Wrapping up a pleasant stay in Ronda and Marbella, our next destination in the Andalusian region of Spain was Granada, a city located at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains (not the same as those in California). Besides being a university town, it is also home to the Alhambra, which is both a citadel and a palace situated on top of the city’s hills and is considered the go-to place for visiting whilst in town.
That said, we made the two-hour drive over, and once we got into Granada, we headed directly over to the Alhambra to visit; we would spent the next two to three hours exploring the vast area, home to many intricate and refined architecture that has been influenced by that of Islamic traditions back in the ninth century. Considering that the Alhambra consists of not only one, but several palaces and buildings, we made sure to make it count by visiting all of them that afternoon. Overall, we visited the Palace of Charles V, Palacios Nazaríes, and the Generalife.
We got our tickets and, along with our local guide for the Alhambra, we headed into the walls of the once-thriving citadel. Our first visit was a brief one at the Palace of Charles V: it had been built for the eponymous Spanish king back in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as means of commemorating his power and achievements (also to live in there). However, no one ever ended up living inside, and so it was essentially all for naught! Nevertheless, the interior remained formidable, with its Doric colonnades stretched out in a complete, 360-degree fashion. Simple, but classy. Didn’t get to climb to the second floor of the circular courtyard, but all the same, it was impressive.
Afterwards, we went over to the Palacios Nazaríes (“Nasrid Palaces”), which interestingly enough was the only palace in the Alhambra that required a timed ticket. We were slated to enter at noon, so once we finished up the Palace of Charles V, it happened to be perfect timing to head into the next part of the beautiful citadel.
Let me tell you: the Palacios Nazaríes is huge. Not to forget immensely gorgeous; I could see why it required a timed ticket to get in, since too many people would overwhelm the elegant, but fragile structure of the building’s interior. Shuffling from chamber to chamber, we came across the king’s room, the queen’s, even the concubines’! There were so many rooms that eventually, they started blended together. I have to admit, though, I was very impressed with their overhangs, for they were fashioned in a particular Islamic/Moorish architectural style known as “mocárabe,” or “honeycomb works.” Dating back to the twelfth century, such works were nothing that I’d ever seen before- a wonderful discovery, though!
During our tour, we passed through the mezzanines, which offered amazing views of Granada from the top, since again, the Alhambra is located on the hills of the city. How could I resist taking a photo (or ten) of the sunny, stunning views?
Our final segment of our visit in the Alhambra was at the Generalife (pronounced “heh-ner-ul-all-EE-feh,” not “general life,” as my family and I had falsely believed. Whoops!). As the former summer palace and estate of Islamic rulers back in the thirteenth century, this place is home to the Court of la Acequia, which is a piece of architectural beauty with its small, “mini-fountains” dotting the elongated fountain itself. It is also the location of an ancient cypress tree, which is the only surviving piece of the original Generalife; legend has it that it was the meeting ground for the sultanas (the sultan’s wife) to meet a soldier from a rival tribe and have an affair with him (supposedly, but we’re not sure). Once the sultan discovered this, he ordered the soldier, along with his family, to be killed. Very romantic…
As soon as we saw all there was to see inside the Generalife, we were pretty much done with the Alhambra overall. We exited the summer palace, taking a shaded stroll through a row of lush-green trees in a garden before exiting the place altogether- by then, it was already close to 14h00, meaning that we’d been at the Alhambra for around three hours! Not only was it impressive that we’d been in there for a while, but also that we were able to see all of the buildings in the citadel. I can imagine people spending a whole day really taking their time with the architecture and views, so three hours to see the highlights really shouldn’t be nothing- nevertheless, we were exhausted (but pleasantly so!).
We took the coach down to the center of Granada, where we checked into our hotel for the night before being given free time to explore the city proper for the rest of the day. After dropping our bags off in our rooms, my family and I headed out to get a late lunch, since we were starving after a long morning of visiting the Alhambra. Our tour guide had told us that there’s a notable Arab quarter near the cathedral, if we were interested in getting food there. After a bit of wandering around, we eventually popped into a small kebab-pizza shop where, of course, we ordered kebabs. Now, I’ve had plenty of them back in France, so I was accustomed to what was expected in terms of taste and cost. My family, however, had never had kebabs before, and I found it quite funny that they were introduced to it whilst on vacation, let alone them really enjoying what they got! Then again, who could resist some simple, hearty food at an inexpensive price?
Our small lunch done, we took a stroll through the small, narrow streets of the historic quarter, soon arriving at the city’s cathedral: we decided to pay the 5 euros to enter it, and it turned out to be grander than I’d imagined! If there’s anything to say about Spain, it’s the fact that the size and opulence of its cathedrals are serious business- even those of France’s can’t even begin to compare! With our audio guide in hand (given to us after paying the admissions fee), we spent some time touring around the massive cathedral, checking out not only the towering nave, but also the small, but elegantly-tiled Sacristy and two organs perched between the nave and the door entrance, resembling spitting images of each other (not sure if they were identical, that’s why).
After the cathedral, we were done visiting for the day. It wasn’t as if we were utterly puttered out from the intensive visit at the Alhambra earlier in the day (well, partly so), but aside from the cathedral, there wasn’t much else that we knew to do in Granada. Perhaps shopping, but then again, we aren’t fans of that. We headed back to our hotel where we rested until dinnertime at the hotel’s restaurant, once again included from our tour. Then it was off to bed!
Overall, it was definitely a more eventful visit in Granada compared with the more-leisurely time spent in Ronda and Marbella the day before. The Alhambra was the sure-highlight of our time there, and while the city proper didn’t boast too many historic or culture activities to do, it was still gorgeous and lively, and I was glad to have been there.
Look forward to the next (and final) post on my trip to Spain this past winter holidays. Coming up: Toledo, Spain!