Anyone interested in the history of Spain – or just history in general – should see Granada at least once. Of course, this is the location of the renowned Alhambra, which draws thousands of visitors annually. While most websites advise you to book your tickets to view the Alhambra well in advance, I took a chance and wandered up the steep streets to wait in line for an hour and a half one morning. I lucked out and got a ticket for one of the afternoon entrances. Some of the grounds are free to enter, but if you want to go through the palace gardens, the various towers, and the three palaces, these require a ticket. There are essentially two tickets, one for the gardens and grounds, and the other for the three palaces. My advice is to get the two-day ticket, which would allow one visit to the grounds, and save the second day for the palaces. I did not do this, and by the end I was completely exhausted and not really taking in what I was seeing. There is so much! But you should allow yourself enough time to really enjoy and appreciate the place. The combination of Moorish and Christian architectures is brilliant, and then add to that the gorgeous vistas across the Sierra Nevada mountains, and well, photos don’t do it justice, but here are just a few to give you an idea.
Natural light filters down into the baths, which were designed to access water running down from the mountains.
The water staircase was built to make use of the natural water flowing down from the mountains to cool the inner rooms and provide fresh water for the baths.
The famous lions fountain was reinstalled this year, after having been closed off for restoration.
Originally built as a palace and fortress by the Moorish kings, the Alhambra looks out over the Albayzín barrio just below the imposing walls.
I waited a long time to get this photo of a walkway into the courtyard of the women’s chambers when there weren’t other tourists wandering through. There are 6,000 people going through this UNESCO heritage site per day, making it a bit daunting to get any image that captures the possible serenity of this place.
One of my favourite photos captures the Alhambra as it dominates the landscape above the city in the late afternoon. The quality of the light turns the fortress from pale gold to a deep red as the sun moves toward setting.
My other favourite view of the Alhambra is this night shot taken from below on the street that runs along the Darro River.
Granada itself is a small city, easily manoeuvred on foot. I spent many days walking through the Albayzín, the old Moorish neighbourhood that winds up into the hills that lead to the foot of the Alhambra. The old, windy cobbled streets initially take you back to a time that predates any sense of modernity – and evokes that Romanticized view that tourism capitalizes upon.
If you’re observant, though, you can see the traces of the contemporary world insisting upon the idyllic urban landscape. Like the rest of Spain, the Andalusia region where Granada is located continues to feel the tensions of the economic crisis. Much of the Albayzín is falling into disrepair, as the buildings are so very old. The cost of restoring and maintaining them has become prohibitive, and many have been abandoned by their previous owners, and the municipality has condemned them as inhabitable. At the same time, there is a lack of adequate housing, especially for those at lower income levels. This image captures the sentiment of many in this barrio.
The translation of the graffiti is “homes without people, people without homes”.
In fact, it was not at all difficult to find abandoned homes fallen into decay, with the doors bolted and/or chained, but the broken windows sadly testifying to the current state of things.
That Spain has much to do to persevere in the current economic situation is no secret. I just hope that its people will be able to maintain the resolve they keep having to demonstrate.
With its Moorish past constantly imposing itself through the culture and the architecture, Granada’s Catholicism remains equally important to the region. At the end of my visit I stumbled upon this demonstration of dance during the beginning of the festival of Corpus Cristi.
There is so much more to Granada that just the Alhambra, although that is certainly worth a visit. The caves in the Sacramonte hills, the Monastery of San Jeronimo, and the Cathedral are equally delightful if you’re at all interested in things historical. And like other parts of Spain that I’ve visited, the people were lovely and helpful, especially as I struggled to speak Spanish in a marginally comprehensible way.
Each time I find something more about Spain to love. The south has an entirely different flavour from Madrid or Barcelona, and next time I hope to visit the north. Bilbao seems to be calling. 🙂