Interesting facts about the Alhambra Granada Spain

Reflexions at the Alhambra
There is a lot of water in the Alhambra which leads to a lot of interesting reflections.

6,000 people a day visit the Alhambra. It is Spain’s most visited monument.

It was originally constructed as a small fortress in 889.  The Alhambra eventually became the residence of royalty and of the court of Granada in the middle of the thirteenth century. The first change from a fort to a palace happened around 1333, by the Sultan of Granada, Yusuf I.

The Alhambra was meant to be a paradise on earth.

The main buildings of the Alhambra complex are built on a plateau which measures about 740 meters (2430 ft.) in length and 205 meters (674 ft.) at its greatest width. A visit to the Alhambra normally takes about 2 or 3 hours and most people walk around 3 or 4 kilometers on the way. There are places to buy food and drink inside the Alhambra but most people bring a sandwich or use the  small bars or kiosks.

Visiting the Alhambra
Visiting the Alhambra

In the last 20 years or it has been very difficult to buy tickets for the Alhambra. The problem is created by the very high demand and the restriction in the amount of people allowed into the Nazrid palaces. Some years ago there was a problem with corruption, so afterwards the ticket distribution system was outsourced to ticketmaster. This was very unsuccessful, it is hard to believe how a big name in tickets could do such a bad job. Many people had to put up with a very inefficient, badly run service. Australian very not allowed to use credit cards which caused a lot of consternation. At the time of writing the ticket system is not too bad but buying tickets still requires your full attention. When people go to visit most cities they first book a flight and accommodation then think about where to visit. In Granada people first book their Alhambra tickets then find a flight and hotel.

Granada is not far from a fault line and small Earthquakes are fairly common. In 1821 an earthquake caused damage to the Alhambra complex. Every century or so there are bigger earthquakes on April 19 1956 in the town of Albolote, just outside the city, an earthquake reaching 5.1 on the Richter scale killed 12 people and destroyed 250 homes so the Alhambra has experienced many fairly large quakes in its history. The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 which killed 60 thousand people would have been felt here.


The amount of people allowed in the Nasrid palaces at any one time is restricted so it is necessary to buy a ticket which states the time that the person can enter into this part of the Alhambra. The Nasrid dynasty was the last Arab Muslim dynasty in Iberia, ruling the Emirate of Granada from 1230 until 1492. Twenty-three emirs ruled Granada from the founding of the dynasty in 1230 by Muhammad I until January 2, 1492, when Muhammad XII (Boabdil) surrendered to the Christian Spanish kingdoms of Aragon and Castile. Today, the most visible evidence of the Nasrids is the Alhambra palace complex built under their rule.

The loss of Granada marked the end of seven centuries of Muslim rule in southern Spain. Boabdil was the last Arabic ruler who lived in the Alhambra. He negotiated the take over of the Alhambra by the Spanish monarchs. He left by the back door, (la puerta de los siete suelos), he asked that the door be shut forever afterwards. You can see this door on your left soon after entering the Alhambra from the ticket office.

The geometric artwork decorating the interiors of the Alhambra follow Islamic law, meaning there are no depictions of living beings.

The ceilings, columns and walls of the Alhambra are covered with over 10,000 Arabic inscriptions. They contain everything from snatches of poetry and verses from the Qur’an to clever aphorisms, boastful slogans and pious wishes. The Nasrid motto – “There is no victor but Allah” – is the most common inscription.

The mathematical properties of the decorative tile and stucco patterns of the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain have been extensively studied. Although it is disputed,  some authors say that all of the 17 wallpaper groups can be found in the Alhambra. (Wallpaper groups are ways which patterns can be repeated.)

The illustrator M.C. Escher visited the palace twice. The patterns, tessellations and rotational symmetry had a big influence on his drawings.

Patterns at the Alhambra

Facts about Granada Spain

Alhambra Sierra Nevada
The Alhambra with the Sierra Nevada in the background

The average height of the city of Granada is  738 m. The population is about 240 000.  Granada was originally called Gárnata which could mean  “hill of strangers” in Arabic.  Granada is about 65km from the Mediteranean sea.  One of the nearest beaches is  at Salobreña which would take 55 minutes by car.  There is a ski station 35km from Granada in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  The Alpine World Ski Championships were held there in 1996.  There are 105 kms of alpine skiing runs.  It takes about 45 minutes to get from the centre of Granada to the ski station. The ski season normally lasts from the beginning of December until the end of April.  Andalusia has a very high proportion of sunny days even in the winter and usually there are beautiful blue skies and warm temperatures. It is possible to ski in the morning and sunbathe at the beach in the afternoon on the same day.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains. The hook at the top is veleta. The highest point is Mulhacen at 3,479 metres.

The most famous monument in Granada is the Alhambra and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Spain with about 3.2 million visitors per year. The Alhambra is a hilltop palace and fortress complex which combines fortifications,  gardens,  churches and several palaces. The name Alhambra comes from “red castle” in Arabic.  Construction started in the 9th century with a small fortress and then went on for many centuries. The first palaces were built in  1238   and  were home to many leaders such as caliphs, emirs, sultans, kings and their entourages .

The Moors invaded Spain in 711 AD and they ruled  for over  700  years,  at one time they ruled as far north as France.   The principal cities of Moorish culture were Toledo, Granada, and Seville.  Eventually the Christian rulers in Northern Spain recaptured Spain. In 1085 Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile recaptured Toledo. Cordoba fell in 1236, and one by one the Moorish strongholds surrendered. The last Moorish city, Granada, was captured by Ferdinand V and Isabella I in 1492. The last moorish ruler of Granada was Boabdil. The Alhambra was handed over to the Spanish monarchs on  2nd January 1492 without bloodshed and  Boabdil was allowed to leave peacfully. His family were given some land in the Alpujarra area of the Sierra Nevada. As he was leaving he sighed and looked  back in longing for his Granada palaces, his mother said to him “Weep like a woman over what you could not defend as a man.”

Sacromonte Alhambra
Photo taken from the Alhambra. On the left you can see the Albayzin and the Sacromonte.

At the time of the reconquest of Granada Christopher Columbus was looking for sponsors to fund exploration to discover the “New World”. The Spanish monarchs agreed and he went on to discover America.  There is a statue of Christopher Columbus kneeling before Queen Isabella at the end of the Gran Via de Colón in Granada. (his name in Spanish is Cristobal Colón).

Granada has hot dry summer and cool winters. In July and August the temperature is often over 40C. In 2017 several all time temperature records were broken.  On July 12 the temperature reached 45.7C.  Granada has a fairly low humidity so high temperatures are not as uncomfortable as they could be. In the winter frosts are not uncommon but if it is sunny the temperature can be warm enough to sit out in a “T” shirt, it cools down rapidly as soon as there is cloud.  November and December are the wettest months however the amount of rain can vary significantly from year to year and droughts are frequent.

The most interesting barrios (neighborhoods) in Granada are the Albayzin, the Sacromonte, Realejos and the central area around the cathedral.

Photos of Granada

Look at some fun facts about Granada