Even the poets have sung about it, the city of Granada in Andalusia, which attracts countless tourists to southern Spain every year with its numerous sights. A visit to the city with its Alhambra, known all over the world, and the idyllic Moorish residential quarter, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, guarantees a successful vacation at any time of the year.
Granada – the Moorish jewel – is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain and offers its visitors an unforgettable stay in a historical setting.
Tip 1: Alhambra
The Alhambra in Granada on the Sabikah Hill is the most famous sight in Andalusia. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984 and is the most visited monument in Spain. Every year more than 2 million people visit the Alhambra.
The Kala al hambra (Arabic for Red Castle) has been preserved until our time and is considered the highlight of Islamic architecture. The Nasrid kings resided here for 250 years before they had to hand over the Alhambra to the Catholic kings in the course of the Christian reconquest.
Construction of the Alhambra began in the 9th century, but a large part of the complex was not built until the 14th century by the Nazarite kings Yusuf I and Muhammad V. The Alhambra was first used as a guardhouse. At first it served as a guard and lookout point, later it was transformed into a palace complex.
In the palaces, towers and walls as well as gardens of the Alhambra, visitors get an impression of times long past with all their stories and legends.
The Alhambra consists of three parts: The citadel (Alcazaba), the palaces of the Nazarites and the gardens in front (Generalife).
Among the most important palaces are the Palace of Mexuar and the Palace of Comares with the Myrtle Courtyard and the Hall of Envoys. Probably the most famous place in the Alhambra is the Court of the Lions. It is named after the twelve lions that surround the fountain in the center of the courtyard.
The gardens and buildings of the Islamic rulers, however, are considered the most beautiful testimonies of Moorish architecture in Europe. Slender columns, openwork forms and imaginative stucco decorations characterize the buildings, harmonious plantings and water features the gardens. Walking through the grounds of the Alhambra is like a fairy tale from 1001 nights.
Tip 2: Granada Cathedral
The Cathedral of Granada – Santa María de la Encarnación de Granada – was built on the remains of a mosque that had served as a makeshift for Christians until then. With the reconquest of Granada, the last Moorish bastion in Spain, the centuries-long Reconquista, the Christian reconquest of Spain, came to an end.
Thus, the cathedral can also be seen as a monument to victory, although its construction did not begin until decades after the victory. The floor plan was designed by architect Enrique de Egas and still conforms to Gothic specifications: A five-nave church with a transept. But already in 1528 the architect and style changed – the new master builder was Diego de Siloé. He had become acquainted with the Italian Renaissance on his travels and now built Spain’s first Renaissance cathedral on the Gothic ground plan. The cathedral was consecrated in 1561.
It was not until 1704, a century later, that construction was completed. Thus, the impressive main facade, a three-part triumphal arch, is the work of the architect, painter and sculptor Alonso Cano from Granada.
The interior of the cathedral appears light and elegant and is divided by enormous columns. The wonderful Capilla Mayor, the showpiece of the cathedral, was designed by Diego de Siloé. The semicircular building almost forms a church within a church. It was originally intended by Charles V for the burial of Spanish monarchs, but his son changed this. Under the stained glass window there is an impressive painting by Alonso Cano.
Queen Isabella’s joy at the reconquest of Spain from the Moors was so immense that she chose Granada as the burial place for herself and her husband Ferdinand II. In 1504, she commissioned the architect Enrique de Egas to build the Royal Chapel, but it was not completed until after the death of the two rulers. It was not until 1520 that the coffins were transferred here from the Alhambra.
Tip 3: Albaicín
The Albaicín is the oldest neighborhood of the Spanish city of Granada. It is located on one of three ridges in the area between the hills of San Cristobal, the Elvira and Sacromonte and the elevation where the Alhambra is located.
Most of the buildings are a testimony of the period of Moorish occupation. Some wall remains, on the other hand, date back to the Roman and Iberian eras. From Albaicín you can see the Alhambra. The sight is an unforgettably beautiful spectacle, especially at sunset.
In addition, the district itself is worth a visit because of its romantic winding streets. Since 1994, the idyllic quarter, which is characterized by both Christian and Islamic influences, has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
As you stroll through the streets of Albaicín, you’ll get a sense of the variety of peoples who have lived here, if only because of the diverse architectural styles. Among the most impressive buildings are the churches of San Bartolomé and San Cristóbal, which recall Granada’s Christian tradition.
Also worth seeing is the city wall called Muralla del Albaicín. It dates back to the Nasrid period in the 14th century. The Albaicín district is connected to the Alfareros district by the Puerta de Fajalauza.
Another place of interest in Albaicín in Granada is the Puerta de Hizna Román gate. From Mirador de San Nicolás you can enjoy a fantastic view of the typically Mediterranean surroundings. The narrow streets themselves are characterized by the remains of the former Muslim architecture and have an oriental charm. Predominantly white houses are furnished with artfully curved round arches.
Inviting terraces and cozy bars define the townscape in this illustrious district today.
Tip 4: San Jerónimo Monastery
The monastery of the Roman Catholic Church was founded by the Catholic Monarchs. It is dedicated to St. Jerome and built in the Renaissance style. The construction of the present buildings began in 1504 – Diego de Siloé is considered the most important architect and sculptor. Besides the church, the complex includes two cloisters, which enclose gardens with fountains and orange trees, and several rooms.
The followers of St. Jerome – or Jerónimo in Spanish – belong to the Augustinian Order, and the convent church is built according to the plan typical of the Augustinians: In the shape of a cross and with a raised choir loft at the foot of the chancel. A wide staircase leads to the altar – the altarpiece of the main chapel, a work by Pablo de Rojas, is considered the starting point of Andalusian sculpture. On the altarpiece you can see numerous saints, heroes, mythical creatures and angels, as well as historical figures and military greats.
Worth seeing in the San Jerónimo Monastery is the interior, richly decorated in the Renaissance style. Lushly decorated coffers adorn the ceilings and elaborate arches divide the interior, where there are numerous sculptures. The monastery has two landscape cloisters worth seeing, which enclose a garden. The older of the two cloisters, in the classical style, is built around a Renaissance garden. The second cloister today serves as a retreat for the monastic community – it was the residence of the Empress Isabella of Portugal in Granada at the time.
Tip 5: Mirador de San Nicolás
The Mirador de San Nicolás (San Nicolas Viewpoint) is the biggest attraction in the UNESCO-protected Albaicín district: In focus just opposite, the Alhambra is enthroned and shows itself at its best. No less attractive is the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada stretching in the background – covered in snow in winter, spring and autumn.
The view you get from here is simply spectacular. You’ll see it at every turn in Granada and on the web, smiling at you from numerous postcards and calendars. It’s especially worth pulling out your camera in the afternoon, when the sun is just right and makes the Moorish palace shimmer in shades of red and orange.