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Granada Travel Guide

The Alhambra and the Generalife

A short stroll from the center of the city to the "red hill" will lead you to the most enchanting structure of Hispano-Moorish art from the Nasrid culture, the Alhambra.

We begin our itinerary at the square called Puerta Real and take the street of Calle de los Reyes Católicos, beneath which it the Darro River flows, channeled at the beginning of the 19th century. To the right at the Plaza del Carmen, is the Town Hall (1) (Ayuntamiento), installed in a former convent of the Carmelite Order finished in 1627. Nearby, at Calle Mariana Pineda number 40, we find the Corral del Carbón (2), a former Moorish corn exchange and inn from the 13th century, featuring a splendid archway entrance. Standing in the Plaza de Isabel la Católica, there is a monument to Queen Isabella accompanying Columbus, the work of Mariano Benlliure in 1892 to commemorate the discovery of America four hundred years earlier.

Straight ahead in the Plaza Nueva, we come to the Royal Chancery (3), built in 1530, according to a design by Diego de Siloé with a façade by the stonemason Martín Díaz and the sculptor Alfonso Hernández. Two of the most interesting itineraries start at this Plaza: one leads to the Sacromonte and the Albaicín and the other to the Alhambra and Generalife.

The Alhambra and The Generalife
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To reach the Alhambra, we take the Cuesta de Gomérez which ends, like so many other streets in Granada, at a gate or "puerta". This particular one, the Gate of Las Granadas (4), has three arches and was built in 1536 by Pedro Machuca by order of Carlos V. On the other side of the gate, we find ourselves in the woodlands of the Alhambra, where three paths branch off. The pathway to the right leads to the Bermejas Towers (5), the oldest fortress in Granada; the center path goes to the Generalife; and the one to the left takes us to the beautiful Pilar de Carlos V Fountain (6), a 16th century Renaissance design by Pedro Machuca. Next to the fountain is the Gate of Justice (7), the main entrance to the Alhambra at the south side.

After passing through the gateway, we find the esplanade, where the Palace of Carlos V (8) by Pedro Machuca is standing. Its sober, solid Renaissance style contrasts with the delicate Nasrid palaces. The building was intended to be a symbol of the empire that carlos V aspired to create. The building has a square ground plan and is organized around a magnificent circular courtyard. The palace also houses the Alhambra and Fine Arts Museums. The Wine Gate (9) provided access to the high part of the Alhambra; the main side with the pointed horseshoe arch faces the Alcazaba. The esplanade on the other side is called the Square of the Cisterns (Plaza de los Aljibes).

La Alcazaba Fortress (10), along with the Bermejas Towers, is the oldest structure of the complex. It dates from the 13th century and was erected over the remains of ancient fortifications. Large towers rise atop the fortress, the most famous being the Watchtower (11), where the Catholic monarchs installed a bell which tolled the irrigation shifts on the fertile plain of Granada. This tower occupies the highest point at the Alhambra. It is worth the climb to reach the upper platform and enjoy the magnificent view. In the interior of La Alcazaba, we find the Arms square or Courtyard called Plaza de Armas, and to the left a 17th century garden known as the Garden of Los Adarves. Leaving through the Wine gate and crossing the garden in front of the Palace of Carlos V, there are stairs to descend to the Royal Nasrid Palaces which occupy the lowest and most northern part of the hill. The Palaces consist of communicating structures around the Courtyard of the Lions and Courtyard of the Myrtles; each of the three parts is devoted to a specific function of palace life. The Mexuar was concerned with the administration of the kingdom and also served as the court of justice where the Emirs and their Ministers met in council; the Serrallo or Comares Palace was the official residence of the sultan; and the Harem, the third area, consisted of the private apartments.

The Mexuar is entered through a small courtyard leading to a doorway. In the 16th century a chapel was installed, and in the back of the area, the choir balustrade still remains. Next to the courtyard is a small oratory, restored at the beginning of the 20th century. The characteristic mihrab niche facing towards Mecca has a richly ornamented horseshoe arch with inscriptions praising Allah. The oratory opens on to the Golden Room Courtyard which connects the Mexuar to the Serrallo. Standing in the center is a fountain, replica of the original one moved to the Lindaraja garden in the 16th century. To the north of the courtyard is the Golden Room, erected during the times of Mohammend V.

Opposite the Golden Rooms is the Comares Palace, the most important of the three palaces, built by the sultan Abul-Hachach- Yusuf I. Its façade is exquisite. In the center of the palace, we come to the very lovely and harmonious Courtyard of the Myrtles with its large pool. The residences of the Comares palace are situated around the courtyard.

Rising behind the north gallery is the Comares Tower (13), where the poems written on the Alhambra walls by Mohammad Aben Zemrec begin. The next room is the Hall of the Boat ("Barca" in Spanish was a distortion of the Arab word barakha, meaning blessing), with a splendid wood ceiling, a copy of the original destroyed by fire in 1890. On the main floor of the Comares Tower, we find the Hall of the Ambassadors. In this room, it was decided that Boabdil, the last Moorish king, would turn over Granada to the Catholic monarchs.

From Comares Tower and through the Courtyard of the Pool, we come to the famous Courtyard of the Lions (14), part of the Harem. Built during the time of Mohammed V in the 14th century, it is considered the best example of Moorish art in Granada due to its extraordinary beauty. Deserving special consideration is the colonnade surrounding the Courtyard of the lions, consisting of 142 white marble columns with cubic capitals, the semi-circular horseshoe and stalactite arches, the stucco decoration, the magnificent plaster work of the vaults and, in the center of the courtyard, the Fountain of the Lions that gives it is name.

On the right of the gallery, we find the Hall of Los Abencerrajes and the Hall of the Kings, where we can find pointed arches with rich mocárabes (geometric combinations of concave prism-like figures).

On the north side of the courtyard, we find the Hall of Two Sisters, the sultan's rooms with a beautiful balcony, as well as the Hall of Los Ajimeces. The most outstanding spot in the Harem is the Lindaraja or Daraxa lookout or "mirador". There is also a small room called the Hall of Secrets, where the vault is able to tramsmit sounds. Nearby, we also encounter the room of the Emperor. From the Lindaraja Garden, we can reach the El Partal Gardens, and from there to the Tower of the Ladies and to the tower known as the Mosque of El Partal. On the upper level, we find the Tower of the Captive Lady and then the Tower of the Princesses.

El Partal gardens provide access to the Generalife (15), built in the 14th century and surrounded by splendid terraced gardens with fountains, pools and spouting water. It was the summer residence of the Nasrid Kings. The Cypress and Adelfas Promenades lead us to the Palace (16); a small building consisting of two pavilions connected by a gallery and some of the residences. In the center we see the Courtyard of La Acequia.

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