The unmistakable silhouette of the Alhambra in Granada stands on a hill on the left bank of the Darro River, in front of the Albaicín and Alcazaba neighborhoods. It is a strategic point, from which a wide panorama is dominated.
The Alhambra appears surrounded by walls, within which there were not a few of the bloody confrontations that happened in the history of the Kingdom of Granada.
The access for your visit is next to the car park that extends to the north of the enclosure. From there you can visit the different buildings that make up the site. It is recommended to start with the oldest of them all, the Alcazaba.
Endowed with thick walls and towers, stand out the Torre de la Vela, with stunning views over the city and the fertile plain, and the Torre del Homenaje, from which the entire defensive system of the Alhambra was controlled. Inside, the Alcazaba encloses a wide esplanade for the military residence, where remains of the dwellings, a dungeon, a cistern and bathrooms.
Puerta de la Justicia
The enormous horseshoe arch of the Puerta de la Justicia, in whose key there is a hand engraved in hollow. Behind is the inner door, which has another stone arch, also horseshoe and voussoir. The following inscription is shown in the abacus: "Praise to God. There is no other God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet. There is no force but in God ». The presence of a carving of the Virgin with the Child in her arms, in a niche, shows that the world that is on the other side of the Puerta de la Justicia is no longer anything but a historical memory, of which only the aesthetic projection survives of an exquisite art. The Puerta de la Justicia consists of a wide entrance hall and in the upper part of the exit door there is a magnificent decoration of tiles.
Puerta del Vino
Located in the Plaza de los Aljibes, the Puerta del Vino does not have a zig-zag structure like the previous one, which shows its civil and non-defensive nature. The latticework above the arch also responds to civilian use, while the interior benches served the guardians to shelter from rain and wind. The Puerta del Vino gave access to the Alhambra Alta, where the medina was located, in which some 2,000 people lived. Its name is due to the duty-free wine market, which took place in it from the mid-sixteenth century. On the interior or west facade, the lintel shows the symbolic entrance key to the medina and an inscription of praise to Allah and Mohamed V.
From the Plaza de los Aljibes, leaving the Alcazaba to one side and the Palacio de Carlos V to the other, the Nasrid Palaces are accessed, and we are already in the heart of the Alhambra. The Alhambra is, as the Arabist García Gómez says, not only the most beautiful, but the best preserved and oldest of all the old Arab palaces that remain in the world. Once inside the Royal Fortress one has the impression of being surrounded by a frame worthy of a fabulous story of the Arabian Nights. In the different rooms and patios seems to flap an exquisite and sensitive perfume.
The Nasrid Palaces form three independent monumental groups: the Palacio del Mexuar, destined to the administration of justice; the Palacio de Comares, official residence of the king; and the Palacio de los Leones, with the private apartments of the sovereign.
Palacio del Mexuar
As has already been pointed out, it was the site where the kings of Granada received their subjects in audience. There they developed, bureaucratic and judicial activities. Partially demolished, it does not offer a complete idea of how it really was, since, when Granada had already been conquered by the Catholic Monarchs, several Christian buildings were erected.
In the Sala del Mexuar stand the baseboards that look tiled tiles with the Nazari motto "There is no winner, but God." At the back of the room there is an observation-oratory, from whose balconies there are beautiful views to the Albaicín. It shows an exquisite decoration with several inscriptions with Quranic precepts and praises to Mohamed V (1354-1391). To this sovereign is due the construction of the contiguous Cuarto Dorado, dependency of the Palacio de Comares. From the Cuarto Dorado, a portico with three arches gives way to the Patio de Mexuar, in which the so-called facade of Comares stands out for its rich decoration.
Palacio de Comares
Continuing towards the interior of the Alhambra, one arrives, through the Patio del Mexuar, to the former residence of the king. It is a palace of incomparable beauty. It is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting and sumptuous places in the Alhambra. It is decorated with a delicate complexity. The polychrome tiles and the filigree of the stuccos create a breath of fantasy.
The palace is arranged around the wonderful Patio de los Arrayanes. The air, light, water and green vegetation combine with the architectural elegance that frames the patio, offering a synthesis of the determination to express the pleasure of living that, in short, constitutes the Alhambra. Everything, inside its enclosure, is conceived to obtain the maximum enjoyment of the senses.
The Patio de los Arrayanes is considered to be the model of the typical granadian courtyards. His grace, his balance of forms, the wise disposition of the natural elements, make of the unmistakable image of this patio a set of harmonic and original beauty. The wooden ceiling of the north gallery, partially destroyed by a fire in 1890, offers great interest from the decorative point of view.
Through the north gallery of the Patio de los Arrayanes you can access to the Sala de la Barca, the antechamber to the most monumental room of the Nasrid Palaces, the majestic Salón de Embajadores, located in the great Torre de Comares.
Torre de Comares y Salón de Embajadores: The Torre de Comares is the largest in the Alhambra. Its 45 meters high and the enormous thickness of its walls (2.5 meters) recall the military nature of the construction. Inside it houses the Salón de Comares or Salón de Embajadores, center of political life and where diplomatic negotiations were held, there was the throne. The large number of openings (doors, windows and nine balconies) conditions the structure of the profuse decoration that covers the walls. The tiled base, the complexity of the stuccos and the copious work of lacing the cedar wood ceiling, which preserves remains of its ancient polychrome, are samples of the splendor of that court. The ornamental motifs are epigraphs, with religious phrases and poems. It is an authentic jewel, made with a truly masterful precision and finesse. In the past, the lighting was muffled by thick curtains, beautiful plaster lattices and elegant mullioned windows (vantage points of wood and colored glass), which lent a very mysterious air to the whole, very oriental taste.
Bathrooms: Located east of the Palacio de Comares, its structure is reminiscent of the Roman baths. The Sala de las Camas or Sala del Reposo has four columns that support corbels and lintels, forming in the center a square space, with a fountain of cup in the center and galleries around. The walls are profusely decorated in colors. Most of the work is from the Christian era. This first room gives way to the interior of the bathrooms, of beautiful architecture, with white marble flooring, baseboards with tiles, smooth horseshoe arches and vaulted skylights with starry chandeliers.
Palacio de los Leones
It was built by Mohamed V as a private royal room and is located in the angle formed by the bathrooms and the Patio de los Arrayanes. It is a splendid sample of Nasrid art. It is accessed through a narrow corridor that connects the Patio de los Arrayanes with the Palacio de los Leones, arranged around a large central courtyard surrounded by galleries, with large rooms in the background. To the north is the Sala de las Dos Hermanas and, behind, the Sala de los Ajimeces and the Mirador de Daraxa. To the south is the Sala de los Abencerrajes, with the rooms that made up the Harem. To the east is the Sala de los Reyes, and to the west, the Sala de los Mocárabes.
From the Patio de los Arrayanes, the Palacio de Comares communicates with the Palacio de los Leones through the Sala de los Mocárabes.
Sala de los Mocárabes: It has an elongated rectangular shape and its walls are decorated with plaster strips that show artistic works, religious inscriptions, the Nasrid coat of arms and the motto. It is very interesting the primitive vault discovered in the nineteenth century that is next to the one dating from the seventeenth century. Through three arches of muqarnas, supported by half columns and capitals with inscriptions of praise to Mohamed V, the Patio de los Leones is accessed.
Patio de los Leones: It constitutes the most popular and widespread stamp of the Alhambra. It is the axis of the monumental complex formed by the dependencies of the Palacio del Harem, the private residence of the Nasrid kings and their large family courtship: women, concubines and children. The architectural set of the patio is great. The elegance with which they are decorated and the slenderness of the 124 columns that line the patio are worthy of admiration.
In its time the Patio de los Leones was a garden, full of vegetation, that the chronicles of the time compare with paradise. Each of its sides opens to a different room that we describe below.
Sala de los Abencerrajes: It is located in front of the Sala de las Dos Hermanas. It receives this name because in it the tradition says that the knights of the Abencerrajes line were beheaded. It has a double entrance arch and the hall forms a central square, with three artistically decorated double arches supported by columns with blue capitals. The walls are richly decorated, restored in the sixteenth century. The muqarnas dome is of great beauty.
Sala de los Reyes: Also called Sala de la Justicia, extends by the east head of the patio and forms a rectangle of 31 by 7 meters. This room is accessed by three porticos with triple arches of muqarnas that are supported by thin columns and decorated with openwork diamonds. The Sala de la Justicia is divided in its interior by three square compartments, separated from each other by solid double arches. The rectangular sections formed by these arches are covered by muqarnas vaults. Several bedrooms open to the ends of the room, decorated with inscriptions of praise to God and Mohamed V. It is one of the most interesting interior sets of the Alhambra.
The paintings that decorate the ceilings of the room are very valuable. These brightly colored and simple drawing paintings recall the style and manner of the Chinese paintings and the miniatures of the Persian manuscripts.
Sala de las Dos Hermanas: The room, which had to be built at the end of the reign of Mohamed V, is quadrangular with 8 meters on each side. Its name comes from the two large twin slabs of marble pavement that flank a central fountain.
The room has semicircular arches on each of its fronts. The lateral arches give access to two rooms with a loop roof.
The walls are covered by a very fine work in plaster that seems filigree.
The most impressive part of the room is the muqarnas dome, which looks like a weightless vault supported in the air by magic. The dome rests on the octagon of its base, on trumpets also of muqarnas.
The upper apartments were probably reserved for women who, behind the wooden lattices, attended without being seen at parties and amusements.
Sala de los Ajimeces: Its name derives from the mullioned windows or small balconies that open on the north wall, above the garden. Half of the walls are covered with plaster with religious inscriptions and a shield with the Nasrid motto. A large pointed arch of muqarnas located in the center of the back wall gives access to the Mirador de Daraxa, a beautiful work of Nasrid art, which rises above the Jardín de Daraxa, in the center of which is located a large marble fountain.
Mirador de Daraxa: It is one of the most delicious places in the Alhambra. This room is the first of the Harem and is decorated with exquisite delicacy, as well as the remaining adjacent rooms, intended for the sultana.
The decoration of the walls is very fine and of great beauty as if it were an ivory goldwork. Epigraphy, for the most part, reproduces poems by Aben Zemrec. The interior of the viewpoint is occupied by a rectangular room with a pair of lateral arches and a double one in the center. The windows are adorned by pointed arches of muqarnas. The tile base, beautiful, combines the colors black, white and yellow. The plinth ends with a tiny inscription, also in tiling. Opposite the Mirador de Daraxa, in 1527 the rooms of Carlos V were built. There are six rooms with Renaissance decoration. In them lived Washington Irving, author of the famous Tales of the Alhambra.
Jardines del Partal
Surrounded by interesting monuments, of pure Arabian lineage, whose silhouette is reflected in the waters of the center ditch.
The most important of the buildings in this area of the Alhambra is, without a doubt, El Partal or Torre de las Damas. Located at the back of the gardens, it has a wooden ceiling, originally decorated. A large arch, very well decorated, gives access to the room, which has three windows on each of its fronts. From the viewpoint, which is in the upper part of the tower, there is a beautiful view to the Darro valley. On your left are the so-called Casas del Partal. It is about three Moorish houses, although very reformed, in which interesting remains of paintings of Arab origin were found.
To the right of the Torre de las Damas stands the Torre del Mihrab. It houses an oratory and has a horseshoe arch on the façade. A semicircular arch is supported by columns in the interior. On the opposite wall is the mihrab, with a polygonal plan and a horseshoe arch, with a mocarabes dome.
Currently there are 22 towers of the 30 that once crowned the walls of the Alhambra. Some of them, in the fourteenth century, lost their military function, were beautifully decorated to become small independent mansions, such is the case of the Torre de la Cautiva and the Torre de las Infantas, or, the aforementioned, Torre de las Damas.
The Torre de los Picos owes its name to the peak shot of the battlements. Its mission was to defend an entrance of the fortress that communicated with the Generalife.
The Torre del Cadí has a main room with a vaulted vault.
The Torre de las Infantas has above all legendary value. His story, immortalized by Washington lrving, refers to the princesses Zaida, Zoraida and Zorahaida, in love with three Christian prisoners.
The Torre de la Cautiva, presents a refined plastering. Its name evokes the romantic figure of Isabel de Solís, which is none other than the beautiful Zoraya, whose legend flutters poetically throughout the area of the Alhambra.
The door of the Torre de los Siete Suelos was one of the most important in the Alhambra. The legend says that Boabdil went out to surrender to the Catholic Monarchs, asking them to cover it forever. In 1812, the tower was flown by the Napoleonic troops and later restored.
It receives this name the zone corresponding to the old medina of the Alhambra. It had a population of 2,000 inhabitants and had palaces, houses, souks, baths and a mosque. The main street of the medina, which was born in the Puerta del Vino, followed the layout of the current Calle Real. Today there are only remnants of all this. In the place of the mosque, the Church of Santa María of the Alhambra was built in the 17th century. Something further north are the remains of the Baños de Polinario. In the state of ruins we have reached several Nasrid houses and the Palacio de los Abencerrajes, which was attached to the wall, while another palace served as a base to build, in 1495, by order of Isabel La Católica, the former Convent of San Francisco, today tourist hostel.
Within the monumental complex of the Alhambra highlights the Renaissance trace of the so-called Palacio de Carlos V. It began to be built in 1527, and was intended as the residence of the Emperor, who felt a special predilection for Granada. But the works had to be suspended in 1568, because of the rebellion of the Moors, and could not be resumed until 1579. Even so it remained unfinished, with the roof exposed, ending in the twentieth century.
The transit from the ethereal and sensual sphere of the Alhambra to the classicist balance of the Palacio de Carlos V represents an exciting experience. And although its location has caused many signs of discordance, the truth is that its construction only affected the site where the royal cemetery was and some dependencies of the harem. The palace has a quadrangular shape and its lines are serenely majestic. It is considered the most beautiful Renaissance palace that exists outside of Italy.
The southern façade has a beautiful portal, artistically decorated, and in the western facade, which is the main one, notable reliefs are exhibited. The central patio, circular, impresses by its dimensions: 30 meters in diameter. It appears surrounded by a spacious portico of 32 columns, Doric style in the lower floor and Ionic in the upper. Currently, its halls house the Museum of Fine Arts of Granada and the Museum of the Alhambra.
Museum of the Alhambra
Located on the ground floor of the Palacio de Carlos V, it gathers a magnificent collection of Arab works, which constitute a complete study of Islamic culture in Spain. The majority comes from those made in the monumental site of the Alhambra. It has numerous pieces of pottery, coins, glass, capitals, tombstones, samples of tile and plaster, fragments of doors and roofs of wood, lattices, small lamps and other objects.
Among all the pieces, the so-called Jarrón de las Gacelas stands out, from the 14th century, considered a masterpiece of Spanish medieval pottery.
Museum of Fine Arts of Granada
Located on the first floor of the Palacio de Carlos V. It has a set of paintings and sculptures ranging from the fifteenth to the twentieth century, and offer a view of the art of Granada and Granada through art, from the Christian conquest to the present.
One of the most important works is the Tríptico del Gran Capitán, of end of century XV. Note also the religious paintings of Juan de Sevilla, or the impressive canvases of Pedro Atanasio Bocanegra and other masters such as Pedro de Raxis and Fray Juan Sánchez Cotán, as well as a remarkable collection of flamenco tables by anonymous authors.
From the painting of the nineteenth century, essentially landscape, Manuel Gómez Moreno is the greatest exponent of the artists from Granada. Of the 20th century, the works of López-Mezquita and Rodríguez-Acosta stand out, and, in the terrain of the avant-garde, figures such as Manuel Ángeles Ortiz, Ismael González de la Serna, José Guerrero and Manuel Rivera.
The palace and gardens of the Generalife are located on the slopes of Cerro del Sol, from where you can see a splendid panoramic views to the Darro Valley and the Genil Valley and the city of Granada. It was a pleasure house for the monarchs of Granada.
The Palacio del Generalife was built in the middle of the 13th century, although the current decoration dates back to 1319, and constitutes an immediate antecedent to the characteristic art of the Alhambra. After the Christian conquest underwent new reforms that distorted its original profile.
The building is arranged around the wonderful Patio de la Acequia, 48.70 by 12.80 meters. A channel extends through the center, flanked by two sets of jets with two stone cups at the ends. Water and nature acquire the greatest role here. In one of the sides of the patio a wall with eighteen arched ojivados opens that give to a modern gallery on the low gardens. In the intrados of the arches are painted the yoke and arrows (symbol of the Catholic Monarchs), and Arabic and Christian inscriptions.
To the north and south the patio is closed by two pavilions. Of the southern pavilion, the most interesting, there are only five arches supported on brick pilasters and a couple of columns with cubic capitals. At each end there is an arch. The one on the right leads to the main entrance and the one on the left, to the staircase that goes up to the upper floor, where the bedrooms are located. After the portico, a hall leads to a large room whose walls retain the remains of the old decoration.
The north pavilion has a portico with five arches supported by marble columns with cubic capitals. An artistic portal of three arches allows the entrance to the room-viewpoint that opens onto a beautiful garden at your feet.
This pavilion communicates with the Patio de los Cipreses, populated with splendid and centenary examples of cypresses. This patio is closed to the north by a two-story gallery built in the sixteenth century.
Through a broad and solid staircase of the last century you access the upper part of the gardens, where is one of the most beautiful steps of the Generalife, the so-called Escalera del Agua, Arabic style, flanked by parapets, where water flows.
The structure of the gardens that extend next to the Palacio del Generalife, make up a charming labyrinth of gazebos, fountains, flower beds and dense plant walls.
In one of its extremes, an open-air theater was built, the annual stage of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.