For more than thirty years, ever since I first heard about the mystical Alhambra, I have dreamt of one day visiting the ancient city of Granada. Surrounded by olive groves, at the foothills of the snow frosted Sierra Nevada mountains, Granada sits at the confluence of four rivers. This area has been populated since 5,500 BC. and Sultans, Kings and Queens have called this place home. It was from here that Queen Isabella sent Christopher Columbus out on his voyage of discovery.
We explored through the the medieval Albaicín district, with its imposing city walls, quiet narrow streets and plazas. Granda is also a city of churches, besides the imposing Cathedral and Royal Chapel, we counted four churches within a short walk through the Albaicin District and that is just the tip of the iceberg. We explored along the Darro river, with panoramic views of the city and Alhambra with the Sierra Nevada mountains as a backdrop. We climbed through the Romani neighbourhood of Sacromonte, with its cave dwellings and where the strains of flamenco guitar music could be heard, it is synonymous with this area. Our destination was the Abbey of Sacromonte atop the mountain, another oasis of calm and tranquility, it was a place of contemplation and learning. We explored the architecture, art, history and the cave chapels where the Lead Books were discovered.
It is however the red palace and fortress complex of Alhambra that draws the crowds. It was built by the Sultans of the Nasrid Dynasty, to be paradise on earth and safe to say the architects understood their remit. Set atop the Sibaka hill overlooking the city, to say it is eye-catching would be an understatement. Alhambra is considered to be one of the most famous and best preserved monuments of Islamic architecture. We spent hours exploring the stunningly beautiful and ornate Moorish, Nasrid Palaces. We marvelled at the intricate carved plaster inscriptions of poems and quotes from the Qur’an, the colourful tile work in geometric patterns, the ornate columns and arches and the carved cedarwood ceilings. All to show the power and wealth of the family and to glorify God.
A short walk further up the hill is the Summer Palace and Gardens of the Generalife. Higher than the Nasrid Palaces it was cooler in the stifling Summer weather. Everywhere we walked you could hear the sound of running water, in fountains, gardens, courtyards, even along the handrails of the stairs leading from a lower terrace of the garden to the upper terrace. The Generalife hosts music and dance festivals throughout the year and I can’t image a more beautiful setting.
The complex also includes a church, Renaissance Palace of Charles V, with two museums and the oldest part of the Alhambra the military fortification of the Alcazaba. The views within and from the Alhambra are truly breathtaking.
I can only say that if Granada and the Alhambra are not on your travel bucket list then you are missing out. Considering I have dreamed of this visit for so long, I wasn’t one bit disappointed, except perhaps that we didn’t allow more time here. Besides all the historic sights and attractions, Granada itself is a beautiful city, easy to navigate, full of friendly people and a thriving restaurant and cafe culture. The avenues are shaded with trees and floral baskets and window boxes abound. And you can always find a lovely shady courtyard, plaza or narrow street to escape to on a warm day.