Thursday, April 16, 2020

Sites : The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

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Granada, Spain - November 2019
During a cycling tour of Portugal & Spain we had to opportunity to visit one of Spain's most notable sites - the palace-fortress of the Alhambra in Granada. The name originates from the Arabic word الْحَمْرَاء"‎", romanized as Al-Ḥamrāʾ, meaning "The Red One", which refers to the red sun-dried bricks of which the outer wall is made from.

The Alhambra is a favorite among tourist and it is better to booked ahead online to avoid any disappointment of not be able to see the place while in Granada. Even then, the inner sanctum, the Palacio De Los Nazaries (Nazri Palaces), has a strict specific time frame of an hour for each visitor. Presently the entrance fee is €14.85 per pax.
Oh yah, part of the reason we had to visit this place is because of the K-Drama series "Memories of the Alhambra".

The best way to get to the Alhambra from town is by the Alhambra Red Minibus, using either Bus #30 or Bus #32. Click here for the Alhambra Red Minibus routes. and here for the different fares & travel cards.

Before we proceed further here's a map showing the different sections of the palace for better orientation.
1. Jardines del Generalife (Generalife Gardens).
2. Palacio de Generalife.
3. Patio de la Acequia (Court of the Water Channel).
4. Torre de Ismail (Tower of Ismail).
5. Palacio de Carlos V (Palace of Charles V)
6. Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Alhambra.
7. Jardines del Paraiso (the Gardens of Paradise).
8. Jardines del Partal (Partal Gardens).
9. Jardín de los Ardaves (Garden of the Ramparts).
10. Alcazaba palace buildings.
11. Palacio De Los Nazaries (Nazri Palaces).
12. Jardines de Daraxa (Daraxa's Garden).
13. El Partal, (The Portico).

Here's another plan showing the different sections and also services available.
The Alhambra is divided into two main sections; the western section with a complex of buildings, and the eastern section with less buildings and more gardens. This eastern section is called the Generalife.

The Generalife seems to be an odd name for a palace, sounding more mundane than regal. Being English educated, to me it sounded so generalized when read in an English way.
But the name comes from the Arabic word جَنَّة الْعَرِيف‎ Jannat al-‘Arīf, which literally means "Architect's Garden". The name becomes very appropriate as the Palacio de Generalife was the summer palace and country estate of the Nasrid rulers of the Emirate of Granada.
Enter via the lush Moorish Jardines del Generalife (Generalife Gardens).

Walking through the gardens is so refreshing as the planners have done a good job of planting with different colors to play with one's eyes and touch one's heart. One moment it's a splash of red on the walls (see the prior photo) and next it's a pergola of yellow tugging one to move along.

It's a long but nice garden path filled with fountains .....

..... which brought back memories of the Gardens of Kashmir that we saw on a 2014 trip to India.

The similarities are not coincidental, both Moorish Architecture of the Alhambra; and Moghul Architecture of Northern India, has their roots in Islamic Architecture.

From here there is a clear view of the Pueblos Blanco of Granada below, and the western buildings of the Alhambra on the other side.

We leave the open gardens and enter a courtyard garden, the Patio de la Acequia (Court of the Water Channel) where a central water channel with small intermittent fountains run along the whole length of the courtyard.

At the far end is the Torre de Ismail (Tower of Ismail), although just a three-storey building, sitting at the edge of an escarpment gives it a good panoramic view of the city below. It's probably named after Ismail I of Granada, a cultured and refined man,who significantly added to the Alhambra complex and the palace of Generalife.

Arched windows opens out to scenic views, and the interior wall lined with beautiful carvings.

A close up view of the scenic views.

Each window offered it's own distinct view, this one looks out to the Palacio De Los Nazaries (Nazri Palaces).

Another view of the Patio de la Acequia, this time from the Torre de Ismail, at the far end in the entrance building into the Generalife.

A beautiful arched window, carved with Arabic calligraphy.

We take stairs down to corridors that will lead to .....

The western complex have more buildings, equally or even more beautiful. 
Again, entry is through the gardens - starting with green arching branches of the appropriately named Jardines del Paraiso (the Gardens of Paradise) .....

..... and leading through the Jardines del Partal (Partal Gardens) with it's castle rampart style hedges .....

Which leads out to a nice building, the Parador de San Francisco.  It looks like perhaps a church, but it's not; it's a hotel sitting right in the middle of the Alhambra complex - the guests are so blessed.

But it's the views from the gardens that excels, like this one of the hotel framed within the arch of a hedge.

From a nearby garden, another scenic view of Granada with the Sierra Nevada in the background.

Leading us into the Western complex are more gardens, some even though simple gives postcard quality photos, like the above. Those red leaves of the creepers are real ones but looked like they were painted on. Surreal, yah? Salvador Dali, Spain's famous artist son would be happy.

The garden weaves and open up to another large building, the Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Alhambra. This was a mosque that was converted into a Catholic church in the early 17th century. The external walls built of red bricks with thick white pointing exudes a pinkish tone; in between are panels filled with light brown pebbles. Inside there is an elaborate baroque-style altar.

Here too is a peep view of the pyramidal roof of the Nasrid Palaces, the jewel of the Alhambra.

But we won't be seeing the jewel yet, there is a allotted 1-hr time frame for each visitor to enter the Nasrid Palaces and it's not our time yet. Instead with time to spare we visited the Palacio de Carlos V (Palace of Charles V). This Renaissance building, located on the top of the hill of the Assabica, was commanded by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, who wished to establish his residence close to the Alhambra palaces. However, the building has never been a home to a monarch and stood roofless until 1957.

Although looking squarish and stocky on the outside, the interior conveys a different atmosphere and a totally different architectural style. Inside is a circular space called the Patio, and running around are the rooms of the places in a two-storey structure held up by a Doric colonnade at the lower level and stylized Ionic colonnade at first level.

Across the road, cast iron old canons lay quiet, pointing towards the city as a decorative mascot.

While waiting they turn, most just hang around the Placeta de los Aljibes (Square of the Cisterns) which is so named because cisterns were built in the gully between the Alcazaba and the palaces. These cisterns (34 meters long, 6 meters wide and 8 meters high) together with the surrounding streets and squares were buried to form the current square.

Others will climb the nearby towers to get another good view of Granada. This one here is the Torre del Cubo de la Alhambra.

From there more panoramic views of the Pueblos Blanco below.

Right on cue of our time slot we were allowed into the Nasrid Palaces; together with the entry ticket, some form of identification (usually a passport) is required to be shown to the guides there. Entry is via the Puerta del Vino (Wine Gate), which is supposed to be one of the oldest constructions of the Alhambra, it could date from the period of Mohammed II.

Right after the gate are not the palaces yet, but a garden called the Jardín de los Ardaves, or the Garden of the Ramparts - an appropriate name as it's a narrow and long garden that run along the terrace formed by the castle rampart walls.

It's a beautiful garden with a mixed of planting, stonework and fountains; at the far end, which lead to the Alcazaba palace buildings.

Right at the entrance into is a guide with a recommendation of the route to follow in this area, i.e.:
1.  Sala de Mocárabes (Muqarnas Room),
2. Patio de los Leones (Court of the Lions),
3. Sala de los Abencerrajes (Hall of the Abencerrajes),
4. Sala de los Reyes (Hall of the Kings),
5. Sala de las Dos Hermanas (Hall of the Two Sisters), and
6. Mirador de Lindaraja/Daraxa (Lindaraja/Daraxa viewpoint).

Entering these rooms, do look up and admire the fine workmanship done to the column heads, and arches.

The walls are finely lined with carving, and more interesting are the cornices which are lined with carvings known as mocárabe/muqarnas. These are a form of ornamented vaulting in Islamic architecture and are sometimes called "honeycomb vaulting" or "stalactite vaulting". Muqarnas is significant in Islamic architecture because its elaborate form is a symbolic representation of universal creation by God.

Smaller muqarnas seen at the column headers.

A beautiful ceiling created in Islamic geometric pattern.

Finely decorated horseshoe arch entrance.

Beautiful arches framing timber lattice window.

From here we can view out to the Patio de los Arrayanes (Court of the Myrtles).

More fine carvings, from walls upwards to the high windows.

More muqarnas seen at this sharp arch.

A dome formed with Islamic geometric pattern and Arabic calligraphy.

Inside the Patio de los Leones (Court of the Lions) is the Lion Fountain, with ten lions supporting a large basin fountain.

The Sala de los Reyes (Hall of the Kings) is so named because of the the paintings on three ellipse-shaped, leather-covered wooden domes. The middle painting represents the first ten kings of the Nasrid Dynasty.

At another dome can be seen the Spainish Royal Coat of Arms.

The last section is the Mirador de Lindaraja/Daraxa (Lindaraja/Daraxa viewpoint) with views on one side overlooking Granada and a gazelle silhouette standing in contrast to the background behind. The gazelle is the symbol of the Alhambra.

On the other side, windows with intricate design overlooks .....

The Jardines de Daraxa (Daraxa's Garden) below.

One last place to see before leaving the palaces: the El Partal, "the portico" - which is the remains of the residence of Sultan Yusuf III, the northernmost of the Nasrid Palaces. Seen here is the picturesque arcade, tower and pond of El Partal.

As we leave we turned around and looked at the Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Alhambra, its steeple tower slowly catching the setting sun's rays and,

..... a serene reflection at a nearby pool welcomes a peaceful evening.

To one side green, red and pink creepers crawl over an archway.

And now the sun shines right onto the Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Alhambra, bathing it with glorious orange rays!

We exited at the Puerta de Siete Suelos .....

And took a walk down a wide ramp that will lead to the Alhambra - Generalife 2 Bus stop, from where we took the Alhambra Red Minibus back to town.

Post Script:
One of the best place to view the Alhambra in entirety is form the Plaza San Nicolas located at the Albaicín (Albayzín) neighborhood. It is reachable by the Alhambra Red Minibus too.

But it is better to view from here in the late afternoon or evening. We went there in the morning and the glare from the sun came shining glaringly into our eyes.

The Alhambra
Calle Real de la Alhambra, s/n, 18009 Granada, Spain.
Phone: +34-958027971
Entrance fee: €14.85 per pax
(Click here to purchase tickets on-line)
Click here for Opening Hours for day or night visits to gardens and buildings.
(with a fixed one hour time slot to visit the Palacio De Los NazariesNazri Palace)

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