One reason I travel is that I want to be changed. I want to go somewhere and see things that transforms me in a positive way. Alhambra did that for me. To say that I was blown away by the beauty, history and grandeur of the place would be an understatement.
Journey to Granada
With so much to see, we had to get an early start. It is about an hour drive from Nerja to Granada, so our driver Christian picked us up at 8:45am and off we went. The journey there was scenic, with the tall peaks of the Sierra Nevadas all around us. When we arrived at the entrance of Alhambra we met Christina, our local tour guide for the day. As all our guides have been on this trip so far, Christina was extremely knowledgeable about everything on this tour. As we had a little time until we could access the palace/citadel, Christina took that time to explain a little about the history.
Alhambra means “The Red One” in Arabic. The name is due to the color of the local material (clay and stone) used to build the complex. The history of the site began with the Romans, who conquered the region from the Iberians around 300 BC. Between that time and when the Moors captured the area in the early 800s, the Romans built fortifications on the site. But the site was abandoned by the time the Moors took control of the region.
Around 1237 the emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar, Emirate of Granada, rebuilt the fortress and started creating his palace. In 1333 Yusuf I, the seventh Nasrid ruler, began construction of the royal palace exhibited today. In 1492, after the Moors were pushed out by the Spanish, the site became the Royal Court for the King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. It was at this palace that Christopher Columbus received royal approval for his expedition to find a new route to the Indies.
Palacio de Carlos V
For the start of the tour, Christina took us to the Palace of Charles V. This was a Renaissance building created by Charles V, a Holy Roman Emperor, in the early to mid 1500s. Never completed or used by Charles V, it possesses a wonderful circular patio in the Renaissance style.
Patio de los Arrayanes/Comares Palace
Our next stop on the tour was the Court of the Myrtles. Here the Arabic style architecture was clearly evident, including arched windows and doors, fountains, and ornate tile and decorations. While this was a great tour, the one drawback is that we found that the pools were being cleaned, so the fountains at this part were not being used. The fountains and pools dramatically impact the beauty of the palace, so we were disappointed not to see them. But we understood the importance of keeping these heritage sites maintained for future generations.
Also included as part of the Comares Palace is the impressive Hall of the Ambassadors. In this room the sultan would receive visitors and dignitaries. This Hall is a large room with a beautifully carved wooden ceiling and plaster mosaics, but unfortunately I was unable to capture the splendor of the room in any image due to the size and visitors present.
Court of the Lions
By far the most impressive part of the palace is the Court of the Lions. This area served as the private residence for the sultan and his family. In the middle of the courtyard is a fountain supported by 12 lions, and water from the fountain runs into room on on sides of the courtyard. Stunning 14th century Moorish architecture and decor permeate the courtyard. This area alone was worth the price of admission, and my meager vocabulary cannot do it justice.
Amazingly, the water to power the fountains and pools of the palace were created in the 1300s and are largely still in use. The engineering skills required to create this medieval marvel are not fully understood today.
The Catholic Monarchs portion of the palace paled in comparison to the Court of the Lions. We didn’t spend that much time investigating that part of the palace. Instead we walked through the gardens leading to Generalife, the sultan’s “summer house”. (Part 2)