Granada and Alhambra


Granada is a stunning city. It can be found in the region of Andalusia, which a Spanish autonomous community as well, in the country’s south. It’s a charismatic region and, in my view, one extremely interesting when seen through the lenses of heritage and history.

The whole region of Andalusia was occupied by the Arabs for several centuries and the last stronghold of the entire Iberian region was the city of Granada. Only in 1492, and already after several years of combat, the Catholic kings were able to take the city from the Arabs.


Its landscape positioning is perfect. The city is about 20 km away from the Sierra Nevada, Europe’s 3rd largest mountain chain. Its peak reaches a height of 3482 meters. Alhambra, which is the symbol and most famous monument of Granada, is found on the top of a hill named al-Sabika, with a height of approximately 700 meters and has the Sierra Nevada as its setting. It’s perfect.

The hill is found on the bank of Darro river, west of Granada. On the river’s opposite side, one can find the popular quarters of Albaicin and Alcazaba.

Believe that the 1st impression that will have of Alhambra will be splendorous, but the true enchantment happens on the inside… Regardless of the time of the year, there are always tons of people visiting it. Do what I did, wake up at dawn and queue up. It’s worth it 😉

What does it mean

The name Alhambra derives from the Arab “qa,lat al-Hamra”, which means red castle. So its name is related to the reddish tone of the walls.

What is it

The Alhambra complex is the world’s most jaw-dropping Arab citadel. It’s a walled city where one can find royal rooms, never-ending gardens, courtyards and many other things.

Who built it

The first references to the Alhambra date from the 9th century, a period when a fortress is referenced. However, the royal occupation of the Alhambra only took place in the 13th century, under the Nasrid dynasty. Mohammed ben Al-Hamar was this dynasty’s 1st king and he was also the 1st to occupy the complex. And this event was the starting point of the Alhambra’s golden era.

Over time, others kings succeeded him and the Alhambra underwent several changes. These overhauls kept taking place even after the Christian victory in Granada. A part of it was demolished, with that space being replaced by the Palace of Charles V, and new areas were born, like the Emperor’s Chambers and the Queen’s Dressing Room.

In the 18th century, whilst the French occupation was in full fledge, the Alhambra endured an explosion that caused serious damages. The recovery endeavours started in the following century, which are being conducted up to the present day.

What to see in Alhambra

Inside the Alhambra, we can visit 4 different areas, with these being the Alcazaba, the Palace of Charles V, the Generalife and the Nasrid Palace.

1 – Alcazaba

The whole set constituted by the Alcazaba and the Bermejas towers is the complex’s oldest part, dating from the 9th century. This Citadel’s objective was to guard and control the city of Granada. The Bermeja towers, whose name is related to the colour of their walls, were part of a wide set of watchtowers, called Torre de La Quebrada, del Homenaja e de la Vela.

These towers were the city’s first military strongholds and became part of the Alcabaza, some time after having been built. Already a unified structure, they also were connected to Alhambra by the means of a wall.

From this whole area we have a gorgeous view over the rest of the Alhambra complex and the splendid city of Granada.


2 – Palace of Charles V

The Palace of Charles V is one of the most important works of the Renaissance. The King of Spain and Emperor of Germany, Charles V, visited Spain during his honeymoon. He enjoyed Granada so much that he chose the city to live and order the construction of a stunning palace at the Alhambra for that same purpose.

The architect accountable for this endeavour was Pedro Machuca, whose artistic education was rooted in Rome, having been a disciple of Michelangelo. And, due to this influence, he enacted something entirely unprecedented in Spain. The most interesting detail is that the palace has a round shape in its interior, even though the outer walls convey a squared shape instead.

Currently the Palace of Charles V holds the Fine Arts Museum and the Museum of the Alhambra. Charles V actually never had the opportunity to live in the place whose construction he ordered…

Carlos V Palace
Carlos V Palace
Carlos V Palace

3 – Generalife

Generalife was a resting and leisure spot for the kings of Granada, just like its agricultural area. Its name means architect garden, which dates back to its origins, before being acknowledged as royal heritage.

This space comprises 2 buildings which happen to be connected through Patio de la Acequia, one of Alhambra’s most emblematic and photographed locations. This courtyard holds the royal irrigation channel, providing water to the gardens and to the whole complex.

The whole set of elements, like the environment, the water sound, the Arab motifs, light and plants, is just pure magic.


4 – Nasrid Palaces

The Nasrid Palaces were the old residence of the Sultans and they represent the heart of the whole complex of Alhambra.

Here we can find 3 buildings:

  • Mexuar or Meshwar – it’s the oldest part. Royal ministerial meetings were held here, having functioned as a court as well;
  • Comares Palace – it was the sultan’s official residence and it holds the throne room. It comprises a beautiful lake;
  • Palace of the Lions – this is the most iconic palace, since it has the central courtyard with lions and the Observation Point of Daraxa.
Nasrid Palaces
Nasrid Palaces
Nasrid Palaces
Nasrid Palaces

I’ve once read that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The Alhambra is like that.