“An arch is
make a strength”
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
It’s one of the most visited monuments in Europe – and with the crowds here today, I believe it. But nothing can detract from this incredible place. Come wander around La Alhambra de Granada for a while with us…
Once a thriving fortress-palace city with 2700 occupants within its walls, Alhambra or al-qala’a al-hamra (the Red Castle) had orchards and gardens, running water, factories and everything it needed to withstand any siege.
Since its humble beginnings as a hilltop refuge and fortress in the 9th century, Alhambra has survived many changes of fortune.
By the 14th century during the Nasrid dynasty, the last Arab Muslim dynasty in Spain, the emirs had created a combination of a fortress, palace and small medina (city) that showcased their stunning architecture and artwork.
Water was integral to their design. They believed it was a gift to be cherished and belonged to no man – and that the sound of trickling water created harmony. Today, water still runs along ancient irrigation channels on the streets, into fountains, pools, palaces, houses and gardens, then into the river to start its journey again.
By 1492, the combination of a civil war over the throne of Granada and the Reconquista (Christian reconquest) created the perfect storm that saw the Nasrid dynasty overthrown. Soon the mosque was replaced by a church, and a Franciscan monastery was built along with other structures including a Renaissance palace.
It’s hard to believe that by the late 18th century this incredible place was totally abandoned and taken over by squatters, who systematically removed and sold off most of the valuable tiles, fountains, marble and other artefacts.
But wait, there’s more. In the early 1800s, Napoleon’s troops moved in and converted the palaces into barracks.
During one retreat, they blew up parts of the towers and left the Torre de Siete Suelos and the Torre de Agua in ruins.
It was travellers, poets and other concerned people that finally saved the rotting, overgrown ruin. 19th century American author Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra (1831), written while he stayed in the palace, put a spotlight on the crumbling monument.
In 1870 it was declared a national monument and the huge restoration task began.
Over a century later, in 1984, it became a Unesco World Heritage Site – and today the restoration work is still underway.
Wandering through this place, you can almost feel its spirit coming to life again… Now that’s a resurrection!
Get tickets before you go: Try Ticketmaster Spain and be aware that lines for tickets at the site are seriously daunting (even for picking up prepaid ones!).
I know what you’re thinking… but I’m not talking about Granada’s legendary nightlife. Although I’m told there are 60,000 students at the university here. And they didn’t just come for the studying bit (but don’t tell their parents!).
This is about getting off the tourist trail, high up in the ‘hills’ above Granada, where a network of precarious tracks meander around the steep edges of slopes – and making way for mountain bikers (jealous!) and trail runners is an interesting balancing act.
We started in the historic centre and walked up past Alhambra, one of the most visited monuments in Europe. We thought we’d take a little wander up the dusty track to check out the mountain biking trails.
Three hours later, we’d wound our way up and down steep hills on some breathtaking trails – and discovered the ancient water channel above the Rio Darro.
Built by the original Arab settlers, the network of channels carried a fresh water supply down to irrigate the extensive Generalife orchards and gardens, through to the Alhambra palaces and back into the river system.
We followed the water channel for a while, until it came to a private olive grove – with a full-on sprinkler system going.
After running the gauntlet of water jets turning the steep track to a slippery slide, we decided to head back up and find a drier way down the slope.
This involved a bit of scrambling and, of course, a rather inelegant butt slide by moi.
But we finally found our way back down to civilisation, a well-earned snack… and a drink or three.
…because going off-piste is thirsty work.