There was one destination in Spain that I wanted to visit since my childhood. When I learned to play guitar there was one magical song by Spanish composer Francisco Tárrega called “Recuerdos de la Alhambra”. The piece played with my imagination and created vivid images of Moorish strongholds perched on the hilltops of Andalusian lands, orange sunsets illuminating the villages and cities and of course the masterpiece of architecture, – Alhambra. All my childhood pictures of Southern Spain came to life when I finally got to visit Granada, a fabulous Andalusian destination.
I took a bus from Malaga and the journey began. I had some present-day inspiration as well having found the masterly written “Tales of the Alhambra” by Washington Irving. And that’s a truly enchanting experience to follow the footsteps of the famous writer. The only difference was that he had done it more than a century ago. It was great to have an opportunity to compare how Andalusia lived back then and how it lives now. Of course there’s technology, of course I wasn’t traveling by horse and I didn’t have a fellow to accompany me and to protect from bandoleros on the deserted roads of the South. But the feeling of adventure was there, the untamed and sometimes wild Andalusian spirit was always around. The views behind the window were precisely copying what Irving was writing about and this allowed me to fully get into the world of his book.
As it was South of Spain and it was summer, the sun was casting its warmest rays upon poor heads of tourists and inhabitants of Granada. Don’t get me wrong, I truly love when it is hot. I had to question my weather preferences here. 37 degrees is too much. Especially when you have to walk all the way from the bus station to the city center. Especially when you have a heavy backpack on your shoulders. With the mighty view of Sierra Nevada mountains before me, I started my long way from one part of town to another. It was tiring to say the least. But I was in Granada and somewhere there, somewhere on the hill overlooking the city was Alhambra. The streets signs here and there mentioned it and that gave me the stamina I needed to reach my humble hostel.
After I finished with accommodation and planning time has come to finally go into the city. Couple of narrow streets, imposing Cathedral along the way and here it is, the shining Moorish masterpiece. Alhambra is huge, it is monumental, enjoying its central place on the hill above the city. It inspired and amazed generations of travelers of the world. It amazed me. With grandiose towers, with the game of water and light, with the mysteries hidden behind its corners and numerous passages. It is one of a kind architectural wonder and it has to be seen. Spain inherited it from enigmatic Moors, the Muslim conquerers that once ruled here. They may have left hundreds of years ago but they made their mark on this land, leaving Spain with Alhambra.
But to experience it in full you have to visit it. It is not XIXth century anymore when Alhambra was merely a village above Granada, inhabited by poor people, being in decline and misery. When Irving came there as a tourist the dwellers of Alhambra were genuinely surprised that anyone even bothered being interested in this Moorish stronghold. Times have changed and now it is one of the most visited tourist attractions of the world. And that means long queues to enter, high prices depending on what and when you’re visiting and limited places daily.
My personal story is quite hilarious. As students enjoy reduced ticket prices I wanted to use the discount. In order to buy such ticket you have to go all the way up to the cash desk in Alhambra entrance, you can not book it anywhere else. As I mentioned earlier the Alhambra is on the hill so you have to literally climb. I reached the entrance just to be told there were no day tickets left. Luckily there was one last ticket for the night visit of the palaces. I was quick enough to get it. That was great and that meant I had to descend again and then go up again in the evening. A little bit tiring but absolutely worth it. Also that gave me more time to explore Granada.
It is a charming city. Lots of greenery, cosy ancient streets, little picturesque river. Wondering around Granada is a pleasant experience. You encounter beautiful things along the walk. I was really delighted to see the orange tree growing from the balcony of the old Andalusian house somewhere in the labyrinth of Granada streets. That orange tree served for me as a quintessence of everything I love about Spain and summer.
But the time has come to enter the Alhambra. Once again I passed through the beautiful garden leading to the entrance having a brief stop in front of the statue of Irving in the middle of the way. That’s how the city thanked the author for his devotion and admiration of Alhambra. I thought he would be really pleased by such gesture.
Inside Alhambra is everything good written about it. I admired the bloody red sunset over the magnificent vista of Granada cityscape. When the darkness fell on the Moorish stronghold our group was finally let inside the palaces. What I would advice to travelers in order to better enjoy visiting this place is to read and prepare before getting in. You will have the idea of a palace in your mind and you will feel familiar and enchanted by its real look. The problem with tourism nowadays is that it is a huge industry with consumption approach. And with so many people wanting to see Alhambra it cannot be the other way. The visit is approximately thirty minutes during which you rush through the beautiful rooms, passages and fountains of the palace accompanied by crowd of fellow tourists and meeting different tourist groups along the way. It feels chaotic and quick.
If Irving lived today he would have absolutely no chance of writing anything similar to what he wrote more than a hundred years ago. He would join the tourist group, be given a brief introduction to the rich history of the stronghold and then probably would go to some fancy restaurant in Granada serving tapas. Or not. I don’t know, but that was my experience. That was my very own “Tale of Alhambra”.
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