ALHAMBRA PALACE of Granada, Spain

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Why visit the Alhambra?

The Alhambra Palace is one of Spain’s most important tourist attractions and rightfully so. The massive complex is a testimony to the refined and elegant Moorish civilization of Al-Andalus that flourished here between the 9th and 15th centuries. It also tells the unique history of Granada, Andalusia and even Spain.

Panoramic views of the Alhambra palace at sunset in Granada, Spain
Panoramic views of the Alhambra palace in Granada

The word “Alhambra” comes from Arabic and means “red castle.” The original fortress has existed since the 9th century but it wasn’t until the 13th and 14th centuries when it was heavily expanded upon, becoming the crown jewel of the Emirate of Granada (Nasrid dynasty).

When Granada was conquered by the Catholic Monarchs (Isabella and Ferdinand) in 1492, the Alhambra became a Christian court and was expanded upon once again – new additions were completed including a church and monastery.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Alhambra slowly fell into decay. When Napoleon’s troops invaded Granada (1808-1812), they seized the Alhambra and used it as a barracks, causing a lot of damage to the buildings.

It wasn’t until Washington Irving wrote his book “Tales of the Alhambra” (1832) that attention was brought back to its remarkable beauty. This lead to it being declared a national monument in 1870. Since then, the Alhambra has been and continues to be restored and preserved. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

What to See in the Alhambra



Patio de los Leones (Lions Patio) in the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra of Granada (Spain)
Patio de los Leones in the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra

Mostly built in the 14th century, the Nasrid Palaces are the jewel of the Alhambra. Visiting this Moorish royal palace complex will give you the opportunity to see how the rulers of the Nasrid dynasty lived and discover some fine examples of Mudejar style architecture (hybrid between Islamic art and Gothic architecture).

Patio de los Arrayanes in the Nasrid Palaces of Granada's Alhambra – Spain
Patio de los Arrayanes in the Nasrid Palaces of Granada's Alhambra

The most majestic room of the palaces is the “Salón de Embajadores” (Ambassadors’ Hall). This is where the throne was located and where official receptions took place. It’s where Boabdil, the last Moorish King of Granada, gathered his men together and decided to surrender Granada. It was also here that Isabella and Ferdinand met Columbus to discuss his travel plans to the far east.

Detail of the Nasrid Palaces – Alhambra, Granada (Spain)
Detail of the Nasrid Palaces – Alhambra

Another highlight of the Nasrid Palaces is the “Patio de los Leones,” (Patio of the Lions) built during the peak of Granada’s emirate. The star of this patio is the impressive fountain formed by 12 lions sculpted from marble.



Patio de la Acequia in the Generalife of the Alhambra of Granada (Spain)
Patio de la Acequia in the Generalife

The word “Generalife” translates as “paradise’s garden,” or “garden of feasts” and this place lives up to its name. The Generalife was designed as the leisure residence for the kings of Granada and was surrounded by agricultural land. It was a hunting lodge and country retreat where the rulers and their families could escape.

The Generalife is made up of two buildings connected by a beautiful courtyard called “Patio de la Acequia,” which is actually the main highlight. It is still possible to see the “Acequia Real” (Royal Irrigation Channel) that brings water to the Alhambra complex and its gardens. Thanks to its beautiful gardens and fast-flowing water, this might very well be one of the most charming corners of the Alhambra.



Defensive tower in the Alcazaba of the Alhambra of Granada (Andalusia)
Defensive tower in the Alcazaba

The Alcazaba is the oldest part of the Alhambra. This citadel, together with the towers called “Torres Bermejas,” has served to watch over and control the city since the 9th century.

Gardens of the Alcazaba in Granada's Alhambra (Spain)
Gardens of the Alcazaba in Granada's Alhambra

The largest tower of the Alcazaba is the Torre de la Vela. Its name is given by the great bell that hangs above it. It was brought by the Catholic Monarchs when they reconquered the city in 1492 (bells were symbols of Christianity). Today, it is possible to climb to the top of the tower and enjoy some great views of Granada and the surrounding nature.



Court of the Palace of Charles V inside the Alhambra of Granada (Spain)
Court of the Palace of Charles V

The Palace of Charles V is one of the first Renaissance buildings to be constructed outside of Italy (16th century). Its style is however, very different from the rest of the Alhambra and it feels very out of place.

Charles V was the grandson of Isabella and Ferdinand. He and his wife, Isabella of Portugal, visited Granada during their honeymoon in 1526 and fell in love with the city so much that they decided to have a great palace built for them.

The project was ill-fated from the very beginning. During one of the summers the couple spent in the city there was a large earthquake. Isabella was so scared that she never returned to Granada. The project was also short of money and construction lasted 110 years – Charles V died 80 years before it was finished! Three architects worked their whole careers until each of them died of old age.

Besides featuring an impressive circular courtyard, the palace of Charles V currently houses two museums:

  • The Alhambra Museum (closed on Mondays // free entrance) is located on the ground floor and contains some of the Alhambra’s best surviving Moorish art.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts (closed on Mondays // free for EU citizens; 1.50€ others) is comprised of nine exhibition halls showing the history of art in Granada, from the fall of the Nasrid kingdom up to the present day.

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