February 23, 2007

La Alhambra, Take One

On Saturday, February 10th, Señor CC and I made our first trip to Granada. We drove there in order to see the city, but more importantly to get a feel for what it will be like taking our four sets of visitors there in March and April. Our goals were to figure out how long it would take to get there, find a place to park, get ourselves oriented in the city, and catch a glimpse of La Alhambra.

La Alhambra is the Muslim fortress on top of the hill in Granada. Construction began on the stronghold in 1238 and was enlarged through the 14th century. The Christians captured Granada in 1492 and then added a convent and a 'modern' palace to the grounds. The fortress was then abandoned for about a century. Washington Irving managed to force a rediscovery of the place with his Tales of the Alhambra in 1829.

Señor CC and I arrived in Granada after a two and a half hour car ride. We managed to find a parking garage near the centro and then we promptly walked in the exact opposite direction of where we intended to go. Yes. This occurred after I was practically forced to take a sprig of rosemary in front of the cathedral (those women are forceful, let me tell you...the really want some money) but before we finally found an information office where we were given a map. The reason we walked the wrong way? Instead of placing maps in your tour book in such a way that it makes sense according to the geography of the place, they put all of them in so that the top of the page is North and the right is East. This did not make sense for Granada.

We did get ourselves sorted out, so we walked to the Albaicín district, caught a glimpse of La Alhambra from below, and found a place to eat. Once full we decided to take the little bus up to La Alhambra to get a closer look. Of course, the first bus we took didn't go there; it went to the plaza where we could catch a bus to the palace. It did take us all through the Albaicín district - a hilly maze of tiny streets. We could see where many buses and cars had scraped along the walls in their attempts to navigate the area. Fun, indeed.

Yes, all of our visitors will be taking this bus. It is only one euro, and it is well worth it for the thrills.

We finally made it up to the Alhambra, stood in a very short line, and had our tickets. There are two times of day that one can visit the stronghold. You can go in the morning until 2:00 or from 2:00 until close. Everyone gets a timed ticket to the Nasrid Palace, the living quarters of the royal family. The rooms are small and only a limited number of people are allowed in every thirty minutes to accommodate the space.

There are many parts to the Alhambra. There are the Nasrid Palace, the Palace of Carlos V, the Generalife (the summer palace), the Alcazaba, and the gardens. We were up there for about 2 hours and we were only able to see a little bit of the palace of Carlos V and the Nasrid Palace. Yes, it is a big place and it will take four or five hours to see each part just a little bit.

Here are the pictures of our first visit. I can't wait to go back and take more.

We came across this aqueduct as we walked towards the palaces. The moors moved water to wherever they wanted it, and they wanted it almost everywhere.

Just after the aqueduct, we looked over the walls of the fortress and saw these snow-capped peaks. Ah, snow, how I miss thee.

As I mentioned, water is everywhere. Most of the time, it is in reflecting pools like this one. The cat was splendid to pose like that.

This archway leads towards the Alcazaba. We did not have time to go in that direction, so we'll have to have a look the next time around.

In front of the entrances to the palaces are some of the ruins of the fortress. As you can see, visitors get a great view of Granada from the fortress grounds.

The palace of Carlos V certainly stands out. It is clear that the Muslims did not create this building. In fact, Carlos had part of the Alhambra torn down to accommodate his buildings. He did the same thing to the mosque in Cordoba so that a cathedral could be built inside. What was he thinking?

The outside of the building is rectangular, but the center is round. Columns support two floors. There are a few museums and special exhibits inside the palace, but we did not have time to visit them. One of them is about the lions from the patio of the Lions inside the Nasrid Palace. They appear to be working on refurbishing that particular part of the Moorish palace right now. Hopefully we can visit that exhibit next time.

What a great job. He gets to sit in this beautiful place all day long.

We gained entrance to the Nasrid Palace, and wow. The beauty is in the details, and they are everywhere. It is difficult to know where to look. One could spend hours in this place.

I love the doors. They are all of rich-colored wood with big metal pieces on them, and I could just photograph those and be happy. They are striking.

One of the two patios in the Nasrid Palace is the Patio de los Arrayanes (Courtyard of the Myrtles). The delicate arches at either end are indescribable.

The Spanish paint tiles, but not like this. The Moorish painted tiles are very graphic.

Perhaps the most famous room is the Sala de las Dos Hermanas (Hall of the Two Sisters). Its ceiling is a honeycombed cupola containing over 5,000 cells. It is amazing indeed.

I am not sure where this is exactly, but I love the way the three arches are all showing completely different designs. Every room is like this. Each surface is different and all are meticulously done.

Washington Irving wrote Tales of the Alhambra while living in the apartments of Carlos V. La Alhambra was abandoned when he was there, but thankfully his Tales revived interest.

Irving and Carlos had a fabulous view of the city from their living quarters.

The gardens of La Alhambra are extensive. We were only able to see those connected to the palaces. This reflecting pool is adjacent to the apartments.

Here is one example of how the Moors moved water from pool to pool. I cannot wait to return to the fortress this spring when everything is in bloom. It should be quite a sight.

Our exit from the city was as adventurous as the entrance. Street signs are difficult to find in Spain, and usually one is better off locating a supermarket or some other building of distinction. There are plenty of arrows pointing towards hotels and businesses, but not many for streets. We did make our way out, and we wrote everything down so that we can hopefully repeat our journey in March. Of course, if the construction changes, and it is always changing, we will have to go by guesswork once again. No worries - that method hasn't failed us yet.

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