The Alhambra

The Alhambra: everything you’ve ever heard or seen about this 12th- to 14th-century complex of fortresses and palaces is true. The views from the walls and the interior of the Nazrid Palaces are stunningly beautiful. The detail of the wall carvings (Koranic inscriptions and geometric patterns), the tile mosaics, and the plaster and wooden ceilings are dazzling.

The famous porch of the lions. Alas, the fountain surrounded by lion statues, which gives the porch its name, is being renovated, so we couldn’t see it.

We loved visiting the Alhambra near the end of our stay in Granada: the tantalizing glimpses of Moorish architecture that we’d had before (such as the doorway of the Corral del Carbon off Calle Reyes Catolicos) left us eager for more, rather than jaded from having already seen some of the finest structures surviving from the Moorish world. The views from the walls also meant more when we could pick out so many familiar buildings and alley ways far below.

View from a porch in the Alhambra into the old Moorish Albaicin district, which predates it. The church bell tower visible here, like nearly all those in the Albaicin, is a former minaret of a mosque.

A few notes of caution about the Alhambra: the complex is huge and consists of four separate sections (more if you count the many gardens, walkways, and partly excavated areas). It’s the kind of place that’s made to be strolled through slowly so you can absorb the wonderful details. Getting a ticket for the morning rather than the afternoon allows more time to visit.

Also, if you can, spend more than one day there: one for the parts that require a ticket (the Nasrid Palaces, the Alcazaba fortress, and the Summer Palace and Generalife gardens), and another for the rest of the areas inside the walls, including the free museums in the Carlos V Palace.

The Mueso de la Alhambra is especially good. It contains many beautiful Moorish artifacts from the Alhambra and Cordoba and (for a Spanish museum) has a lot of good information in English on the signs. It’s also the only place right now to see the famous lions of the Plaza de los Leones fountain, which are being renovated (though you won’t find that out on the Web site or in the ticket office, which seems not to believe overmuch in signage).

It’s worth the money and time to make another visit to main palace at night. None of the daytime crowds and seeing the stars from the courtyards is not to be missed.

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