Thursday, May 14, 2009

Visiting the Alhambra - Granada

I had my first of two visits to the Alhambra yesterday. I was so excited that I could hardly sleep. But I was also very unclear what I would find when I got there. So, before providing some detailed shots of the individual buildings, here is an overview of the different sections of the complex - and just a few tips.

The photos show the Alhambra from the Mirador of San Nicholas. The first photo is of the Alcazaba. The larger building in the background of the second photo is the Palace of Charles V, while the cluster of smaller buildings in the foreground is the Nasrid Palaces.

The Alhambra covers several acres of grounds. It contains four main palace areas as well as surrounding gardens, walls, and some smaller buildings that are now used as tourist stores and hotels. In addition, there are two hotels and a church.

There are three areas of primary interest. The Nasrid Palaces are a complex of Arabic palaces, but you'll visit all of them as part of a single tour. This is the one place that you must visit at a set time that is listed on your ticket. But once you're inside, you can spend as long as you want. So don't rush. It's really crowded so take your time and wait for the gaps in the traffic flow to really enjoy it. It's full of courtyards, delicate columns and arches, elaborate ceilings, and intricate carving - a marvel.

The Palace of Charles V was built in the mid 1500s. It's an unusual and attractive Renaissance building, but it seems very bulky after the delicacy of the Arab architecture. I would recommend trying to visit it before the Nasrid Palaces. It's a short initial visit to tour the two floors of the circular internal courtyard. You may want to go back to visit the art gallery and Alhambra museum.
The art gallery is well laid out with good explanations. I'm not very keen on religious art, but I enjoyed the galleries of more recent works.

The Alcazaba was a fortified town - a military complex. There are wonderful views of Granada, particularly Albaicin, from the ramparts and towers. There is no internal tour.

The Generalife was the Nasrid's summer home and farm. There are gardens connecting the Generalife to the Alhambra so it's a peaceful, colourful place to visit, and it was much less crowded. (The worst crowds are in the Nasrid Palaces.)

Leave lots of time for arriving at the Alhambra. The streets are very narrow, and there was construction work going on as well as buses unable to pass, so it took a long time for the minibus to get up the hill. The Alhambra buses leave from the street which is around the corner from the Plaza Nueva where the Albaicin minibuses stop.

You can see the four main areas in three hours, with the bulk of your time being spent in the Nasrid Palaces. Allow more time if you want to soak up the atmosphere and visit the museums (I spent six hours and am going back again tomorrow). The washroom facilities, stores, food options are centrally located for the three lower palace areas (none available at Generalife). You may want to pack some food of your own. I hadn't done this because I read they restricted your bag size, but that didn't seem to be the case. You can buy guide books (some available downtown) and an audio guide.

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