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The Alhambra Palace - Spain's Crowning Glory
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 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.
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).
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.
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 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
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 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.
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 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.