It’s one of the most visited tourist sites in Spain and with good reason. The Alhambra palace and fortress complex in Granada is both beautiful and historically fascinating for its combination of different influences and styles, both of architecture and garden design. The name Alhambra literally means ‘the red one’ and the red fortress with thirteen towers was begun in 1238, with building continuing into the 14th century. It’s on the top of a hill called Assabica overlooking Granada and began life as the palace complex for the last Muslim rulers of Spain, the Nasrid dynasty, so the oldest buildings are Moorish in design. In the 16th century, Charles V, Ruler of the Holy Roman Empire (also known as King Charles I of Spain) built himself an enormous European-style palace (Palace of Carlos V) within the Alhambra walls.
The overall schema of those original rulers who lived here and added to the building according to their own whims and needs was to build ‘paradise on earth’ as evoked by Islamic poetry. As you wander through the arcades of columns, the rooms of blue, gold and red with their arabesque decorations, through the many courtyards, past fountains and reflective pools, the Mosque and bath, and along the paths of the gardens and into the strangely English forest planted in the 19th century, you can decide whether this aim was fulfilled. UNESCO think so – they put Alhambra on their list of World Heritage Sites. And Spain thinks so too having declared Alhambra a national monument in 1870 after hundreds of years of neglect when the complex was occupied by Napoleon’s army and then thieves and beggars.
Because it’s so popular, it’s worth booking tickets in advance. If you can’t do that, there are ticket machines near the entrance which take cards with PINs and can save you a long wait in the queue. Wander the gardens, climb the towers, look out over the city below, and imagine what it was like to live here – it really must have been paradise.