Granada, Spain – Alhambra and the Generalife

For my first travel post, I would like to introduce you to the Alhambra and the Generalife in the southern Spanish (Andalucian) city of Granada. I have had the great fortune to be able to both visit and live in this wonderful city and I would highly recommend it to anyone if they have the opportunity to do the same!

One of the famous views/photos of inside the Alhambra

My first visit to Spain was in the summer of 2010 with family and it was where I fell in love with this hot, originally Moorish city. Granada (and Andalucia in general) was the last strongholds of the Moorish people. Over hundreds of years they conquered most of Spain and southern France before Ferdinand and Isabella finished a centuries-long Reconquista; you might remember them as the Spanish monarchs who funded Christopher Columbus and were the power couple of the Iberian Wedding. Interestly the capitulation of Granada and Christopher Columbus’ voayge both happened in 1492. Granada, which sits where four rivers meet at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the middle of a desert, has the most visited attraction (Alhambra and the Generalife) in all of Spain.

Because images of people are considered unholy in Islam, the walls are covered with mosaic patterns, carvings in stucco and Arabic text.

My first stay in the city was only a week, but when I had a chance to do the CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) in Granada, I jumped at the chance. Whatsmore, I was able to spend my entire summer there (June to September) and live in the city centre. At this point in time, I had lived in the UK, the US and Germany, but southern Spain was a different animal altogether (Barcelona and Vienna were still to come at this time). Brutal heat and blistering sunshine every day (literally!! Well, maybe there were one or two days where it rained) were the weather and the temperature was usually 35°C or higher and often in the 40s. Anyone who knows me knows that this, combined with no humidity (well, it was in a desert after all!) is my version of paradise.

If you ever find yourself in the position of having the opportunity to go to Granada, take it without looking back. The local attractions are enough to convince anyone to go just by reading them on the internet. Combined with the culture, the atmosphere and the lifestyle, I would happily move back in a heartbeat.

A panoramic view of the Alhambra complex from a nearby viewpoint

The Alhambra and the Generalife is a fortification, leisure palace and a former seat of power in the medieval world. More than that, the Alhambra with its many palaces and royal gardens is a work of both art and architecture. A quick Google search can tell you anything that you want to know about the history of the building, but only being in its presence and then inside can you really understand what it is like to see. I will try to describe how I felt, but I sincerely doubt that I will be able to do it justice.

More intricate designs, which occupy almost every square centimetre of the walls.

Exploring the Alhambra

My experience started early in the morning and lasted all day. I would recommend you do it that way so that you can experience the Alhambra in all of its glory. We entered in the morning and, to be fair, there were a lot of tourists, tempering the atmosphere in my opinion (and make it harder to take photos since I dislike having people in them). I wouldn’t describe it as a mass of people as in some places. It would certainly take many thousands of people to fill the Alhambra, which is why entrance is ticketed and timed. However there was a good number.

We started with the Nasrid Palaces and what struck me was the decoration. True to Islam and the aversion to images of people, brightly coloured, carved stucco or geometric mosaics cover every inch of the walls and every door had wrought iron or carvings of some kind set into them. The artistry and skill is something that is quite unparalleled. Bright blues, reds, and yellows reign supreme where colour exists. There is a central theme but each room and courtyard seems to have its own uniqueness.

Depending on when you go and what renovation work is being done, different parts of the Alhambra will be available at different times. You should definitely check on this before going if you want to see something specific. During our time, the Palace of Charles V was closed for renovations, so we did not see it.

Rather than waffling on, let me walk you through my experience via photos:

Generalife

Another big part of the Alhambra is the Generalife. The word ‘Generalife’ originally comes from the Arabic (romanised) Jannat al-‘Arīf meaning the ‘Garden of the Architect’. This refers to both the summer palace where the Muslim rulers retreated during the oppressive heat. During our visit only the gardens were open but they were a spectacular sight to see! Let me show you:

Conclusion

Hands down: the Alhambra and Generalife are definitely worth the visit. The palaces are stunning, the gardens are amazing and the timed tickets (I highly recommend pre-booking) are limited. This means that the palaces will never have huge crowds. The price for visiting the entire Alhambra is €14 but there are other options that restrict you to specific things. The one time I haven’t experienced is at night, although there are night tickets that are now available. The tickets for entering the palaces limit you to entering at a specific time. Make sure you are at the right place at the right time.


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