Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Fri July 31 2015

Opinion Home | Far-Sighted Field Notes

  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | July 31, 2015 11:00 PM ET

    Absorbing The Grandeur of the Alhambra

    Absorbing The Grandeur of the Alhambra

    Photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

    Towering on a hillside and surrounded by gardens and courtyards that inspired the modern concept of paradise, Granada's Alhambra Palace is the stuff of fairy tales. You don't have to be interested in medieval history or architecture to be enthralled by the beauty of this historic complex of fortresses, palaces and gardens. A visit to the Alhambra qualifies as a bucket list entry for any traveler but I wasn't quite prepared for the number of buildings and the expansive history that the landmark claims.

    Overlooking Granada and unfolding on almost 26 acres, the Alhambra is a city within a city.  The name translates to red castle because of the reddish color of the walls but I quickly discovered that the complex is much more than a castle.

    Constructed by Spain's last Moorish rulers, the Nasrid Dynasty, from 1232-1492, the Alhambra represents the extensive legacy of Moorish culture and history in Spain. Touring the sprawling grounds provides an interactive history lesson on the deep cultural influences of the Moors. Entry through the central palace is the first glimpse of the intricate detail and design that cover all of the structures. There are carved ceilings, patios and arches covered in painted tiles. Arabic poetry is inscribed all over the buildings and according to our guide, the dynasty's motto of “There is no winner but God.” is etched 1,000 times all over the Alhambra.

    Adjoining the central palace is probably the most noted area of the palace, Patio de Los Leones or Courtyard of the Lions, which Washington Irving immortalized in his poetry. Twelve marble lions encircle a fountain that's surrounded by perfectly symmetrical columns and arches decorated with elegant carvings. More salons and courtyards connect to gardens that once served to relax the Nasrid emirs and later Spanish monarchs. The Alcazaba or fortress, boasts several towers and ramparts that made the Alhambra the most protected area of Granada.

    There are two other palaces that by the third hour, started to blend together.  The sheer expanse of the buildings and grounds really can be overwhelming. The Alhambra is not a site that can be thoroughly explored in a few hours or even a day. Ideally, several days supply enough time to fully absorb all of the details but I didn't have that luxury so I walked and gazed at as many areas as I could before I started to fade.

    But not before I strolled through what I decided was  my favorite area, the Generalife or “highest of the gardens”. Highest indeed.  A series of pools, fountains, fruit trees, shrubs and flowers created an oasis of soothing relaxation. There's also a summer palace toward the end of the gardens but I could barely tear myself away from the gardens. They once included an orchard and a self-sufficient garden that supplied fresh vegetables and fruit for the royal family.

    The architectural precision and striking beauty of the Alhambra helped designate it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it represents the complexity of Spanish history better than any other monument. I recommend an early morning or evening visit to avoid the crowds of 7,000 tourists that flock to the Alhambra every day.

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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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