Why Granada is the best moorish palace to see

A magical day at the Alhambra

Moorish mystique on your mind? Then pick Granada…the last Muslim kingdom of Spain, which survived even after surrender of major cities like Cordoba, Seville, and Toledo to invasions during the Reconquista. Thanks to a treaty with the Christian kingdoms (gold in exchange for independence) and the exceptional strategic position of the Granada fort, Alhambra, the Nasr emirs had held on till 1492, when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella claimed the city. In 1502, Islam was officially outlawed in Granada and by early 1600s, not a single Muslim was left in all of Spain.

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Start your day tour with a couple of relaxing hours in the Generalife (‘garden of paradise’), a beautiful terraced network of arched rose gardens and cypress hedges, delicate fountains and water stairways, carefully-clipped bushes and fragrant flowers, crunching gravel paths and crossing jets in water canals. A place of rest for the Muslim royalty indeed, this decorative garden overflows with fruit and vegetable patches. In these shady corridors, nobles would have plotted schemes, sultanas would have had illicit liaisons with knights and emirs would have contemplated the future of their kingdoms. Intrigue is still in the air! You can smell it.

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Then trudge along the long route to the Alhambra complex. Alhambra comes from the Arabic words ‘qa’lat al-Hamra’, meaning ‘red castle’ (from the dusty red stone used to build its thick walls). Aren’t you dying of curiosity already? Hundreds of incredible Arabic myths are associated with this staggeringly beautiful creation proudly atop a high perch, framed against the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain-range. You see it, but it seems like an illusion!

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One of the most beautiful buildings in the world and probably the most popular destination in Spain, the Alhambra is a wonderful opportunity to compare Muslim and Western architectural styles, side by side. Many of the buildings have been destroyed, but there are two beautiful towers to climb, including Torre de la Vela (watchtower) for lovely views across the city of Granada below and the Alcazaba, a fortress with several towers.

Stop first at the massive palace of Carlos V, the most important work of the Renaissance style in Spain…an epic grandeur in granite, befitting the imperial title of the Holy Roman Emperor. Outside, as you rest on the long stone bench hemming the square-shaped palace, reach out to touch the cushioned stone walls with prominent pilasters inserted with large bronze rings to tie up horses. Parking zone, huh?

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Inside, stroll along the 30-metre diameter, circular two-story courtyard open to the sky surrounded by a wide portico with 32 stone-made pillars. Impressive, until you reach the other parts of the Alhambra. Carlos’ home is majestic, but bigger man-made wonders await ahead!

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The Nasrid Palace, is comparatively intimate and labyrinthine, not as monumental, but definitely the most beautiful Muslim building you may have visited. Remarkable condition too, considering its 13th-century lineage and subsequent destruction. You can feel the undying spirit of the beautiful courtyards filled with sparkling water; tall chambers overflowing with intricate, geometric Arabic tiling, elaborate ante-rooms packed with stucco-work etched onto dark walls and mesmeric alcoves. The Sala de Dos Hermanas, with its huge central dome and star-like constellations; the Sala de los Reyes, with padded, leather-lined ceilings and the magnificent Salon de Embajadores (throne-room), with an ornate wooden ceiling representing the seven Islamic heavens…all leave you stupefied.

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In the adjoining palace built by Mohammed V – the Palacio de los Leones (of the lions), set around the world-famous Patio de los Leones, water trickled from the mouths of 12 marble lions (in those days, water flows out of the mouth of each lion one by one, every hour!). The Palace is adorned by lyric verses inscribed in beautiful, cursive Arab calligraphy…like lace and crochet it ran along walls, framed doorways, outlined windows and embedded stuccoed, arabesque tapestries atop vibrant, multicoloured wainscotings of ceramic tiles (azulejos). The most common inscription is the Nasrid motto: “There is no victor but Allah.”

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Study the abstract, sensuous arabesque mosaic that you cannot decipher…intricate, repetitive, symmetrical patterns of intertwined vine tendrils, grapes, clover, tulips, roses, almond blossoms, pine cones and palm leaves. Emptiness glares from where tiles have fallen, paint has peeled and stuccos have broken. What would have the original, brand new palace looked like centuries ago, when every inch was covered impeccably? Can any modern building gleaming with glass and metal even dare to compete in design excellence, even with this semi-maintained flashback in its ‘guess-what-it-once-looked-like’ state?

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Peaceful inner courtyards are filled with sounds of fountains, feel of water mist, aroma of exotic flowers and reflections in mirror-like ponds. Water is an ornament everywhere, so precious for the Islamic world, the purest symbol of life…like the blood to veins. Ponder on the hot and cold water facilities in the Arabic baths…an element of daily life as well as a social activity!

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Set within gardens of myrtle and lemon trees, is this idyllic pleasure palace with ceilings of gold, lapis lazuli and ivory and white marble floors, overlooking a city blessed with unending supplies of figs, pomegranates, palms, olives, saffron, almonds, raisins, meat and trout! Peer through the intricate lattice of a Moorish window. The trilling of a flute from a courtyard…a veiled harem girl with wide, kohl laden eyes padding along a cool corridor…a fierce warrior riding his spirited steed through the gate…the scent of a rare perfume in a room laden with precious carpets and silken cushions…ambassadors bringing terms from foreign rules and battle tales being recounted in great halls? No, nothing remains, the inhabitants of the palace are long gone. But you can feel their shadows still lurking around. That’s Granada for you!

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89 thoughts on “Why Granada is the best moorish palace to see

  1. I’ve wanted to go to the Alhambra since I was in middle school! My husband and I keep attempting to plan a trip to Spain to see it, but we haven’t managed to actually get there for one reason or another. One day, I will get there! Your photos are gorgeous and make me even more excited to finally get there one day. 🙂

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  2. The whole of Andalucia is on my bucket list, can’t wait to go! I just love places with such immense mixture of cultures, such as South Spain or the former Constantinople. They always create such important legacy to mankind and the world’s history in general. Thanks for the post on Granada, it will come useful when I do visit! So impatient! 😀

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  3. This post brought back some great memories. I remember visiting the Alhambra many moons ago and is one of the best places I have ever seen. Love the charm of the place and the views towards the mountains. Great post 🙂

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  4. I can’t believe I have only just heard about the Alhambra recently! The history of this place sounds so fascinating and the architecture is stunning, it’s definitely on our list of places to visit now!

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  5. Very interesting about it being the best place to compare Muslim and Western architectural styles, haven’t heard of this place before! Great photos!

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  6. It is really intriguing that a Muslim monument is the No. 1 attraction in a non-Muslim city like Granada. I can definitely see why since its interior and exterior, the architecture and the gardens look flawless!!

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  7. I always thought the Alhambra was such a romantic name – now I see that the reality is even more amazing! The incredible detail and fabulous colours of this fantastic structure are so much better than I imagined. Thanks for the tour!

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  8. The amount of detail that went into all aspects of the building are amazing. The gardens do look like a peaceful place for contemplation and relaxation. I always enjoy visiting historic places, and with just a little bit of imagination you can be transported back in time yourself.

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  9. Alhambra it’s not a place of my point of interest, however, Granada, itself is definitely a place I would love to explore in the future. 🙂

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  10. So much of the focus on Spain centres around Barcelona (not surprisingly) but I am always impressed when I get to find out about some of the smaller cities. This looks exactly the type of place we love to explore.

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  11. I can only imagine living here as a sultana and strolling the gardens (and having illicit affairs:) The place has fairy tale written all over it!

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  12. The detail is absolutely stunning and you’re right, I’m not sure it could be made the same way today. So much thought must have gone into these buildings and surrounding areas. I always find myself staring at buildings like these!

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  13. I’ve never visited this area of Spain, but would love to see the mix of Islamic and Western architecture in person, especially all of the intricate tile work. I’ve heard great things about Alhambra and it would make for a great Spanish holiday.

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  14. Wow! Very beautiful architecture. Thanks for sharing this place in Granada. It would be very interesting to see muslim architecture in the place where there is Christian majority. I love how it compliment to each other.

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  15. I’ve been wanting to visit Alhambra ever since I studied about them in art history! The sculptural marvel is just wow! To see them with my own eyes there would definitely leave me speechless!

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  16. We regret not making it to Granada during our visit to Spain. The architecture and artwork on the buildings are so immaculately awe-inspiring. We would love to visit and see them in person, bookmarked for future.

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  17. Such stunning architecture and your photographs capture it beautifully. It’s great to see history preserved so well and to be able to walk amongst it today bringing the stories to life, I hated history lessons at school but it is one of the most incredible aspects of travel.

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  18. The Moorish history of Spain is so fascinating, I feel like going back to country just to explore this. Granada would certainly top my list and looking at your post, I think I might have to spend a few days exploring it…

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  19. Your pictures are amazing especially the featured image. I had never thought about visiting Granada but Alhambra has fascinated me enough. So much of history and the architectures looks spectacular. I will be adding this place to my travel bucket list. Thanks for sharing.

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  20. You’re making me grin, remembering the full day I spent wandering around the Alhambra! What a place. I love your line, “What would have the original, brand new palace looked like centuries ago, when every inch was covered impeccably? Can any modern building gleaming with glass and metal even dare to compete in design excellence?” Amen.

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  21. I think Alhambra caught my fancy in this entire post. It truly is lovely and one of those rare blends of European and Muslim architecture. Every corner there seems fascinating. Well captured.

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  22. I really want to go to Granada so bad! I’m studying Spanish Literature and I really want to go there so bad, especially Granada! I agree with you, Granada is the perfect place to see the more moorish side of Spain!

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  23. I thought this was the Water Gardens of Dorne from Game of Thrones at first. But after some research, I learnt that King Peter based his designs for Alcazar (the actual GoT location) on Alhambra.
    Hardly surprised he was inspired as it looks like an amazing place to visit. Like you said, I can only imagine how amazing it would have looked when it was brand new.

    Liked by 1 person

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