Moorish History at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Moorish History: The Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Set against the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range high above the city of Grenada in the Andalucia region of southern Spain, sits the Alhambra.  With over 700 years of history, the Alhambra includes palaces from the Moors, a palace from the Christian reconquest, gardens, and ruins.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site is Spain’s most visited site with over 8,000 people visiting daily.  

What is the Alhambra?

The Alhambra is a collection of palaces, gardens, and ruins behind big city walls dating back to the 13th century.  The main areas of the Alhambra are:

Nasrid Palaces – These were the royal residences of the rulers of the Nasrid Dynasty.  This is a must see part of the Alhambra.  

Charles V Palace – The square bricked palace built by the grandson of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella with an amazing interior courtyard. 

Alcazaba – This is the military area of the Alhambra complete with barracks, defense towers, and remains of homes. 

Generalife – The summer palace and gardens.  

History of the Alhambra

The Alhambra is a complex that sits high on a hill overlooking what is now Granada.  This strategic location was difficult to access, protecting those who resided within the walls.  

In the 13th century, it housed the royal court by Muhammed I, also known as Alhamar, who constructed the first palace.  Over the years, it became a citadel complete with high walls, defensive towers, barracks for the royal guard, as well as the palace and homes for nobles who also lived here.  

During the Christian reconquest of Spain, Moors were pushed out and Christians moved in.  You will see some Christian anecdotes throughout.  Most notable is the large palace constructed by Charles V.  

Tickets and Important Planning Info

It is imperative to secure your tickets well in advance.  There are several ticket options available to visit the Alhambra.  A general ticket includes access to all of the following:

  • Nasrid Palaces
  • Generalife
  • Alcazaba
  • Charles V Palace

Due to the high demand, sometimes tickets are available that eliminate one or more of these parts of the Alhambra.  Notably, the most important part to visit is Nasrid Palaces, so be sure your ticket includes Nasrid Palaces.  If you are unable to secure a ticket through the official Alhambra website, consider a guided tour.  

You need your passport to book the tickets and need to bring them on the day of your visit as well.  Due to counterfeit tickets being sold, the name on each ticket must match with the passport.  

We purchased our tickets through Get Your Guide, as we wanted the guided experience to bring the history of the Alhambra to life.  We had a private small group tour with just the six of us.  The ticket that came with the tour allowed us to skip the line and got us entrance into all areas of the Alhambra.  The tour we had was this tour through Get Your Guide.  Our tour guide, Mar, was great!  

We really enjoyed touring with a guide because the Alhambra is a bit of a confusing place.  It is not one structure rather a collection of buildings and gardens.  Our knowledgeable guide took us throughout the Alhambra, explaining each area’s relevance.  It helped us to get our bearings at what we saw and how it all relayed to one another.  As previously mentioned, we also got to skip the lines, which was also a huge plus.

NOTE: Your entrance to the Nasrid Palaces is timed, so you must enter the palaces during the indicated time slot on your ticket. If you arrive at the Alhambra with ample time before your timed entry to the Nasrid Palaces, you can explore other areas. Just be careful with time so you don’t miss your time slot! You will not be granted entry if you miss it. This was another reason having a guide was great – she took care of watching the time while touring us so we didn’t miss our time slot.

How to Get Here

We drove from our home base in Nerja, which took just about an hour.  Just before arriving at the Alhambra, you’ll drive up, up, up, looking down at Granada below.  The parking lot has four pay lots and we easily found parking mid-day.  We arrived about 30 minutes before our tour time so we would have ample time to find parking and walk to the meeting spot to meet our guide.

When We Visited

We visited in early April, during spring break.  It was very comfortable for touring with temperatures in the 50s-60s and sunny skies.

Don’t Forget to Bring:

  • Water – no matter what time of year you visit, having water during this walking tour is important, but it is especially imperative in the hot summer months!
  • Passport/Government ID – You will not be able to visit the Nasrid Palaces without this.
  • Ticket – Either a paper ticket or digital ticket is sufficient.  Each ticket has the individual’s name on it which will be checked with the ID.  Our guide provided our tickets for us.
  • Good walking shoes – this is a walking tour and will take about 3 hours.  You’ll have stairs, hills, and pebbly terrain so wear those comfortable shoes!

The Tour

Our tour began with meeting our guide near the courtyard and ticket office.  She gave us our tickets and ensured we had our passports.  

We would be visiting all the main areas of the Alhambra, beginning with the Nasrid Palaces.

The Nasrid Palaces

The Nasrid Palaces are undoubtedly the most important part of the Alhambra.  There are different areas to the palaces such as the private palace where the king resided, sections where the king received guests, and the private area for the king’s wives .

The design is exquisite with intricate Moorish details throughout.  As is common in the Islamic faith, no pictures of humans nor animals are present in any design as the belief is that only God/Allah can create those beings.  Rather, recurring Islamic phrases run along the walls in the tile work.

The Nasrid Palaces

Charles V Palace 

In 1492, the Christians reconquested and pushed the Moors out while they took over, the Alhambra included.  The grandson of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Charles V, built a square palace right in the Alhambra, which greatly contrasted the exquisite Moorish design.  The exterior of the palace is much more simple than the Nasrid Palaces with its square, bricked exterior structure.  The interior, however, is a circular courtyard, known to be the finest of Renaissance construction in Spain.  Charles V’s Palace is connected to the Palace of Alhambra.

The exterior of Charles V Palace | Interior courtyard

From Charles V Palace we then walked through beautiful gardens.

Moving from the Nasrid Palaces to the Alcazaba, great views of the flourishing gardens

The Alcazaba

The Alcazaba is complete with barracks, watch towers, and even ruins of homes that once housed military personnel.   To this day, one can make out the footprint of the homes:  a living area, sleeping area, and even indoor toilets built so rushing water would “flush” it downstream.  From the towers, one gets incredible views of Granada.  

Ruins of homes in the Alcazaba

One of the towers that overlooks Grenada

Views of Granada

After exploring this area and taking in the amazing views of Granada, we walked along more beautiful gardens to get to the last part of the Alhambra we had left to visit, The Generalife.

On the way to the Generalife

The Generalife

This is the summer palace complete with beautiful gardens and water elements.  Water is very important symbolically in Islamic culture and here it is featured in many areas.  The name Generalife (pronounced HEN-a-ral-leef-ay) means “the architects garden”, referencing God/Allah as the architect of this enchanting place.

The beautiful gardens in the Generalife

Views of other parts of the Alhambra from the Generalife

Touring the Alhambra took about 3 hours and was a great look into the Nasrid Dynasty that ruled this area from the 1200s until the Christian reconquest in 1492.  The architecture is exquisite with magnificent gardens throughout.  And how about this view?!

Read more!

We visited the Alhambra during a one week stay in Andalucia.  Our full itinerary can be found here:  One Week in Spain’s Andalucia.

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