Granada was the last Moorish stronghold in the 15th Century and not only was it one of the most multicultural cities in Spain, but it was also a hub of art, culture, science, agriculture where Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived in relative harmony for centuries. It’s also the home to the sumptuous Alhambra Palace which translates in Arabic as “The Red One.”
The last Muslim Emir of Granada was Boabdil El Chico, who as a child was locked in the famous tower of Comares by his father Muley Hacén who had little faith in his son as a future ruler. Boabdil’s ambitious, bolshy and politically driven mother Aixa, rescued him from the tower, they both spent years in exile preparing Boabdil to be the future king. Boabdil went on to rule Granada for a short period from 1487 to 1492. Queen Isabella of Castille and King Fernando of Aragon, bent on uniting Spain and returning the peninsula to Catholicism, defeated Boabdil in a bloodless handover of Granada in January 1492 by starving the city and its inhabitants of food and resources. The King and Queen built a famous fortress town Santa Fé and set up an encampment while they planned the defeat of Granada. With the Granada gold obtained from the handover, the Christian monarchs funded the voyage of Christopher Columbus. King Fernando and Queen Isabella‘s remains now lie in the Capilla Real in Granada. The royal couple chose Granada as their final resting place as the conquest of Granada was deemed their finest accomplishment.
The fight for Granada is an incredibly poignant, heartbreaking story, and one rarely told from the Moorish point of view. Two women were key in the fate of Granada, Boabdil mother, Aixa and Boabdil’s wife, the gentle Moraima. Aixa fought against her ruthless Emir husband Muley Hacén and his even more ambitious brother Al Zagal. Boabdil’s father refused to see his son as the next legitimate monarch even favouring his brother Al Zagal over Boabdil. Muley Hacén replaced Aixa his wife, with former Christian noblewomen Soraya formally Isabella de Solis with whom he had two children.
After finishing her battles with her husband Muley Hacén, Aixa went on to challenge the Christian monarchs to save Granada so that her son could rule in peace. It was possibly Boabdil’s love for Moraima and his children who were hostages of the Christian monarchs over a number of years that led to his final decision to hand over the keys of Granada to King Fernando and Queen Isabella. Boabdil went to live in exile in the Alpujarra, a set of whitewashed villages on the southern flank of the Sierra Nevada after his surrender of Granada and after eventually losing his wife and young child Yusuf due to illness and heartbreak, he finally moved to Fez in Morocco and died in 1533. Ahmed the older son of Boabdil and Moraima had spent over nine years in the Castilian court, under the guidance of Queen Isabella, so that by the time he was returned to his family he no longer could speak Arabic and favoured the religion of his captors over that of his heritage. When Boabdil finally said goodbye to Granada he took one last melancholy look at his Palace from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and heaved a huge sigh full of sadness and regret at the loss of his kingdom. The spot is now called “El Puerto Del Suspiro Del Moro,” the Sigh of the Moor. It was at this moment that his mother Aixa famously told him “Do not cry like a woman for what you could no defend as a man.”
The visit to the Alhambra Place must be booked days in advance because of its popularity. You can choose to visit the Nasrid Palaces (Los Palacios Nazarís ) in the morning or the afternoon. Other attractions include the Alcazaba, a Moorish watch tower, the Generalife and gardens, the Palace of Charles V, all within the vicinity of the Alhambra Palace. Some precious areas to visit in the Palace are the Harem and the Court of the Lions. Other areas of the palace are open to tourists all day. You can book online from any country in the world and collect your tickets at La Caixa bank, or at the pre-booked tickets office at the palace. Make sure you use a recommended website. If you visit the Alhambra Palace without pre-booking, you could be queuing for hours and spend all day melting in the heat. If you have requested a concessionary ticket, make sure you take your passport or ID with you or you won’t be eligible. It will take you at least a day to see everything. There is even a “dilurna” or evening ticket to see the palace in all its glory at night.
These are the five ways to buy advanced tickets for the Alhambra Palace
1) In the ticket office located in the Alhambra (same day, not recommended)
2) Internet (advance booking) Try www.ticketmaster.es
3) By phone, or at branches of the La Caixa bank (advance booking)
4) In Servicaixa cash machines (advance booking)
5) In an authorized travel agency
Food and Shopping
After walking the narrow streets of the Albaicin to the Plaza and the Mirador San Nicolás, you can look on to the majestic Alhambra Palace in all its glory and the magnificent Sierra Nevada. It’s from this breathtaking view where you can appreciate why it’s called The Red One. It’s worth visiting at different times for the day as the views look different depending what time you go. It can get very busy as there are lots of gypsy flamenco singers, tourist but also be careful with pickpockets. It’s worth popping into the mosque next door built in 2003 and the first Mezquita in Granada for 500 years. It is a haven of peace and tranquility compared to the noisy, vibrant buzz of the Plaza San Nicolás and has similar uninterrupted views of the Alhambra Palace. There is also a convent right next to the mosque. You can hear the call to prayer and the flamenco street singers at the same time, so it’s a feast for the ears.
There are ample places to eat around town and at the foot of the Barrio Albaicin with both Spanish and Moroccan food. I recommend El Sultan restaurant (Calle Cetti Meriem, 10, 18010.) There are also ample tea shops there you can have a mint tea and a shisha. Granada is amazing for its variety of food from your refreshing Andalucian Gazpacho, vegetarian and meat tapas, alioli, ample seafood, grilled vegetables, brushed with the best extra virgin olive oil. You can eat a variety of delicious North African and Arab food such as mezze, couscous, succulent kebabs, and tagines. Even in upmarket restaurants, it’s still incredibly cheap to eat out in comparison to the UK and other European cities. It’s quality fresh food.
You can shop in the Albaicin where there are many beautiful quaint Arab and Spanish gift shops or walk down the high street a visit the Corte Inglés or other Spanish favorites such as Zara, Mango, Pull & Bear. The supermarkets are great for buying Spanish delicacies and extra virgin olive oil, vegetables, and spices.
Transport and Hotels
You can stay at the Parador at the Alhambra Palace built in a former convent on the grounds of the medieval Alhambra. Paradors can be expensive but they do have lots of offers from as low as 70 Euros on their website, so look out for them http://www.parador.es/es. There are plenty of great 4 to 5 star hotels from as cheap as 60 Euros a night. Even at the very luxury end you will only pay about 140 Euros for two people. Try www.momondo.es or www.momondo.co.uk for the best prices not available on Trivago or other hotel search engines. If you don’t fancy walking to the Palace from Granada city center, you can take the 1 Euro Alhambra Bus, which will drop you at the entrance to the Palace.
If you want to visit neighboring cities, Córdoba, and Sevilla, they are only a few hours away. Córdoba, you can fit into a day trip and hire a car or go by train or bus. It is home to the famous Mesquita , La Puerta de Almodóvar which marks the entrance to La Judería (Jewish Quarter). There are so many more treasures to discover in Córdoba including one of only three remaining synagogs in Spain. Trains tend to be slightly more tedious than the bus unless you are taking a high-speed train from Sevilla to Madrid. Sevilla is home to the-the magnificent Giralda tower, originally a minaret during the Moorish period but later converted into a cathedral. You can also visit the Maria Luisa Park, the Plaza España, the Gothic Cathedral, the Alcazar and Torre del Oro, a 13th-century watchtower. The Guadalquivir river in Sevilla was key in bringing riches from the New World, Sevilla is at least three hours away so it would be wise to stay a few days and discover the rest of Andalucia, home to many more Moorish and Christian treasures.
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