Monday, March 2, 2015

Touring the Alhambra in Granada, Spain

The highlight of Granada (besides the food) is definitely a trip to the Alhambra, the Moorish palace whose foundations date back to 889 AD.  This trip is not to be missed, and whether you explore by day or during one of the night tours, there is so much to see!  Unfortunately very little of the original splendor of the palace has been preserved other than the main architectural points.  At one time the intricate stonework on the walls and ceilings and floors would have been painted in vibrant reds and blues and yellows.  Now only the stone remains, but restoration is an ongoing process, and several small areas of the palace have that hint of amazing color remaining.

You can get a great view of the palace from the Mirador San Nicholas, but be prepared to wait to get a good shot because this is a popular tourist area.
After a very long uphill trek, you'll
come to the Justice Gate and you'll
know that you are almost there!

A quick note: I can't recommend enough buying your ticket in advance on the ticketmaster website.  We purchased the Alhambra General ticket without a guided tour, but if you aren't dedicated to reading a lot of information about the site before hand, a guide would be a good idea.  There aren't any placards or signs anywhere to fill in the gaps of the history.  You do have to select a time to enter the Nasrid Palace section, so I would recommend going early so that you could explore around a bit and then be ready to enter Nasrid Palace at your specified time period.  There is a bit of a hike from the city up to the entrance -- wear your sneakers for sure because it's up hill the whole way with a few benches if you get winded.  Then when you finally reach the palace, you have to go stand in line for your ticket.  The pre-purchased ticket line moves a lot faster, but we had about a 15 minute wait in line just to get our tickets picked up.  Basically give yourself ample time before your scheduled entry or you may cut it too close.  Tickets when we went were about $18 per person.

The Charles V Palace is kind of a undesirable addition that was built literally onto the original Alhambra palace during the 1500s after the Spanish conquered the Muslims who had built the original palace in 1492.  This was a way of putting Spanish ownership onto the Muslim palace, but in a way this also helped preserve the rest of the palace's original beauty because royalty stepped in and claimed the site as their own.

Here you can see the Charles V Palace literally built into the original Nasrid Palace (on the left).  It kind of sticks out like a sore thumb now since the building is decidedly Renaissance in architecture and does nothing to blend with the original Moorish designs (which was the point unfortunately).
Outside the Charles V palace, you can tour the ruins of the oldest part of the Alhambra, the original fortress.  There isn't much left but the foundations of buildings and the tower walls, but you get some great views of the city below.

The oldest part of the Alhambra is a maze of excavated building foundations that you can walk around.

The Nasrid Palace

Another quick note -- it is hot.  We went in March when the high temperatures were only in the 70s, but the sun is unforgiving and there is very little shade.  Bring a container of water and definitely wear sunscreen.  Also, due to the fragile nature of the walls and architecture you aren't allowed to bring in bookbags or anything that could possibly brush against the walls and damage them.  Plan accordingly. We saw a few people get turned away at the palace entry before our group went in because they had large bags with them.

The famous Lion Fountain is a highlight; right now the original is undergoing restoration so I read that these lions are actually replicas.  In the bottom of the Charles V Palace you can see one of the original lions in the museum.

You can just see the hint of color that used to exist on these intricate carvings.  Imagine bright bold paint adorning all the architectural splendor you saw above!

Visiting the Alhambra can be bittersweet when you consider the beauty that exists, but how little we really know about the palace or the splendor it once was.  After the city was taken by the Spanish at the end of the 15th century, everything that was Muslim was rooted out of Granada.  No descriptions or artwork depicting the palace's original splendor remain to help with restoration.  There is one throne chair in the palace that is a replica of the typical appearance of a Moorish throne chair -- we really don't know what the furniture or the rugs or any of the decor would have been like beyond educated guesses.  This idea of lost conservation of culture and history is really pervasive across Spain.  The celebrated heroes of their past -- Christopher Columbus, the Kings and Queens that united the country under a Christian identity that lead to the brutality and scourge of the Inquisition -- these are things that wiped out entire cultural histories.  Despite those efforts, Spain remains a country of wildly different cities and people.  Visiting four cities in Spain was really like visiting four different countries, so different are the customs and the food and the people.  When you visit Spain you will leave with a feeling that the past's longing to wipe away diversity was not a success; so many of the independent spirits and ideas and cultures of the people in each region remain and are now a source of pride and celebration!

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