The Alhambra is Granada’s love letter to Moorish culture, a place where fountains trickle, leaves rustle, and ancient spirits seem to mysteriously linger.
It is part palace, part fort, part World Heritage site, part lesson in medieval architecture, enchanted a never-ending line of expectant visitors. Years ago I was one of these expectant visitors and I was not disappointed
The Alhambra has quite a colourful history as it was renovated by a Moorish in the 11th century, converted into a royal palace in the 1333 by a Sultan. Used as a mosque, which was replaced by a church in 1492, and eventually in 1527, the palace of Charles V was built within the complex.
Then the complex fell into disrepair, inhabited by vagrants, and even being used as soldiers’ barracks during Napoleonic times. Alhambra was then rediscovered in the 19th century by European scholars and travellers.
The Palace is strategically located on a hill and the walk up to the palace is worth it. Just make sure you are there early morning, because as it is an essential pilgrimage for most tourists it gets quite crowded. In summer up to 6000 people walk through daily, making it difficult to inspect and enjoy the details of the palace. The walkway is through the woods so it is canopied by trees, the shade really welcome during the summer. Along the way you get fabulous views of the old city and the mountains beyond.
Most of the buildings on the Alhambra were whitewashed, but today, after years of being baked in the sun, they appear reddish.
The central palace complex is the pinnacle of the Alhambra’s design. The entrance through the 14th-century Mexuar was perhaps an antechamber for those awaiting audiences with the emir, but two centuries later, it was converted to a chapel, with a prayer room at the far end.
From the Mexuar, you pass into the Patio del Cuarto Dorado. It appears to be a forecourt to the main palace but also leads to the Court of the Myrtles the centre of a palace built in the mid 14th century as Emir Yusuf I’s private residence.
Rooms (likely used for lounging and sleeping) look onto the rectangular pool edged in myrtles, and traces of cobalt blue paint cling to the muqarnas (honeycomb vaulting). Originally, all the walls were lavishly coloured, the effect would have resembled flocked wallpaper.
Wondering through the palace we walked through the Courtyard of the Lions, which got its name from the centrepiece, a fountain that channelled water through the mouths of 12 marble lions.
Some rooms had narrow staircase leading to the top terrace, other were lit by star-shaped skylights. The courtyards were graceful, one with the trunk of a 700-year-old cypress tree, suggesting delicate shade once graced the patio.
There were so many different halls and rooms, buildings and courtyards to explore, it was a bit overwhelming. I think that I will time my next visit for a quieter time of the year.