Alhambra; The Red Castle
Alhambra al-qala’a al-hamra . I don’t really have words to describe how incredible this place is, but between the two of us, we did take about 450 photos in the four hours we were there- that may help to explain just how amazing and beautiful it is! (And I wish I could have stayed longer to explore more).
Al-qala’a al-hamra (‘The Red Castle’) refers perhaps to the colour of the towers and walls, perched on the La Sabica hill, or, more poetically, perhaps it refers to the colour the building took on as they worked on it by the light of torches.
First built as a military fortress in 889 AD, it’s had a variety of uses, makeovers, and dramas. In the 13th Century, the Nasrite emir, Mohammed ben- Al-Ahmar, built the palace and walls, which was turned into a royal palace in 1333. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella kicked out the Moors, and they continued their aggressive religious takeover by converting some of the largely Islamic castle into a Renaissance style. This is where Christopher Colombus went to receive royal props for his adventures.
Then in 1526, Charles V wanted a new palace in a style completely different to the Islamic/ Renaissance mashup, so he demanded a new building be whipped in a Mannerist style (Kinda Renaissance but different).
In 1808, Napolean arrived and set up camp at Alhambra. He blew some stuff up (as he had a propensity to do) and generally ruined the palace by converting it into barracks for his troops.
But then thankfully, in 1870, Alhambra became a national monument. It’s undergone a series of renovations and facelifts, but basically has been looked after and maintained since then. It’s a fortress, palace, and city, all in one area just dripping with history and intrigue. It’s considered to be the 8th wonder of the world by many, and I can understand why.
This map gives you an idea of the scale. It’s over 100,000m2, with a 2km wall, 29 towers, 7 gates, and a LOT to see. It’s VAST. Walking through is a pleasant, and long wander. With miles of sculpted gardens, thousands of years of history, and multiple buildings, you literally don’t know what you’re going to expect around the corner. It’s like a treasure hunt for Islamic Spanish history.
One of the gates is called the Wine Gate, called so because visitors left via this gate after buying tax-free wine. The less romantic theory is that it is called the wine gate because there was confusion- people thought it was Bib al-jamra (wine gate) rather than Bib al-hamra (red gate). I like the idea of the tax-free alcohol gate, so that’s what I think I’ll go with!
This gate -Gate of the Seven Floors -was blown up by Napoleon in 1812 but rebuilt using old drawings and illustrations. It was originally designed so that elephants (and marauding enemies) couldn’t easily barge their way in. With huge, heavy doors, the floor leads directly up, and sharply to the right, so your elephants (or whatever) couldn’t maintain speed as they went through. Imagining a huge elephant lumbering through the gate, with the massive studded doors and wide pathways, is easily done.
Just outside the gate, there’s two stairwells. Descend down them, and you find a brick-lined circular chamber. While there’s a whole network of tunnels beneath Alhambra, this might have been to store wheat/ grain, or perhaps to store prisoners. It’s quite a large space and the acoustics were incredible. You could stand at one end and whisper, and the person on the other side, unseen, could hear you crystal clear.
Generalife (Pronounced xe.ne.ra.ˈle.fay, means ‘architects garden’) was the leisure area for the Kings etc when they needed a break. With stunning open flowing gardens, you could easily imagine escaping to the large gardens to avoid the heat, or to sit on the long open terrace in the shade, drinking an ice cold beer (or, whatever, maybe a lime or pomegranate juice).
This series of buildings are stunning. Intricately carved, with mosiacs and tiles and the most incredible detail. It’s easy to picture sumptuous meals for Kings and wealthy visitors in the long courtyards and dining halls. While the exterior of the palace is just blocks of stone, it belies the decadence of the interior. As you step from the hot courtyard in the white Spanish sun into the palace, the drop in temperature is immediate. It’s cool, with a gentle breeze that would have been incredible in 40C days.
Charles V Palace
So incongruous in the Moorish style buildings, this palace enjoys a proliferation of cats. Everywhere. While some weren’t friendly at all, a few kittens let me cuddle them and I spent far longer here than was strictly necessary! There is a sprawling courtyard in front of this palace, with gardens, huge trees, plenty of seating, and kittens playing in the undergrowth. This of course inspires a lot of squealing from children, a LOT of excitement, and ultimately some tears when the cats do everything within their power to avoid said children.
This is the fortress, the oldest part of Alhambra. We only had 5 minutes before it closed so these photos are a result of us splitting up, running in opposite directions, and taking all the photos we could! The sunset created a gorgeous rose colour on the buildings- certainly making the ‘red castle’ and very apt name.
Sunset on the wall of the tower
A few notes for tourists:
– Buy your tickets online and skip the queues https://tickets.alhambra-patronato.es/en/
-You get a time slot to go to the Nazrid Palaces- DON’T BE LATE. I saw some people turned away 🙁
-Park in the Alhambra parking lot. It’s cheaper than the private ones!
-It was a day trip for us- we stayed at Malaga the night before, and drove back to Seville that night.
-We went in November, and it was pleasantly warm but cooled rapidly as the sun fell. Also, there were less tourists so it may be worth planning a Spain trip off-peak.