Saturday, 27 September 2014

Amazing Alhambra

We usually plan our trip as we go, leaving home with a loose itinerary, firming things up when we are about 5 days out, reserving our hotels and planning the sites we want to visit at the same time. While this flexibility has great advantages, there are some downsides, such as deciding that we want to visit the Alhambra, but finding that all the online tickets are sold out! What to do but pray and proceed on faith that everything will work out?

We booked our room in Granada for two nights, with the backup plan that we could extend our stay if necessary in order to see the Alhambra. The drive from Barcelona was very long but beautiful, past lovely beach towns, olive groves and rolling hills. After 10 hours, we finally arrived to our favourite hotel so far. It was in a great location, quiet, and had a rooftop pool. What could be better?

We asked for a 7am wakeup call, and when we woke up, headed straight to the Alhambra without stopping to eat breakfast. After parking, we walked quickly toward the first group of people that we saw, praying that by some miracle we would get in. God is good! Not only were we at the exact spot for buying tickets, but after a short wait, we were able to buy not one, but two sets, one to get to get into the grounds right away with a 1:00 viewing of the Palacios Nazaries (the main attraction!), and one to view it again at night. We were so happy that we could hardly contain ourselves! God is so good!

To see the Alhambra is especially exciting, as it is the site of a Moorish military fortress dating back as far as 899. It was established as a royal residence in 1238, when the first Nasrad sultan, Mohammad I chose this site high up on the hill overlooking the town to build his palace, a mosque, gardens, houses for his people and all other services needed to maintain the complex.The final conquest of the Alhambra took place when the patrons of Christopher Columbus, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile unified Spain and drove out the Moors. The Iberian dynasy was the last group of Moors to rule in this area, turning over the palace and all other holdings to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.


As in all castles, the Alhambra is surrounded by a high wall with towers. The square towers date back to Moorish times, while the round towers were built by the Christian rulers. The low walls to the right are the remains of houses that the Moorish townsfolk lived in.

When Emperor Charles V and Queen Isabella of Portugal visited the Alhambra in 1526, they decided to build themselves a home within its walls. In order to do this, they destroyed a wing of the palace so that they could build their own Renaissance castle. The symbolic significance of this was that it showed the Emperor to be one of the most powerful figures in the world, owing to his grandfather conquering the Moors in this area.

While the outside looks like a giant decorated box, the inside looks like a Roman Coliseum. Unfortunately, the building was never used as a royal residence, because the roof was never put on! ....very leaky on rainy days, but very beautiful on starry nights!

The Alhambra has had many owners and gone through several facelifts over the centuries, as Spanish kings recognized the beauty of the Moorish structures, but wanted to incorporate Christian designs. Even Napoleon liked the Alhambra and used it as a barracks! Unfortunately, all of the Moorish art and decoration was removed, but fortunately the pools and fountains remain. Much of the Alhambra fell into ruin over the centuries but has been beautifully restored.

While the entire Alhambra is magical, the main attraction is without a doubt, the main palace, the Palacios Nazaries. Being inside conjurs up pictures of sultans sitting on silken cushions. The ceilings inside the palace were incredible mosaics of thousands of geometric prisms.

The gardens have also gone through a series of remodels through the centuries, largely retaining the designs of the Moors. I felt like playing hide and seek in the maze-like gardens that were created out of hedges, fountains, pools and flowers.

Although we loved our daytime visit, we were thrilled that we were able to return at 10 pm, as the magical feeling of being in the Palacios Nazaries without the crowds will stay with us forever. Having scouted out the palace earlier in the day, we were able to go directly to our favourite spots and quietly reflect on what the Alhambra must have been like in the days of the sultans.




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