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Andalusia Spain: Visit the Alhambra

The Alhambra is a magical Moorish palace and fortress complex in Granada, Spain. This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most famous and best-preserved examples of Islamic architecture, as well as including fine examples of Renaissance architecture. The site is huge and will take a minimum of 4 hours to explore. It's easy to get to Alhambra from anywhere in Granada. There is public bus service (C30/320 from the city, taxi services, or you could walk. If you do choose to walk, keep in mind that it will be about a half-hour uphill walk. Tickets must be pre-booked online before arrival. The total number of visitors per day is limited but with timed entrances and a huge site, crowds are well-managed. A self-guided tour with audio guide, will cost 14€. Tickets go on sale 3 months in advance, and it is strongly recommended to book well in advance since this is one of the most popular attractions in Spain. Be aware that visitors need to show their ticket at each section of the Alhambra.

There are four main areas to visit at the Alhambra. Check your ticket carefully for your entrance time to the Nasrid Palaces. Latecomers will not be accommodated, so plan your explorations carefully.

In several areas of the Alhambra Palace, selfie sticks, camera lights, bulky backpacks, and tripods are prohibited. Drones are strictly prohibited throughout thee site. There are lockers near the Charles V Palace to store your stuff.

History of the Alhambra The Arabic word for Alhambra translates as "red castle" as a nod to the red clay used for construction. Originally a modest stronghold built on ancient ruined Roman foundations, the Royal Alhambra Palace was built in the 1200s by the Muslim king and founder of the Nasrid Dynasty, Muhammed Al-Ahmar who ruled over Granada for many years. For the next 200 years, other kings added and renovated.

At the end of the 1400s, Christians reclaimed Spain from the Moors during the Reconquista. Since then, it was only ruled by Christian kings. The architecture has remained mainly Moorish, with stunning interiors and exceptional exteriors.

The most significant renovations, excavations, and repairs were done in the 1930s by Leopoldo Torres Balbás. It is Balbás who built the ceiling in the incomplete Palace of Charles V.

The Alcazaba

The oldest part of Alhambra castle is the military fortress of Alcazaba. It is in a strategic location overlooking the surrounding city and beyond. It is believed that some sections existed before the arrival of the Moors.

The first monarchs used the castle as their residence while the Nastrid Palaces were being built and later repurposed it as a fortress.

Later, when the Christians arrived, it was turned into the state prison and eventually left to deteriorate until the 19th Century, when restoration began. The ruins of the old Moorish homes and even a dungeon can be found behind the towers in the former Plaza de Armas.

The Plaza de las Armas (Arms Square) was the original entrance and central square. Today visitors can see the foundations of the original buildings which served as the Military Quarters for the Castle.

The Torre de la Vela (Candle or Watch Tower) is the largest of the towers and offers the best views of the city and surrounding mountains. The four flags flown over the tower are representing the European Union, Spain, Andalusia, and Granada. Charles V Palace

The Palace of Charles V started during the Christian times in the 1500s under architect Pedro Machuca, who studied under Michelangelo. This palace is much more Renaissance in appearance, with a huge circular courtyard surrounded by two levels of columns.

When Machuca died before completing construction, his son, Luis took over. The building of the palace was financed by taxes imposed on the morisco (Muslims who had been forced to convert to Christianity). The moriscos eventually got fed up and rebelled. The lack of funds left the palace without a roof until the early 20th century.