The beautiful Alhambra palace and fabulous gardens of the Generalife are not to be missed in any visit to Andalucia.
Granada is one of my favourite cities of Spain, being a fan of Moorish architecture and a keen gardener the Alhambra palace and the Generalife are a great attraction.
Granada itself was first occupied by the moors in the 8th century and thrived in the period 1232 to 1492 under the Nasrid dynasty. Fine moorish buildings were errected. Following this there was a period of Renaissance growth all adding to the splendeur of the town.
La Alhambra palace was built during the Nasrid dynasty in the 13th centruy and is a very soothing and very beautiful mixture of rooms and patios. The Alhambra palace has become so popular that numbers are now restricted and tickets must be bought in advance.
The Generalife is on the north side and was the country estate of the Nasrid kings. The gardens are all laid out in a Moorish style and are stunning. These too were built in the 13th century. As with most Moorish gardens water is a very important part of the gardens which incorporate pools and rills.
The Alcazaba is also sited on the Alhambra hill. This is the earliest part of the fortress. At the top there is a bell turret, the Torre de la Vela. This is the spot where a cross was first errected to mark the defeat of the Moors by the Christians.
After visiting the Alhambra there are other attractions to see in Granada.
Albaicin (Albayzin) is an interesting quarter, formerly a Moorish town it is full of narrow alleys to explore. The streets are steep and atmospheric and offer some fabulous views over the city, the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Other Moorish style buildings are the Palacio de la Madrawa, formerly an Arab university and now the city hall, the Corral del Carbon with its galeried courtyard which is the oldest remaining Arabic building in Granada. Also the Casa de los Tiros, a palace built in Mudejar style. There are also some 11th century Arab baths, the El Banuelo.
The gothic and renaissance cathedral is impressive and the Capilla Real has a beautiful grille surrounding the alter.
Places to Visit in Granada
The Alhambra is one of the most beautiful buildings in Europe. It was built by various caliphs of the Nasrid dynasty who wanted to create something which counteracted the reality of their waning power. The Alhambra was their idea of paradise on Earth. It really is necessary to book in advance to visit the Alhambra, if not arrive early and be prepared to queue to get tickets, even then you may be disappointed.
The Patio de Arrayanes is a beautiful Moorish style patio with a long pool of perfectly still water surrounded by arcades whose arches are topped with beautiful, intricated detail.
The Salon de Embajadores was the throne room of the palace and is covered in tiled decoration and has a ceiling representing the seven heavens of the Muslims.
The Patio de los Leones was the harem for the palace. Surrounded by beautiful arcades with marble columns there is a fountain with stone lions in the centre. Some of the palace's best rooms open onto this patio.
The Sala de los Abencerrajes is one of the rooms opening onto the Patio de los Leones and has a simply stunning ceiling. The room has a grisly history though as here Abu'l-Hasan murdered sixteen princes of a rival family whose chief had fallen in love with his favourite daughter.
The Sala de los Reyes is the banqueting hall and its ceiling is made of leather and covered in beautiful paintings.
The Palacio del Partal is the oldest palace in the Alhambra but now all that remains is another patio with a large rectangular pool of still water - so important to Moorish garden design- and an arched pavilion with beautiful slender arches.
Also in the Alhambra are the beautiful gardens scattered throughout the grounds. The apartments of Washington Irving can be visited. He lived here whilst writing his book 'the Tales of the Alhambra'. This book led to the Alhambra being declared a national monument, its decline halted, and decades of careful renovation of the palace followed.
The Palace of Carlos V is an excellent example of Renaissance architecture but rather at odds with the delicate Moorish architecture in the rest of the Alhambra. Inside is the Museo de Bellas Artes and the Museo de la Alhambra. The Museo de la Alhambra holds lots of items found during the renovation of the palace and the star attraction is the Alhambra vase which is a vase which stands one and a half meters tall and glazed a lovely bule and gold with gazelles decorating it.
Next to the Alhambra is the Generalife - the country estate for the Nasrid rulers. The highlight here are the beautiful Moorish gardens. Indeed the name Generalife means "garden of the architect".
From parts of the garden you have an excellent view of the Albaicin below.
The Alcazaba is close to the entrance of the Alhambra. The Alcazaba is the earliest part of the Alhamba complex. It is topped by the Torre de la Vela where the cross and banner of St James were erected after victory over the Moors. Boabdil, the leader of the Moors at the time, wept at the sight and was famously told by his mother "Do not weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man"
The Alhambra complex is undisputedely the highlight of a visit to Granada but it is by no means all there is to see.
The Albaicin is a remarkable quarter of the town which still displays much of its Moorish past. As you wander around the cobbled streets you will notice lots of villas decorated in Moorish style . The streets are narrow and winding and often steep as the Albaicin winds up the hillside.
The highlight of this area is the El Banuelo, the Moorish baths. These were built in the 11th century and are in use now. The waters in the baths have varying temperatures and as you relax in them you are surrounded by wonderful arches with stone columns, mosaic decorations and the ceiling has star-shaped openings to let in the light. These are the best preserved Arab baths in Spain - those in Girona are also well worth a visit.
The Sacromonte is a cave area in the hillside and once the gypsies of Granada lived here. The gypsies have left this area now but it is a popular place to visit in the evening for flamenco shows.
The old city centre near the cathedral is a charming area containing Granada's two main squares, the Plaza Bib-Rambla and the Plaza Nueva. Ther is also a reconstruction of the Moorish bazaar, The Alcaiceria, that burned down in 1843.
The Cathedral is an imppressive Gothic structure with an excellent, circular Capilla Mayor.
The town hall is housed in the Palacio de la Madraza which was originally an Arab university.
Places to visit near Granada
Nearby Guadix is absolutely fascinating with its troglodyte town.
Map of Granada and places to visit
Granada places to visit
See more places nearby in the Andalucia guide