The Alhambra is a palace, fortress and garden complex in Granada, high in the mountains of Southern Spain. High on a hilltop, it is surrounded by the snow capped majestic Sierra Nevada mountains in Andalusia. The original structure was a small Roman fortress (the Romans got everywhere) but its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid 13th century by the Moorish emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada. The result was a complex of palaces fit for Islamic royalty.
It was converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I Sultan of Granada, and the site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella, where Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition. The Alhambra is a kind of small walled city itself, with a mixture or architectural styles but the most lavish and ornate features belong to the Islamic artistry of the Nasrid dynasty.
The palaces fell into disrepair after their fall to Christianity but it was later rediscovered and is now one of Spain’s most famous tourist attractions. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is surrounded by beautiful gardens, fountains and forest.
The gardens of the Alhambra
The gardens of the Alhambra and the park in which is sits are absolutely stunning in the spring time, which is when I visited. Awash with wildflowers, the more formal gardens are full of roses and orange trees, pines, multicoloured poppies and cottage garden flowers. The gardens are known as the Palacio de Generalife or ‘Garden of the Architect’ and they have their own clever irrigation system bringing water down in channels from the mountains.
The gardens can be reached by taking the Stairway of the Lions (Escalera de los Leones), so called because of the two ceramic figures atop the door. The stairway dates back to the 19th century, when the steep steps were mounted to the top of the Generalife High Gardens.
The Gardens, spread across several terraces in the palatial area of the Generalife and protecting the palace at its highest point, offer a marvellous view of the entire site.
Tiny fountains with jets can be seen in the nearby parterres, with lovely specimens of magnolia trees, scented shrubs, and a carefully laid out selection of evergreen and deciduous trees that protect against the cold winds from the north creating a pleasant microclimate.
The theme of the Alhambra was ‘Paradise on Earth’, and it certainly has that feel to it. It would certainly have been a palace suitable for sultans. On a practical note, make sure you get your tickets in advance if you intend to visit as they are limited in number and are often sold out, particularly for the Nasrid Palaces.
The Muralla Ziri apartments
In my very short stay in Granada on my way back to Malaga, I stayed in the Muralla Ziri Apartments in the oldest part of the city — the Albayzin. The Albayzin is itself a World Heritage Site and represents the last remaining part of the old Berber city. The apartments are situated in original 17th century and 19th century house buildings, which are actually restored from scratch, converted from family homes.
These charming, well appointed apartments have all the modern conveniences, but also lots of personal and original touches, beautiful books and ornaments. The owner of the houses was an architect and student of Islamic art and this is reflected in the decor and special touches around the place.
The apartments are situated in two houses in the same street and there is a shared terrace which has an amazing view of the Alhambra. In fact this view is the very one that the Arabs would have had of the Alhambra back in those ancient times. There are eleven apartments with different features sizes available at the Muralla Ziri Apartments including a charming suite with a jacuzzi. The penthouse, which is unique and has three bedrooms, a jacuzzi and a private terrace with its own views of the Alhambra. They all have air conditioning, a flat screen TV, well equipped kitchenettes (except the suite) and good Wi-Fi.
Some parts of the apartment building actually date back to the Ziri period and the 11th century and parts of the first wall of Granada have also been discovered within the house. The Ziries or Ziri was a clan of the Sinhaya of Berber origin, and they were the first founders of the Kingdom of Granada in 1013.
The Albayzin area
The apartments are in the Albayzin area of the old city of Granada, within walking distance of the Alhambra (although this does involve a steep climb) and there are lots of tea houses, tapas bars and souvenir shops in the surrounding narrow streets. I enjoyed a delicious lamb and plum tagine with a very large glass of sangria in the springtime sun after my walk around the imposing and very famous walled fortress.
The Albaycin (also spelled Albayzin) is like a different world within Granada. This is due to the strong Muslim influence in this area. It was the place where the first Siri court was built in the eleventh century.
The city descended from Saint Nicholas to the banks of the River Darro. The Albaycin featured luxurious homes and public baths and at the height of the splendour the Albaycin enjoyed in the last years of Nazarid dominance, the quarter comprised a population of more than forty thousand inhabitants and thirty mosques.
The streets are very narrow and small with clean houses, plus numerous wells, some of which are still in the Albaycin.
The Arabs who were practising Muslim were expelled once again by the Christians and the mosques were demolished and on the same sites churches were raised.
The Moors left behind their homes, which were then used by wealthy Christians.
This is a great district to explore with its winding narrow streets, and you can experience the buzzing atmosphere of its bars and terraces and watch a red sunset over the Alhambra.
Granada, a very special city
Granada is a very charming city in Andalusia Province of Southern Spain. Only about 90 minutes from Malaga Airport, It has a stunning location surrounded by the snow capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada and hillsides of dramatic green forests. Most people coming into Malaga will be heading for the coast but visitors should try to fit in this real gem inland. The Muralla Ziri Apartments are a lovely independent, historical place to stay in a great location and the Alhambra is most definitely worth a trip.
I really enjoyed my whistle stop tour of beautiful Granada and the Alhambra, and I do hope that one day I’ll be able to return and spend a lot more time here exploring this fascinating city.
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.