Granada, the city of the Alhambra
Granada is one of the touristical centres of Andalusia. Specially the prestige object of the Moorish arquitecture, the Alhambra, is a highlight of every tour through this Spanish province; With its arquitecture of the Moorish era, the flowering time of Andalusia, the city offers a milestone for all arts-, arquitecture- and history lovers. If one has enough time left, a sidetrip to the surroundings of Granada is worthwhile, as there are also lots of highly interesting buildings and landscapes offered.
Here, the Sierra Nevada, the high mountains in the south of Spain should be mentioned. At a distance of only approximately 30 km from Granada, there is the possibility to make some hiking tours on the mountains and some climbing tours or water ski in the winter. In the places Guadix and Sacromonte that can be also accessed during a day tour from Granada, one can visit numerous caves that were inhabitated for centuries.
If there is a lack of time or if one wants to fully concentrate on Granada, one will surely not be bored. The city, a mix between a turbulent big city and old Moorish arquitecture with some labyrinthine alleayways has everything ready to offer. Shopping miles through which masses of people push, tranquil areas with small houses, any quantity of restaurants and, typically for Granada, tapas bars in which for each drink a tapa is offered for free.
The nightlife of Granada is vey exciting, as it is a students city where there is a lot of life in the evenings. The public means of transport is specially interesting. Beside the usual buses there are also some small buses circulating in some areas where only 10 - 15 persons have space. Specially those of the lines between the Alhambra, the Plaza Nueva and the Albaicin, they dash with a rapid driving technique alongside the curvy and mountaneous routes. Some bigger buses could not circulate here, as through these narrow alleyways only one of these mini buses barely comes through and in some spots, the pedestrians have to get to the next building entrance to get out of the buses' way when the bus flashes by. The price is also pleasant, as with a little more than one euro it is a price that is absolutely acceptable.
The castle complex Alhambra
The most famous and best known sightseeing of Andalusia is without doubt the Alhambra in Granada. This complex consisting on fortification, palaces and garden complexes enthrones on the hill over the city and dominates the picture of Granada. If one is standing in the evenings on the hill in front of it and looks to the complex of the Alhambra, the walls shine in a redish colour that is from the light of the setting sun. This is also where its name comes from, as in Arabian this means Kala al-Hamra, red castle.
The oldest part of the complex is the Alcazaba. This royal castle was built in the 13th century by Mohammed I. Today, only the surrounding walls and some towers remain; A sightseeing is worthless anyway, as on one side it is possible to appreciate the extent of the former complex by the foundation walls and from the towers, one has an impressive view over the remaining Alhambra and over the city. From the Torre de las Armas, the former armory, the Albacin is very visible, the mountain in front of it with the San Nicólas.
The 26 m heighted Torre de la Vela offers a very good view to the cathedral in the city and from the other side of the tower one has an interesting overview over the former buildings on the complex of the Alhambra. In former times, beside the palaces and gardens there was practically a small city existing with team quarters, residential buildings for the servants, magacines and workshops. Today, only the fundaments are remaining, but they make one notice what a stately court what at the disposal of the monarchs.
The palace of Charles the V. is a mighty building ensemble. The square ground plan with a side length of 63 m makes the building appear a little plump, compared to the palaces of the Moors. This impression is loosened by the inner court with a circular shape and is bordered by the two-floored rotunda of the inner part of the palace. Some doric and ionic columns at the galleries offer an interesting contrast to the strict exterior appearance of the building.
Today, there are two museums accommodated in the palace of Charles V, the Museo de la Alhambra and the Museo Provincial de Bellas Arte. While the first presents some Moorish findings, jewelry and arts objects mainly of the Alhambra, the second one is specialsed on the artists of the School of Granada.
Unfortunately, there are no uniform opening times. Even those museums that are in the same building do have completely different opening times.
Charles V., after whom the palace is named, wanted to make Granada to the seat of government and therefore, he made build the palace on the complex from the year 1526. But it was never finished, as the plans of making Granada to the seat of government were dropped. Nevertheless, a building that counts to the most significant arquitectures of the High Rennaissance outside Italy was originated.
A series of gardens, patios and towers all of them having an interesting history and to which there are numerous legends are located and can be discovered on the complex of the Alhambra. Herein, I would like to recomend the book "Stories of the Alhambra" of the author Washington Irving, who describes a lot of these legends and sagas beside numerous facts.
But the absolute highlight of a visit to the Alhambra is without doubt the Palace of the Nasrid Dynasty. The handcrafts visible in the rooms of the palace is more than worthwhile seeing and requires a high respect to the builders.
Thereby, the palace seems not to be so gorgeous from the exterior. But in the interior there is an explosion of adornments, ornamental elements and arquitectonical details arranged with marmor and precious woods. Most of these slender decorative elements have been made, by the way, in a kind of chain Process already at that times. The decorative elements were reproduced in a shape that served as a basis. This was the only way to produce and set these unbelievably numerous details. Thus, the old Moorish masters were also genius in relation to the productivity and organization.
The Hall of the Sisters and the Hall of the Abencerrajes are two special examples for this gracile and gorgeous ornamentation. The Hall of the Sisters, named der Sala de las Hermanas, was surely a part of the winter residence of the women. Its tiles- and stucco decoration is phantastic and the vault of the hall shaped as an eight-prongued star and then disperses into 16 rays, is considered as the biggest Arabian stalactite vaults. The vaults in the Sala de los Abencerrajes is similarly gorgeous but a little smaller. It is named after the Moorish gender of the Abencerrajes, of whom 36 were murdered in this hall. At least this is what the legend says.
The Sala de Embajadores, hall of the ambassadors, served for the audiences, as this was the place where the monarchs received the ambassadors of other kingdoms. Thereby, the sovereigns had a specially refined idea. Light was incidenting to the throne from three sides, but the entrants only saw the monarchs from the back light. By this way, the ruler could thoroughly look at the visitor, while the visitor was literally left in the dark.
A special emblem of the hall is the gorgeous cupola of cedar. The hall is in the basement of the highest tower of the castle with 45m, the Torre de Comares. What is unusual for Islamic buildings is the room decoration in the royal hall, the Sala de los Reyes; Actually, the Islam prohibits the pictorial representation of the humans. But in this hall, there are scenes from the life in the court, during the hunting and a rescue of a girl visible. All this is painted on leather that is then brought up on wood.
The patios, the courtyards amidst the palace complexes are a feast for the eyes. In the Arrayanes Courtyard in the main section of the palace, a water basin takes a major part of the space. The Courtyard of the Lions, Patio de los Leones, is the centre point of the harem, the womens chambers. Here, one can also admire the craftsmanships of the Moorish builders. Adornments and artful shapes are abundantly arranged at the arches of the arcades that are supported by 124 marble columns. The centre point of the court is the Lions Fountain.
There is still a lot more to see in and around the Nazaride Palace. Herein, I would like to mention the Patio de Lindaraja, a marvellous small green courtyard, the dressing room of the Queen and the gardens of the Alhambra, the Jardines del Partal.
Due to our visit to the Alhambra and specially due to the visit of the Nazarite Palace, we got some permanent impressions. We can say afterwards that we almost would not have got over it if, for any reason, we would not have been able to visit the Alhambra. This is not so unprobable, as it is always generally announced that one should book the tickets in advance, as only a limited number of visitors are allowed to get in. Even though in practice it is not so dramatic, it is recommendable to book the tickets in advance already due to the reason that by this way one avoids some long waiting times.
There is also to consider if visiting the Nazarite Palace on ones own or to take part on a guided tour. We think one should in any case take the guided tour. The abundance of information, interesting stories and details is so comprehensive that one could never learn all this by oneself.
The buildings and the garden complexes of Generalife
The tourist can choose whether he also wants to visit the Generalife in addition to the Alhambra. Actually, this should not be questioned, we think one should in any case not abstain from having this experience.
Generalife is physically separated from the Alhambra, although it actually belongs to it. It is the former summer residence of the Moorish Kings. This building that, compared to the Nazirite Palace, is of a rather inconspicious appearance, was built in the beginning of the 14th century by Ismail I. The Moorish monarchs searched for a pleasant residence for spending the time during the hot Andalusian summer that was close to their main residence. Due to this reason, the building itself is not what is actually gorgeous and luxurious, but the gardens where it is located are. The gardens of the generalife are not considered as the most beautiful of the world for nothing.
It is a wonderful small world of its own that was originated here. An interplay of shady boulevards avenues consisting on cypresses, myrtles and laurel plants and orange trees harmonizes with numerous flowers and blossoms. In between, there are water basins, fountains and water plays as also shady grottos everywhere. If today, one walks through these garden complexes it is understandable that the last moorish souvereign of Granada, Boabdil, cryed when he had to leave Granada.
We were a little unlucky during our visit, as it partly rained in torrents. Nevertheless, the beauty of these complexes made the bad weather fade away and made the visit to an unforgettable experience. From the gardens of the Generalife and also from a side room of the summer palace there are some beautiful views to the complex of the Alhambra. Upside the building, one gets over a stair-like water complex to the Silla del Moro, a view point that is located outside the garden complex.
The viewpoint Albaicin
Granada is "dominated" by the Alhambra, and apparently no visitor of the city abstains form visiting the Moorish fortification. But the view from San Nicolás on the hill of the Albaicin is simply a part of the program.
Every day in the evening a host of tourists meet in the small church in order to gaze at the view of the Alhambra and the mountains of the Sierra Nevada behind it from the viewing terrace. Specially in the winter when the peaks of the Sierra Nevada are white from the snow, this view is specially attractive. It is not for nothing that at this time of the day it is the most desired, as when the Alhambra is in the evening highlight and there are probably some cloudy peaks piled up, it is hard to leave this view.
We were so enthusiastic that we walked on both evenings of our stay in Granada to this place. It is possible to climb up the hill on foot, but one can also use the small bus that goes from the Alhambra over the Plaza Nueva to San Nicolás. Due to time reasons we took the bus, but afterwards we did not abstain from getting back on foot. It is an experience to walk down the hill of the Albaicin through the narrow and labyrinthine alleyways and to look at the illuminated city underneath. But sometimes one has to jump into a door when a bus passes by, as there is no space in the narrow alleyways.
Albaicin itself is a hill that is located in front of the Alhambra and in which the original Moorish atmosphere is quite lively; There are some labyrinthine and steep alleyways with some small white painted houses and small plazas in which people cavort up to night time, this is the attraction of this district. Of course, there are also coffee bars in which one can let the day end.
San Nicolás is a very small church built in the year 1525 that is art-historically surely not very interesting. But its location makes it to one of the most frequented and famous points of Granada.
What is also very interesting but less famous is the church San José. Finally, it is one of the oldest Moorish buildings of Andalusia with a tower bell that stands on a minaret of a mosque of the 9th century.
In the immediate proximity of the church there is recently a mosque, the first that has been built in Granada since 500 years. This is actually surprising, as finally, approximately 15.000 inhabitants of Granada are muslim. The "gate" to the Albaicin is, to a certain extent, the Plaza Nueva, a medieval appearing plaza and one of the most popular meeting places of Granada.
Further sightseeings in Granada
Also Granada does have a cathedral. Contrary to many other churches in Andalusia, its basis is not a mosque, the building was not started until the year 1523 in Gothic style. But this rapidly changed, and from the year 1528 it was continued to be built in the style of the Renaissance. The works continued up to the year 1704, then they were interrupted although the cathedral was not definetely finished. The tower became lower than planned, and the second one was not even built.
Anyway, an impressive building was originated, the Cathedral Santa Maria de la Encarnación belongs to the most significant four Renaissance churches of Andalusia. With a length of 160 m and a width of 67 m, it covers a considerable surface and also the cupola heighted 47 m of the Capilla Mayor does not need to hide. Some massive clustered columns support the mansory.
The already mentioned Capilla Mayor, the main chapel is specially impressive. Two balustrade rows are arranged in a circle. On the balustrades, as also on the two side altars there are some valuable paintings with motifs of the life of the virgin Maria, statues of the Apostles and Saints.
In the Capilla Real, the grave chapel of the Catholic Monarchs, one can view some of the King's graves. Different personal objects of the Kings, as for example the crown and the sceptre of Isabel and the sword of Ferdinand are exhibited in the sacristy of the chapel. In Andalusia, Isabel and Ferdinand got a special fame due to their victory over the Moors and their definite expulsion. And everything is added by some exhibits of the art collection of Isabel.
In the university quarter of Granada there are some beautiful sacred buildings and convents. The Carthusian monastery La Cartuja accommodates a significant collection of paintings and impresses with some arquitectural delicacies. The interior of the church of the monastery is arranged in a gorgeous baroque architecture and there are some valuable stuccoworks visible everywhere. La Cartuja was built from the year 1506, but not completed until 1750.
The Hospital San Juan de Dios has a church thatis considered as one of the the most beautiful baroque sacred buildings of Granada. But the apparently most beautiful jewel is the Convento de San Jerónimo. The monastery with its arcades and the green courtyard is a resting point in the hectic of Granada. But what is a special feast to the eyes is the church of the monastery with some wall paintings of the 18th century and a gorgeous ceiling decoration. The Convento de San Jerónimo was founded around the year 1496.
Stay over night in the Hotel Guadalupe
The Hotel Guadalupe in Granada has several advantages. It is easily to get there considering Andalusian circumstances, it is in the immediate proximity to the Alhambra and it is a very pleasant hotel. By driving to Granada, one gets to a Ringstrasse where there are enough signposts indicating the way to the Alhambra. By following them, one gets quite unproblematically to the parking place of the Alhambra. There, one parks the car and after a few metres walk one arrives at the hotel.
Of course, there are some parking fees to pay, but surprisingly, these fees are considerably lower than the ones in the car park of the department store in Sevilla. Also here it is not necesary to move by car within Granada. The gate to the Alhambra is at a distance of approximately 50 metres, the historical city centre at about 1 km distance. If one does not want to walk this kilometre, one can make use of the small buses which stop is only at a few metres distance from the hotel.
We were pleasantly surprised by our room. It was surprisingly spacious with a terrace of approximately 12 square metres and the separate bathroom with a window. The arrangement of the room left nothing to be desired, it was not luxurious but practical and in a good condition. A regulable air conditioner, telephone, LCD-TV and heating made the stay in this room to be pleasant. The bath room with a bath tube offered a good service, soap, a shower, toothbrush glasses, towels, bathing towels and a hair dryer. We also could not claim about the cleanliness and the room service.
The personnel was friendly and tried to provide us all required information, also in English language. With 58 rooms, the Hotel Guadalupe is not a big hotel, actually it was one of the smallest during our journey. There is a lift for those who do not want to use the stairs, a thing that is understandable in case of living in the 4th floor.
There is a big restaurant with a good offer where it is pleasant to sit. In the same restaurant the breakfast buffet is served that is of a good quality. An English breakfast with scrambled or boiled eggs, sausages, cheese, cold cuts, honey, marmelade, bread and rolls, cake and compote, all this does not leave anything to be desired. Additionally, there is also coffee, milk, tea or hot chocolate available from the machine. Of course, the obligatory fruit juice is also available. During the day or the evening one can also visit the bar, the snack bar or the coffee bar.
But once we were a little disappointed when we wanted to have something to eat in the snack bar. Some totally overburdened waiters could not cope with the rush, so that after half an hour we left still being hungry. But this could not really influence the general good impression we had of the hotel.
Conclusion: The Hotel Guadalupe is suitable for visiting Granada, specially in regard of the very convenient situation to the main attraction of Granada, the Alhambra. Also the oldtown is easily to access; Except some small things, the rooms, the service and the catering are ok, so that we can clearly recommend the hotel.
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Author: Michael Nitzschke; Copyright: Patrick Wagner, www.tourist-guide.biz