Fun fact: Granada is the Spanish for Pomegranate and for grenade (the kind of explosive you throw). There are numerous Pomegranate trees around here, presumably brought with the Moors from Persia, where it is native.
The main attraction in Granada (and one of, if not the most popular in Spain), is the Alhmabra/Generalife complex. Online information is a bit confusing, so here are some pointers if you want to visit:
The Alhambra is one complex, and the Generalife is another, which is adjacent and included in the same ticket.
Within the Alhambra, there are three main areas – the Alcazaba, which was the principal military area, the Nasrid Palaces, which are the jewels in the crown, and the Partal, which is mostly ruins and gardens of another palace. There are also some surrounding buildings, parks, and other areas.
It is essential to book tickets ahead, which is easily done by phone or on the internet. Tickets can be picked up at self service kiosks in the entrance using the credit card you used to pay for them. You get a specific reserved time for visiting the Nasrid Palaces and you are recommended to arrive about an hour earlier in order to make your way to the palace for your reserved time, since it is about a 20 minute walk from the entrance and the site can get busy. As we had fairly early morning reservation times, there weren’t too many people about when we arrrived, so got to see the Alcazaba before our ticket time for the Nasrid Palaces.
There are different kinds of tickets for sale, but the general daytime admission ticket takes you to the whole complex, and this is the one you’ll probably want.
You can only visit the Alcazaba, Nasrid Palaces, and Generalife Palaces once, so it’s a good idea to go slow, take your time, and enjoy the space. Of these, the Nasrid Palaces is the only space that has a timed ticket. This is done to keep the number of simultaneous visitors down and protect the property.
We spent about 5 1/2 hours in total going through all the parts of the site that we could visit. It was a relatively cool day with cloud cover, so it was pleasant to be there the whole time. In fact, afterwards we ended up walking about 6KM back to our hotel. However usually at this time of year it gets very hot in the afternoons, so it’s a good idea to go on the earlier side to beat the heat, which also has the advantage that less people seem to be about.
Also, tickets are issued either for morning (8:30 to 14:00) or afternoon (14:00 until closing). If you have afternoon tickets, you can’t enter any earlier than 2pm. If you have morning tickets, you are supposed to be out of the complex by 2pm, but there is no real way for them to find you and kick you out, so from what we read, as long as you enter the final area you want to visit before 2pm, you can stay in that general area as long as you like.
It is also possible to buy a garden ticket, which does not include access to the Nasrid Palaces, but it would be a huge loss to come all this way and not see them. Separate evening tickets are also available to the Nasrid Palaces or Generalife.
So what is the Alhambra and Generalife? Although Granada was first occupied by Moors in the 8th Century, the golden era came during the rule of the Nasrid Dynasty from 1238 until 1492. Successive rulers build fortifications, palaces, and gardens in an aim to create paradise on earth and the result is the Alhambra and Generalife we see today.
Actually, what we see today is the Nasrid buildings, as well as later modifications done principally by Charles V. Up until relatively recent times the place was a ruin. Thankfully the Napleonic troops did not succeed in blowing up the place, but when the American writer Washington Irving (of Rip Van Winkle and Sleepy Hollow fame) lived here in the 1820s he described much of the place as a romantic ruin and talked of swimming in the pools with gypsies and local Spaniards. Irving wrote “Tales of the Alhambra” after his visit and is held in high regard here – there are several monuments to him on the grounds.
It is hard to do the Alhambra justice in photos – the place is really spectacular, with incredible detail in the tilework, plasterwork and woodwork that feature Islamic geometric patterns and calligraphy. Perhaps it is no wonder that after visiting here in 1922, M. C. Escher was inspired to work with the tessellations for which he is famous.
Water is a key element in the design of the buildings and grounds. In many places there are fountains and pools, often running inside the buildings. There is even a water staircase in the Generalife where water cascades down the handrails.
At one of the main pools we found a cat eyeing the fish in the pond and hoping for one to make it close enough to the rim to make a meal.
The inside of the Nasrid Palaces are the most richly decorated and one can see traces of color that must have made the finished rooms even more spectacular. Small niches are to be found at the entrance to many of the rooms. Once thought to be places to store slippers, it is now believed that they held flowers instead.
Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor visited here in 1526 and liked the place so much that he build perhaps the most important Spanish Renaissance palace on the grounds. The Italianate structure seems strangely out of place amongst all the Moorish buildings.
There are some great views of the surrounding old quarter of Granada, the Albaicin, as you walk around the walls.
If you ever plan a trip to Spain, I highly recommend including Granada on your itinerary.
As you can see, I took a lot of pictures today!
But I would have been happy to take many more.