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Granada: the magical city

Known as Illiberis to the Romans and Visigoths, Granada only truly rose from obscurity under the Moorish occupation. After the decline of the Caliphate in Cordoba, the city became the capital of its own kingdom known as Taifa; and so was founded the Nasrid dynasty that was to last more than 250 years and take the city to its zenith of power and artistic achievement in the civilized world.

The city sprawls comfortably across the three low mountain spurs which thrust into a large and fertile valley. To the south east, the snow capped (late October to April/May) Sierra Nevada Mountains rise impressively and are home to Southern Spain's winter sports centre. Westwards the richest plain in Spain, irrigated by the Rio Genil which has the highest rainfall in Spain and provides abundant crops of wheat, tobacco and vegetables. Within the city are many places of historic interest, but without doubt Granada's legacy is the Alhambra - the only surviving medieval Arab palace in the world - and the Generalife and gardens whose romantic perfectly set water gardens have and continue today to have much influence on the landscape of parks and gardens.

Granada has around 300,000 inhabitants, making it the fourth largest city in Andalucia. Lying at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, it has an altitude of 622 - 780 metres. Its origins are lost in pre-history, but archaeological excavations suggest that it was established in the fifth century BC. Coins from the period show the name Illiberis, translated as "The New City". During the Roman period, Illiberis was integrated into the senatorial province of Betica, and according to legend, Saint Cecil founded a Bishop's Seat here in 62 AD. Three centuries later the Council of Elvira (302-304 AD) was the first Christian Council in the Iberian Peninsula, with an enormous resonance throughout the entire Christian movement of Europe.

During the Visigoth period, the city's strategic location and multiple defence possibilities made it one of the most important military centres in Andalucia. Granada then had a large Hebrew population who allowed Syrian troops to settle in the city's Jewish quarter, by virtue of a shared discontent with the Visigoth rule. The name of the Jewish quarter, Garnata, prevailed, and the city then was governed from Cordoba until 1031. Then it became the capital of the Tarifa kingdom ruled by the Ziri dynasty. The Almoravides later took the city, along with most of Andalucia, and ruled until 1147, followed by the Almohades until 1231. It was then that Muhammed Ibn Ysuf Ibn Ahmad Ibn Nasr created what was to be the final bastion of Islam in Spain (and Europe) - the Kingdom of Granada.

Muhammed Ibn Ysuf Ibn Ahmad Ibn Nasr reigned for 42 years, during which time he began construction of the Alhambra, which was then completed by Yusf I (1333-1354) and Muhammed V (1354-1359). The dynasty ended in 1492, following a ten year war and then an unprecedented ten month siege on the city by the Catholic Monarchs - Ferdinand and Isabel. Abu Abdullah Ibn Muhammed (today known as Boabdil) surrendered the Kingdom of Granada that same year, marking the end of Arab domination after 780 years, 5 months and 13 days.

At the end of 1568, following new regulations established by King Felipe II, the Moors rebelled, and soon after Granada became the base of the Christian Army for 3 years. With the rebellion put down, Granada and its citizens continued into periods of tranquility and turbulence, just like many other Spanish cities. Exiles, expulsions and the re-colonisation by new inhabitants prepared the city for the Counter-Reformist explosion which was to convert 17th century Granada into a baroque spectacle. But it would not be until the 19th century that the city became more transformed, when French and British influences changed the design of parks, squares and gardens.

In the 20th century, Granada expanded southwards, with speculative town planning creating student accommodation for this well established university city and which soon filled with new inhabitants, developing new customs, uses and habits and helping to shape the modern city we see today.

Sightseeing in Granada

Sightseeing is best done on foot, although some attractions require a taxi ride. Note that, like any other big city, car parking in the centre can be difficult, although there is ample parking around the Alhambra. The following is just a small selection of the monuments in Granada.

The Alhambra Palace & Generalife Gardens

The Alhambra is a palatial city, defined by a network of walls and towers. Though its origins are confused, there are clear remains from the 9th century. The Alhambra's most brilliant creators, however, date from the Nasrid Empire and the reign of Carlos V, between the 13th and 16th centuries. The Alhambra consists of -

Casas Reales

Three palaces built around a central patio/courtyard with a fountain or pool.

Sala de los Embajadores

The Ambassador's Hall with a massive ceiling carved in wood depicting the seven heavens of the Moslem's paradise.

Baños Arabes

The baths are surrounded by galleries where musicians would entertain the bathers. It is one of the most sumptuous chambers in the palace but has recently been closed to the public for extensive restorations.

Patio de Los Leones

A beautiful marble fountain guarded by twelve lions. The monument has since 2005 been removed for extensive restoration work and is not likely to be re-installed until 2010.

Jardines del Portal

Planted on the site of an old palace, the garden has pomegranate trees - the emblematic fruit of the city of the same name. The Spanish word for pomegranate is granada.

Palacio de Carlos V

The Palace of Carlos V began construction in 1526 but was never completed. Today it is the site of a museum and art gallery, both of which are well worth visiting.

Generalife

Built in the later part of the 13th century, this was the Sultan's summer palace. The Patio de la Acequia has an original mirador (viewpoint) in the centre, while the Patio de los Cipreses is an enclosed garden with fountain and pool. Nearby is the Camino de los Cascades, a staircase with channels of water rushing down the stone balustrades.

Situated in Calle Real, above and to the south of the city centre, the Alhambra and Generalife are open at the following times:

November to March - Monday to Sunday 09.00 - 18.00, and night visits Saturdays only 20.00 - 22.00
April - September - Monday to Sunday 09.00 - 20.00, and night visits Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 22.00 - 24.00
Tel: 958 22 75 25 / 6 / 7
Alhambra Tickets Direct Booking by internet is available at
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NOTE - The Alhambra Palace, the Generalife and Gardens are the number one tourist attraction in Spain. Entrance is by ticket only, and has often been booked well in advance. It is therefore strongly recommended that you pre-book the tickets at least 3 or 4 weeks in advance to assure a full day visit of the site. The museum of the Palace of Carlos V is closed on Mondays – as is this case with most national monuments in Spain.

The Cathedral

Begun in 1521 but not completed until the early 18th century, the Cathedral has many different styles and its interior is immense though dimly lit. The layout reflects the habitual grandness of Gothic architecture, and was designed by Enrique Egas, a great master craftsman of Flemish descent. The facade by Alonso Caño is an outstanding example of the Baroque school, and culminates with a superb bell tower.
Situated on the Gran Via, the Cathedral is open Monday to Saturday 10.30 - 13.30 & 15.30 - 18.30. Sundays & Holidays 15.30 - 18.30. Closed on Sunday Mornings. Tel: 958 22 29 59.

The Capilla Real (Royal Chapel)

Lying in the shadow of the Cathedral, the Royal Chapel started in 1506 and completed in 1521 was constructed to house the remains of the Catholic Monarchs. The remains are situated in lead coffins in the underground tombs just before the main alter. Today the chapel houses many important art works including Queen Isabel's 15th century collection of art by the Italian, Flemish and Spanish schools. Not only will you find works by Botticelli but you will also find magnificent ironwork as well.
Adjacent to the Cathedral at Oficios, 3, the Royal Chapel is open Monday to Sunday 10.30 - 13.00 & 15.30 - 18.00. Tel: 958 22 78 48.

The Cartuja Monastery

Located on the city's outskirts, and a short taxi ride, the monastery was ideally situated for both monks and laymen harvesting the orchards, vineyards and olive groves around. Founded in 1506, though construction did not begin until 1515, the church is highly decorated in classical Baroque style. The interior is a glorious blend of multi-coloured inlays in marble, with much of the wood work inlaid with silver, mother of pearl and ivory. This is a truly spectacular site, on the western outskirts of the city in Paseo de Cartuja.
The monastery is open Monday to Saturday 10.00 - 13.00 & 15.30 - 18.00. Sundays 10.00 - 12.00 & 16.00 - 19.00. Tel: 958 16 19 32.

The Albaycin

The old Arab-Jewish quarter, is where the Moors built their many fortress palaces, some of which remain today as converted hotels or hostels through the maze of alleys and streets. There are many points to access this district, Triunfo, for example or along to Puerta de Elvira - one of the city's most important gateways. Many of the old, flag and cobble stoned, passages and streets are little changed in 600 years, and there are excellent views of the Alhambra and The Generlife from the Mirador de San Nicolas. At the end of Plaza Nueva on the Carrera del Darro (one of Granada's oldest streets) stands Iglesia Santa Ana a 16th century church, and further along the street the cities Archaeological museum is housed in the mansion of Casa Castril
(open Tuesday to Sunday 10.00 - 14.00), below from here are the remains of the Baños Arabes (Moorish public baths - open Tuesday to Saturday 10.00 - 14.00).
Other sites to visit include: the Real Chancillar, circa 1530, and commissioned by the Catholic Monarchs; and the Casa de los Pisa, founded in the 16th century which displays artworks belonging to the Knights Hospitallers.

Sacramonte

In the hills above Albaycin lies the cave dwelling area of the Granada gypsies. However visitors wander here at their own risk and it advisable to leave valuables at home. I would suggest that if you are intending to see a real Flamenco display at a venue in this area then please visit with a guide or reserve a place on an evening excursion.

Palacio de la Madraza

In Calle Oficios, 14, and originally the Moors university, it later became the city hall. The facade dates from the 18th century, but through its open doors, you step towards a Moorish hall at the back with a finely decorated mihrab.

Corral de Carbon

Situated in Calle Mariana Pineda, this galleried courtyard is a unique relic of the Moorish era. Originally a storehouse and inn for merchants, and a theatre during Christian times, it is now home to one of the city's Tourist offices. Tel: 958 22 59 90.

Casa de los Tiros

On Calle Cementerio de Santa Escolastica, 3 this museum houses permanent collections of local craft works, tiles, ceramics and furniture. A fortress like palace built in the 16th century; it owes its name to the muskets in its battlements: tiros, being the Spanish word for shot. Open Monday to Friday 14.30 - 20.00. Tel: 958 22 10 72.

Shopping

For the most original shops in the city wander around the narrow streets of the Cathedral and Plaza Bib-Rambla, and the streets of Mesones and Zacaiatin. Here you will find many Arabic style gifts and souvenirs, as well as some of the best stores for Spanish leather products. The large department store of El Corte Ingles, situated on the boulevard of Carrera del Genil, is ideal for food, wines, clothes, china, porcelain, electrical goods and many local products. For book lovers and those looking for a good range of city guides the bookshop Urbano, is situated at La Tablas near the Plaza Trinidad.

Local Tourist Offices

The three main centres are located at the following:
Corral de Carbon s/n, Tel: 958 22 59 90.
Carratera de Granada s/n, Tel: 958 66 26 55.

Plaza de Mariana Pineda 12, Tel: 958 22 66 88.
In addition you will find map dispensers (1 Euro) at the side of the large city plan display signs located throughout the city centre.

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