The Almighty Alhambra!

Me Jenny has been talking about wanting to visit the Alhambra in Grenada for ages and here we are! Now there is A LOT of information to give about the Alhambra, so I’m going to try and keep it brief for all those not so interested in history (sorry MLD 🙂

This ↑ was our view of it last night from our hotel near the river. It’s quite lovely all lit up at night.

You can go on your own and wander through, but my recommendation would be to go with a guide (on your own if possible – the big groups were too big!) So Me Jenny and I headed down to the square to grab a cab to get us to the meeting place…

This wasn’t here when we went to bed last night!

Let me just give you a brief history of The Alhambra if I can….
(Scroll down to the ***** if you’re not that keen on this bit, although you might miss out on some nice pics – it’s up to you.)

The name Alhambra means ‘Red Castle’ in Arabic. It is located on top of the hill overlooking the city of Grenada and the hills of Sierra Nevada.

pic: getyouguide

It is located on a strategic point, with a view over the whole city and further across the fields. Roman ruins have also been found, leading people to believe that Romans were already on that site before the Moors arrived. The complex is a bit like ‘the house that Jack built’ – in that there doesn’t appear to be any reason to its muddled up layout and that’s because for approximately 900 years different people have stamped their mark on the place.

Pic: Alhambra Info

The first historical documents known about the Alhambra date from the 9th century when a chap named Sawwar ben Hamdun turned up in 889.

The Alcazaba was used as a military fortress with a view over the whole city, but it wasn’t until the arrival of the first king of the Nasrid dynasty, Mohammed ben Al-Hamar (Mohammed I, 1238-1273), in the 13th century, that the royal residence was established in the Alhambra.

Once the king arrived, some serious renovations began. Water was canalised from the river Darro, and many buildings were built.

These renos were carried on by Mohammed II(1273-1302) and Mohammed III (1302-1309), who apparently also built the public baths and the Mosque, which was later bulldozed and a church was built in its place.

You can see here the church is right next to Charles’ palace. This used to be, and still is, the main street of the Alhambra and down the right hand side you can just see a channel with water running down. The Alhambra was purposely built on this slight decline so that water could travel to the palaces using gravity.

Construction continued on with Yusuf I (1333-1353) and Mohammed V (1353-1391). Then in 1492 the Nasrid Dynasty finally fell to the Christians and the Alhambra became the royal court of Ferdinand and Isabel and the palaces were promptly altered to suit them – in the Renaissance style.

Jump ahead a few years and 1526 came around and Charles I & V commissioned a new Renaissance palace better suiting the Holy Roman Emperor and it was in direct juxtaposition with the Nasrid Andalusian architecture.

He demolished a large section of the original palace in order to build this huge palace with his name all over it, but it was ultimately never completed due to rebellions in Granada and there were other palaces that they decided to put their money into…. so this one was just left. (You can see in the pics below that every circle and statue shelf – there are about 200 of them – all empty.)

Also, at the end of the battle with Napoleon, in 1812, the French exploded the remaining gun powder so that it wouldn’t fall into the hands of their enemies (and probably out of a bit of spite) and destroyed many of the buildings.

Then an earthquake in 1821 did a bit more damage and then it was left abandoned…

Until 1829 when this bloke came along – Washington Irving. You might remember him from writings such as ‘Rip Van Winkle’ and ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’. He had done a bit of travelling around Europe and fell in love with Andalusia. He visited Grenada twice and on his second trip he stayed at the Alhambra with his mate, Russian Prince Dolgorouki.

Pic: Cicerone Grenada Website

The Alhambra of 1829 was a little different to what it is today. It was abandoned and inhabited by vagabonds and travellers. This surprised them, however what was really shocking was seeing the walls covered in graffiti. Back then (and probably still today) this was how travellers immortalised the date of their visit. Washington thought this was an outrage and vowed to fight for the preservation and reconstruction of the Alhambra.

W.I. and his friend, the Russian prince decided to give the First Guest Book of the Alhambra, so that visitors and travellers could sign that instead of the palace walls. A simple solution really. Then he wrote articles explaining the need to recover the Alhambra and give it the place in history that it deserved. He also wrote his book – ‘Tales of the Alhambra” which prompted people to stop and take notice.

Thank you Washington and your Russian friend. There is a monument in W.I.’s name in the Alhambra… This door is closed to the public, but behind it is apparently some pieces of original furniture.

If you’re still with me – well done you! We were at the Alhambra for hours and there was soooo much information – this is as shrunk as I think I could have made it.

***** (you may care to scroll backwards for some more pics – I found that whilst giving the background, I used some of the pics that I was going to show you anyway…. just ignore the boring history words)

Ok, on with the tour……

We started our tour in the Generalife Gardens which were built to resemble the moorish idea of heaven. When I first heard the name – ‘Generalife’ I immediately thought it was 2 words – general life – meaning that this is maybe where they spent their life generally…. but um, no. Generalife is a moorish word which means “Garden of the Architect”. There are thoughts that the gardens and house might have actually belonged to the actual architect or another thought is is the architect is God.

Either way – they’re beautiful.

There are a lot of walk ways and natural tunnels as symbols of the gateway to heaven and the garden is set out quite strategically with straight lines and symmetry with water in the middle and plants, trees and flowers surrounding it.

Just some of the beautiful flowers in the garden… Not as pretty as the flower above though.

We heard a lot about how the moors decorated their palaces and it was fascinating. They use Arabic words and phrases intertwined with plant motifs, and a lot of tessellating, and symmetrical patterns. The idea, which I thought was interesting is that the Islamic symbols are fluid and ask the view to let their mind wander around the patterns rather than focusing on one thing.

This grandiose room was designed for the Sultan to receive visitors and people wanting things from him. I couldn’t get a very good photo of the entire room, but it was huge and square with 3 little alcoves in each of the 3 walls (the 4th being the door). The Sultan would sit in the one in the middle opposite the door and he would have one advisor in each other 8. How they communicated and advised from those positions, I’m not sure – impressive, but not very practical.

Some of the palace buildings and indeed entire palaces that were destroyed were never rebuilt and gardens have since been planted in those locations surrounding the ruins which is a nice way to walk around and have a look.

Me Jenny got politely asked again to please not touch the walls in one of the palaces by our guide and there are signs all through the gardens to please not touch the plants. Bless her, she had to walk like this with her arms beside her side.

These photos are not doing this place justice. It was huge, with a million people and sometimes you just can’t capture amazing spaces in those circumstances. They let in 6,000 to 8,000 visitors every day and you have to work around big groups which our guide, Senny did with expert ease. He was so enthusiastic and explained everything really well. He was interesting to listen to and had some great stories.

And here’s the view from the top…

Jenny’s thoughts: “I thought is was breathtaking. It was historically interesting and beautifully restored and the gardens were beautiful.” She added: “At least I was short and sweet.” Whatever!

So there you have it.

Categories: Grenada, Spain, Travel


  1. Great commentary Shell…. I say it again “you should be travelling the world getting paid for your professionalism… and humour…it sure is a beautiful place, I had never heard of it !! Love xx


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