From the terrace of San Nicolas church in the Albaycin of Granada, one gets a good view of the Alhambra complex. In the featured photo you can see, on the right, the palace complex which is together called the Alhambra. The white building on the left, nestled into a hill called Cerro del Sol (Peak of the Sun), is called the Generalife today. The word is a corruption of the Arabic Jannat al-Arif, meaning the Garden of the Architect.
We had a ticket which would take us through the gardens and pavilions of the Generalife, as well as the Alhambra. These are on two separate hills. On the burning hot day when we walked through them, these distances looked enormous. I was happy for the water fountains dotted around, where one could refill bottles and splash water over one’s face.
We walked through the gardens. What remains of the Moorish garden is hard to spot. The present design is from the middle of the 20th century. The flowers are chosen for their colours rather than fragrance, testifying to an European sensibility. The main building here is called Patio de la Acequia, meaning the courtyard of fountains. The photo above is a view along this courtyard.
The sultan would retreat here for peace and quiet in the 14th century CE. The building is simple today, although one does not know where ancient arabesques have been hidden under centuries of whitewash. Those decorations which are still visible are similar to the work in the Alhambra. We walked through the passages of this structure, marvelling that a sultan would spend extended times here. Once one of them was here long enough that a rebellion broke out in the Alhambra.
There is a marvellous view of the Albaycin from this hill, as you can see in the photo above. I did not spend too much time in the garden, because I liked this more. The Family was more practical; she figured that we would see grander work inside the Nasirid palace. So she spent more time in the garden, while I sat on a bench after splashing water on myself and waiting to dry out.
Qalat Al-Hamra, the ancient name of the palace now called Alhambra, means the Red Fort. Qalat comes from the same root as the Hindi word qila, meaning fort. The name is derived from the stone, whose colour you can see in the featured photo. An Indian, whose imagination will be inflamed by the red sandstone of Mughal architecture, may be disappointed by the name. However, everything else in Alhambra lives up to its reputation.
So much has been written about Alhambra that I do not really need to add to it. The present structure was built in the 14th century by the Emir of Granada, and added to over the next one and a half centuries, until the fall of Granada and the surrender of the last sultan, Boabdil, in 1492 CE. It eventually fell into disuse, and serious efforts at restoration only began in the 19th century CE. Even for those who have grown up with the impressive Mughal architecture, Granada is a visual treat. The intricate stone and wood work, the sheer proliferation of detail, the clever lattice work with Kufic calligraphy worked into it, everything is delightful. The little flakes of paint on some of the walls indicate that there was much more to the decoration than is visible today.
There are three distinct part of the Nasrid dynasty palace complex. The first part which you get to see is the Hall of Ambassadors and the courtyard in front of it. Then the route passes through the halls around the Courtyard of Lions. Finally you reach the Emir’s palace and the garden of Lindajar. The grandeur of the Hall of Ambassadors is more than matched by the intricacy of the octagonal vault of the Hall of Two Sisters.
This is Spain’s biggest tourist draw, so one has to make sure to buy the tickets well in advance. We realized this a bit more than a week before we were planning to visit, and found that the tickets to the Nasrid palace were sold out. One can get a combination ticket, at a higher price, which allows you into the full complex of Alhambra and also to some buildings inside Albaycin. This was still available. There is a separate ticket to the Alhambra gardens and the Generalife, which does not give you entrance into the palace complex. This remains available even longer. We were fortunate that our hosts independently arranged for a night visit to the palace, so we got to see the Nasrid complex twice. The second visit was with a guide. He was good and pointed out details which I might have missed otherwise. However, I liked to pace myself with the audio guide, since that is also really well put together.