THE ALHAMBRA: THE JEWEL OF GRANADA
I had originally planned to write about the Alhambra in a blog post about Granada, which is definitely my favourite city in Spain, but I realised pretty quickly that it is really a place which deserves its own coverage!
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, a visit to the Alhambra was included as part of my trip with Topdeck, as it really is a must-do if you are visiting the city!
When you are travelling for a long period, we all know how easy it is to get ‘templed out’ to use the Southeast Asia expression; when you visit many stunning landmarks in a short period, you reach a point where it becomes difficult to feel awe-inspired over and over again. I was definitely starting to feel this way after 2 ½ months on the road, but all I could say of the Alhambra is: WOW. It is easily the most stunning historical site I’ve visited.
The Alhambra isn’t by any means the only Moorish palace in Spain, but it is easily the most famous, due to being one of the last to fall to the Spanish Reconquista in 1492. Fun fact: the Alhambra was the place where Catalina of Spain grew up, who would one day go on to marry Henry VIII of England and become Queen Katherine of Aragon, famously divorced so he could marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn.
Of course, like any major landmark in Europe (especially an UNESCO one) it is PACKED. It didn’t help that it was August and so the height of the season, but like when you visit the Louvre or the Sistine Chapel, this just something you need to expect and put up with.
That being said, they do their best to control tourist traffic by having extremely strict quotas: only a certain number of people are allowed in each year, each day, and every hour! Tickets are divided into morning, afternoon and evening tickets, and are marked with the time you have to be certain parts of the palace which are the most crowded, meaning there are several ticket checks.
Yes, it is a bit of an irk that you can’t wonder around on your own schedule, but I always how much structure the structure would be compromised if they did not control visiting in this way and let people wonder around in droves.
That being said, once you get through the bottleneck at the start, the complex is very large as the gardens are double size of the buildings, so people spread out. In fact, whilst people jostled with each other to get ‘the shot’ of the Court of the Myrtles (pictured above) they were seriously missing out on all the beautiful little corners and hidden gardens around the complex that are mostly empty of people, as well as gorgeous views over Granada!
FYI: I really tried getting one with no people in – not possible, though I’m pretty happy with it considering how there were about a hundred people in that shot about 2 minutes before!
What I found was not that the Alhambra was not dissimilar from most major tourist spots; a lot of people were only really interested in the main areas rather than simply strolling around and soaking in the atmosphere. My favourite parts were the out of the way spots where there were no people and felt like I was the only one who knew about them.
I was just letting my feet take me wherever when I turned I corner and suddenly found this:
It was just a little walled in courtyard with a fountain and orange trees, but there was no one else around and it totally deadened the noise of the crowds. All I could hear was the fountain, and nothing else; suddenly I could really picture what it must have been like here 600 or so years ago when this was a place of leisure and luxury.
I sat there for about 20 minutes writing in my diary, and it was super hard to tear myself away because it was so tranquil and peaceful. It was actually one of my favourite memories of the entire trip. It taught me to always keep exploring and to keep pushing myself outside of the box, because you never know what experience or treasure might await you!
The best idea is be to visit in the off-season where it would be less crowded, but if this isn’t possible, try getting a morning ticket to ensure you get there before all the big tour groups (A.K.A like me!) turn up.
Also, Granada is extremely hot in the summer. I went at about 2 in the afternoon in about 35 degrees which I don’t recommend; the palace itself is at the top of a quite steep hill which is pretty exhausting to climb in the heat, and being packed in with a lot of people in the queue is NOT fun.
If you are going at the peak season: BOOK! It is sometimes necessary to do this a few days ahead, especially if you are after a certain time slot. If you simply turn up, you will almost certainly be out of luck.
And most of all, as I’ve said, the most enjoyable way to visit is to simply let your feet guide you; don’t panic about getting the perfect photo or fighting crowds for the ‘must-sees’, try and find your own special places which will define your memories, and that will make your visit really memorable.