Continuing our exploration of Spain, we rode the train last weekend to Granada. Take a look at our large number of pictures (I’m afraid that we went crazy with the camera this time, but there’s really a lot to see in Granada!).
Granada is a historical city on a number of levels. It was the last Moorish city in Spain, conquered in 1492 by Los Reyes Católicos Fernando and Ysabel (generally known in America as Ferdinand and Isabella), completing the Reconquista after 700 years of Muslim presence in Spain. It was also the city where Columbus made his pitch for a westbound sea route to China. Sadly, there were as-yet-unknown lands in between, and Columbus never did make it to China.
Granada has a magnificent cathedral, but the big draw is the Alhambra. It was the stronghold of the Muslim Nazaríes kings. Its strategic location on a mountaintop allowed it to remain in Muslim hands for over 200 years after most of the rest of Spain had fallen to the Christians. Happily, the Christian conquerors suppressed the urge to tear down all of the heathen buildings, limiting themselves to building a church on top of the old mosque. They left this jewel of a palace, owing much more to Arabian influences than European, on the mountaintop for future generations to admire.
Tonya and I reasoned that we could enjoy the walk between our hotel and the mountaintop palaces just as well going downhill as going uphill. Therefore, we took a taxi up there in the morning, and walked back down in the afternoon. Good choice. All of the tour books recommend getting there early to make sure that you can get tickets. We already had reservations, but went early anyway. That was also a good choice; we got to do a lot of our wandering about before the big crowds were there.
The Alhambra is actually a complex of buildings. The showpiece is the Palacio Nazaríes, the old Muslim palace. In addition, there´s the Palacio de Carlos V (built by the grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella), the Alcazaba (the military fortress), and the Palacio Generalife (a sort of a country retreat within easy distance of the main complex). By the time we began our leisurely walk back into town, we were surprised to realize that we´d been there for five hours. There´s a lot to see.
The Cathedral in Granada is the second largest in Spain. It´s almost a shame that it shares a city with the Alhambra, because it would be quite a draw on its own. It contains the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella. In American history books, Ferdinand and Isabella get a footnote at best. In Spain, however, they are revered as the greatest monarchs in Spanish history. They unified Spain (which until then had been a patchwork of warring kingdoms), kicked out the Muslims, and began the conquest of the New World. They set Spain on a path which would make it the greatest empire in the world for hundreds of years. (They also kicked out the Jews, but we don´t hear as much about that nowadays.)