HOT Properties Magazine Archive
HOT Lifestyle - Granada... 'Falling under your spell...'
Immortalised by authors, poets and composers, Granada – whose name rather incongruously means pomegranate – is arguably the most spectacular city in Spain, with its alpine Sierra Nevada backdrop and utterly magnificent Alhambra Palace guaranteed to leave you lost for words. As if that weren’t enough, perhaps surprisingly given its thousands of years of history, thanks to its free tapas culture, intimate flamenco ‘tablaos’, trendy bars, the university campus that’s home to more than 60,000 students from around the world, not to mention its year-round international festivals, it’s also Andalucía’s hippest provincial capital by a mile. Only a 2.5 hour drive from Marbella, let’s go visit…
Considered by many as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ – and officially the most visited monument anywhere in Spain – let’s start with the Alhambra.
A powerful symbol of the Moors’ domination of Spain – and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984 – the Alhambra, which translates as ‘Red Fortress’, was originally created for military use. The earliest building dates from the IX century and was subsequently restored by the Nazari Dynasty who over the ensuing centuries were responsible for constructing the lavish palaces, fortifications and resplendent water gardens forming the vast walled complex. After becoming a Christian court following the Catholic Reconquest in 1492, the Santa María Church was added, as was the defiantly European Carlos V Palace – built in 1527, as well as several other buildings, including the San Francisco Convent, which these days is an enchanting 4-star Parador.
During the XVIII and XIX centuries, however, the Alhambra sadly fell into disrepair and was occupied by thieves and beggars, while between 1808 and 1812 the palatial buildings were turned into barracks occupied by Napoleon’s troops. It wasn’t until 1870 that the Alhambra was belatedly declared a national monument and a much-needed programme of restoration was begun.
It was Washington Irving who through his Tales of the Alhambra, written in 1832, launched the majestic fortified palace onto the world stage. Originally visiting the city to do research for his book entitled A Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada, the acclaimed American author, essayist, biographer, historian and diplomat asked both the then-governor of the Alhambra and the archbishop of Granada for access to the complex.
Given his celebrity status not only was his request granted, but he was actually given rooms in the Alhambra. So inspired by the experience, it was during this stay that he penned his world-famous Tales of the Alhambra, and doubting his ability ever to do justice to his temporary home he was moved to write in his journal, ‘How unworthy is my scribbling of this place’. His rooms at the Alhambra remain much as they were when he left them and are open to the public.
Standing proudly atop the al-Sabika hill overlooking the city of Granada, the sheer size of the citadel is truly awe-inspiring. To explore it, you’ll need several hours… and a comfortable pair of shoes. Because of its overwhelming popularity, no more than 6,500 visitors a day are allowed to pass through its ancient doors, so it’s best to book well ahead, either online or by phone. The very last thing we want to do is to put you off, but this uncharacteristic regimentation is there for a purpose, because if you just turn up unannounced so to speak, you could find out that all the tickets are already sold out (especially when cruise ships are tied up in Málaga Port).
So, assuming you’ve got your tickets sorted, what to see? Well, the Alhambra’s four principal attractions are the Nasrid Palaces, the Alcazaba, the Charles V Palace and the Generalife Gardens. Tickets are issued for a specific period: morning, afternoon or evening and monuments can’t be visited outside the allotted time frame, although once you’re inside the compound you can stay until it closes.
Although the entire citadel is magical and mysterious beyond belief, for many the Nasrid Palaces and the Generalife Gardens are the stars of the show.
Renowned for the 12 lion statues forming the iconic fountain in the Court of the Lions which, after many years of restoration were finally returned to the Alhambra in 2012, the Nasrid Palaces feature slender turrets etched against the night sky, while pretty much every wall – other than those adorned with ancient coloured tiles – has been intricately carved with the words, ‘There is no conqueror but God’.
Making your way through fabulous courtyards and room after beautiful room, this is where you’ll also get to see – among other wonderful things – the Court of the Myrtles with its long, narrow pool of water; the Ship Room with its carved wooden ceiling resembling an upside-down hull and the atmospheric Washington Irving Room.
Like the Alhambra, the immense Generalife Gardens – situated on a hill above and to the rear of the complex – were also granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1984. Enchantingly beautiful with their leaping fountains, exquisite architecture, cool shady nooks and riot of colourful blooms, highlights of this corner of paradise include the much-photographed crossing jets of water in the sublime Court of the Main Canal; the evocative Water Stairway where, true to its name, water courses down its parapets; the lovely pathway leading past the amphitheatre to the rectangular ponds, pretty hedgerows and vibrant flowerbeds of the Lower Gardens; and the captivating views from the Generalife Palace.
Not for nothing do the Generalife Gardens epitomise the Koran’s assertion that ‘heaven is a garden with running water’.
The oldest part of the Alhambra, the Alcazaba – or what remains of this imposing IX century fortress – once contained military homes, and from its lofty tower offers stunning views over the city to the soaring mountains of the Sierra Nevada. Last but not least, a more recent addition to the Alhambra, the Renaissance-style XVI century Palace of Charles V houses two museums – the Museo de la Alhambra with its compelling collection of ancient artefacts and art; and the Museo de Bellas Artes, featuring a small fine arts museum as well as transient exhibitions.
What else to see and do in Granada?
Well, after the city was originally founded in prehistoric times by native tribes, next came the Romans, followed by the Moors who crossed the Straits of Gibraltar in 711 to erect the walls and lay the foundations of their prosperous civilisation. Granada rose to importance after the fall of the Caliphate of Córdoba in the IX century and its splendour reached an all-time high in 1238 when the kingdom of Granada – established by Mohammed Ben Nasar – extended all the way from Murcia to Gibraltar. Ruled by Islam for more than 300 years, Granada was the last Muslim capital on the Iberian Peninsula until its reclamation by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.
All of which means that in a city with such a chequered history, there’s plenty to keep everyone enthralled, so take your pick…
A tangle of narrow, winding streets, Granada’s Albayzín – the original Moorish quarter, which with its mint tea-selling teterías (tea shops), hubbly bubbly pipes, plus stalls selling silver tea sets, handmade rugs and embroidered slippers – is more like being in Morocco than Spain. Along with the Alhambra and the Generalife Gardens, the Albayzín was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1984 and this is where you’ll also find the city’s hammanes (Arab baths). Although no longer in use, El Bañuelo is one of the best-preserved Moorish bath houses in Spain, or try the Gran Hammam on Calle Santa Ana which faithfully recreates the ambience and décor of Granada’s Arab baths.
In stark contrast, the Roma barrio of Sacromonte is noted for its many cave dwellings, burrowing their way deep into the sides of hills, and is also famous for its traditional flamenco shows. The Cave Museum and XVII century Abbey are well worth a visit, too.
If you’re into European history, then why not take in Granada’s Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) where you can see the Carrara marble tombs of Spain’s celebrated Reyes Católicos, Ferdinand and Isabella, together with those of their offspring, the intriguingly named Juana The Mad and Felipe The Handsome.
In the evening – when the fountains are lit and the illuminated backdrop of the Hospital Real is at its most dramatic – head for the captivating Fuente del Triunfo (Gardens of Triumph).
For something more cutting-edge, take a tour of the Science Park – Granada’s dynamic Parque de las Ciencias. Inside, a 70,000m2 interactive museum complete with planetarium; and outside featuring the Garden of Astronomy, Observation Tower, Tropical Butterfly Park, Birds of Prey Workshop and lots more, your kids will love it… and so will you!
While, virtually on Granada’s doorstep and forming a majestic backdrop to the city, the snowy slopes of the Sierra Nevada winter sports resort attract more than a million skiers and snowboarders every season. The southernmost ski resort in continental Europe boasts more than 70 kilometres of pistes, while Mulhacén (3,481 metres above sea level), is the highest mountain in mainland Spain and, blanketed in snow for much of the year, its imposing profile is almost invariably clearly visible from the Costa del Sol. With carving, inflatable toboggans, snowmobiles, ice skating, dog-sledges, horse-drawn sleighs and snowboarding, in addition to both slalom and cross-country skiing, it’s the perfect adventure destination for all the family.
Back in the city, if literature’s your thing, you won’t want to miss the Federico García Lorca Museum. On the outskirts of town, the former summer home of one of Spain’s leading playwrights and poets now houses his memorabilia, while the real attraction is the fantastic public park that surrounds what was once the family’s private estate.
And of course, if this most hauntingly beautiful of Spanish cities already seems strangely familiar, that's probably down to the famous song entitled 'Granada'. Covered - in English - by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, The Shadows and Katherine Jenkins to name but a few, the original Spanish version was written by Mexican composer Agustín Lara back in 1932.
Throughout the year, the city also hosts several world-class performing arts festivals which you won’t want to miss. From the International Tango Festival in March, the International Theatre Festival in May and the International Festival of Music & Dance in June… to the International Jazz Festival in October and the Hocus Pocus Magic Festival in November, there’s truly something for everyone.
One thing we promise, whatever time of year you visit Granada, you’ll be absolutely spellbound!
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