Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Day 103: The Alhambra in Granada - A Must See

Maybe it's just us, but how did we not know anything about one of the most touristed sites in Spain?!  We didn't have a lot of plans coming into Spain.  We knew we would be in Madrid for a few days, but other than that, we could've gone anywhere.  Since we were thinking of heading south towards Costa del Sol to hang out at our friends' beach condo, and they had already made plans to visit The Alhambra in Granada on the way, we decided to tag along. 

We are very glad we tagged along.

To get to Granada from Madrid, our friends had already booked train tickets for ~$110, leaving from the Atocha train station.  For almost the same amount of time their trip took (5 hours), we decided to take the bus instead.  We booked 2 bus tickets through the ALSA bus company for $52.  The bus terminal in Madrid was huge - almost like an airport - complete with arrival and departure boards.  Our bus was very easy to find and it was a very comfortable ride.  It didn't have a restroom on Uboard but stopped 2-3 hours later for a 30 minute break at a designated ALSA rest stop, complete with a restaurant, gift shop, and of course, restrooms.  We did enjoy the view of miles and miles of olive groves alongside the road.  Once we arrived in Granada, it was very, very hot and we didn't know the exact local bus route to take to get to our hotel, so we caved and spent $15 on a cab to take us directly to our hotel.  Money well spent!

The main attraction in Granada is The Alhambra, a Moorish palace, which means "the red one (female)" in Arabic.  It was built for the last Muslim Emirs in Spain - the Nasrid Dynasty - in the 14th century as a fortress and palace, so the design is in line with Islamic architecture.  Although after the 1492 Reconquista, portions of the palace were destroyed, re-built, and used by Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor).  The construction of Charles V portion of the palace is in stark (and our opinion) contrast to the original Moorish designs full of detailed geometric patterns of painted tiles, stilted arches, stalactite ceiling decorations, and Arabic inscription.  We were very impressed and highly recommend a visit to see this well-preserved example of Moorish influence in Spain.  

There are several ways to get to The Alhambra from the town of Granada.  Bus #30 goes directly up the hill to The Alhambra.  Or, a cab costs only €5.  The distance is not very far to walk, but it is up a steep hill and the main entrance is farthest from town so it would take at least 45-60 minutes.  In the 110F stifling heat, walking was out of the question.  

Since The Alhambra is a popular destination and there are limited tickets for sale, it is best to reserve online as soon as possible.  The tickets can be printed using automatic kiosks near the main entrance, using the same credit card used to make the reservations.  The online process was rather confusing, but we figured out that you need to pick a set time to visit the actual Nasrid Palace.  You can enter the rest of the grounds (with the same ticket) at anytime and walk around the Medina and General Life areas, but must enter the palace within a 30-minute window of the designated time.  Ours was for six in the evening.  When we arrived at the palace (about a 20 minute walk from the main entrance), there was a huge line of people.  Many were already in line for the 6:30booking, so we had priority and it didn't actually take long for us to get inside.  

Pictures do not do justice to the intricacy of the designs, the height of the ceilings, the maze, and the patterns and themes throughout the palace. However, here are a few highlights!  The Royal Palace consists of 3 main parts: Mexuar, Serallo, and the Harem.  Mexuar: a modestly decorated functional area for conducting business and administration.  Serallo: contains the Patio de los Arrayanes (Court of Myrtles) with highly decorated ceilings and woodwork. Harem: elaborate living quarters for the wives and mistress of the Arabic monarch.

Below: Walking through the tree lined Medina part of the grounds, and a view of San Francisco  convent.

Below: The royal aqueduct where water was taken from the Durro River via hydraulics invented by the Moors long ago.

Below: Baño de la Mezquita, similar to a Turkish bath house.

Below: Santa Maria de la Alhambra church.

Below: The part of the palace that Charles V built within the Moorish palace after the Reconquista.

Below: Torre del Vino (Wine Tower), built in 1345 and used in the 16th century as a wine cellar.

Below: View of Granada city below.

Below: Inside the palace, views and details of the Mexuar section. 

Below: Views and details from Fachada de Comares room.

Below: Views and details from the Patio de los Arrayanes (Court of the Myrtles) with a pool to help keep the palace cool.

Below: Views and details of the Torre de Comares - the grand reception room and throne of the sultan.  After the Reconquista, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel gave Christopher Columbus the blessings to sail to the New World in this room.

Below: Various ceiling details.  

Below: Views and details of the Patio de los Leones (Court of the Lions).  Using hydraulics, water came out of one of the 12 lions' mouth specific for the hour of the day, which was very advanced technology in the day.

Below: Views and details of the Sala de los Abencerrajes.

Below: Views and details of the Sala de Dos Hermanas, and inner garden (Patio de Lindaraja).

Below: ...and finally, one of the many fortress watch towers, Torre de los Picus.

We were already at Alhambra for almost 3 hours in stifling heat with lots of people.  We wished we had the energy to explore the rest of the grounds such as the General Life area, but we decided we saw enough and went back to town to cool off.  Our hotel was located in what was known as the "tapas street" full of tapas bars.  There was music and dancing in Plaza de Carmen at the end of the street.

Well, that was our whirlwind day in Granada!  We hope you enjoyed the pictures as much as we enjoyed taking them.