Alhambra of Granada
Granada’s main tourist feature is without a doubt the Alhambra. The name comes from the Arabic and literally means “the Red One”, because the brown walls of this mighty fortress turn bright red at sunset. A city in the city, the Alhambra was initially built for military purposes, but later became an “alcazaba” (fortress), an “alcázar” (palace) and a small “medina” (city). These various functions explain the variety of buildings that compose this historical monument.
Visiting the Alhambra is like visiting the Louvre: don’t expect to see everything in a day. That said, you can get quite a comprehensive tour in about 3 hours. Its many palaces, towers, rose gardens, halls and water systems will bring you straight to the heart of the Arabian Nights. Nowhere else in Europe – except maybe in Istanbul – will you see so perfectly proportioned Islamic rooms and courtyards. Highligths include the Puerta de la Justicia, the Patio de los Leones in the Nasrid Palace of the Lions, and the Patio de la Acequia in the Generalife.
But the Alhambra is not the only attraction Granada has to offer. Take a walk in the Albayzín quarter, where the original Iberian tribe settled. Located on a hill facing the Alhambra, its labyrinthine streets later became the site of the Muslim town – and remained Muslim years after the Reconquista. This barrio is full of reminiscent features of Granada’s Islamic heritage, including ramparts, houses and fountains.
Take a look at the Bañuelo baths in particular. Located in the Carrera del Darro, at the foot of the Alhambra, they are one of the few such establishments that were saved from destruction by the Catholic Monarchs. They were restored and declared a National Monument in 1918. Dating from the 11th century, these baths are the best-preserved Arab baths of Spain and the oldest piece of Moorish architecture in Granada.
Granada also has a Christian cathedral. Its architect, Diego de Siloé, managed to combine the traditional Gothic plan to a renaissance dome, a strategy that made him a famous architect of the period. The cathedral was started in 1521, though it was not finished until the 18th century. Part of it, which is accessed separately from the outside, is the Capilla Real. Designed in gothic style, it is the mausoleum of the Catholic Monarchs. You’ll see their lead coffins together with those of their daughter Joanna La Loca, their son-in-law Felipe I and their grandson the Infante Miguel da Paz in the crypt beneath the monument.
You can also visit the Sacromonte district, home to Granada’s Roma community. Although the English term “Gypsy” comes from the term “Egypt” (so does its Spanish equivalent “gitano“), Granada’s gypsies actually migrated from India in the 15th century. Because the term “Gypsy” is seen as pejorative, political correctness prefers the term is “Roma”.
The main attraction is probably the Camino del Sacromonte, which is lined with caves hosting souvenir shops and restaurants. But Sacromonte is also a good place to see zambra, a type of flamenco where the singer also dances. The Centro de Interpretación del Sacromonte is a kind of Roma museum. It features themes such as the Sacromonte’s geology and environment, cave dwellings and Roma culture (with English explanations). There are also great views over Granada and the Alhambra.