The primary reason tourists visit Granada is to see the Alhambra (in Arabic, the word means “red castle”), considered one of the top sites in Europe, let alone Spain. This magnificent fortress/palace is a symbol of the power and wealth of the Moors in Spain during a period of about 700 years, although most of what we see now is from the 13th century onwards. Granada was the last bastion of the Moors before the “Reconquista” finally drove them from Spain at the end of the 15th century. In this post, I will not attempt to provide a historical narrative, just some images of this incredible historic site. At the end of the post I share some practical tips for your visit.
The Alhambra encompasses about 26 acres including a mile of fortified walls. Its setting is spectacular, overlooking the city of Granada in one direction and the Sierra Nevada mountains providing a backdrop from the other direction.
The Alcazaba (Fortress)
The oldest part of the Alhambra is the Alcazaba, which is the ‘castle’ part of the Alhambra. It was used to house guards of the palace and their families. The first records of the Alcazaba date to the 9th century, but most of what we see today was constructed from 1238 onwards. To get to the Alcazaba, walk to the far end (from the entrance) of the complex. With your ticket, you are allowed one visit to the Alcazaba either before or after visiting the Nasrid Palaces, so plan your visit based on the weather and time of day since you will be outdoors in this portion of the Alhambra.
The Nasrid Palaces
The Moorish Nasrid Dynasty began in 1238 and this era marked the beginning of the construction of what we call the Nasrid Palaces, the most ornate structures in the Alhambra and some of the best preserved Moorish-era buildings anywhere. The images below are roughly in order of our visit through the palaces. Most rooms in the palaces are signposted with information and corresponding audioguide numbers if you choose to use the guide. Your ticket will likely have a specific entry time for the Nasrid Palaces, be sure to get in line at the appropriate time for entry.
Charles V Palace
After visiting the Nasrid Palaces, there is a one more site to visit, the Palace of Charles V. Charles V was King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor of Europe in the 16th century and wanted to stake his claim. Construction started on this Palace in 1527, but it was never finished. After the Nasrid Palaces this part of the Alhambra is a bit of a letdown. There really isn’t much to see here, lots of empty and closed rooms, with a few exhibits in several rooms. The whole purpose of this Palace was to convey the message “we won” by the Christian monarchs after the Reconquista. To make room for this huge palace, part of the original Nasrid Palaces had to be demolished. One kingdom conquering another – the history of our world!
A few practicalities for visiting the Alhambra: It is essential to get your tickets ahead of time, a few tickets on a daily basis might be available for “walk ups” but don’t plan on it. You can go online to reserve your tickets here. We visited in March, and the crowds were small, partly because things were just reopening from COVID and due to the time of year. There is a bus stop right outside the entrance, and it is a very convenient bus ride from central Granada. The palace and grounds are extensive, so be prepared to do a lot of walking. Allow 3 hours for a visit. Although guides and tours are available, I just followed a travel book outline (Rick Steve’s) for a basic explanation. As shown above, photos are allowed just about everywhere. Most people concentrate on the Nasrid Palaces, but be sure to allow time to visit the Alcazaba for great views of central Granada and the surrounding countryside.