Day 19: La Alhambra & GrenadaMarch 6, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C
Another exciting day - another UNESCO Wonder of the World! It was a bit of a mission getting tickets for this one, as you need to buy them in advance from a Ticketmaster website which for whatever strange reason doesn't accept Australian credit cards! We checked online last night and could see there were some tickets still available (and they keep some in reserve at the gate on a first-come, first-serve basis), so we decided to chance our arm.
Up fairly early and on the road by 9am, as it was an hour's drive east to Grenada. Again almost entirely freeway, which passed without incident. Seemed like quite a few people around at the entrance, but we managed to get tickets which was great!
Firstly a bit of background. La Alhambra is a complex of several palaces and their gardens, built by various rulers of Spain. There's an old castle-style palace from the early Islamic era (around 800-1000 AD), the Nazaries palace which was built by the Muslim caliphs in the 13th century, the Generalife which was built by the same rulers around the same time period, and then the palace of Charles V who ruled from 1500-1558 (though this one was never finished).
Most of these are still preserved in excellent condition, and sit on a hilltop overlooking the city of Grenada. It's a very dramatic spot on a high rocky outcrop, with the enormous snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains towering behind. Our tickets gave access to all four of the palaces, though since the Nazaries palace is most popular it has timed access. Our timeslot was 10:30, and as it was already 10:20, we hustled down to the entrance and queued up.
Right on time we were allowed in, and suddenly all the annoyances and difficulties of getting here and getting in melted away. The palace is stunning, with intricate carvings, tilework, mosaics everywhere, lots of archways and reflecting pools, beautiful gardens, the works. We spent almost 2 hours here just wandering around and admiring the work. The ceilings especially were beautifully done, with hundreds of little alcoves set in, unlike anything we'd been to so far.
The Alcazar in Seville felt like a much more functional palace than this one. Though both are beautiful, the Alcazar simply doesn't compare to the sheer spectacle and detail of the Nazaries. Finally after a couple of hours getting lost in the buildings, we decided it was time to check out the other palaces.
After a quick bite to eat we headed next for the Alcazabar, the oldest part of the complex. This was a much more functional castle-style building, originally founded around 800 AD apparently on the remnants of an earlier Roman settlement. Aside from the walls and ramparts, there isn't much left of it, though situated at the front of the rocky outcrop meant it had the best views across town. Interested to see the low walls of the castle's internal buildings though; you could easily pick out the outlines of houses and the various rooms within them (kitchens, stables, storerooms etc). Obviously these buildings were started with stone and then topped off in timber which has long since vanished.
Next up we headed for the unfinished palace of Charles V, from the mid-Renaissance period. It looked fairly finished from the outside (note: discovered later it was "finished" in the 19th century), but inside there was very little to see. It was a square building with an enormous central circular courtyard with loads of columns. Apparently these days the palace houses a fine art gallery and a museum, but both are closed for the winter months.
Last stop was the Generalife palace, set slightly apart from the others and intended by the caliphs to be a summer palace. It was much smaller and only had a handful of rooms, the highlight here were definitely the two ornate garden halls with fountains and long water features. Not sure how original they are, but it definitely made for a relaxing environment. Or it would have, except our wander around coincided with the noisiest Spanish family we've encountered so far - yelling and laughing and carrying on like yahoos. I commented to one man "es un pato" when one lady was guffawing and he laughed - she really did sound like a duck!
Finally by around 2:30pm we were finished with Alhambra. It had been a long trip and a lot of wandering, but definitely glad we'd made it! Since we'd decided against staying in Grenada, we figured we should at least drive down and have a closer look at the city. Parked in another extremely tight underground carpark in the centre of town and had a wander around.
Very young vibe here, I assume there's a big university or something since most people were quite young and the bars & restaurants were all trendier and less traditional. We picked a random Mexican restaurant and had some late lunch, since our earlier bite wasn't particularly substantial. Found the gigantic cathedral, but decided against going inside since it was 5 euros each. Would've been interesting to see the tombs of Isabella and Philip (king & queen who unified Spain in the late 15th century), but neither of us felt particularly up for getting our 5 euros out of a cathedral.
So a little more wandering before heading back to the car, squeezing out of the car park and then the long drive back to Lucena, arriving around 6pm. Spent the evening relaxing and doing a bit of cleaning before our hosts return tomorrow and we have to depart.Read more