Granada’s Romantic Alhambra: The Nasrid Palaces

Visiting the UNESCO World Heritage listed Alhambra Palace has been on my travel bucket list ever since learning about the magnificent peach-colored Moorish palace in Spain’s Andalusian city of Granada with the Sierra Nevada mountains serving as a stunning backdrop. As the last and greatest Moorish palace built, it gets an impressive 80,000 visitors a day who “ooh” and “aah” over its lush, fragrant gardens and serenely ornate palaces. A main theme woven throughout the design of the Alhambra is water giving the grounds a desert oasis feel. As it was so rare and precious in most of the Islamic world, water was regarded as the purest symbol of life to the Moors; evident by the many fountains, fish ponds, and baths that decorate the grounds of the palace, including the 14th century original carved marble lions that ring the famous fountain in the Courtyard of the Lions.

The real jewel of Alhambra is without a doubt the exquisite royal Palacios Nazaríes (entrance requires advance reservation for specific time slots so be sure to secure your tickets in plenty of time!). Built mainly in the 14th century, you will wander awestruck through the many royal offices, ceremonial rooms, private quarters, and open-air courtyards admiring the carved wood ceilings, stucco “stalactites”, glazed tile panels, molded plaster walls with their finely carved complex repetitive designs, scalloped arches, and filigree windows. Refined and elegantly decorated from top to bottom the ambiance is peaceful and not at all overwhelming as I find most over the top richly decorated palaces to be.

As a jigsaw puzzle enthusiast the intricate, star-studded, wooden domed ceiling of the Grand Hall of Ambassadors where the sultan received foreign emissaries was by far my favorite feature! It’s also where Columbus fortunatley pitched his idea for a royal financed sea voyage to the Orient to Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand. Constructed from 8,017 individually inlaid pieces the ceiling is meant to suggest the complexity of Allah’s infinite universe.

Considered God’s work and forbidden by the Quran, figural images of living creatures are typically absent in Islamic design and the Alhambra is instead adorned with intricate interweaving, repetitive, and unending lines of geometric designs, floral patterns, and stylized Arabic script. The phrase “only Allah is victorious” is repeated throughout the Nasrid Palace over 9,000 times!

Part water garden, part palace, part romantic Moorish fairytale setting, the Nasrid Palaces are an incredible testimony to Moorish art and Andalusian history!

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