The Alhambra and Granada

The Alhambra and Granada

by | Oct 18, 2021 | Place Going & Thing Doing | 0 comments

On the side of a building in the Alhambra there’s a quote from Francisco de Icaza. It translates to “Give him alms, woman, for there is nothing in life like the pain of being blind in Granada.”

Truly, Granada is spectacular. It’s one of my favorite places in Europe, especially the Alhambra which dominates the Granada skyline and beckons you to return again and again. If you can only go one place in Europe this might be the place. Either here or Sintra, Portugal. Or maybe a Christmas market in Bavaria. Or maybe…ok to be fair there are a lot of candidates for the “if you could only go one place in Europe” award.

Looking out over Granada from The Alhambra during autumn

The Albaicín, etc.

I do love the Albaicín in Granada, the old medieval Moorish district. It has narrow winding streets leading up to an old monastery where you can sit and enjoy the splendor of the Alhambra and the Granada skyline. There are churches and view points along the way where you can stop and absorb the history. But these spots are usually a bit crowded, so I like to keep going up the hill to the monastery in the Sacramonte area. I can usually find a quiet place to think or work, although there’s almost always a pack of teenagers being teenagers, or sunbathers claiming some of the prime spots along the wall closest to the monastery. But if you walk around a bit you can find a good spot to ignore them and settle in for a while, or you can keep going up in to the hills and mountains.

View of the Albaicín (old Moorish neighborhood) from The Alhambra

There’s a very nice little museum I recommend, and I think it was included in the Granada City Card. El Cuarto Real del Santo Domingo translates directly as The Royal Room of Holy Sunday. But I’m not sure what anyone calls it in English because I haven’t seen it in English on anything. It was a Nasrid (Moorish) palace and convent in the 13th century. It’s now a cool little museum and when I went there was only one other person there. I get the feeling not a lot of people go there, but it’s really beautiful so if you’re looking for something a little quieter, I recommend walking down towards the river a little ways from Plaza de Isabel La Catolica and enjoying El Cuarto Real del Santo Domingo.

There are other things to see and do in Granada, of course, such as the Royal Museum and Granada Cathedral. These are truly spectacular and I highly recommend them. But sometimes it’s nice to escape the crowds and find a quiet place to yourself. For this, I highly recommend you go up out of the Albaicín to Sacramonte and beyond to escape the crowds and enjoy nature.

Warning: Just say no to the “gifts” and fortune telling.

Especially near the high-traffic tourist spots such as the museum and Cathedral, there are women who will offer you a “gift”…sometimes it’s a bracelet, sometimes it’s a rose or other flower, and they’ll be super smiley and nice and insistent that you accept this gift because you’re beautiful, or because they have extra, etc. They’re very good and getting right in your face with it. If you decline, they’ll get increasingly more insistent and will try to put it on you or in your hand. If you accept this “gift,” you’ll be surprised at the amount of money you now owe them. (Usually they want €20 but the first time I fell for this in Seville many years ago the lady proceeded to read my palm and tell me I owed her €50 for it!) Just to look them in the eye, say “no” clearly and firmly, and keep walking even when they follow you. If you hold up your hand, they’ll try to put something in (or on) it so wave it firmly side to side in a “no” manner if you’re raising your hand. Don’t hold still; just keep moving and be polite but firm about declining.

This has happened to me in the larger cities all over Spain, but also in Athens, so I think it’s a pretty common thing that I’ll repeat in other posts, but wanted to point it out here as well.

The Alhambra

The Alhambra truly is worth seeing at least once in your life. I’ve been there in the Fall, I’ve been there in the Spring…no matter what season you go, its architecture and history will draw you in and captivate you.

It’s a blend of Moorish African and classic Spanish Empire style. With keyhole shaped doors, intricate tile, and flowing fountains it’s easy to imagine intensely focused royal strategy discussions in the open rooms, lavish parties in the gardens, bureaucratic bustling down the hallways, and secret affairs in the chamber rooms. The fashions evolved, the nationalities changed, religious fervors came and went, but the fundamental human routines remained the same.

The place even smells amazing. The flowers and bushes, citrus trees, grasses, ponds, bricks, tile, ancient wood, mountain breezes, tourists…everything combines to give the air around you an energy and scent unlike anywhere else in the world. (Of course this is true everywhere, but the Alhambra’s unique combination comes in part from its garden fountains and abundant orange trees carried by the occasional Spanish breeze over centuries-old wood.)

I love to sit and try to ignore the crowds as I imagine what life here was like. There’s a walkway down the hill in the back that leads to the Albaicín neighborhood. I like to sit on the little wall and just feel the sun on my face, appreciating the fact that I’m in the shadow of greatness.

The quote from Francisco de Icaza on the side of the Alhambra might be a bit exaggerated. But Granada truly is spectacular and one of my favorite places to spend a week or two in the Spanish sun.


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