Within visible walking distance of Alhambra is the Palacio de Generalife, the summer palace of the Nasrid sultans of Granada. Generalife is Arabic for “Architect’s Garden”. Although smaller than the palace at Alhambra, Generalife has a quiet charm and restful demeanor that the rulers of this volatile region probably required.
To access the Generalife, we had to walk through the gardens separating the Alhambra and the summer palace. Per our tour guide Christina, the sultans typically did not sleep in the summer palace, and rode between the two palaces by horseback, primarily due to fear of assassination. That was their loss, as our stroll through the gardens to the Generalife was soothing walk, even on a hot day like when we visited.
Christina indicated that the gardens were not based on the original Nasrid gardens, as Arabic gardens are created lower than the paths. This is because the flowers would be best seen as the Moors sat on pillows on the ground, which was their tradition. These gardens are designed in the traditional Granadian style and were completed in the early 1950s. Nonetheless, the gardens were in great condition and the flowers were blooming. So for us travelers on a 2017 walk, they were a splendid part of our tour.
Along the south side of the gardens are panoramic views of the Alhambra and the city of Granada below. It is not hard to imagine the sultan staring out over the wall and surveying his emirate.
The Generalife is smaller than the Alhambra, and as a private retreat for the Nasrid rulers of the time, did not require formal meeting rooms and administrative areas. The focus point of the Generalife is the Patio de la Acequia (Court of the Water Channel). This is a long pool and fountains framed by flowerbeds and colonades. There are pavilions on each end. The gardens in this courtyard are in the Arabic style, with the flowerbeds about a foot below the walk ways.
The buildings have the same Arabic style and charm as the Alhambra, but are less well preserved. For many years the Generalife was inhabitanted by transients and squatters, and this had a negative effect on the preservation. Nonetheless, the Generalife is one of the oldest surviving examples of a Moorish garden.
Next to the courtyard is the smaller Patio de la Sultana (Court of the Sultan). It has some of the features of the Patio de la Acequia, but is much smaller. There is a pavilion on one end but no colonnades. On one side of the courtyard is the remains of a large cypress tree, believed to have been planted as part of the original gardens back in the 14th century.
Above the Patio de la Sutana is a long steep set of stairs going up. On each side of the stairs are elevated channels of water flowing down. These are the Water Starway, leading to the water that flows through both the Generalife and the Alhambra.
City Centre of Granada
A day spent in Alhambra and Generalife is a day too short, but definitely one well spent. Unfortunately it was getting late in the afternoon and we had not eaten since the early morning. Our tour guide Christina offered to take us to Granada City Centre to find a place to eat and point out some things to explore. We all hopped into a taxi and headed to Mirador de San Nicolas, a high point of Granada opposite Alhambra. This point was not easy to drive to, with a maze of steep, winding, narrow streets up to the El Albaicin neighborhood.
We descended back down to the City Centre, where Christina left us to our own devices for a few hours. After a good tapas meal at a place that Christina recommended, we headed to the old Jewish quarter of the city. I wanted to explore the Granada cathedral, while DJ preferred to shop in the quaint small shops of the quarter.
Cathedral of Granada
The cathedral is an excellent example of Renaissance styled architecture. Construction of the cathedral started in the early 16th century at the height of Spain’s power. It was built in the Old Jewish quarter after the Jews were expelled from the city during the Catholic Reconquista in 1492. It was largely completed in the mid 1700s, and was built over the remains of the Moorish Great Mosque of Granada.
After walking around the city centre, it was time to meet our driver and head back to Nerja. Once there, we collapsed in exhaustion, but it was an excellent tour. Alhambra left an indelible place in our memory. It changed me.