You may be surprised to hear that our trip to Spain was virtually unplanned. We bought our plane tickets and booked our house, but other than that the only thing we did was book our tickets to the Alhambra in Granada. The Alhambra is on every list of must-do’s in Spain. It’s perhaps the most well-known remnant of al-Andalus, the name given to Spain during its over 700 years as a Muslim civilization. Tickets to the Alhambra tend to sell out, so I made sure to get ours early. It just so happened that some Amsterdam friends from our children’s school were also in Spain for the holidays, and had booked their Alhambra tickets on the Monday before Christmas as well. I’d like to think that my kids would have enjoyed seeing the Alhambra anyway, but having their friends there was a definite bonus.
The Alhambra is a complex of buildings, including fortresses and palaces with construction dates spanning the 9th through 16th centuries. It’s located dramatically on a hill overlooking the city of Granada, and the buildings are set in lovely gardens. Weirdly, as you enter the Alhambra, this is one of the first things you see:
I’d love to hear that story. There’s also a much posher, more expensive hotel located on the Alhambra grounds. Obviously we didn’t stay at either. I think both are probably left over from the 19th century, by which time the place had fallen into ruin. Interestingly enough, one of the factors in its restoration and rehabilitation as an important cultural and historical landmark was the fact that American writer Washington Irving lived there and wrote a collection of stories about the place called Tales of the Alhambra, which you can find on Gutenberg and Librivox, as well as in gift shops all over Granada.
The Alhambra is one of those places where photography (especially of the casual cellphone sort that is the only kind I practice) is something of an exercise in futility. I took dozens, if not hundreds of photos like this, but they don’t even begin to give an impression of the grandeur and delicate artistry of the place.
The mathematically inclined M.C. Escher visited the Alhambra in 1922, and its intricate geometrical patterns inspired his experiments in tessellation.
The place is endlessly beautiful, and impossibly complex. These are photos from the Nasrid Palaces, the most opulent part.
Among other things, there’s also a 16th century palace built by Charles V that looks like it was plopped down improbably by a genie in the middle of the gardens. Here’s Tony sleeping in the neo-Roman courtyard, just moments before he was woken up and reprimanded by security.
Attached to the Alhambra is the Generalife, another palace with exceptional gardens that was meant as a retreat for the rulers from the pressures of court life at the Alhambra. Here are Axa and Tony, taking advantage of the maze-like structure of the gardens to play a bit of hide-and-seek near the end of our visit.
After the Alhambra we met up with yet another family from our kids’ school for tapas, where Axa discovered the delights of lemon Fanta.
Here you can also see how they serve the iconic ham produced in the region:
Our friends suggested we take our combined total of seven children to a Flamenco performance later that evening. They had seen posters up around town, and even called to make a reservation. Unfortunately, the posters neglected to mention the address for the event, and our little group of thirteen wandered around the historic centre of Granada for awhile, looking for it. We eventually came across a different Flamenco performance (they’re hardly in short supply in southern Spain). The kids loved it, and afterwards did their own impromptu performance, which I must say at least sounded a lot like the original. They definitely had the stomping down. A wonderful time was had by all, and we took home tired but happy kids that night.