Tickets for the Alhambra
The Alhambra draws the crowds to Granada like a magnet, especially the lavish Nasrid Palace. For me the Alhambra had always been one of the must see sights in Europe, alongside such world renown places the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum in Rome and I could not wait to finally be able to visit this historical monument. Getting my hands on tickets for the Alhambra proved to be more difficult than I had ever anticipated. I knew it was a popular tourist destination but even booking the tickets months in advance, in low season seemed to be torture. There seemed to be some available embedded in a vast array of guided tours, including other sights in Granada on most of the websites on offer. After some hunting I finally got through to the official site from the Alhambra and tickets can be booked from up to 4 months to just 2 hours in advance. Although frankly many days sell out well in advance so getting a slot a short notice is very hit or miss. Children under 12 are free, but I would recommend taking a document to prove age with you in case you are asked. Be aware that it is also necessary to carry a passport or ID with you when collecting the tickets at the office.
Entry Times to the Nasrid Palace
Please note that we learnt that the chosen entry time is only for the Nasrid Palace, in fact all the other parts of the Alhambra can be visited throughout the day of the ticket at any time. So it is possible to tour the sights of the Generalife Gardens and Summer Palace, plus the Alcazaba if you possess a ticket at anytime on the day of the entry, unrestricted. Thankfully our timing on the Nasrid Palace was early enough for us to have plenty of time to stroll the rest of the site, and I was glad we had an early afternoon slot which meant not realizing this flexibility turned out not to be so critical.
Other Parts and Palaces are Free to Enter
Other parts of the Alhambra complex are entirely open to the public and free to gain entry through the Puerta de Justica. This can be rather convenient, especially for families with younger kids, as they can tend to be rather overwhelmed by all the old buildings, and it means you can always return the next day to explore the Palacio de Carlos V or one of the museums. The gardens and Palacio del Partal, which belong to the Nasrid Palace are also free of charge and in my eyes belong to the most beautiful part of the Alhambra.
Hotels inside the Alhambra
Why not stay in one of the two hotels on the grounds of the Alhambra and explore this magical place after dark or early in the mornings before the crowds arrive? If you are planning on visiting Granada’s World Heritage Sights like the Hammam you can do so on the Alhambra’s website but we did not have problems getting tickets at the door.
Collecting Tickets for the Alhambra
We had spent our morning exploring the Moorish architecture and sites in the Albaicin and then headed for the Nasrid Palace after having collected our pre-booked tickets at the office by the main gate. Once inside the outer walls of the fortress, we strolled across the bridge that connects the Generalife Gardens with the Medina. The lady at the office had told us to go straight to the entrance of the palace and join the queue. Rushing through the gardens and past the Palacio Carlos V we could already see the throng of people waiting to enter the Nasrid Palace.
Be There Early to Join the Queue
It is advisable to be at the entrance about 30 minutes before and if you miss your slot, you will most likely not be able to visit this part of the Alhambra without a new ticket. While waiting, Jerome kept himself busy by stroking the stray cats that seemed to be everywhere on the grounds. For me it was the perfect opportunity to take in the stunning views of the Albaicin quarter, which we had visited that morning. Even the cave houses on Sacramonte were easily recognizable and I wish we would have had enough time to visit them during our stay in Granada, maybe one target destination for our next visit.
History of the Alhambra Palaces and Fortress
The Alhambra was developed as a royal court and palace fortress, during the Muslim rule, they created a mini independent state in Granada. For over 250 years the Moors ruled from this lavish complex of palaces. During this time it was the richest state in Europe with a population of only 350.000 inhabitants. This era lasted until 1490 when Queen Isabel wanted to take hold of the precious buildings. After an eight months long siege, a deal was made and the Nasrid ruler, Baobdil, exchanged the Alhambra for the Las Alpujarras and a large amount of gold coins. Isabel and Fernando then moved to the city and shortly after divided the populace, the Jews to the Realejo and the Muslim to the Albaicin, and of course Catholics the rest.
“Tales of the Alhambra”
In the following centuries the Alhambra deteriorated and it was not until the writer Washington Irving, who moved into the remains of the palace and wrote the book “Tales of the Alhambra” that things changed. The books success brought a throng of tourists to Granada, which then helped the city to restore the Islamic heritage.
Inside the Nasrid Palace
The queue started to move exactly on time and after our tickets were checked, security scanned all bags and Chris had to carry the backpack on his front to avoid any accidents. The Nasrid Palace inside the Alhambra is the most enchanting monument to Moorish architecture in Europe. The largest of its kind, it amazes visitors from all over the world. For us it was like stepping into one of the palaces in Marrakesh, without having to leave our home continent. The glazed tiles, a signature feature seen all over Morocco, covered the walls of the first room and the wooden ceiling contained geometrically carved ornaments. The excitement of the other visitors was tangible and it reminded me of my first visit to Morocco, when I had first set eyes onto similar designs at one of the buildings. I still admire the beauty of their geometry and architecture but am I allowed to say that once you have visited a few of the palaces and buildings in Morocco they all seem to merge into one?
Coping with the Crowds
The crowds almost certainly spoiled our experience of the Nasrid Palace, it felt like being pushed through London’s tube at rush hour or a department store in the sales. However, we enjoyed strolling through the different rooms and out into the courtyards.
The Rooms and Courtyards
One of the patios had a large rectangular pool reflecting the surrounding arches, roof and the clear blue sky at its midst. The rooms surrounding the pool were most likely used for sleeping and lounging and traces of blue can still be seen on the honeycomb vaulting. It is believed that all walls were once all lavishly coloured. The ceiling in the next room was made up of 8000 pieces of cedar wood creating a star shaped ceiling that is unlike anything else we had ever seen. Jerome liked the lion fountain in the next courtyard, 12 open mouths spouting water. This part of the Nasrid Palace was undergoing extensive renovations at the time of our visit and large sections were hidden behind scaffolding and plastic sheets, sad but necessary.
I really savoured the shadows the stucco columns projected onto the smooth tadelakt walls. The detail on the columns was an intricate lace like design, artwork by very skilled craftsmen. The octagonal shaped domes with its intricately carved details at the far end of the Lion’s patio were another eye-catching feature of the palace.
Windows with a View
Back inside the palace we wandered past windows, overlooking the Sacramonte and Albaicin. A passageway led us besides the roofs of the Arab Baths, easily recognizable from the star shaped windows. Then we descended into the lush garden before peeking into the rooms of the hammam.
Palacio de Portal
We emerged at the terrace gardens and the Palacio de Portal reflecting in a large pool, with the white washed houses glimmering behind, in the afternoon sun. This palace is the oldest surviving part of the Alhambra and it was definitely my favourite place inside the fortress. I could have sat there for hours on end, watching the people, enjoy the sunshine and admire the sheer beauty of the building with the calming water in front.
Wander Through the Gardens
The gardens surrounding the lavish Portal and Nasrid Palaces are a great place for children to have a run or find a quiet place for a picnic on one of the benches, overlooking the water features or the colourful flowerbeds. It is also a great spot to stroll and admire the large selection of plants and flowers, including the ripe, bursting fruit of the pomegranate trees in Autumn, a symbol of the Alhambra. Our wanders took us to the next part of the Alhambra, the Summer Palace, also called Generalife, find out more in our next post.
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