Granada means pomegranate in Spanish, sits in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, and is home to the famous Alhambra. Interesting fact: Any Spanish word beginning with “Al-” was derived from Arabic, there are at least 4000+ Spanish words contributed from Arabic. This was our second stop and one of my absolute favorites of our trip. This town had character and grit. You could tell the Islamic influence was much greater in this city than Sevilla, and it’s something that’s celebrated and adds to the mix of cultures there. In addition, the history and architecture were just as fascinating.
The Alhambra is the last and greatest Moorish palace. It’s also the main attraction visitors from all over the world come to see. Many bloggers and sites strongly advise you to buy your Alhambra tickets before your plane ticket, so that you have a reservation to plan your trip around the palace. This place is very popular and permits a limited number of guests per day to preserve the site (~6600). The ticketing system had changed since I purchased our tickets months ago, therefore, you may have to dig a littler deeper into what pre-buying entails. Regardless, I can’t stress this enough- if you are traveling a long way and this is one of your absolute “must-sees”, you better make sure you have tickets, because you might be sorely disappointed if you can’t get in. If you’ve read my Sevilla post, I also stressed online reservations for other “must-see” sights in that city too – a recurring theme.
Now, let’s talk about the seeing Alhambra. The palace sits on a hill, which overlooks Granada, as a display of power and oversight when the Sultans ruled. The grounds include not only the palace, but a fort, Charles V’s palace (built later), and gardens. Picture it, the year was 1333 (Alhambra completed), mainland Europe was still steeped in the Dark Ages where poverty, ignorance, superstition, and illiteracy reigned supreme. The Moors (Arabs) in southern Spain, comparatively, brought education, mathematics, philosophy, etc…from Northern Africa. This part of Europe flourished during this time under Moorish rule. One of the major themes of the Alhambra palace was the use of water features. For the Moors, water was the greatest symbol of life. In the palace there were pools, fountains, and other water features sourced from the mountain springs. The Moors brought the technological know how of running water. Everywhere in the palace there was water features and gurgling sounds. Along with the water features, every inch of the interior walls were carved with intricate geometric designs along with Arabic script. Where there weren’t carvings, tiles with symmetric geometric designs adorned the walls. In every room you entered I would look down and see water, look to the walls for carvings, and then the ceilings had hand sculpted stalactites hanging from the ceilings. The ceilings were beautiful in every room. It’s hard to describe the inside completely, because if I did this entry would be about five to ten pages long. Suffice it to say, there’s nothing I’ve ever seen like this, and it really is something you have to see once in your life.
The Albaicín (or Albayzín) is Spain’s best old Moorish quarter and it’s also a definite must to just wander and get lost through all the narrow and maze-like streets. There’s also the San Nicolas viewpoint which has that iconic breathtaking view of the Alhambra. It’s so picturesque that Hubs and I went twice during our visit. We also found a family owned authentic Moroccan restaurant and it turned out to be one the best meals we had during our entire Spain trip.
As per Rick Steve’s recommendation, Hubs and I signed up for an olive oil tasting tour. We had a small group of 8 people. The tour started off at the oldest preserved olive oil mill in Spain, that’s now turned into a museum. We then walked around some olive tree groves and came across olive trees that were 500+ years old (one pictured below) – they can produce olives for well over 1000+ years. I didn’t know olive trees could live that long! There were several nearby in the same age range. Another fun fact is that Spain is the largest producer of olive oil. So, that Italian olive oil that is on your kitchen shelf- it may contain Spanish oil and then topped off with some Italian oil in order to market it as Italian olive oil. Italy’s olive oil trees were affected by disease several years ago and they’re still not able to keep up with demand. After the tour info and sights, we got to the fun part, the tasting! They had us set up with what official olive oil tasters would use – dark blue glasses with a glass lid on top. Tasting is similar to how you would with wine. Take a sip, let it sit in your mouth, swish it around, and then swallow. The more “peppery” it feels in your throat equals freshness of the oil. I learned a few tricks of how the Spanish use the olive oils and can’t wait to incorporate them into our daily life. I, of course, couldn’t walk away without purchasing several bottles of the ones we liked. I only wish we had more space in our luggage to bring back more.