And hey there, Alhambra! That’s right, we just got back from a lovely little getaway in southern Spain! I don’t think I even mentioned that we were headed out of town- that’s how hectic things have been around here these last couple weeks! But actually, this one had been in the pipeline for a couple months now. Technically, it was a late anniversary celebration- John planned the whole thing from start to finish and let me tell you, it simply couldn’t have been any more perfect.
For months- since last winter at least- I’ve been dying for a beach vacation. An all out, boardwalk, ice cream stands, tiki huts, hearing the sound of the ocean from your room, umbrella drinks beach vacation! Being in Charleston back in June only whet my appetite, too! Ha! So we started researching options and stumbled upon one that just happened to be close to one of John’s top Bucket List items, La Alhambra, in Granada. Once again, isn’t it great the way things just work out that way?! So last week, we caught an (obscenely) early flight (left the house at 4a!) to Malaga, Spain, rented a car and drove 1.5 hour north to the city- in time for a churros-and-chocolate breakfast at a sidewalk cafe❤ Then we spent the day taking in the sights, culminating with an afternoon at La Alhambra, one of the best surviving examples of ancient Moorish/Islamic architecture in the world.
Even the ride itself from Malaga to Granada was just gorgeous…You don’t realize how arid that part of the country really is, or mountainous…Or how many olive plantations there are! Turns out Spain and Portugal produce over 80% of the world’s olives!
Granada is the capital city of the province of Granada, in the Andalusia region of southern Spain, right at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains and at the confluence of four rivers, the Beiro, the Darro, the Genil and the Monachil. The population is about 473,000 people, ranking as the 13th-largest urban area of Spain.
The region surrounding what is today Granada has been inhabited since at least 5500 BC. In 711 AD, the entire region was conquered by the Moors from Africa and by the eleventh century, Granada had been loosely established. The name translates into ‘Hill of Strangers,’ because the original city was based in a valley, making it very difficult to defend. Over the next century, as Moorish control grew, the borders of Granada extended onto the surrounding hills, securing its place as one of the most important cities in Al-Andalus.
Granada Cathedral, or the Cathedral of Incarnation, took 181 years to be built. It was started in 1492 with intentions to be a Gothic structure (which can be seen in the oldest part of the cathedral, the main), but then as rulers changed, it became a beacon of the Spanish Renaissance. We loved the look of this cathedral and really appreciated the differences we saw when compared with the more Italian-ish styles that we’re a bit more used to seeing. Ornate, but not too ornate…Colorful, but only in a way that adds to the character…
Beautiful old stone floor…
There are actually two of these organs…You can see them in the top interior picture- on either side of the archway near the nave.
The Alhambra, a Moorish citadel and palace, is the most well-known, best preserved structure left from the Islamic dominance of the Iberian Peninsula. It was originally constructed as a small fortress in 889 AD on the remains of Roman fortifications and then largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Moorish emir, who built its current palace and walls. It was converted into a royal palace in 1333. After the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492, the site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella (where Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition) and the palaces were partially altered to Renaissance tastes.
The detail in just one shot…Wood, stone, tile and paint…From the 14th century.
The Islamic palaces were built for the last Muslim emirs in Spain during the decline of the Nasrid dynasty. After being allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, the buildings occupied by squatters, Alhambra was rediscovered following the defeat of Napoleon. La Alhambra is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
All walls are carved stone. Many have Arabic inscriptions at the top with mathematical patterns at the bottom…
A courtyard in the center of a quadrangle…
Moorish poets described Alhambra as “a pearl set in emeralds,” an allusion to the color of its buildings and the woods around them. The palace complex was designed with the mountainous site in mind. The park, which is overgrown with wildflowers and grass in the spring, was planted by the Moors with roses, oranges, and myrtles; its most characteristic feature, however, is the dense wood of English elms brought by the Duke of Wellington in 1812. The park is usually filled with the sound of running water from fountains throughout. These are supplied through a conduit 5 mile long, which is connected with the Darro River.
Only stained glass in the entire palace…
Looking out over Granada…
We decided just this small outbuilding could be our villa😉
Despite long neglect, vandalism, and some ill-judged restoration, the Alhambra endures as an atypical example of Muslim art in its final European stages. The majority of the palace buildings are quadrangular- with all the rooms opening on to a central court, and the whole reached its present size simply by the gradual addition of new quadrangles, connected with each other by smaller rooms and passages. Alhambra was extended by the different Muslim rulers who lived there, however, each new section that was added followed the consistent theme of “paradise on earth,” with sun and wind freely admitted. Column arcades, fountains with running water, and reflecting pools were used to add to the aesthetic. In every case, the exterior was left plain and austere.
The decoration consists for the upper part of the walls, as a rule, of Arabic inscriptions that are manipulated into geometrical patterns. Tile mosaics, with complicated mathematical patterns, are largely used as panelling for the lower part. Similar designs are displayed on wooden ceilings. The palace complex is designed in the Nasrid style, the last blooming of Islamic Art in the Iberian Peninsula.
After leaving La Alhambra, we both immediately considered it among our favorite palaces/fortresses we’ve ever visited and have talked about it countless times since. Yes, it’s that amazing and it’s easy to see why it’s considered a top destination in the world (#1 most recommended sight for this year!). There are just so many things that set it apart- the tile work, the stone work, the woodwork, the colors, the light and air and water flowing through every single room…All of these things just come together so beautifully and so perfectly. And the simple, yet gorgeous, ways that nature is incorporated throughout- in the center of the quadrangles, in the fountains of crystal water, in all the surrounding gardens and hillsides. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a place with as much beauty and harmony all in one structure. It’s truly breathtaking…
Taking that early flight and driving all the way to Granada to kick off our vacation proved to be the absolute right decision. We found the city to be just lovely and, well, Alhambra to be a once in a lifetime visit. I can’t recommend it enough. And even for those of you who say that you ‘aren’t really into architecture,’ I dare you to visit this place and still say those words.😉
Smiling at the thought of heading to the beach! Ha!
And with that, we made our way back southward to the coastal town of Torremolinos, just past Malaga on the Mediterranean. The next two days were EXACTLY what the doctor ordered- sun, sand, blue waters and the three of us doing a whole lotta nothing! Be sure to stop back by tomorrow for all those colorful beach pictures- I promise they’re just as pretty❤
Always a sign of a really good day.
Sneak peak of tomorrow’s beachy post- from our balcony!