My partner and I first visisted Granada on a long weekend back in 2019, on a trip that also included a visit to Cordoba. Our main reason for visiting Cordoba was obviously to explore the Alhambra, something I have been thinking of doing for years. However, as it turned out the visit was a bit of a flop for the reasons detailed below. However, both my partner and I fell in love with Andalusia so we decided to return at the earliest convenience (in this case two years later because of Covid) and to explore this beautiful part of the world at a more leasurely pace. As part of a trip we decided to visit the Alhambra a second time as we didn’t really get to see it properly the first time round.
The Alhambra: First Visit
There are several ways you can get a ticket to the Alhambra. Firstly, you can buy a personal ticket directly from the official Alhambra ticketing website. This is by far the cheapest (14 Euros) and the best way to see the Alhambra as you can spend as much time as you like visiting the Alcazaba, the Nasrid Palace and the Generalife. However, note that the tickets to the Nasrid Palace are timed; once you are inside the Palace though you can stay as long as you want. The downside of this approach is that there is only a limited amount of individual tickets available and these get snapped up really quickly.
When we looked in April 2019 to book a ticket in May they had all sold out and the earliest available ticket was for the beginning of June. Hence I was forced to buy a ticket for a guided tour, which cost me more than three times as much as the individual ticket (£45). And the tour was pretty dire. The tour guide was pretty much completely useless, he told us at least three times that the water flowed downhill from the mountains to the Alhambra and that was about as informative as it got. Moreover, he rushed us through the whole complex so that the whole visit did not last longer than 2 hours and a half, which is by far not enough. So if you are going down the guided tour route I suggest that you do your research properly into which organiser to choose, something I did not do to my regret.
There is a third option to buy a ticket assuming that you are not risk averse and will not be disappointed if you do not see the Alhambra at all. Each day they sell a limited amount of individual tickets at the ticket office of the Alhambra. In order to get one of these tickets you have to get up early in the morning and hope that they have not sold out by the time you get there.
The Alhambra: Second Visit
This time we managed to buy two individual tickets in advance. Since we had to be at the entrance to the Nasri Palace at 10am we turned up at the entrance gate at about 9.30 and then we had a leisurely stroll through the Alhambra. Before joining the queue for the Nasri Palace we bought a guide book at the “Wine Gate”. The aim of the guide book was mainly to keep my partner occupied while I was darting around photographing. Nevertheless, the guide book was way more informative than the human guide we had during our first visit (and cheaper to boot) and, additionally, it was actually nice to know what we were looking at.
Unlike during our first visit, we ambled around the many towers, halls, palaces and courtyards of the the Alhambra for 8 hours, a large part of which was spent staring in wonder at the stunning islamic architecture and artworks in the Nasri Palace and the Generalife. Even then we had not quite seen everything there was to see and I am not sure we managed to take every thing in we actually had seen.
A note of warning – do not sit on the floor in the Nasri Palace. I did it twice, once to rest and once to take a picture and nearly got evicted by a security guard who also threatened me with the police.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Sabika Hill, the site of the Alhambra, was first occupied by the Romans, while the Visigoths erected a fortress there in the 9th century. The first reference to the Alhambra proper, dates back to the reign of the seventh Emir of Cordoba, Abdulla ibn Muhammad.
At the beginning of the 11th century, the region of Granada was dominated by an offshoot of the North African Zirid dynasty. When the Caliphate of Cordoba collapsed after 1009, the Zirid leader Zawi ben Ziri established an independent kingdom for himself, the Taifa of Granada. The Zirids built their citadel and palace, known as the al-Qaṣaba al-Qadīma (“Old Citadel” or “Old Palace”), on the hill now occupied by the Albaicin neighborhood. It was connected to two other fortresses on the Sabika and Mauror hills to the south. The fortress on the Sabika hill, also known as the al-Qasaba al-Jadida (“New Citadel”), was later used for the foundations of the current Alcazaba of the Alhambra, which dates from the 13th century and constitutes the oldest part of the Alhambra. Nowadays, all that remains are its massive outer walls, towers and ramparts.
The Nasri Palace
The Zirids of Granada were defeated by the expansion of the Almoravids, who annexed their kingdom in 1090. The Almovarids, in turn lost Al-Anadalus to the Almohads Dynasty in 1147. The turning point of the muslim presence on the Iberian Peninsula came in 1212, when Muhammad III “al-Nasir” (1199–1214) was defeated at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in the Sierra Morena by an alliance of the Christian forces from Catille, Aragon and Navarre. Much of the remaining Moorish dominion in Iberia was lost in the ensuing decades, with the cities of Cordoba and Seville falling to the Christians in 1236 and 1248 respectively. During this period, Ibn al-Ahmar (Muhammad I) established what became the last and longest reigning Mulsim dynasty in the Iberian peninsula, the Nasrids, who ruled the Emirate of Granada from 1230 to 1492. Upon settling in Granada in 1238, Ibn al-Ahmar initially resided in the old citadel of the Zirids on the Albaicin hill, but that same year he began construction of the Alhambra as a new residence and citadel.
During the reign of the Nasrid Dynasty, the Alhambra was transformed into a palatine city, complete with an irrigation system composed of acequias for the gardens of the Genealife located outside the fortress. Previously, the old Alhambra structure had been dependent upon rainwater collected from a cistern and from what could be brought up from the Albaicín. The creation of the Sultan’s Canal solidified the identity of the Alhambra as a palace-city rather than a defensive structure. The hydraulic system includes two long water channels and several sophisticated elevation devices to bring water onto the plateau.
Later Nasrid rulers after Ibn al-Ahmar continuously modified the site. Along with the fragile materials themselves, which needed regular repairs, this makes the exact chronology of its development difficult to determine. The only elements preserved from the time of Ibn al-Ahmar are some of the fortification walls, particularly the Alcazaba at the western end of the complex. The oldest major palace for which some remains have been preserved is the structure known as the Palacio del Partal Alto, in an elevated location near the center of the complex, which probably dates from the reign of Ibn al-Ahmar’s son, Muhammad II (r. 1273–1302). To the south was the Palace of the Abencerrajes, and to the east was another private palace, known as the Palacio del Exconvento de San Francsico or the Palacio de los Infantes, both of which were probably also originally constructed by Muhammad II or during his time. Muhammad III (r. 1302–1309) erected the Partal Palace, parts of which are still standing today, as well as the Alhambra’s main mosque (on the site of the current Church of Santa Maria de la Alhambra). The Partal Palace is the oldest palace to be built along the northern walls of the complex, with views onto the city below. Isma’il I (r. 1314–1325) undertook a significant remodeling of the complex. He began construction of the Comares Palace, just east of the Alcazaba, which was dedicated to official functions.
The Comares Baths are the best-preserved element from this initial construction, as the rest of the palace was further modified by his successors. Near the main mosque Isma’il I also created the Rawda, the dynastic mausoleum of the Nasrids, of which only partial remains are preserved. Yusuf I(r. 1333–1354) carried out further work on the Comares Palace, including the construction of the Hall of Ambassadors and other works around the current Mexuar. He also built the Alhambra’s main gate, the Puerta de la Justicia, and the Torre de la Cautiva, one of several small towers with richly-decorated rooms along the northern walls. Muhammad V (r. 1354–1391, with interruptions) built the Palace of the Lions to the east of the Comares Palace in an area previously occupied by gardens. He is also remodeled much of the Mexuar wing of the Comares Palace. Elsewhere in the Comares Palace, the highly-decorated façade in the Patio del Cuarto Dorado, as well as some of the decoration in the Court of the Myrtles, also date from his time. After Muhammad V, relatively little major construction work occurred in the Alhambra. One exception is the Torre de las Infantas, which dates from the time of Muhammad VII (1392–1408). The 15th century saw the Nasrid dynasty in decline and in turmoil, with few significant construction projects.
Based on the oldest decorations studied in the palace, the Generalife was originally constructed by either Muhammad II(1273–1302) at the end of the 13th century or by Muhammad III (1302–1309) at the beginning of the 14th century. Even if he did not begin its construction, Muhammad III at least contributed to some of its early decoration. Later Nasrid rulers carried out their own works on it in turn. According to an inscription, it was remodelled and redecorated soon after by Isma’il I in 1319. There is evidence that Muhammad V (ruled 1354–1359 and 1362–1391), who carried out extensive construction inside the Alhambra, also carried out works here. Lastly, Yusuf III (ruled 1354–1359) remodelled the southern sections of the palace in the 15th century.
The Generalife is one of the oldest surviving Moorish gardens. However, the present-day gardens today date from various changes and creations made since the 16th century, after the beginning of Spanish Christian rule in Granada, and up the 20th century
Hiking in the Foothills of the Sierra Nevada
On my last day I drove from Granada to Monachil in order to go for a short hike, as my flight back to the UK was late afternoon. Having looked at the Trek Sierra Nevada website I came across the Los Cahorros de Monachil trek, a short 8 km hike with several hanging bridges and deep some narrow canyons. I thought the walk was pretty much suitable for anybody that is reasonably fit, but there are sections where you are required to scramble under overhanging rocks along the side of the gorge. in order to make the scrambling easier metal handles have been inserted into the rock no technical ability is required.