According to the Rough Guide to Spain, the Alhambra Palace at Granada is:
… one of Spain’s architectural wonders and most visited monuments …
The Alhambra was on Francine’s bucket list so, being only about 90 minutes away by car from Canillas de Albaida, made for an irresistible draw on our day of rest from walking. [Ed: that’s if spending hours on your feet wandering around a large palace can be said to be a rest from walking.]
Planning is necessary. The guide books and visitor advice make it sound a bit like a trial: large crowds, long walk from car parks to entrance, long waits, etc. etc. Entries into the palace building itself are limited and timed with an ability to purchase them online before you go so this, Francine did. Given all the dire warnings and our 90-minute drive, and there still being a choice available (we booked before leaving for Spain), Francine opted to join the 1:00PM swarm. A-day had arrived, we hit the road at around 7:00 AM.
Those familiar with my personal likes and dislikes will have realised that crowds together with a pile of old stones did not make the Alhambra one of my main interests. I was not looking forward to it, except, given those dire warnings, with some trepidation. The journey was fine. As we approached Granada the road climbed into cloud and the temperature dropped to a decidedly chilly 15°C. We were not dressed for 15°C, we were dressed for 25°C. Bother! Fortunately, it did warm up as the day progressed.
Mercifully, since The Alhambra is on the south side of Granada, the direction from which we approached, we didn’t have to mess with too much traffic. The first dire warning came to nought as we easily entered the officially parking areas and made our way to the parking bays nearest to the entrance itself. Given our parking location, the second dire warning was dispatched with a simple 5-minute saunter to the entrance complex where there was a special short line (about 6 people) especially for those with pre-booked tickets – third dire warning dispatched, An armed security guard (normal for Spain – even the caretaker at a little visited monastery had a night stick) soon bad us through where Francine collected our tickets and a map of the site. We were in with nothing approaching hassle. Of course, we were early.
We began with the gardens and the Generalife [I’ve no idea how to pronounce that but it’s apparently the summer pleasure gardens – steady! – of the Emir]. The gardens were OK but even I’ve seen much better. Naturally, though we were early, people were already quite numerous and Francine patiently waited for a few shots without the usual array of dorks armed with tablets, mobile phones and those accursed narcissistic selfie sticks. [Incidentally, tripods are not allowed so why those bloody selfie sticks?] A person or two seemed to help with atmosphere in one or two places.
The best part of the gardens, IMHO, was that they offered the best view of parts of the Alhambra itself. It is so often the case with notable sites that the best view is not from close quarters but from a distance, where you see better any majesty and in some context. One such view of the Alhambra is from Granada itself, the other is from the gardens. Francine went into another, higher garden while I chose to stay outside looking at the palace and watching the gardeners at work. Incidentally, “Al Hamra” [no, I haven’t misspelt that] is apparently Arabic for “The Red One” so, in addition to “The Alhambra” literally meaning “The The Red One”, I must assume the Moors were red/yellow colour blind. But I digress.
Nothing for it, fairly soon we ran out of garden entertainment and had to wander into the walled fortress itself. I tried to find the outside of the piles of old stones interesting with limited success. There were a few pools/ponds but they were sterile, so no entertainment there. Most interesting to me was a series of large metal rings on the walls outside the Palacio de Carlos V, One of which is shown here. Given the ledge beneath them, I assume these were hitching rings for horses complete with a mounting step. The round courtyard in the centre of this palace was undoubtedly impressive and was drawing several cameras.
We could see one of the earlier swarms queuing ready for their timed entrance to the Palace buildings themselves as we approached the military complex, the Alcazaba [Magicians, this way please], which is where we went next. I must confess that these large slabs were quite impressive. Not only that but they were playing host to swarms of swifts screaming and making the summer sound like summer. I could’ve watched them all day.
I did watch them for a substantial part of the day. We’d finished going “ooh, ahh” at the external stuff way before midday and still had to wait until 1:00 PM for our timed swarm. In fairness, the numbers in any particular swarm are sensibly limited and each 30-minute time slot really isn’t daunting. So, we sat near the entrance, in front of the Alcazaba, and magicked up our picnic lunch – there are restricted areas where you are allowed to eat a picnic – whilst watching all those swifts and Joe Public. Time to join the queue for the main event.
In we went for me once again to feign interest. Being Moorish, the decorative carvings on the walls are very extensive and very intricate, scribblings indecipherable to a non-Arabic speaker/reader. Ceilings and archways were ornate. There was another long pool complete with fish and, surprisingly given the lack of vegetation, an Emperor Dragonfly cruising back and forth. Most of the opposing groups were very polite and considerate, even the oriental ones, which surprised me a little. The only exception was a large-ish Spanish group who seemed to feel as if they owned the place – well, I suppose they did – and who barged their way through with no concern for obstructing others less prepared to barge. Eventually we barged back. Here’s a flavour.
The most intriguing aspect for me inside was that it sported many gently running water channels in the marble floors. Whether these were to help with cooling or just to sound soothing, I know not. They are best shown emanating from a well known central fountain supported by lion effigies. As with many things, this is difficult to photograph attractively because it’s surrounded by ropes, even though you can’t actually approach it. So, here is the fountain, first to see some of the water channelling and secondly to look more appealing.
Although entrance to the palace itself is timed, you appear to be able to spend as long as you like in there. Fortunately, there are limits and we eventually exited to make our way back.
OK, I admit it, it was nothing like as daunting as I had been led to expect and I’m glad I’ve seen it. I do think it’s a little over-played, though but, hey, what monument isn’t? Well, the Taj Mahal, perhaps?