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The Alhambra Palace - Spain's Crowning Glory

Updated on July 20, 2015
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Colin's novels, story collections and stage plays are available as eBooks and paperbacks.

View from the Nazrid Palaces
View from the Nazrid Palaces | Source

Spain's Alhambra Palace is one of the most visited attractions in the world. Its abundance of ancient and more recent architecture, artwork and Moorish influences, have made it a haven for artists, historians and tourists for many years.

I first heard of the Alhambra Palace when I began to study a piece of guitar music called 'Recuerdos de la Alhambra' (memories of the Alhambra).

At the time, I thought it was about something that no longer existed, so it was a surprise to learn about the Palace during a documentary about classical guitarist John Williams. It was many years later, however, that I finally got the chance to visit the Alhambra Palace myself, and I was not disappointed.

The Moorish influences are everywhere
The Moorish influences are everywhere | Source

The Red Castle

The Alhambra Palace or "qa'lat al-Hamra" (Red Castle in Arabic), is to the west of the city of Granada, in the Andalucía region of Spain, near the Sierra Nevada mountains. The original Palace dates from 889 though quickly fell into ruin. It was rebuilt in the 11th century by Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar, who oversaw the construction of the palace and walls as it stands today. In 1333, Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada converted it into a royal palace.

Built for Spain's Muslim emirs and the Nasrid dynasty, the Palace was later occupied by Christian rulers following the capture of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V also contributed to the fortifications when he built the palace that bears his name (Charles V Palace).

Parts of the Palace were destroyed during the French occupation, but like many ancient buildings, the Alhambra then fell out of use. It wasn't until it was 'found' by Europeans during the 19th century that renovations began to restore the architecture to its former glory.

View of the Court of Machuca
View of the Court of Machuca | Source

Entry and Prices

It's a good idea to book tickets and plan your visit several days in advance, as entry to the Nasrid Palaces is restricted. On booking, you'll be given an allocated time-slot for the Nasrid Palaces as well as an entry time for the main entrance to the Alhambra.

According to one of the many unofficial websites, there are time restrictions on most areas of the Alhambra, (although we didn't have any problems during our visit), and the abundance of coach parties can lead to people-jams at entrances to the most popular exhibits. (We were scheduled entry to the Nasrid Palaces at 4.20pm, and queued for 30 minutes or so before we were allowed in).

Better wear a hat
Better wear a hat | Source

Layout

The Alhambra Palace is laid out of a wide area, so be prepared to do a fair bit of walking. The Muslim palaces within the castle walls were constructed over many centuries, so the layout is not particularly logical.

While it's perfectly possible to see everything the Alhambra has to offer in a single visit, it's probably more sensible to decide which of the palaces you want to see, since there will inevitably be queuing for at least some of them. There are thirteen towers in all, providing wonderful views over the Granada itself and ample photo opportunities.

The Charles V Palace

Built in the Renaissance style and in stark contrast to the rest of the castle, the Charles V Palace has a circular courtyard set within a square exterior. The beautiful courtyard is easily accessed from the main entrance to the Palace. As well as housing two museums (the Fine Arts and Alhambra museums) this magnificent building is also a popular venue for some of the Granada Music and Dance Festival performances.

The Charles V Palace courtyard
The Charles V Palace courtyard | Source

Exhibitions

During our visit, there were several art exhibitions in progress: we particularly liked the photographs by Irish/American artist Sean Scully, who had also created a series of artworks inspired by Moorish/Islamic designs. Forthcoming exhibitions and events can be found on the official Alhambra website.

The fountain in the Palace of the Lions
The fountain in the Palace of the Lions | Source

The Palace of the Lions

One of the three palaces within the Nasrid Palaces, the Palace of the Lions and its notable fountain is symbolic of the rich decoration found in the Alhambra and while the fountain is truly a thing of beauty, it is not simply an elaborate ornament. A complicated water system was created to ensure the fountain didn't overflow.

As with the Palace of Comares (also within the Nasrid), it opens out onto an open courtyard. The Palace is an excellent example of Moorish artistic style and demonstrates the development of particular motifs, repeated patterns and the intricacy of their designs.

The Court of the Myrtles
The Court of the Myrtles | Source

The Court of the Myrtles

Named after the dense bushes known as mirth that are in abundance around the pond, Teh Court of the Myrtles, is once again centred around a courtyard. Used as a meeting area and traditionally functioning as the heart of family life, all other rooms within the structure lead off this central area.

The Court of the Lindaraja
The Court of the Lindaraja | Source

The Hall of the Grated Window

Named after the grated balcony on the south wall, the Hall of the Grated Window is essentially a corridor constructed to protect the rooms close by.

The Court of the Lindaraja

Next to this, is the peaceful and cloister-like Court of the Lindaraja, which is bordered by three of the rooms of the Emperor’s Chambers. The garden is centred round a Baroque-style fountain.

The Partal

Probably constructed during the reign of Sultan Muhammad III (14th century), the Partal is the oldest of the surviving palaces within the Alhambra. Arthur Von Gwinner, who passed ownership to the State more than a hundred years ago, previously owned the Palace of the Partal. Much of the original decoration was at that point hidden from view due to various wall coverings. Thankfully, the plasterwork has now been returned to its former glory. The house has a tower (Las Damas) and a portico with five ornate arches, overlooking the pool and surrounding vegetation.

The Partal
The Partal | Source
Tower of Homage, Alcazaba
Tower of Homage, Alcazaba | Source

The Alhambra Palace is a fantastic place to visit, but is so vast that many people make several trips in order to see everything.

As well as the Palace itself, there are of course the Alhambra gardens and a ticket for these (cunningly titled the 'Garden' ticket) will get you into most parts of the complex including the Rauda, Palace of Jusuf III, Promenade of the Towers, the Court of the Main Canal, Sultana’s Court and Water Stairway.

I've only touched on a few of the sights at this amazing place, but if Moorish architecture is your thing, or if you simply want to soak up the atmosphere of the region, the Alhambra Palace is the place to go.

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    • FatBoyThin profile image
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      Colin Garrow 10 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks for reading, ValKaras, much appreciated. Like many ancient places, it's sometimes hard to appreciate the amazing work people put into creating it.

    • ValKaras profile image

      Vladimir Karas 10 months ago from Canada

      Thank you for sharing all this great information and photos of this fascinating historical site.

      Born in Croatia and spending my first 24 years there, I had a chance to explore a lot of architectural history. Our capital itself is over 1000 years old. That's what I miss here in Canada - the spirit of those romantic and incredibly creative places where folks put into art all that's today known as classic, whether in music, paintings or architecture. I am very fond of old Spanish music, particularly guitar performances, so thanks for the video as well.

      Alhambra certainly brings back all those nostalgic feelings.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 20 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Hi Mary, yes, it's a very popular place, but well worth the wait, I'm sure you'll agreed. Thanks for reading.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 20 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      We were there last year and we booked our ticket before we left for Spain but somehow, we just failed in doing the transaction online. So we had to go very early to get a ticket. When we arrived, the line was long. Luckily, we were able to get in.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      It's a pretty amazing place and there's so much to see there, you must visit if you ever get the chance.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Fascinating! The Moors left a huge impression on Spain and on civilization as a whole. I had't heard of the Alhambra palace but it sounds amazing.

      Thank you for sharing it with us

      Lawrence

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks CMHypno and Bill for your kind words. It really is a magical place - just a shame it's in Spain rather than Scotland!

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      We almost headed to Spain last year but instead traveled to France. When we do get to Spain this will come in handy. Certainly looks like an fascinating place and something that would interest me. Methinks for sharing.

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 2 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Thanks for the hub on the Alhambra. I visited it many years ago and found it to be an enchanting place. Time to schedule another trip!

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Hi Alicia, thanks for reading. It certainly is a magnificent place and there's so much to see it's difficult to take it all in.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This looks like a beautiful and very impressive place to explore. I would love to visit the Alhambra Palace. Thanks for sharing the very interesting information and photos. I hope that one day I can explore the palace in person.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks for your comments Larry, TBW and Chantelle - it certainly is a shame builders and architects don't take so much care about detail and materials these days, though I suppose if they did, houses wouldn't just be more interesting, they'd be a hell of a lot more expensive.

    • Chantelle Porter profile image

      Chantelle Porter 2 years ago from Chicago

      It is amazing the detail and dedication to what must have been a tremendously difficult architectural feat. What a shame they don't build anything like it anymore.

    • profile image

      TheBizWhiz 2 years ago

      Very true. Craftsmanship is a rare commodity these days

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Biz Whiz: just the craftsmanship alone. If it can't be done by machine, we don't do it, and even if we wanted to, the workers would be so sought after, it woul cost a trillion dollars.

    • profile image

      TheBizWhiz 2 years ago

      Larry, you are right. I think to replicate that kind of detail would be too expensive these days. We have to accept the materials China gives is. Lol

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      I'm always taken aback by how much more attention to detail was paid back then in comparison to modern architecture.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks Lee, yes it's well worth taking a few days to see it properly, especially the Nasrid Palaces. Cheers for reading.

    • profile image

      Lee Cloak 2 years ago

      Fantastic hub, ive visited many Spanish palaces and castle but haven't made it to this one yet, but Alhambra is on my list and i will get there, thanks for sharing, Voted up, Lee

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      I'd forgotten about that very shaded area - I tend to just remember the intense heat walking around the Alhambra. Thanks for reading, much appreciated.

    • profile image

      TheBizWhiz 2 years ago

      Alhambra is a very fascinating and

      The first time I went there was with my wife. She had studied medicine in Granada and we were there to visit her old friends and pick up some papers from the university. It was an unusually hot June day and as far as the eye could see there were adobe style buildings reflecting light and heat as we made our way around the city.

      But as soon as we began making our way into Alhambra we were greeted by a cobblestone road with a canopy of entwined trees above us for shade and the wind blowing off of the tiny aquifers of cold water on each side of the road, cooling us as we made our way up to the palace.

      Ever since that day, when someone tells me to go to my happy place, this is where I go.

      Great Hub.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Cheers Buildreps - Thanks for your comments and yes, it was hot, but I'm English, not Scottish - I just live here.

      Chantelle - thanks for reading. I think the Alhambra Palace is on a lot of folks' bucket lists. It really is an amazing place.

    • Chantelle Porter profile image

      Chantelle Porter 2 years ago from Chicago

      Loved this article. So well done. Alhambra is on my bucket list. Don't know if I'll ever get there so visiting it vicariously was wonderful.

    • Buildreps profile image

      Buildreps 2 years ago from Europe

      Great article and wonderful pictures. I've never been there (yet), and became now fascinated in it to actually visit it as well. Must have been hot there for a Scottish guy :)