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Did You Know … ?
- The name Alhambra means Red Castle.
- Granada was the last Moorish stronghold to be reclaimed for Spain (1492).
- American writer Washington Irving penned two books about the Arabs (Moors) in Granada.
- Europe’s highest road (11,148 feet) runs through the Sierra Nevada mountains near Granada.
- The Alhambra complex occupies 35 acres, the same as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Although the Alhambra isn’t the only reason to visit Granada in the south of Spain, it is the No. 1 motivator for many tourists. And no wonder.
The Nasrids, the last Moorish dynasty in Spain, began construction of their castle fortress in the 1230s. They were to create the finest example of Spanish Moslem architecture, at a time when Moorish fortunes in Spain were well into decline. The Nasrids were ousted in 1492, almost 800 years after the Moors (who were north African Arabs and Berbers) conquered the country.
The Alhambra is a large complex, with the requisite defensive walls, gates and towers plus arches, courtyards, gardens and fountains. It looks out from its hilltop perch to Granada’s neighborhoods and to the often-snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains.
Within the complex itself, the art of decoration is everything. The sultan’s palace is covered to a degree almost unimaginable with delicate and creative sculptured stucco, combined with intricate ceramic-tile designs on most walls. The Alhambra and an adjacent summer palace are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The same is true of the Albayzin medieval quarter, which sits on a hill opposite the Alhambra. The whitewashed neighborhood earned the UNESCO designation for its rich collection of Moorish architecture, found alongside traditional Andalusian styles. The Granada Cathedral, built in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the Chapel Royal where Ferdinand and Isabella are buried are in the heart of the old town.
Granada is built on three hills. The third is the Gypsy quarter, Sacromonte, noted for its cave dwellings, as well as its flamenco shows.
With a mild and sunny climate, its medieval neighborhoods, Moorish influences and Renaissance architecture, its gardens and fountains, Granada is a city for walkers. It also charms with the beauty of its hilly setting against a mountainous backdrop.
Not incidentally, those nearby mountains provide an outlet for the more active travelers who like to immerse themselves in history one day and head to the hills for their favorite outdoor sports the next.
Things to do for Venturers
- Make a night visit to the Alhambra for the magical atmosphere. Besides, the crowds are thinner in the evening.
- Hike in the Alpujarras region on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevadas.
- Combine a sightseeing afternoon on foot with a tour of tapas bars.
- Come to Granada province during a flamenco festival for the chance to learn more about this tradition of song and dance. Or, see flamenco in one of the caves of Sacromonte, an area known as the Gypsy quarter.
- Granada is noted for its guitars. Put one on your shopping list.
- Cycle into the Sierra Nevada mountains; if you have the legs for it, go all the way to the Pico de Veleta, at 11,148 feet above sea level.
Things to do for Centrics
- Take a themed guided walking tour of the city. For example, one theme is Women in Andalusian Renaissance Granada.
- Set aside several hours for the Alhambra; buy a timed-entry ticket in advance to ensure admission.
- In winter, go skiing in the Sierra Nevada range — about 20 miles out of town.
- Come to Granada in June in order to attend the city’s most important annual fest, the Corpus Christi Festival.
- Try your luck with saltwater fishing off the coast of Granada province.
- Experience the hot and cold waters — and a massage — at Hammam Arabic Baths.
Things to do for Authentics
- Stay in the former convent of San Francisco inside the Alhambra, now a parador.
- Play golf in Las Gabias, on the outskirts of town.
- Appreciate the grandeur of the Alhambra by viewing the castle fortress from a distance, from the Albaycin hilltop district.
- Sample a Granada specialty, a ham-and-beans dish called habas con jamon.
- See the medieval Albayzin district for its attractions, which include the 11th century Banuelo, or bathhouse.
- Have dinner in an outdoor restaurant in Bib-Rambla Square.
For more information, consult the Tourist Office of Spain at www.spain.info