Granada, Spain – December 29, 2011
We made it back to our home in Pozuelo, Spain, at about 20:30. What a long day! We woke up at 06:30. After showers, Tyler and I took a bunch of our stuff and walked to the car. It was about a 700-meter (nearly a half-mile) walk to the garage. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a small café. We bought coffee and pastries and took them back to the hotel room. When we all finished with those, we checked out, but we stored our luggage at the hotel.
All four of us walked to our pick-up point for the Alhambra tour. We arrived about twenty minutes ahead of the scheduled bus stop. We nearly froze to death while we stood there waiting! I am not sure what the temperature was, but it had to have been in the low 30s. As soon as the bus arrived and we were all aboard, we received a sticker to place on our jackets to identify us as tour participants. The bus stopped at a few more places to pick up other people. After the last stop, the bus started up the hill to the Alhambra. We got off the bus at about 10:15.
In the area where the bus dropped us, about 150 to 200 people were milling about. Almost immediately, the tour guide from our bus began speaking Italian. She got a group of Italian speakers to follow her to a gathering area where she paired them with an Italian speaking guide. She did the same with the French speakers and the English speakers.
The name of the guide with whom we paired with was Antonio. As we meandered through the site, there were two things he said that struck me. First, he told us the Alhambra receives about 3,000,000 visitors each year. I did some rough math and decided that equates to something north of US$200,000,000 in entry fees. The other thing that surprised me is that gypsies occupied the Alhambra until 1921. I find it amazing that the authorities essentially abandoned the site until then. Ultimately, in addition to being surprised, I was quite sad. Since the site was “forgotten” by the authorities, looting took place in many parts of the Alhambra. It was disappointing because I was expecting to see a pristine palace like many of the others we have toured in Spain. In other words, those other palaces were painted, restored, and, in most cases, furnished to some extent. Oh well.
On November 9, 2011, Leslie, Tyler, and I visited the palace in Aranjuez, Spain. In that palace, I remember how amazing I found the Arab Room. One of the rooms in the Alhambra was the inspiration for the Arab Room. It was stunningly beautiful. On the other hand, in the Alhambra itself, I did not see anything that remotely approached the look and finish of the Arab Room. So, the scale and grandeur of the Alhambra are impressive, but I do not think it is at the same level as so many of the other palaces.
That stated, the Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is truly worth visiting. Do not let the ramblings of a father at the end of a nearly two-week family vacation dissuade one from going to the Alhambra.
Regardless, we began our tour at the entrance pavilion. There, before entering the property, Antonio used a bronze relief of the area to explain several points about the Alhambra. After that, he gave each of us a device he referred to as a whisperer. It was a wireless receiver with an earpiece. He spoke into a small microphone that we could all easily hear.
From the entrance pavilion, we walked to the Torre del Agua (Water Tower) and then inside the walls of the Alhambra. Stepping inside the walls dating from 1238 sent a chill down my spine. The Torre del Agua received its name because that is where the water from the mountains entered the property. Because of the original engineering behind the waterways, they are still used today to bring water to the site.
The bridge to an entry gate at the Torre del Agua (Water Tower).
Once inside the walls, Antonio shared the history of the Convent of San Francisco. The convent is now a parador (hotel). Some of the ruins in that area of the Alhambra are the old medina or market.
We continued along the main road, Calle Real de la Alhambra (Alhambra Royal Road), toward the Palace of Charles V. We went into the circular courtyard of the palace. There Antonio shared much of the history of the palace; however, we did not go into any other part of that palace. One interesting tidbit is that Charles V never actually occupied the palace. That was due to the sudden death of Charles V (1558) and the fact that the capital of Spain moved to Madrid.
Departing the Palace of Charles V, we saw the east façade of the Alcazaba area. The use of the Alcazaba was for the military of the Alhambra complex. We did not go there; instead, we entered the Mexuar Palace. The Mexuar palace is one of the Nasrid palaces and the first palace constructed in the Alhambra. It is in these palaces where so many of the most recognizable photos of the Alhambra originate. As one might imagine, with 3,000,000 visitors each year, each of the palace areas had dozens and dozens of tourists. In many cases, it was challenging to be able to see some of the points along the tour.
Throughout the various palaces and rooms of the Alhambra, one sees Arabic writing. By far, the most common phrase is “Only Allah is victorious.” A slogan in the hall of the Mexuar Palace reads, “Everything that you own comes from God.” Offsetting the phrases is the most intricate designs and decorations imaginable.
In this hall, one sees two crowns on the walls as well as the King’s coat of arms and a Bourbon King seal. All of that seems slightly out of place. Obviously, they are all additions, well after the mid-13th Century construction. The crowns and coat of arms, in particular, are the result of the preparations for the visit of King Philip IV (reigned from 1621 to 1665) to the Alhambra.
A small area in the palace is the Gold Room. The name derives from the gold leaf gilded ceiling. The gold leaf is an addition from the Christian era, after the defeat of the Moors.
It is awe-inspiring to walk into the Ambassador’s Hall, the next stop on this tour. The Ambassador’s Hall occupies the space in the Comares Tower. The ceiling of the Ambassador’s Hall is some 10.7 to 12 meters (35 to 40 feet) above the floor. Every inch of the walls from floor to ceiling bear intricate decoration. The ceiling is also highly decorated, no pun intended.
From the Ambassador’s Hall, the tour proceeds to the Lions Palace. The name derives from the fountain in the courtyard of the palace. Unfortunately, we timed our visit during a major renovation of the yard. That made it difficult to view the Lion’s Fountain. Some date the fountain from as early as the 10th Century. If that is the case, the fountain pre-dates the palaces by some 300-years. The fountain was carved elsewhere and moved to the Lions Palace much later.
One of the more stunning sites in the Lions Palace is the stalactite dome in the Room of the Two Sisters. The detail and three-dimensional form are like nothing else. It is hard to fathom how difficult it must be to attain the nearly perfect symmetry. Additionally, it is hard to comprehend how long it must have taken to complete.
From the Room of the Two Sisters, it was off to the Royal Baths. Particularly impressive is the Rest Room. Do not think of how that term is used today, instead think lounging and relaxation. The heated Rest Room is on the lower level of the baths. Above is the Musicians Gallery. An intricate ceiling caps the entire space.
From the Partal Palace, one has an exceptional view of the Albaicín Quarter of Granada. Antonio mentioned that gypsies still live in the distant hills.
We left the Nasrid Palaces and made our way to the Generalife, the “hunting lodge.” We walked through that lodge very quickly. The gardens in front of the Generalife were every bit as well-manicured as those within the Alhambra itself.
I think some of my disappointment this day may be due to the fact we were on a guided tour. In other words, we did not gain entry and then go to the sites we wanted to see. We had a specific path we followed. Antonio was an excellent guide; however, I may have enjoyed the trip more if I had been on my own. With that said, I do not think one could hope to see the entire Alhambra, at least not in one day. I believe Antonio said the walls are about two kilometers long and the space inside the walls is about four-square kilometers (nearly 1,000 acres). It is huge.
From the Generalife, we left the property. Just across the street, we went into the Generalife Restaurant. We got there at about 13:45. We had a delicious Spanish lunch.
When we left the restaurant, we hailed a taxi to take us back to our hotel. The taxi driver was young. I began speaking to him in Spanish, and he answered in English. He made a point to tell us he was learning English. I told him I thought he was doing very well. For the remainder of the ride, he spoke English, and I spoke Spanish.
Once we arrived at the hotel, we collected our luggage and began our walk to the car. When we arrived at the car, we loaded up and hit the road. It was shortly after 16:00 when we emerged from the parking garage. TomTom set a course for us, and we began our four-hour journey home.
About 200 kilometers south of Madrid, we stopped at a gas station to fill up. When we pulled back onto the highway, we saw a spectacular sunset. I think it was the most colorful, most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. Unfortunately, since I was driving, there are no photographs.
After about 2,100 kilometers (1,300 miles) during our Christmas vacation, we are all glad to be home!