Standing tall on the mountains and surrounded by lush green woods, the Alhambra overlooks both the picturesque Granada and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada. This old fortress comes across as tough and unyielding with its square and symmetrical style. However, from the back of it, you’ll find beautifully planned gardens that soften the overall look of the structure. Find a shady spot and relax, let the pools of running water and colorful flowers take you to Koranic heaven.
The Alhambra was born as a result of wars between Christianity and Islam. Even though the Moors of North Africa overcame Spain in 711, their power declined around the 13th century when their small kingdom was formed by a few Muslim states in what currently is Andalusia, and it was being threatened by Christian reconquistas.
During the same century, prince Ibn al-Ahmar decided to build a new capital at Granada. The old fortress that the Alhambra used to be was rebuilt and renovated to keep the new capital safe, and Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada, turned it into a royal palace in 1333. However, the Christian Reconquista disrupted their centuries-long period of peace. During the late 15th century, Catholic rulers, Ferdinand and Isabella, send their army to knock down the Alhambra and, after seven months of fighting, the Muslim kingdom gave way. The castle was partially revamped in the Renaissance style and converted into the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella, where Christopher Columbus actually got endorsements for his trips.
Nonetheless, the Alhambra keeps its typical Moorish architecture. The castle’s authoritative and defensive facade hides its delicate inner beauty. One of the main areas in the Alhambra is the Royal Palace or the Casa Real, which is also the most beautiful one. Most rooms are decorated with colorful tiles made out of carved stonework that displays quotes from the Koran. Other important parts of the castle are the Alcazaba, which is the fortress; and the Generalife that actually stands outside the defensive walls of the main structure and which was used as the summer palace.
When the Moors reached Granada, they must have thought that they had arrived in paradise after experiencing the heat of North Africa for such a long time. Thanks to the Sierra Nevada, which is covered in snow most of the year, the conquerors had enough water for the fountains and pools that make this place heaven on Earth.
These fountains, which were highly appreciated by the Moors, are still in some of the rooms within the castle. You can also find small windows that look out to sheltered gardens or to the little white houses in the Albaicin district.
The best time to visit this part of the world is during spring. You’ll enjoy sunny days yet cool nights, enchanting views of lush green trees, sweet-smelling flowers in every garden that have just bloomed and the stunning Sierra Nevada flaunting its peaks still covered in snow. The best part of visiting during this time of the year is the fact that you won’t find big crowds so you’ll be able to get in without making any lines. This doesn’t happen during summer when timed-entry tickets are designated within an hour of the ticket office opening.
You might even be lucky enough to get a reservation at the Parador de San Francisco, an old monastery turned into a state-run hotel within the Alhambra gardens. This is the best way to enjoy a calm evening after the visitors have left the palace.
If you want to contemplate the Alhambra from different places, you can head to the Mirador San Cristobal, where you’ll be able to look out to the Alcazaba against the Sierra Nevada. You can also go to the Mirador de San Nicolas through the cobbled streets of Albaicin, there you will see astonishing sunsets bathing the Alhambra in gleaming red light.
Additionally, if you head to the top of the Sacromonte, an old gypsy quarter where some of them still live, you can appreciate how the Alhambra overlooks the town from its defensive location. However, if you go to the hill above the Generalife, you will see how the water terraces and gardens give the Alhambra a special touch along with the large Palacio de Carlos V in the distance, a palace so big that it used to hold bullfights since the 16th century.
You can head to Granada by road from the Sevilla or Malaga international airports, which take in flights by the Iberia airline from all around Europe. Even though you can contemplate the Alhambra from different points in the town, experiencing it from inside staying in the sophisticated Parador de San Francisco is a much better option. Make sure to book beforehand, even in the low season, and you’ll have a once in a lifetime journey waiting for you.
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