The Alhambra is the most visited monument in Europe after the Louvre Museum in Paris. This wonderful Nasrid citadel rises above the beautiful city of Granada to the pride of its Granadinos. Muhammad al-Ahmar, the Red One, founder of the Nasrid dynasty, settled in Granada and decided to build the Alhambra on the Sabika mountain. It is called thus, the Red, perhaps as a coincidence because of the name of the founder of the dynasty but also because of the red sand with which it was built.
Visiting the Alhambra, is a journey to the time of the Nasrid dynasty that lasted a century and a half, like the construction of the Alhambra itself. We will describe the Alhambra as we walk it with our students in the program. Letting their imagination fly for a few hours to fill their senses with the beauty that the monument provides.
- Access to the Alhambra
- The Alcazaba
- Nasrid Palaces
- The Generalife
- Visiting the Alhambra
Access to the Alhambra
Starting from Plaza Nueva square, we go up Gomerez street, through the Puerta de las Granada from the 16th century and into the Alhambra Forest. Being a fortress city, the Alhambra could not be surrounded by trees or hedges. In fact, this forest was built during the Christian period, after the arrival of the King Charles the 5th to the city. Every day we see walkers going up and down the monument and sportsmen or walkers with their pets who use this route to reach the city’s Parque de Invierno.
Out of the three routes you can take through the Puerta de las Granadas to reach the monument, we use the one on the left. This path is called Paseo de la Cruz and goes directly to the Puerta de la Justicia passing through a monument to Wahsington Irving and the impressive fountain of King Charles the 5th.
The entrance through the Puerta de la Justicia is the one that was used mainly as access to the Alhambra. It has defensive nooks and crannies in case of siege. In each of the entrance arches of the door we see two Arab figures: the hand of Fatima and a key with a cord. Later on, during the Christian period, a sculpture of the Virgin Mary with the Child was added.
This small tour before entering the citadel itself is full of symbols and allegories. The fountain of the three jets represents the three rivers of Granada, while the door with the hand of Fatima represents the 5 prefects of the Koran. According to the Koran, the key with the cord is the power to open and close the gates of heaven given to Muhammad. Washinton Irwin, who wrote The Tales of the Alhambra, said that when the hand of Fatima fell, the Alhambra would collapse. These is only an example of the many other legends in the Alhambra.
As we continue walking pass the Puerta de la Justicia, we find the Palace of King Charles the 5th. This palace, one of the best Renaissance works in Spain, was built to become one of the King’s residences but was never inhabited. Today it is the home of the Alhambra Museum and Fine Arts Museum of Granada. In addition, numerous exhibitions and concerts are held here, due to the perfect acoustics it has. These concerts take place mainly during the International Festival of Music and Dance of Granada which is held every year in July.
This is the oldest part of the Alhambra where the surveillance and security of the court was concentrated. The sultan’s high-ranking guards lived there in a military district that has almost disappeared today. The originality that the Alcazaba has are the diverse doors and mainly, the watchtowers that safeguarded the Alhambra. Today, they are the focal point of photographs of the Albaycin and Granada for our students and other visitors.
After the zigzagging of the streets at the beginning, we arrive at the main area of Alcazaba with the remains of the military quarter. There are still the dungeons where they held their prisoners, the remains of a cistern and even a silo for food. After the military neighborhood, we climbed the steps that lead to the Torre de la Vela. The impressive views of the whole city are well worth the climb of the four floors of steps for access.
As an anecdote, every January 2nd, this tower is filled with innumerable Grenadines and following tradition, they play the campaign to favor the fortune and to be able to marry in the course of that year. Superstitions aside, the Torre de la Vela is the highlight of the Alhambra easily visible from many parts of the city.
The exit from the Alcazaba enclosure is a beautiful walk through the Jardín de los Adarves, among rose bushes and small fountains that lead back to the Placeta de los Aljibes for the visit to the Nasrid Palaces.
During the visit to the Nasrid Palaces, we ask our students to make an effort to create an atmosphere. They have to imagine the rooms decorated with carpets, vases, tapestries and other items when we walk through them. And the scents of the fruit trees and plants when we walk among the palaces. We also try to make them understand that in the Alhambra, as in many other Arab monuments in Spain, the incorporation of Christian elements plays an important role. Perhaps, if it had not been for them, as well as the existence of the Palace of King Charles the 5th. itself attached to the Alhambra fortress on one of its sides, this great monument would not have been preserved until today.
Mexuar and Patio of the Golden Room
Once the students were aware, we entered the Mexuar, the meeting place of the king’s ministers and where the Sultan was administering justice. Next to this main hall was one of the various oratories in the Alhambra. Then we arrived at the patio of the Golden Room, that you can find on your left, because of its ceiling decorated and repainted in golden colour.
In the white marble patio, we find a central fountain and in front, the Comares façade, the most important of the palace. This is where the capture of Algeciras in the 14th century is commemorated and is the entrance to the private area of the palace. There are two imposing doors: the one on the right is where the service entered and left, and the one on the left is where the personal side of the Sultan and his family entered. At the top of the façade, you can see the small windows of the women’s rooms covered with lattices, to protect their privacy.
The Comares Palace has two very important parts. La Torre de Comares with the Ambassadors’ Hall, where the Sultan received the embassies of other countries and neighbouring kingdoms. And the famous Patio de los Arrayanes or the Alberca, due to the central pond.
We always start the visit of this palace in the Patio de los Arrayanes, from the end of the pond as if we were taking the picture below. The reason for this is to explain to our students that Sultan Yusuf I, who had it built, commissioned his architect to build a palace as if it were in paradise. The architect then thought that the best way to represent that idea was to use the reflection of the palace in the water and the effect of the movement is given by the fountain at the same end.
Then we entered the Salón de Embajadores through the Sala de la Barca. Many tour guides say it is called that because the roof is shaped like an inverted boat. Fortunately, most inform tourists that it comes from Baraka, an Arabic word meaning “blessing”. Next is the Ambassadors’ Hall, the most important part of this palace.
The Sala de Embajadores also called the Sala del Trono is where the sultan received his official visits. Once again we have to imagine that all the windows around the hall had coloured glass in their lattices. The sultan, sitting behind the front windows gave a more majestic image to his visitors. The whole room is filled with decorative inscriptions, poems and praises to God. But above all, the ceiling stands out in this room. A wooden masterpiece representing the Islamic Paradise with the four trees of life in the corners, the Seven Heavens that run through the soul to Allah, represented in the center.
We continue the tour to visit the last of the 3 main Nasrid palaces and many students are already starting to feel tired from the visit. But as we enter the Palacio de los Leones or the Lions, and see the famous fountain of the eight lions, it encourages them to continue the visit in good spirits. The palace owes its name to this fountain, which among its many interpretations, stands out as representing the 12 tribes of Israel.
We tell the students that this palace is an allegory to the Muslim Paradise. A place where the 4 rivers of Paradise: honey, milk, wine and water converge and run from the four main rooms of the palace to the lions’ fountain.
Thus, entering the Palace from the Patio de los Arrayanes, we see the 124 marble columns that represent the forest of paradise palms.
We continue the walk and we find the Sala de los Abencerrajes, as here 36 Abencerrajes knights were beheaded, being before, the king’s room. The jewel of this room is its decoration of tiles and muqarnas, especially the dome. A student of ours saw a similarity between it and Spiderman’s web. You’ll have to check it out with a comic book vision.
Next to this room and opposite to the one in Mocárabes, is the Sala de los Reyes. It is named after the paintings of the kings of the Nasrid dynasty on the ceiling in the central part. It is the longest room in the whole palace and could be a place reserved for private receptions of the king or a place for celebrations of the sultan’s family.
Finally, and to finish with the palace, we are going to pass through a group of rooms destined to the rooms of the sultan’s women. La Sala de las Dos Hermanas, the eldest room in this palace and one of the most beautiful, that was the residence of the Sultana and her royal family. The Mirador of Lindaraja, destined to be the private room of the Sultan’s favourite. It is a beautiful room with exquisite tiling, plinths and inlaid masterpieces of Muslim art.
Next, and before leaving the Nasrid Palaces to go to the Generalife, we see the top of the King’s Arab Baths.
The Generalife Palace was the resting place of the Muslim kings of Granada. It is a small palace surrounded by orchards and fruit trees that served as supplies to the Alhambra. Today, one of the orchards is still standing. The murmur of the water is the soniquete during the whole walk and enjoying its aromas is an experience for the senses. This is why our visit with the students ends in this walk and we always let them enjoy it at their own pace, without rushing before returning to the Granada of the 21st century.
Visiting the Alhambra
At Besstepsabroad we recommend that you plan your visit to the Alhambra at least months in advance, if you do not want to miss it when you arrive in Granada. There have been many changes in the acquisition of them and it can be a bit complicated if you are travelling in a group.
Our students always go on one of the visits organised by the Modern Languages Center where they study during the term or in the summer courses, so they organise it for us.
In the web page of the Patronato de la Alhambra you have all the information for their visit. And you are sure to find more technical information than we have given about the whole monument.
Also, you can contact our friends at Granada Travel Center who can not only help you make a great visit to the Alhambra, but to many other places in the city.
And if it turns out that your problem is not the ticket but the tour guide, contact us because we have two excellent contacts: firstname.lastname@example.org