Alhambra Touring Tips

Getting your tickets

There is an ingenious system for getting your tickets once you are in Spain. Look for a branch of the La Caixa bank (pronounced “La CAI-sha); you won’t have to look far. Introduce the credit card you used to buy your tickets into a La Caixa ATM and navigate to the Events tab. The ATM will print out your tickets. Brilliant!

As an alternative, you can present your order number at the main ticket window, but this is a far more cumbersome and time-consuming process.

Arriving at the Alhambra

You can take the #30 bus from the center of Granada to the main entrance, but the bus is tiny and will be mobbed early in the morning. Taxis generally drop you off at the same place.

One of the perks of having purchased your tickets in advance is that you can avoid going through the main gate and enter instead through the Puerta de la Justicia (Justice Gate). The most romantic approach is the steep (underline steep) walk up pedestrian-only Cuesta de Gomerez from the city center, but you can also reach it from the main entrance area. Taxis can take you to the bottom of Cuesta de Gomerez, but you will still have a hike to the Puerta de la Justicia.

While this is my preferred way to approach the Alhambra, the walk from where the #30 bus drops you off to the Puerta de la Justicia is less arduous.

Photos

Photography, without flash in the palaces, is permitted and you will take lots of them. So make sure your camera battery is fully charged and bring a spare; you just might need it. The same goes for your smartphone. It’s not a bad idea to use your smartphone as a backup for your camera or vice versa.

Understanding the Alhambra

The Alhambra at dusk.

Let’s face it, the Alhambra is confusing. Scholars are still trying to figure out how the whole place fits together, so what hope does the casual visitor have?

On the simplest level, the Alhambra has two identities, Moorish and Spanish, and over the 14-odd centuries of its existence it has endured numerous catastrophes, both natural and man-made, and even more numerous renovations as its various owners adapted its residential, military, and civic areas to their own needs and desires.

Visitors will be well advised to read as much as they can before their visit. In addition to the guidebook you are probably toting, there is some historical background to be found on the official Alhambra site.

Once there, you can choose a so-so audio guide (4 euros) or purchase a lavishly illustrated guide to the complex (9 euros). Many groups come complete with a guided tour. We didn’t take one, but from the bit of eavesdropping I did they seem to amount to little more the “The Moors Greatest Hits,” singling out especially interesting bits and pieces as they move through the palaces at a brisk pace.

In the tour guides’ defense, the audio guides and the illustrated guides do much the same thing and, as I noted, even scholars have little or no idea about how some rooms in the palaces were used. So finishing your visit with a firm grasp on what the Alhambra is all about may be impossible.

Still, you won’t be able to avoid emerging without a profound admiration for the artistry of the Muslim architects and artisans and the luxurious lifestyle of the Moorish conquerors who commissioned their work. You may also find yourself pondering clashes of civilizations, past, present, and to come.

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