Granada is one of the largest tourist centers in Andalusia, in southern Spain. After all, the lower part of the city contrasts with two hills where the Alhambra and Generalife monumental complex, as well as the historic neighborhood of Albayzín, are located.
The Alhambra of Granada was home to successive civilizations, that is until it joined the Kingdom of Castile at the end of the 15th century. Over the centuries, the area has also served as an inspiration for artists, from Washington Irving‘s “Tales of the Alhambra” (1832) to the musical compositions of Francisco Tárrega and Manuel de Falla.
So, do you want to know more about the Alhambra Of Granada: Best Tips For Visiting In 2023? Keep reading!
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- Brief History of the Alhambra of Granada
- How to Get to the Alhambra of Granada
- What to See at the Alhambra of Granada
Brief History of the Alhambra of Granada
First of all, Muhammad I was the founder of the Nasrid dynasty (or nazarí, in Spanish), the last Muslim dynasty on the Iberian Peninsula. In 1238, he decided to install his court on the al-Sabika hill in Granada, thus beginning the construction of the Alhambra.
Six reigns later, Yusuf I ordered the design of the magnificent Comares Palace, while his successor, King Muhammad V, was the creator of the famous Palace of the Lions. However, on January 2, 1492, Muhammad XII gave the Alhambra of Granada to the Catholic Kings.
Isabel I of Castile and Fernando II of Aragon not only hosted the Royal House in the Alhambra but also converted the place into the headquarters of the Captaincy General of the Kingdom of Granada.
In the year 1526, Charles V visited the Alhambra of Granada and decided to build a palace named after him, which eventually became an important model of Spanish Renaissance architecture.
Later, in the 18th century, the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando – based in Madrid – started the first planimetric studies of the site. As a result, the interest of the scientific community remained and, in 1870, the Alhambra was inscribed as a National Monument.
Between 1923 and 1936, the complex underwent a profound renovation carried out by restorative architect Leopoldo Torres Balbás. Among several of his interventions, the works carried out at the Palace of the Lions, the Mexuar Palace, and the Partal stand out.
Did you know that the Alhambra of Granada was part of Spain’s first set of inscriptions on the UNESCO World Heritage List? This 8th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in Buenos Aires (Argentina), between October 29th and November 2nd, 1984.
Four other Spanish sites were announced in the session: the Burgos Cathedral; the Historic Center of Cordoba; the Monastery and Site of the Escorial in Madrid; and three Works of Antoni Gaudí. Ten years later, the classification was still extended to the historic neighborhood of Albayzín.
Nowadays, Spain is the fourth country in the world and the third country in Europe with the most UNESCO sites, right after Italy and Germany, and tied with France. It has forty-nine heritage assets (both cultural and natural) inscribed on the world list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization!
In the meantime, I’ve already had the opportunity to visit ten of them:
- Alhambra, Generalife, and Albayzín, Granada (1984, 1994)
- Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida (1993)
- Archaeological Ensemble of Tarraco (2000)
- Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville (1987)
- Historic Centre of Cordoba (1984)
- Old City of Salamanca (1988)
- Old Town of Santiago de Compostela (1985)
- Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau, Barcelona (1997)
- Paseo del Prado and Buen Retiro, a landscape of Arts and Sciences (2021)
- Works of Antoni Gaudí (1984, 2005) – Casa Batlló, Casa Milà, Casa Vicens, Crypt of Colònia Güell, Nativity Façade and Crypt of the Sagrada Familia, Palau Güell, and Park Güell
How to Get to the Alhambra of Granada
In addition to the four main areas – the Gardens and Palace of the Generalife, the Alcazaba, the three Nasrid Palaces, and the Partal Palace and Gardens – the monumental complex of the Alhambra of Granada has many other buildings and places of interest worth visiting.
First of all, the Palace of Charles V, home to the Museum of the Alhambra, Museum of Fine Arts, and a Conference and Exhibition Centre. Designed by Spanish architect Pedro Machuca, who studied with the master Michelangelo in Italy, it has strong Roman inspirations.
Other important legacies are, without a doubt, the Catholic heritage present in the Alhambra of Granada. To begin with, the Saint Mary Church, whose origins date back to 1581 and was completed almost 40 years later, in 1618.
And secondly, the Parador de San Francisco contrasts with the ruins of the old Medina. It was a Franciscan convent in the 15th century and now serves as tourist accommodation, as part of the network of Paradores Nacionales de Turismo.
To access the Alhambra of Granada, you need to cross the Plaza de la Alhambra and go through the Entrance Pavilion, the main ticket office, and the starting point of the visit. In this space, you’ll also have access to bathrooms, lockers, audio guides, the bookshop, and a picnic area.
Opening Hours & Ticket Prices
The ticket for the monumental complex costs €14 and includes a day trip to the Generalife, the Alcazaba, and the Nasrid Palaces. On the other hand, the Palace of Charles V, the Museum of the Alhambra, and the Mosque Baths are free to enter.
WARNING: The Nasrid Palaces have a specific schedule marked on the ticket!
There are other ticket types, such as day (€7) or night (€5) visits to the Gardens and Palace of the Generalife or the night visit to the Nasrid Palaces (€8). This alternative takes place from 8 pm to 9:30 pm, on Fridays and Saturdays (low season), and from 10 pm to 11 pm from Tuesdays to Saturdays (high season).
The complex is open every day of the year (except December 25th and January 1st), with daytime hours from 8:30 am to 6 pm during the low season (October 15th to March 31st) and from 8:30 am to 8 pm during the high season (April 1st to October 14th).
What to See at the Alhambra of Granada
Palace and Gardens of the Generalife
The Palace of the Generalife comes from the Arab Jannat al-‘Arīf, which means Garden of the Architects. This area was the first one I visited and includes not only the palace but also the High Gardens and the Low Gardens.
The Generalife emerged with the intention of serving as a recreation area for Nasrid kings, like a holiday palace. The building and gardens were built during the reign of Muhammad III (1302-09) and then improved by Ishmael I (1314-25).
First, it was connected to the rest of the Alhambra of Granada complex by a covered medieval walkway, through the ravine that divides them and which can be seen from the Partal Gardens (next to the Torre de los Picos).
Nowadays, you can explore the Casa de los Amigos (an old guesthouse and current archaeological site), or the Romantic Viewpoint, or even the Water Staircase, whose gutters continuously led the water of the Royal Water Channel.
Besides that, several patios are preserved (Patio de Descabalgamieno, Patio de la Acequia, and Patio del Ciprés de la Sultana) and the Generalife Theatre (a contemporary open-air auditorium) has recently been added.
Finally, you can walk on the Paseo de las Adelfas and the Paseo de los Cipreses. The Patio de la Acequia – one of the most stunning spots in the Alhambra – has a long water channel, surrounded by small jets and flower beds.
From Puerta del Vino and crossing the Plaza de los Aljibes, you’ll arrive at the Alcazaba, not only one of the oldest parts of the Alhambra of Granada but also the military area of the monumental complex.
In historical terms, Alcazaba comes from the Arabic al-qasbah, which means Citadel and consists of a type of Arab fortification or castle. It was very common in Andalusian cities other than Granada, such as Malaga, Almería, or Marbella.
There are numerous towers to climb and visit, almost all of them on the north and east walls:
- Cube Tower (Torre del Cubo)
- Keep (Torre del Homenaje)
- Broken Tower (Torre Quebrada)
- Adarguero Tower (Torre del Adarguero)
- Tower of the Servant of Doctor Ortiz (Torre del Criado del Doctor Ortiz)
- Alquiza Tower (Torre de Alquiza)
- Arms Tower (Torre de las Armas)
- Watch Tower (Torre de la Vela)
- Powder Tower (Torre de la Pólvora)
If the Arms Tower serves as a tourist viewpoint for the neighborhoods of Albayzín and Sacromonte, then the Watch Tower serves the same purpose to see the historic center of Granada. To end your visit to the Alcazaba, stroll through the Plaza de Armas and the Jardín de los Adarves, on the south wall and with panoramic views.
Currently, there are three Nasrid Palaces, although they appeared in different periods of history. The Mexuar Palace was the residence of Ishmael I (1314-25), the Comares Palace the home of Yusuf I (1333-54), and the Palace of the Lions the residence of Muhammad V (1362-91), who actually used all three.
The Mexuar Palace – not as well preserved as its contemporaries – was the place where the Sura met to decide business and administrative matters, just as it served as a courtroom. The primitive rooms reveal a modest decoration and architecture, probably due to their purpose. It’s worth noting its Oratory, used by the royal family and its court in Muslim prayers.
The Patio de Comares o de los Arrayanes is the central enclosure of the Comares Palace. With a large water channel that reflects the surrounding buildings, both the Comares Tower and the Facade of the Palace (in the Cuarto Dorado) are seen from this point.
Surprisingly, this tower is the largest in the Alhambra of Granada, at 45 meters! Likewise, it houses the Hall of the Ambassadors, the largest room in the entire place and which is surrounded by nine small rooms.
Therefore, the most important site of this second Nasrid Palace had a rectangular antechamber, known as Hall of the Boat and filled with decorative details. Just to illustrate, it incorporates Arabic words and phrases written in plaster on the walls, tiles of different colors, and the famous muqarnas, ornaments of Islamic architecture in the shape of vaults.
In summary, the remaining rooms, corridors, and patios were added from the Patio de los Arrayanes. It’s also possible to visit the Comares Baths, that is, a space for the so-called Turkish baths. Although it’s recognized that each palace in the Alhambra of Granada had a proper room for baths, this is the only one preserved almost entirely in the Western world. Unfortunately, by the time I visited the venue, it was closed.
Palace of the Lions
The Palace of the Lions, the third and last Nasrid Palace, serves as a true living testimony of the Islamic architecture in Granada. It can be said that it is the jewel of the crown since the Alhambra is the most visited tourist site in Spain.
The Court of the Lions is certainly the most photographed and recognized place in the Alhambra of Granada. Surrounded by a gallery with 124 columns of white Andalusian marble, it also serves as the central axis for the rooms.
From the residential spaces that surround it, you can walk through the Sala de los Abencerrajes and admire its dome of muqarnas in the shape of an eight-pointed star. Likewise, not only the Hall of the Two Sisters (former secondary residence) but also the Hall of the Kings deserve a visit for its richly painted and ornamented vaults.
In the northern part of the Palace of the Lions are the Emperor’s Rooms, which can be accessed through the Sala de los Ajimeces. They are a set of six rooms with Christian inspirations, built between 1528 and 1537 for the sovereign and his wife.
With an office, an antechamber, and an open gallery called Peinador de la Reina, it also includes two patios. Firstly, the Patio de la Reja, is characterized by a balcony with wrought iron railings. From the same point of view, the Patio de la Lindaraja has a similar structure but imitates a cloister. The latter received its name from the Mirador de Daraxa.
Partal Palace and Gardens
The Partal is a small oasis, amid the scorching heat of Granada. Like the Comares Palace, it has an imposing pool, as well as a portico and an oratory with the same name, plus the so-called Ladies Tower. As far as is known, it was built at the time of Muhammad III (1302-09), which makes it the oldest palace in the Alhambra of Granada! At least, the one who remains partially standing…
However, the Partal Palace and Gardens were only integrated into the monumental complex of the Alhambra and the Generalife in the early 20th century. Architectural and landscape works began in the 1930s, at a time when archaeological explorations were already taking place on the site.
This section also contains the archaeological ruins of the Palace of Yusuf III and the Rauda, an ancient Islamic mortuary vat.
To end the visit to the Alhambra of Granada, I invite you to take a stroll along the Promenade of the Towers, which connects the Gardens of the Partal to the upper part of the Alhambra and the Generalife. From the Tower of the Points, there’s a path marked by the Tower of the Judge, Tower of the Captive, Tower of the Princesses, and Torre del Cabo de la Carrera, next to the Water Tower.
Neighborhood of Albayzín
The historic neighborhood of Albayzín is at an altitude of almost 800 meters, on a hill facing the Alhambra of Granada. It has lots of “carmens”, typical houses with whitewashed walls, and backyards with thick vegetation.
Albayzín has several places of interest to visit, but the Mirador de San Nicolás is the most popular, due to the views over the Alhambra. Next to the Iglesia de San Nicolás is the Mezquita Mayor de Granada, an Islamic temple that opened less than 20 years ago.
There are also several aljibes (small local cisterns) in the surrounding area, such as the Aljibe de San Nicolás, Aljibe de las Tomassas or the Aljibe de Bibalbonud.
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