Carved wood, intricate plaster arches and decorative columns, outstanding 13th century mosaics, and water, water everywhere define the palaces of the Nasrid kings at the Alhambra, Granada, Spain. The best description I have found is this one from Islamic Arts that offers you a virtual walking tour.
How to Buy Tickets
It is not easy to gain entry. One must buy tickets online a month in advance of your visit. They are not available any earlier. My sister did this by staying up all night the day the tickets went on sale for the dates we wanted. There is a nine hour time difference between Spain and San Francisco.
Tour groups seem to get priority, so within the hour of opening sales, the only tickets remaining were those in the afternoon time slot. That turned out to be a good thing for us since we still hadn’t adjusted to the time difference, we were moving slowly and we were inside the shade of the gardens and palace during the hottest part of the day!
Tips for Visiting the Alhambra
- Buy tickets for two days. One day is not enough. It takes one day to cover the Alhambra. There are two palaces — The Nasrid Palace and The Generalife, known as the summer palace. The territory is vast. There is a lot of walking and stair climbing.
- Rent the audio guide. It’s a must and definitely worth the extra euros. There are two stations: one at the entry by the ticket office and another inside by the Charles (Carlos) V Palace. You must return the guide to whichever place you picked it up because you have to leave an ID card as security.
- Eat lunch or dinner on the patio of the beautiful Parador Granada hotel. The cost is comparable to other venues, the views glorious, the gardens enchanting and the history is deep. It was the Franciscan monastery here where Isabella of Castile was first buried. Her remains were later removed to the Granada Cathedral by grandson Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.
- Take your time in the Nasrid Palace. Once you enter at your appointed time there is no limit to how long you can be there. We had the afternoon time slot that allowed us to enter the grounds at 2 p.m. with an 8 p.m. exit. Our ticket gave us access to the palace at 3 p.m. We lingered and let all the rushing tour groups pass us by. We were inside for over two hours just savoring the experience.
- Sit wherever you can and listen to the water. Fountains and running water were part of Moslem art and an integral function for living a prayerful life. It is meditative and tranquil.
- Look up. The ceilings are filled with surprises. Honeycomb domes have been able to withstand centuries of earthquakes with little or no damage.
- Step into archways and niches. Even the backs of the openings are filled with messages and prayers, inscriptions in Arabic, remains of polychrome frescoes.
It’s hot in Granada in April. Walking shoes, lightweight clothing, sun protection (cream and hat) are musts. The locals say in summer it can get close to a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. So, please plan your packing accordingly. Early mornings and night were chilly for us so we had shawls and jackets along, too.
And, we were constantly thirsty. Water, water everywhere also means slurping down Gatorade to stay hydrated! Of course, the locals prefer to drink beer the beverage of choice beginning as early as 10 a.m.
One afternoon we decided to walk down to the Darro River from the Alhambra to return to our hotel Casa Morisca. It’s a steep slope and in the descent you can understand how the Moors were able to rule the Iberian Peninsula from here for seven hundred years from this strategic mountain top.
In 1492, at the beginning of the Inquisition, when Spain unified under the Catholic kings, Moors and Jews were required to convert to Catholicism or leave. Those who converted were always suspect of practicing their religion in hiding and were often brought before the Inquisition to test their faith.
There were no surviving Jewish communities in Spain after 1492 and mosques are forbidden here. Many conversos moved to New Spain where they practiced Catholicism embedded with ancient Jewish rituals. We are in Girona now, north of Barcelona, where we are visiting the best surviving medieval Jewish neighborhood in Spain under the shadow of the most amazing Cathedral that was started in 1038 A.D. atop a Roman forum.