Overview: As Columbus was setting sail for the Americas, Spain was also expanding its empire closer to home. In 1492 its Christian crusaders... more »
As Columbus was setting sail for the Americas, Spain was also expanding its empire closer to home. In 1492 its Christian crusaders... more » finally took Granada, ending eight centuries of Moorish rule and a 280-year religious war for control of southern Spain.
Today, Granada is the quintessential remnant of Moorish Spain. This medium-sized city houses the world's greatest example of the north African culture's architecture - the amazing citadel and palaces of the Alhambra, where Columbus got the royal OK to go off and explore the 'new world'. But, reflecting its diverse religious roots, Granada also hosts arguably the most accessible displays of the dramatic Catholic Easter celebrations of Semana Santa.
This trail tours through the Alhambra, returns through Granada's most Moorish neighborhood of Albacin and finishes at the city's best viewpoint for enjoying both. You could do it all in one day but it's probably better to spend most of a day at the Alhambra alone to do it justice. less «
See the tip in the third PoI below about pre-booking your Alhambra tickets online (the link to do so is in 'other resources'). Turning... more » up on the day can mean standing in a queue for two or three hours, with no guarantee of getting in.
There is a popular hotel inside the Alhambra complex but that doesn't give you free range over the palace grounds at night. The Albaicin district at the bottom of the hill offers much more atmosphere in a Moorish neighborhood. less «
Keep the GPS on because this hotel is not easy to find amid the narrow alleys, but it's worth the effort when you get here. The lanes are too narrow for cars for the last 50m, but the hotel has a deal with a local car park if that's how you're arriving.
Such practicalities aside, this is a perfect base location for exploring the Alhambra and... More getting amongst the unique atmosphere of Albaicin. This is especially true if you are here at Easter for the Semana Santa - the local church a block away is a very active participant.
It only has 25 rooms arranged around its shady central courtyard so book early (see link in 'other resources').Less
Built on a hill overlooking Granada in the 14th century, the Alhambra is a sprawling citadel that combines royal palace with fortress and a general aim for creating 'paradise on earth'.
Home to the final three rulers of the Moorish Nasrid dynasty, the incredible craftsmanship of its design and decoration has ensured its survival. The conquering ... MoreSpaniards kept it as a trophy of their victory, subsequent rulers added building and courtyards in the spirit of the Renaissance and today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site attracting two million visitors a year. Only Napoleon tried to destroy it, with an unsuccessful attempt to blow it up.
While it's easy to get bedazzled by the detail in the tiled ceilings and carved arches, a lot of attention has gone into the setting. One poet described it as "a pearl set in emeralds" in reference to the surrounding woods. Save some time for exploring the internal gardens and parkland pathways surrounding the outer walls. This trail approaches the Alhambra entry up the hill along the citadel's southern wall. If you have time to kill before your allocated entry time, there is a path to the left about 100 metres before the entry that gives you access around the wall to the northern side.Less
The Alhambra entry is through the ticket office at the eastern and upper end of the complex. Book your tickets online a few weeks (or even a few months) ahead to avoid the long queues of people buying on the day. It may not be obvious at first, but there will be a ticket window (with a much shorter queue) for collecting pre-booked tickets. Make... More sure to bring your booking reference and ID.Less
Ironically, the first of the major buildings you explore after entry is the least Moorish. Construction of the Palace of Charles V, ruler of the Spanish empire, began 35 years after the eviction of the Moors.
In contrast to the Moorish palaces, with their beauty hidden in a maze of secluded courtyards, this palace is a bold statement about the... More dominance of the conquering empire. Everything here is on show immediately you enter the open circular courtyard within the symmetrical square building. The 'live for the moment' attitude of intricate Moorish decoration from short-lived wood and tiles are abandoned for the 'permanent' structure of stone.
Although designed as a residence for Charles V befitting an emperor, he never got to live here. A series of construction problems ensured it remained largely as a facade until the building was finally completed in the 20th century. Today it houses a museum of Spanish-Islamic art.Less
This was the fortress of the Alhambra, and the oldest part of the citadel. Excavation work has uncovered evidence that there may even have been a castle of this spot that predates the Moors.
The fortress was kept separate from the palaces, as if the nobles were living behind the protection of their warriors, and used exclusively for military... More purposes. The maze of excavated building interiors has revealed two distinct areas connected by a central alley. The small rooms on the north side housed the officers and senior officials, to the south were larger troops quarters and weapons stores.
The Alcazaba was also a prison, with several underground dungeons accessed only by narrow passages that bottlenecked towards the surface to make escape even more difficult.
There are great views across Granada and the surrounding district from the watchtower. The bells in the tower are a Christian addition for sounding alarms and generally controlling life below.Less
This is what a visit to the Alhambra is all about, and when you realise just how many people you are sharing the experience with. Your timed ticket will also include a second timing for entry to the royal palaces (also known as the Nasrid palaces). It seems like a crush at first, but the crowd will gradually disperse into the various courtyards... More and gardens along the assigned route through this section.
You pass through a series of spectacular chambers decorated with marble columns, stalactite-like ceiling decorations, tiled walls and arches with intricate carvings and Arabic calligraphy. These are connected by tranquil (imagining them without the crowds) courtyards with pools that, apart from the aesthetic, were an intelligent design for cooling and reflecting light into surrounding rooms.
The highlights are many but just to nominate three roughly in the order you are likely to discover them:
- Salon de Embajadores (Salon of the Ambassadors) is a huge reception room where the sultan's throne sat opposite the entrance. The highly decorated ceiling represents the seven heavens of the Muslim cosmos. This was where Christopher Columbus received his royal blessing (and funding) to set sail for the Americas.
- Patio de Arraynes (Courtyard of the Myrtles) is dominated by a large marble goldfish pond with myrtles growing along its sides. Because of its scarcity in dry southern Spain, water and the ability to control it were regarded as symbols of power.
- The Sala de los Abencerrajes takes its name from that of a rival noble family to Boabdil, the last Moorish king of Granada. Legend has it that Boabdil invited the Abencerrajes chiefs to a banquet here where they were massacred Al Capone style. Some tour guides may point out the blood stains on the marble (it's actually rust stains). Just as dramatic is the star-shaped ceiling dome inspired by Pythagora's theorem.Less
When you have had your fill of palace life, do as the sultans did and head for the Generalife. This was their country estate escape from the rigors of court.
It's just a five-minute walk along a signposted footpath north-east of the Alhambra. There is no spectacular architecture here, the attractions are simply the landscaped gardens, the water... More features and the views.
The trail leaves the Alhambra from here, and retraces its steps back down the hill towards the Albaicin district.Less
Semana Santa or Holy Week is a major religious festival in this part of Spain. Local church communities prepare (and train!) all year for it.
From Palm Sunday to Good Friday, it's a series of traffic and pedestrian stopping processions lasting long into the night. Each church prepares a pasos (a float bearing a religious effigy) which is carried ... Morethrough the towns for hours by teams of costaleros (literally 'sack men' because of the costal, a sack-like cloth that they wear over their neck, to soften the burden). They are accompanied by the sinister-looking nazarenos (members of the Catholic brotherhoods dressed in long gowns and pointed hoods) and others from the church community carrying candles and other religious ornaments.
It can appear a bit spooky because of the similarity to Ku Klux Klan get-up but that's where the similarity ends - it's a passionate, festive and inclusive atmosphere.
Seville holds the granddaddy of Semana Santa celebrations when the city shuts down normal activity to cater for a complex timetable of more than 100 processions. With the crowds pouring into the city from around the globe, getting anywhere close to the action (or just getting anywhere) involves planning of military precision.
Fortunately, Granada's festivities are just as passionate and colorful but far less crowded. Getting a viewpoint on the procession routes is easy (and it's easy to stroll back to the bar afterwards). The location of this PoI marker will allow you to capture the entries and exits from the 16th century Albaicin church Iglesia de Santa Ana.Less
This historic Moorish district has dozens of narrow cobbled alleys jutting away from its main thoroughfares. I've mapped most of the trail along one of the main roads but I would encourage ad hoc exploration of the residential lanes. When you get lost, just keep heading downhill and it will lead you back to Carrera Del Darro.
The main cafe and... More restaurant area surrounds the Plaza Santa Ana. This is great tapas territory, but there is more to Andalusian cuisine than the common bar snacks. If you are here in the autumn or winter (hunting season), look out for game meat roasts and stews. Spaniards eat late. Tapas has become a meal outside of Spain, but traditionally it was a bar snack with a pre-dinner drink. Locals don't hit the restaurants before 9pm but many open earlier for tourists. It's surprisingly easy to get into the swing of this timing if you take mid-afternoon siestas.
Continuing the trail east along Carrera Del Darro and then north up Calle Zafra takes you alongside old Moorish-inspired houses and stone bridges over the Rio Darro river. The cafes in the river-side gardens are a good spot for a lazy lunch while enjoying the views of the Alhambra up the slopes.Less