The Alhambra is a top tourist attraction and Granada is full of visitors from all over the world. The site itself is spectacular, with panoramic views of the surrounding city and valley. In the photo below—looking southeast from a hill at the north edge of town with even more incredible views—it’s easy to see why the rulers would have chosen this ridge to build their palaces.
The next photo is taken from within the Alhambra’s walls. The view is looking northwest, across the deeply incised Darro River valley, to the Albaicín. This neighborhood is part of the old medina that was an important residential neighborhood during the Islamic period—and it continues to be so today. Included in this photo is the rooftop terrace of our Airbnb house, from which we had a wonderful Alhambra view.
The Alhambra is certainly awe inspiring—it is the only surviving medieval Islamic palace complex in the world. It was during the last emirate of Al-Andalusia—the Nasrid emirate from 1240 to 1492—that Granada achieved its greatest splendor and when most of what survives in the Alhambra was created. One of the most popular areas is the Patio de Los Leones with its multiplicity of graceful arches surrounding a fountain of adorable water-spurting lions (they were restoring parts of the palace—the reason for the background rods).
Here is a closeup of a detailed plaster carving on a wall in one of the rooms. How most of the palace rooms were used is not known, mainly because the conquerors destroyed evidence of the previous culture and the people themselves were expelled. In an irony of history, the Muslims brought the knowledge of paper making from the Orient to Spain, from where it spread throughout Europe. But their own libraries and other paper records were burned, thus removing much knowledge of the Islamic culture in Al-Andalus.
There are many other attractions in Granada beside the Alhambra. Let’s look at one of the geological attractions! On our path to the Alhambra, we walked along steep cliffs of conglomerate called the Alhambra Formation. It formed during the past 20 million years (probably closer to 5 million or even less), when the adjacent Sierra Nevada was being uplifted and sediments were being carried by debris flows to form alluvial fans (debris cones) along the flank of the mountain range. Much like the conglomerate in Ronda, there is a large range of sediment sizes and the clasts are imbricated (with an orientation like my hand in the photo below), which shows the direction in which the debris flowed. These sediments are now visible because rivers have cut down into the formation and exposed the layers.
The clasts are also variable in composition, reflecting the heterogeneity of the rock types in the Sierra Nevada. Unlike our Sierra Nevada in California, which is composed of mostly granite, the Andalusian Sierra Nevada is composed of mostly metamorphic rocks that were changed by the heat and pressure generated in this collision zone. The several rainy days while we were in Granada had the benefit of making the Sierra Nevada (meaning snowy mountain) live up to its name! Here is a view of the sierras from a viewpoint in the Albaicín that was near our house but a little higher up the hill. In 30 minutes from the city, you can be in these mountains, but that will have to wait until another trip since we did not have a car. (The white building is a “summer palace” uphill from the main part of the Alhambra.)
Another interesting place to visit is the Sacramonte neighborhood. Here people have lived in caves cut into the Alhambra Formation, and some even continue to do so today. An excellent Museo de las Cuevas (Cave Museum) provides information about how people have lived there, what plants and animals are endemic to the region, and how caves form, both here and around the world. The next photo is a view looking south along the valley, with the Sacramonte neighborhood and its cave dwellings on the right (south-facing slope with dry grass and cactus plants), and the Alhambra on the left (north-facing slope with lush vegetation).
The next photo is from the museum, showing how the caves are cut into the conglomerate sediment.
The Sacramonte neighborhood is also famous for its flamenco bars. Although we saw this show in the town center, it was designed like a cave and featured excellent performers (singer, guitarist, and dancer). The name of this club is “Le Chien Andalou” after the name of the French film with Salvador Dalí!
What about the pomegranates? That is what granada means in Spanish! It’s fun to see the pomegranate images all over town. My favorite was in the main cathedral. You know it’s an important symbol when it’s under a gold crown!
We also found some real pomegranate trees. Here is one at .the cave museum; hopefully, this is not like Adam eating an apple!