Posted by: debrakolkka | May 6, 2011

Amazing Alhambra

The word Alhambra comes from Arabic – al-qala’at alhamra – meaning red castle. Much of what was here was destroyed by Napoleon’s retreating army and it was then left to fall into ruin.  Thanks largely to writer Washington Irving, who wrote Tales of the Alhambra during a stay in the 1820s, interest in the site was sparked and it has been restored and now 8,000 visitors turn up each day.

one of the entrances to Alhambra

Some areas of the Alhambra can be visited without a ticket.  You will need to buy a 12 euro ticket to see Palacios Nazaries (the best bit), Alcazaba (the old fort), and the Generalife gardens. The grounds are extensive, so you should allow lots of time. We started with the Palace of Carlos V, one of the free bits.

Carlos V built the palace in the Alhambra grounds after the Muslims were defeated. To add insult to injury, it was financed with taxes levied on the defeated people.

Palacio de Carlos 5

one of the eagles on the front of the building

The palace was never finished. There was supposed to be a dome in the centre, but it didn’t happen and there is an open space where it should have been.

the inner circle of the palace

on the balcony

When we were wandering in the grounds of the castle we came upon a row of cannons. A small boy spotted them at the same time. He marched steadily towards them, his eyes wide with delight, calling out in his biggest 2 year old voice – BIG CANNNON, BIG CANNON. He edged as close as he could to one of the cannons, clenched his little fists and made cannon fire noises. Hmff, hmff – quite subdued, I thought, after the big cannon bit.

The next day we took part in a guided tour organised by the Parador de Granada San Francisco where we stayed.

We started at the Alcazaba, which is the oldest part of Alhambra and has  great views over the surrounding countryside. The ruins are from the 13th century. It once defended the 2,000 people who lived within the walls of the Alhambra.

heading towards the Alcazaba

a perfect day at Alhambra

inside - what's left of the soldiers' quarters

just what you would expect a fort to look like

looking back towards Palacios Nazaries

a view of the Sierra Nevada mountains - you can see the ski slopes

we walked through a pretty garden on the way out

The next part of the tour was the Palacios Nazaries, the most magnificient part of Alhambra. There will be a post in this tomorrow. After that we wandered through the partal gardens.

in the gardens

one of the beautiful pools

We then headed off to the Generalife gardens. I thought they must be sponsored by an insurance company, but the name comes from the Arabic  hen-eh-raw-LEEF-ay. This area was the sultan’s vegetable and fruit garden and provided the 2,000 residents with food. The sultan’s tiny summer palace is also here. The current gardens were planted in the 1930s.

along the path to the gardens

looking across to Alhambra

in the Generalife garden

a cypress path to the summer palace

the garden in front of the summer palace

This garden is 600 years old and beautifully laid out. Old paintings show the garden just as it is today. It must have been heavenly for the sultan and his family to escape to this cool oasis in the heat of summer.  The pools would have been still back then, the Moors preferred tranquil water.

another view

a very long pool

a pretty part of the garden

looking out from the summer palace

Booking ahead is a good idea if you  want to visit Alhambra. We stayed at the Parador and they organised tickets for us, which was lucky because when we tried to book ahead there were no tickets available. Some tickets are available each day and you can line up for those. Get there early,  a lot of people want to see Alhambra. Even though thousands of people descend on the site each day, it doesn’t seem too crowded as the grounds are enormous and there seems to be enough room for everyone. Book ahead and go, it’s great.


  1. I’ve just been digging in our garden, trying not to squash chookie heads because they will stick their beaks in under the back of the spade eager to see what bugs I might unearth. I got very hot, so wandered up here – now I don’t know whether I’m inspired or should throw in the trowel – such beautiful gardens, Deb – doesn’t it seem a shame that the original garden-planters can’t come back and see how beautiful and admired it has become. (Love the name ‘Generalife’ – hehe – being in a beautiful place is good life insurance in any case.)

    • It was very beautiful. These people had style.

  2. Beautifiul…very. I’m interested in the role that Washington Irving played…don’t know why but I’m always intrigued by the historic significance of writers and poets in far flung lands…and I want that cypress path…so beautiful.

    • I had no idea about Washington Irving. We bought Tales of the Alhambra and a great book about him. He wrote Rip Van Winkle and Sleepy Hollow amongst other things, but I guess you knew this.

  3. I love the pictures and the places you visited, even though I did not see them. You made me excited to go visit Spain…if I go one day, Alhambra will be on the list.

    • It is incredible. You will love it.

  4. What a lovely mix of fort and beautiful garden!

    • The whole place is incredible.

  5. Sorry Debra, but I have to correct you. The Emperor’s palace was never supposed to have a dome. Machuca, its architect, always planned to have an open courtyard and this is the ways it was built. The palace is considered to be an “avant garde” masterpiece, as this concept was totally new.
    Congratulations on your great photos. They are beautiful.

    • Thank you for correcting me. Our guide told us that there was supposed to be a dome there, so he must have had the wrong information.

      • Some guides are not as knowledgeable as they should be… but I can assure you that my sources are correct. And if you think about it, the dome would have looked hideous and darkened the palace… more like a huge mausoleum. Anyway, I prefer the Alhambra…

      • I agree with you, it would have looked terrible with a roof. I prefer the Moorish architecture – I think it is beautiful.

  6. Loved the photos……..looks like you had fun!

  7. How beautiful Debra. Those gardens are stunning….ahh, if only you could go back in time.

    • Life was probably OK as long as you were wealthy. I think it must have been pretty grim for ordinary people.

  8. Something else, Deb, really gorgeous. You’ve sated my travel urges for today, thank you. Really love the pool…

    • The setting is absolutely stunning.

  9. […] category to see Madrid, Ainsa, Toledo, Seville, the windmills in La Mancha, Cadiz, Granada and the Alhambra and […]

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