Alhambra: A Palace Frozen in Time
Updated: May 12
The past beckons as you pass slender marble columns holding up an arched dome the color of honey. Your sandals slap softly against the elaborately tiled floor. A gentle breeze dances among the pillars. You walk out of the pavilion and savor the warmth of a Spanish summer sun on your skin as you approach the Fountain of Lions, each marble lion guarding the water-filled, alabaster basin.
Welcome to Alhambra, a palace and fortress in Granada, Spain that can trace its roots back to the eighth century (History.com, 2018). It plays a role in my upcoming release with Harlequin Presents, His Billion-Dollar Takeover Temptation. For my first blog post, I'm excited to share some of the amazing facts I discovered about this incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site that hosts over three million visitors a year (Granada Info, 2021).
© Dimitry B, 2020
“As they left the city and continued on toward the mountains, she spied the beige-tinted walls of the famed Alhambra palace and fortress, sprawled across a hilltop, partially obscured by a dense elm forest."
The History of the Alhambra
© Austin Gardner, 2017
The Alhambra complex is perched on top of a hill and spans an impressive twenty-five, nearly twenty-six, acres (History.com). From the river Darro to the north to the dense elm forest, Alhambra was originally conceived as a military complex. Roughly translated, the name means "red castle," a nod to the reddish hue of the fortress walls and towers (History.com). In the 13th century it was catapulted from fortress to palace by Muslim king Mohammed ibn Yusuf Ben Nasr (Pedagogic & Cultural Association of Alhambra, 2021).
The construction of additional palaces took place in the 14th century. Incredible advances were made in design and architecture. One only has to look at the marble lions guarding the fountain in the Courtyard of the Lions or the stalactite ceiling in the Hall of the Abencerrajes to observe the artistry ofThe Nasrid palaces are the stars of the show when it comes to touring the palace and include the Mexuar, the Palace of Comares and the Palace of the Lions. The Mexuar was an administrative palace, the Comares was the official palace of the sultan and the Palace of the Lions was a private palace for the king, his family and his mistresses (History.com). Granada served as the capital of Muslim Spain, with Alhambra described by a visitor as "the most marvelous building that exists in the world" (Awake, 2006).
It was during this time that another feature of Alhambra was constructed: the Generalife (Granada Info, 2021). This summer palace, just east of the Alhambra palace and fortress, boasts some of the most incredible gardens (which also play a role in Adrian and Everleigh's love story; I couldn't resist a little romance in one of the most stunning gardens in the world). From numerous fountains, including a staircase with a water channel bubbling alongside, and pebble mosaic walkways to fragrant orange trees and colorful roses, the Generalife is a stunning part of the Alhambra complex. While experts agree it's hard to know what the gardens looked like in the early years, elements like the long fountain in the Court of the Sultana's Cypress Tree are based on writings from travelers who visited as early as 1524 (Jessop, 2016).
© Corbin Mathias 2019
"Wall of flowers...Generalife..."
In 1492 the Muslim Moors lost control of the palace to Ferdinand II and Isabella I (Blakemore, 2019). The palace complex, described by poets as "...a pearl set in emeralds...," passed into Christian hands. This was towards the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition, a dark period in Spain's history that lasted from 1478 to 1834 that resulted in the expulsion or forced conversion to Catholicism for over 160,000 Jews and Muslims, as well as the executions of 3,000 to 5,000 (Britannica, 2021).
Fast-forward to 1870, and the palace was declared a national monument. Fifty-three years later, the first major restoration project was undertaken, and just under 60 years after that, Alhambra was officially declared a UNESCO World Heritage site (Patronato de la Alhambra y Generalife).
Eric Azares hosts a stunning virtual tour of the Alhambra complex, as well as offers tips for travelers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Owg6kj20Lv4.
"She shook her head and stood up, too. Her eyes landed on the Alhambra. The last rays of the setting sun illuminated the reddish hue of the outer walls of the fortress. 'It’s so beautiful. Someone mentioned the gardens are incredible.'"
Court of the Sultana's Cypress Tree
© Earth Adventures, 2020
The stunning Court of the Sultana's Cypress Tree features a narrow garden dominated by a long pool and multiple fountains. The water is surrounded by myrtle hedges. The verandas that overlook the courtyard boast cypress trees, hence the name.
I picked this garden for Adrian and Everleigh's romantic foray into the Generalife because of a legend I came across while researching the palace. Legend has it that a sultana used to meet her lover, a knight, in this courtyard. Unlike Adrian and Everleigh, the lovers' story does not have a happy ending. The king, enraged by his wife's infidelity, had either several of the knight's comrades or members of his family killed, depending on which version of the legend you hear.
But it's not all sad news. Botanists theorize that the cypress tree that the plaza was named after was over 600 years old when it died. The trunk is still there today (Patronato Provincial del Turismo).
"This had been one of his favorite places as a child. The soothing sound of the fountains had eased some of his pain as he’d sat on the walkway and watched the water for hours. How ironic that his place of refuge should now play host to him confessing his deepest pain."
My husband and I are hoping to travel to Spain in the next five to six years. We have some time to plan and have already started creating a wish list, including visiting the Alhambra complex. It's one of those sites that you must book tickets in advance. Make sure to check out the official website for ticket information and tours, including my favorite that I'm holding out for; a private night tour of Alhambra! Learn more at https://www.alhambra.org/en/ and, if you decide to travel there anytime soon, I'd love to see photos of your trip!
Alhambra de Granada. "Court of the Sultana's Cypress Tree." Alhambra de Granada, La Alhambra de Granada, 2021. https://www.alhambradegranada.org/en/info/generalife/generalifepatioofthecypresses.asp.
Awake! A Writer in Spain. "The Alhambra-Islamic jewel of Granada." Jehovah's Witness, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2006 February. https://www.jw.org/en/library/magazines/g200602/The-Alhambra-Islamic-Jewel-of-Granada/.
Blakemore, Erin. "Who were the Moors?" National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 12 December, 2019. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/who-were-moors.
Britannica. "The Spanish Inquisition." Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2021. https://www.britannica.com/place/Spain/The-Spanish-Inquisition.
Granada Info. "Alhambra FAQ." Granada Info, Granada Info, 2021 January 12. https://granadainfo.com/alhambra/faq.htm
History.com. "Alhambra." History, A&E Television Networks, LLC, 2018 March 12. https://www.history.com/topics/landmarks/alhambra.
Jessop, Tara. "The history of the Generalife gardens in under 1 minute." The Culture Trip, The Culture Trip, Ltd., 12 July 2016. https://theculturetrip.com/europe/spain/articles/the-history-of-the-generalife-gardens-in-1-minute/
Mullins, Ariana. "A stroll through the Generalife gardens at the Alhambra." And Here We Are, And Here We Are, 2015 October 8. https://andhereweare.net/a-stroll-through-the-generalife-gardens-at-the-alhambra/.
Patronato de la Alhambra y Generalife. "The monumental complex of the Alhambra and the Generalife." Patronato de la Alhambra y Generalife. https://i.pinimg.com/originals/e5/59/cd/e559cd9c09a919b2173fbc9336878429.jpg.
Patronato Provincial del Turismo. "Witness of a sultan's infidelity." Patronato Provincial del Turismo. https://www.turgranada.es/en/fichas/cypress-of-the-generalife-46933/.