a vast complex that contains a fortress and palaces built by Nasrid Sultans, houses, workshops and baths for government officers, servants and craftsmen, palaces built for subsequent Christian kings and some truly stunning gardens. It is certainly one of the most famous works of Islamic art and architecture in Europe if not the world.
After we had finished exploring Carrera del Darro, we crossed one of the stone arch bridges, climbed a few steps, walked through narrow streets lined with shops and reached Puerta de las Granadas (Gate of the Pomegranates), an arched gate that marked the beginning of the Alhambra. A long uphill walk from there got us to the Alhambra ticket office.
When we were planning our itinerary we had come across many posts that suggested buying tickets beforehand for this Spanish marvel as they get sold out pretty quickly, especially the tickets that include entry to the Nasrid Palaces which are the finest attraction of Alhambra. This is because only a certain number of visitors are allowed inside the Nasrid Palaces at a time and visitors are given specific time slots for entering the palace. Even after booking our tickets more than a month ago we could not get tickets to the Nasrid Palaces and had to satisfy ourselves with the general ticket which gave us access to all the other parts of the complex.
The Alhambra is designed like a 2-pronged fork with the fortress Alcazaba situated at the extreme of one prong and the Generalife Palace at the extreme of other. We decided to make our way towards Alcazaba first. We passed through superbly maintained hedges and saw the ruins of many structures following which we reached the Palace of Charles V. We left the palace for later as we knew we would be returning via the same way. As we walked from the Palace of Charles V towards Alcazaba we ruefully looked at the queue of people waiting for the entry to the Nasrid Palaces. We continued on our way and passed under the Puerta del Vino (The Wine Gate) which led us to the Alcazaba.
We explored the Alcazaba fortress by walking along the parapets of the walls and climbing its towers. From the top of the towers we got some fantastic views of the Alhambra, the city of Granada and far-off snow covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. We also saw the ruins and foundations of many structures which were used by soldiers for different purposes. After spending around 45 minutes in Alcazaba we exited through a small but pretty garden and walked back to the Palace of Charles V.
The Palace of Charles V was built in the early 16th century after the end of Moorish rule and was in stark contrast to the Islamic buildings that surrounded it. It was a two tiered structure with a rectangular exterior façade but the interior was dominated by a large circular courtyard. The symmetry of the building was quite amazing. There were two museums, one each on lower and upper level of the palace but we did not visit them as we were short on time.
We exited the palace and went through a side gate which led us to the beautiful Partal Gardens. Though the gardens were themselves extremely beautiful, the highlight of the area was the 5 arched Portico of Partal Palace and Torre de las Damas (The Ladies Tower). The portico was a fine example of Moorish decoration and contained some beautiful and detailed motifs and patterns carved in stucco. In front of the portico was a large pool though the water in it wasn’t exactly clean.
From the Partal Gardens we walked back all the way to the joint of the fork, seeing many towers on our way and then started on the second prong which consisted of the gardens of Generalife and the Generalife Palace at the end. The gardens of Generalife were absolutely, without any doubt the best gardens we had seen during our entire trip and that too by a fair margin. They were vast but still so wonderfully maintained that it made us wonder about the number of people that must be employed for their maintenance. In fact walking through these gardens was like walking through a beautiful maze. Despite the presence of many different varieties of trees, plants and flowers, roses were the feature of these gardens. There were hundreds of roses in the gardens which were used to form tunnels and decorate walls. The gardens also offered some astounding views of Alhambra and Granada. We could have spent a few more hours in those gardens but sadly we didn’t have that much time so we kept walking and eventually reached the palace of Generalife.
The palace of Generalife was used by the sultans for their leisure and relaxation. The palace was absolutely exquisite with some magnificent stucco carvings and designs though it was quite small hence our visit did not take much time. Walking again through those stunning gardens we reached the end of Alhambra and exited this huge complex.
From the exit we took a minibus back to the centre of the city from where we took another bus to the Granada bus station. From there we took a bus back to Malaga with the two hour journey giving us enough time to reflect on what had been an amazing but equally tiring day.