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The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

If you are visiting the Andalucia region of Southern Spain please make time to visit the historic Alhambra ("red fortress") in the beautiful and historic city of Granada. The Alhambra is said to be the finest example of Moorish art and has an interesting history. It has survived vandalism, earthquakes, neglect and destruction by countless rulers. There are references to this historic building dating back to the 9th Century when the Arabs took refuge from the Christians in a red castle. In the 11th Century the castle ruins were rebuilt by Samuel ibn Naghralla, a king's vizier in the time of the Zirid Dynasty. The Alhambra that we know today was actually built during the Nasrid Dynasty of the 13th Century. The Nasrids made Granada a capital in their kingdom and the Alhambra became the official residence of the Nasrid royalty and court. The famous Nasrid palaces in the Alhambra grounds date from this period. The Nasrid King Ibn alAhmar is famed for his irrigation system which diverted water from the rio Darro to provide water for the Generalife Gardens and its many water features. Between the 13th and 15th centuries the Alhambra became a citadel protecting the Moors from the Christians. Moorish rule came to an end in 1492 when King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile defeated the Moors in the Granada region and took control of the Alhambra. The King and Queen made many damaging alterations but it was Emperor Charles V, in the 16th century, who did the greatest damage by demolishing parts of the Nasrid palaces to build his own renaissance style palace. After this date the Alhambra was largely forgotten and ignored. In the 18th century part of it was used as a prison and in 1812 it was looted and nearly blown up by the troops of Napoleon. It was not until the 1830s , when writer Washington Irving moved into the palace rooms and wrote "Tales of the Alhambra", that the Alhambra gained back its self-respect. Spain declared it as a national monument and work was begun on its restoration. This work continues today.

Parts of the Alhambra The Alcazaba

This is the fortress of the Alhambra and its first constructions date back to the Caliph period of the 7th and 8th centuries. The main fortress was built in the 11th century by Ziridian rulers. When the Nasrids came to Granada, the Alcazaba was the only part of the Alhambra that existed. The first Nasrid king, Ibn al-Ahmar was responsible for the rebuilding of the fortress and made it

into a great citadel with walls and towers. Make sure that you climb the Torre de la Vela ,or watchtower, for amazing views over the Albaicin (the old Moorish quarter of Granada), the city and the mountains of the Sierra Nevada.

The Medina

The citadel. This town, within the fortress of the Alhambra, had public baths, workshops and housed government officials and servants. It is here that you will find the Torre de las Damas (tower of the ladies) and the remains of the palace of Yusuf III. This citadel is now a street with restaurants and shops. In the Medina there is also the 15th century Convent of San Francisco built by King Ferdinand on the site of a Moorish palace.

Palace of Charles V

This renaissance style palace was started in 1526 by the Holy Roman emperor Charles V but never completed. It consists of a palace with a circular courtyard. It is in this building that you will find the two museums ­ the Museo de la Alhambra (full of artefacts) and the Museo de Bellas Artes (a gallery of paintings and sculptures). There is also a bookshop in the basement of the palace.

Nasrid Palaces and Casa Real

Unlike the stone fortress of the Alcazaba, these palaces were built by the Nasrids out of wood, brick and adobe. These palaces are famed for their ornate stucco decoration and Arabic inscriptions. The Nasrid palaces consist of 3 palaces:The Mexuar ­ used by the sultans for business meetings and court. The Serallo or Yusuf I Palace with its marble columned arcades, used for receiving important guests. The Harem ­ the private living quarters. At the heart of the Harem is the Court of Lions or palace of Muhammad V. One of the famous photos of the Alhambra is of the lions supporting the fountain. Please note that on a recent visit (November 2007), these lions had been moved into the museum.

Generalife Gardens ("Garden of the architect")

Within these garden you will find the summer palace and gardens of the sultans. They consist of water features, orchards, gardens, patios and walkways. The gardens are amazing and are worth seeing at different times of year as they are completely different in different seasons. If you keep a look-out you will see the 700 year old trunk of a cypress tree which, according to legend, is where Sultana

Zoraya would secretly meet with her lover.

Tickets and opening times

At time of writing (March 2008) tickets can be booked online at www.servicaixa.com, by far the easiest way to buy tickets. A General Visit Ticket includes a visit to the Nasrid palaces, the Alcazaba, Generalife Gardens and the general grounds. Entrance times are:8.30am-2pm and 2pm-8pm. You will be given a set time to visit the Nasrid Palaces, make sure that you remember this as you don't want to miss your session. Standard adult tickets are 13 Euros (this does vary at different times of year so check on the website) and, at the time of writing, children under 12 get in free. If you book your tickets online you will be able to collect them from machines located in the entrance area, this avoids queuing, or from the ticket offices. It is advisable to pick up your tickets at least an hour before your Nasrid Palace session.

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