The Alhambra palace/fortress stretches along the top of the hill known as La Sabika and its fabled red towers and walls are seen from almost every vantage point in the city of Granada. It is the biggest tourist draw in Spain with up to 8,300 tickets available and an average of 6,000 visitors walking through each day. This huge Unesco World Heritage site is our aspiration and our inspiration for this clear and sunny day.
Read the Guidebook First!
John, as always, has the presence of mind to read the guidebook before we head to a site, and he quickly realizes that it is better to book our tickets for the Alhambra in advance. Otherwise our only option will be to line-up for unreserved tickets. It turns out that September is one of the busiest months for visiting the Alhambra, the intense heat of summer having turned into the slightly less intense heat of autumn, and our Lonely Planet Guidebook says that if you want in during the popular months and don’t have a reservation, you better be in line before 7 a.m., and be ready to stand in line for hours with no guarantee of a ticket. Luckily our hotel (thanks again, Ibis!) organizes our entire tour for us. While we have a set time of 12:00 noon for our entrance to the Palacio Nazaries, we must collect our tickets at least an hour before our scheduled and unalterable entrance time into the Palacio. Once into the grounds, we have the whole day at our leisure to discover the rest of the Alhambra including the Alcazaba (Citadel) and the Generalife gardens. We take the number 21 bus from outside our hotel, along with some chatty English tourists, and then walk past the Basilica and its much calmer wall of flowers where I snap the few photos that are displayed in yesterday’s posting. We wander the Calle Reyes Católicos to the Plaza Nueva. The chatty English couple keep chatting away and polite as we are, we are now late. We hail a taxi to take us up the hill to the Alhambra.
The Alhambra is a curious thing: originally a fortress from the 9th century, it was turned into a fortress/palace in the 13th century by the Nasrid emirs, who built the huge and beautiful Palacio Nazaries, with its many courtyards, and a small medina (town). After the Christian conquests, the mosque was replaced with a church, and Carlos I had an extension built. Later, Carlos V destroyed part of the Palacio Nazaries to build his huge Renaissance palace, although he never finished it. The site was pretty much left to thieves and vagabonds until the American writer Washington Irving romanticized the city and the fortress in his Tales of the Alhambra, renewing interest in the site and its preservation. Our chatty English couple from the bus this morning told us that when they first visited Granada 40 or so years ago, there was no gate and there were no guards – you could simply walk right in, and then do (or take) anything you felt like. It is a very different world now. Audio guides are really indispensable at extensive sites such as this and we rent two, which also enables us to split up if there is a need. We brave the hordes of tourist groups and begin our tour.
A Wander in the Gardens
We spend just over four hours within the site and then wander into the Generalife (the Architect’s Garden) for a stroll in the lush green, somewhat formal gardens. Water, its flow, sounds and reflective quality was and still is an important tool in the architecture of the Alhambra and its use is evident here in the gardens as well. Around every corner there is a beautiful water feature of some sort. Originally our day was to start with a bus tour of the city, but this has been pushed back to the end of the day. We board at the bottom of La Sabika and begin our bus tour. It is a very uninspiring narrative but good to sit down for an hour or so and be driven around for a change. We end our tour at Granada’s huge Gothic/Renaissance Cathedral, only to find it closed until early evening.
After a very brief moment of consideration (too brief perhaps!) we say ‘next time’ and find a sunny patio for a quick bite and a couple of beers.