November 25, 2009

Alhambra in Granada: Notes from Southern Spain

One of the most beautiful palaces and gardens that I have ever seen or walked through are located in Granada, Spain. Calat Alhambra or more commonly known as the Alhambra, is simply a palace and fortress. However once you experience it in person, it is not so simple, and it is easy to become overwhelmed by the intensity of its beauty and architecture.

Once the residence of the Muslim rulers of Granada and their court, the Alhambra is now one of Spain's major tourist attractions exhibiting the country's most famous Islamic architecture, together with Christian 16th century and later interventions in buildings and gardens that marked its image as it can be seen today.

Here are the first in a series of photos from my visit. Let me say at the start that the Alhambra is an experience that takes time. My three hours gave me just a taste of what is open to visitors year round. I certainly plan to return again in the future.

Where to start? We chose the outside gardens before moving on to the interiors. The Palacio de Generalife, (Architect's Garden) was the summer palace and country estate of the Nasrid sultans of Granada. Built from 1302-1309 and redecorated from 1313-1324, they were my first stop. With finely detailed structure and impossibly colorful landscape, The Generalife is one of the oldest surviving Moorish gardens. Walking through it you definitely need flats because the walkways are paved in traditional Granadian style with a mosaic of black and white pebbles on their sides (think round or oval river pebbles from your own garden).

There is a sense of peace and tranquility from the thoughtful maze of hedges. You feel yourself slowing down, breathing deeply and not just because of the pebble walkway. The smell from the flowers perfume the air. You can find yourself walking among many people without seeing them because of the structure of the arched hedges. It is very impressive.

I cannot imagine what it would be like during the summer months. This is the most visited site in Spain with over 2 million people coming through each year. November was gorgeous. We had mild weather and few lines. We did have tours all around us from various countries but it felt quietly manageable. Our visit and navigation between buildings and the gardens was easy.

It is the 21st century and the guides and guards at various spots all had walkie-talkies. You have a half hour window to get into the main palace, then can have as long as you like to walk through it. However if like us you either walk slowly or get lost, any guard will help you. We had a tour guide from the gardens radio the guard ahead that we were on our way, literally running to make our 2:00 pm ticket window.

With the extensive grounds and our short visit, returning at another time of the year is something I plan to do. Given the beauty of what we saw in November, I bet it would be even more stunning to see what other flowers are blooming, especially in spring.

Coming next: Arabesques
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