Alhambra in Granada, Spain

The Alhambra city castle in Granada in southern Spain is one of the most important tourist attractions in Europe. Most impressive are its mighty walls, the palace of Charles V and the overwhelming ornaments on every corner.

The city castle Alhambra in Granada in the south of Spain is one of our top 10 sights of Spain and the most important tourist attractions in Europe. The magnificent castle in Andalusia, Spain, is one of the most beautiful Islamic buildings in the Moorish style and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.


PICTURES: Alhambra

Photo gallery: Alhambra in Granada

History of the Alhambra

View from Alhambra Castle over the city of Granada to the snow-capped mountains of Sierra Nevada, Spain - © Elena11 / Shutterstock
© Elena11 / Shutterstock

Even before the arrival of the Muslims in what is now Granada, buildings stood on the site where the Alhambra was later built. The location of the Alhambra on the Sabika, the highest hill in Granada, offers an excellent view of the city and the floodplain, which in earlier times gave a significant strategic advantage.

The Alhambra was first mentioned in writing in the 9th century, and was incorporated into the fortified city area in the 11th century. As a result, it was used almost exclusively as a fortress from which the whole of Granada could be monitored. It was not until the Nasrid ruler Mohammed I that the Alhambra was used as a seat of power, marking the beginning of its heyday.

His successors, Muhammad II and Muhammad III, further expanded it; under Muhammad III, a public bath and a mosque were built, on the site of which stands the Church of Santa María today.

Where the name of the Alhambra comes from is disputed. Some claim it comes from one of the master builders, others think the name comes from the red color of the walls. The original Arabic name "qasr al-hamra" translated means "red fortress".

Buildings in the Alhambra

In the imposing palace city of Alhambra you can find gardens, palaces and foundations of earlier buildings such as workshops and residential quarters, Spain - © lotsostock / Shutterstock
© lotsostock / Shutterstock

One can find typical elements of Andalusian architecture in the Alhambra. Due to the prohibition of pictures in Islam, one can always find calligraphies in the palace, with which poems of different artists are written on the walls.

Defense Wall and Alcazaba

The Alhambra is surrounded by a mighty wall with numerous angular castle towers. Part of it is the Alcazaba, the defensive complex of the building complex. Under Mohammed III, the Alcazaba was strengthened, the watchtower and the honor tower were added, as well as a water conduit from the Río Darro. The rulers Jusuf I and Mohammed V improved the Alcazaba even more, they enlarged the fortification and the towers and created the impressive image of the Alhambra as it is known today.


Palace of Charles V

In the course of the medieval Reconquista, the Catholic rulers of Spain reconquered Granada from the Muslims and erected some buildings, such as the Renaissance Palace of Charles V., whose final completion did not take place until the 20th century. Parts of the Nasrid palaces were demolished for the palace. These form the heart of the Alhambra; in former times the seat of government and the chambers of the Arab rulers were located here. Today, the palace houses the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of the Alhambra.

Garden of the Alhambra

The magnificent Alhambra gardens, along with the Nasrid palaces, are the centerpiece of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain - © nito / Shutterstock
© nito / Shutterstock

In the imposing palace city, where the church of Santa María del Alhambra is also located, idyllic gardens provide a Mediterranean flair, which still hide foundations of former buildings such as workshops and residential quarters. In addition, a monastery dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi was built here, which now functions as a hotel. Among the most beautiful gardens are the Comares Courtyard, with its elongated water pools, and the Daraxa Gardens, with cypress and orange groves.

Reconstruction from the 19th century

In the 18th century, no one was willing to contribute to the preservation of the Alhambra. Part of the complex was blown up during the period of French occupation; it was not until the 19th century that the restorations began.

Visit the Alhambra

The arches in the Alhambra's Lion Court have no supporting function, but are a purely decorative element, Granada, Spain - © JoseIgnacioSoto/.Shutterstock
© JoseIgnacioSoto/Shutterstock

The Alhambra is richly decorated in its entirety. Even the arches inside it have no supporting function, but are a purely decorative element. For the visit of the Alhambra should be planned about 2.5 to 3 hours. On the whole area there are fountains with drinking water, so nobody has to die of thirst. However, you have to bring your own food, but it is not allowed to eat in all rooms.

Parking spaces are available directly at the Alhambra, two paths also lead to the castle hill on foot: from Plaza Nueva via the almost 1.5km long Cuesta Gomerez or from Paseo de los Tristes via the approximately 800m long Cuesta de los Chinos.

Related links:

Official site of the Alhambra