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Granada - The Alhambra

The Alhambra

The Alhambra is the biggest draw in Granada, and rightfully so. The fortified citadel is first mentioned in the 9th century, described as a "red castle," qa'lat al-hamra in Arabic. By the 14th century, the Alhambra was a medieval city on the hill, walls enclosing the expanded citadel (alcazaba), plus exquisite palaces and gardens constructed by the Islamic sultans of the Nasrid dynasty. Restored to its previous glory, seeing the Alhambra in person is a unique experience for kids, echoing words from a poem inscribed in the Generalife, "No eyes have beheld anything similar to it."

    Tip: Buy tickets to the Alhambra well in advance. Tickets are for morning or afternoon (also night visits) on a specified date; in addition, a timed entry is required for the Nasrid Palaces, e.g. 2:30 pm.
      When buying tickets, select timed entry for the Nasrid Palaces as the first thing to do, while kids are fresh. Then you can explore the rest of the Alhambra at your leisure.
      Once you're inside the Alhambra, you can't go back out on your ticket. Also, the Alhambra is spread out, it takes about 15 - 20 minutes to walk from the Generalife to the Nasrid Palaces and Alcazaba.
  Getting to the Alhambra – The Alhambra is situated high on the hill overlooking Granada. From town, take the red and white Alhambra mini-buses (#30) which will drop you at the ticket kiosk. If you have a car, you can also drive and park at the top.
      Or, for the full effect, from Cuesta de Gomerez, go through the Puerta de las Granadas, follow the path through shady woods to the gushing Charles V Fountain (the fountain is decorated with pomegranates, symbol of Granada). If you already have tickets in hand, take a left and make a majestic entry through the Puerta de la Justicia (impressive horseshoe arch, thick studded door); otherwise, keep walking up the path to the ticket kiosk to pick up your tickets.
  The Alcazaba –
The Alcazaba is the oldest section of the Alhambra, and a fortified castle stood on this spot, even before the Moors arrived in Granada. Over the centuries it was expanded to include more towers; it was also home to soldiers and artisans. The Alcazaba is especially fun for kids as it's one big fort that was expanded over the years to include more and more towers and parapet walkways.

First climb up the chubby Torre del Cubo (Round Tower), then go a gate and angled passageway (for defense), and up the stairs to the Torre del Homenaje (The Keep), the oldest tower in the Alcazaba. Explore the ramparts, then retrace your steps, go back down and out to the Plaza de las Armas (Arms Square). This area included a street lined with small houses for officers and artisans, also a dungeon for prisoners, baths and water cisterns.


Now ascend the stairs up the Torre de la Vela (The Watchtower), 90 ft high, look out over all of Granada below, and feel like a king of the world. The Torre de la Vela was a residence of the first Nasrid king, Muhammad I, and used for living quarters under the Christian conquerers.

  Nasrid Palaces –
In the 13th century, the Sultan Ibn Nasr laid out the luxurious palace and brought water to the old citadel, setting the stage for the Generalife gardens. Granada's Golden Age, the 14th century, blooms in the glorious rooms of the Nasrid Palace. Walls are covered with intricate geometric and floral details, colored tiles and inscriptions, ceilings sparkle with forms like honeycombs, and light streams through the courtyards of the palaces.
There are three big parts of the palaces complex - Mexuar, Comares, and Leones.
MexuarHall of the Mexuar, oldest part of the palaces, is where court of justice convened. Inscribed on the walls are the words, "Enter and ask. Do not be afraid to seek justice for here you will find it." Peek into the oratory, the place where faithful Muslims could pray five times a day.
Nasrid motto – The Arabic inscription "The only conqueror is God" is repeated over and over around two windows in the courtyard connecting the Mexuar with the Comares palace. These words appear throughout the palaces, and it's fun to spot them (e.g. Hall of the Ambassadors, Courtyard of the Lions).
Comares – In the palace, the sultan met with ambassadors, and political and diplomatic meetings took place.
      In the Courtyard of the Myrtles (lined with myrtle hedges along the pool), the palace looks as if it's floating on the still water of the reflecting pool! Look for the tree of life on the walls, and check out the amazing wooden door to the Hall of the Boat.

The Hall of the Ambassadors (Throne Room) will take your breath away. Every inch of this huge room is covered with tilework, plaster work, on the ceiling, geometric designs represent Islamic heaven. This room was designed to impress, and it does. After the Catholic monarchs, Isabel and Ferdinand, took over Granada, they used the Alhambra. Here in the Hall of Ambassadors is where Columbus asked for funds to explore the new world, and Isabel said yes.

      Leones - The Palace of the Lions was the private living spaces for the sultan, including the harem.
Courtyard of the Lions

Courtyard of the Lions - Who can resist the fountain in the center, with twelve lions spouting water, and four channels of water symbolizing the four rivers of Islamic paradise? (It was quite an engineering feat to bring water from a distance in the Alhambra.) Kids will just have to imagine the garden that also flourished in this courtyard.

      Hall of Abencerrages – In This room, the fountain in the center has rusty brown splotches. According to legends of the Alhambra, the sultan invited the Abencerrage family to the palace, and then killed all thirty-six of them in this room. (The rusty color in the fountain is actually just marble that's oxidized.)
    Hall of the Two Sisters – This hall is geometry central. The honeycomb cupola seem to float unsupported, and anyone in your family who likes geometry can imagine trying to put together 5,000+ triangular sections to make the ceiling. Also the tilework in this room is especially nice, and take a look at how all the twirly, star, and hexagon shapes are worked into amazing patterns.

Generalife – The Generalife is where the sultans went to relax. Water is everywhere here – running down stairway banisters, bubbling out of fountains, running down walls, reflecting the flowers in garden pools. Don't miss the water stairway, where toddlers can splash their hands in the little bubbling fountains on the ground. In the lower gardens, go in and out of the doorways in the cypress hedges, almost like a maze.

    Tip: Two books to buy when you're in Granada. Our favorite guidebook to bring with you to the Alhambra is called The Alhambra and Generalife In Focus, readily available in shops around Granada. We also picked up a copy of Tales of the Alhambra for Children, an adaptation of Washington Irving's stories.
family travel tools alhambra spain

Reservations and tickets for the Alhambra and Generalife, hotel pickup, and 2.5 hour private tour of the Alhambra and Generalife:

Private Alhambra and Generalife Tour
fun books spain
alhambra in focus  
The Alhambra and Generalife in Focus
Aurelio Cid Acedo, Jon Trout

This is our favorite guidebook for the Alhambra – history, detailed descriptions, maps and plans, over 400 photos! Pick up a copy in Granada, before you visit. (Guidebook)



Decorate with stickers and draw different parts of the Alhambra – walls, courtyards, fountains, mosaics, gardens – and learn about this architectural wonder.
(Sticker book)


alhambra create your own palaces
travel for kids | spain | andalusia | granada | the alhambra
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