Losing your heart to Andalucía: Granada, Sevilla & Córdoba

Granada

Granada is situated at the feet of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and was under Arabic rule for centuries before it became Spanish again. It is named after the pomegranate fruit, and that is not the even the most exotic part about it. While you explore, you will discover that the city reveals these layers of history in narrow streets and big palaces.

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The narrow streets streets are filled with colourful Arabic textiles, leather bags and silver earrings
I stayed in the Nest hostel, which has a magical patio as a perfect place to meet fellow travellers

El Alhambra

The Alhambra was first mentioned in written texts traced back to the year 889 and its name is derived from Arabic ( «qa’lat al-Hamra’» ) refers to red-couloured castle walls. In the 13th century it became the royal palace of the Nasrid Dynasty. The Morish and Morisco Arabic architectural style in the Alhambra spans from walls mozaique tiles to detailed woodwork celings and graceful calligraphy in stone pillars. In the gardens, you will see that water is ever-present, in beautifully constructed fountains and irrigation canals dug in the middle of the a flight of stairs.

The Alhambra fortress turned palace and is made up of many different parts: the Generalife, the Alcazaba, and its gardens, the Nasrid Palaces… It is enourmous and wonderful enough to spend a full day there, yet in case you visit in summer, do take into consideration that during your visit you may want to seek cover in the shadow in the midday hours. As always, it is recommended to order tickets online to circumvent queues. When you buy a ticket to the Nasrid Palaces, you will need to visit it within the timeslot given to you. If possible, try to get the timeslot at the end of the day, so that you can visit the other parts before and hopefully have beautiful sunset light to visit the palaces.

The Alhambra is enourmous and wonderful enough to spend a full day there, yet in case you visit in summer, do take into consideration that during your visit you may want to seek cover in the shadow in the midday hours. As always, it is recommended to go early in the morning or order tickets online to circumvent queues.

The mix of architectural styles you will find in the in the Alhambra are truly unique. After the Reconquista in 1942, when Granada came under Spanish rule again, Charles V had a small part of it destroyed to built his own renaissance-style palace in the middle of the Alhambra site. From the Saint-Nicolas terrace, you have the best view on the Alhambra, especially during sunset. You can also book a table at one of the restaurants (called “carmens”) in the Albacín neighbourhood to admire the Alhambra at night.

Granada, with the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background

Sevilla

Ah, the birth place of flamenco! Make sure when you visit to go to one of the cosy bars where you can enjoy a live performance of this powerful dance.

You may want to visit the royal palace, el Alcázar Real de Sevilla, which was built in architectural style called Mudéjar, and looks a bit similar to the Alhambra as it was built by the Spanish who had looked at the Morish Arabic style for inspiration. The ceiling of the Salón de Embajadores truly is magnificent and the Patio de las Doncellas is recognized as the culmination of the mudéjar andaluz style. More recently, the palace served as the film set of several films and your favourite TV-series. Every June until September, concerts are organized in the gardens (Noches en los Jardines del Real Alcázar).

One of the famous sights of Sevilla is the Giralda tower, which once was the highest minaret (69 meters) of a mosque worldwide, yet was it transformed into a the bell tower of the cathedral after the Spanish reconquered the city. The cathedral Maria de La Sede is the biggest gothic cathedral in the world, so take your time to visit.

As Sevilla was once the main port to the explorations on the American continent, the museum Archivo de Indias bears witness to the times that the ships with objects from an undiscovered continent arrived in the city. No less than 8000 maps and drawings are stored and some descriptive letters from the first explorers are on display.

At the Plaza Espana, a very romantic square with bridges that was originally contructed for the Ibero-American exposition (Exposición Iberoamericana) held in 1929-1930 to celebrate the bond between Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Hispanoamerica and the United States. You can marvel at the 52 retables showing all 52 Spanish provinces in colourful tiles.

The retable of Barcelona at the Plaza de España
The bridge at the Plaza de España

Córdoba

Offically the hottest city in Europe, Córdoba was once (in the 10th century, the second-largest city in the world. By then, the Carthages, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Visigoths, Mores and the Spanish had all left their marks on Córdoba. A perfect emblematic example of this is La Mezquita. The mosque is impressive, not only for it’s size 23.000 m² , but also for it’s structure made of 860  pillars and outstanding decorations, inspired by Morish, Roman, Byzantan, Syrian, Persian and Gothic architectural styles. Later, also renaissance and baroque elements were added when the mosque became a church and from 1523 onwards, the contruction of the gothic hall added yet another layer of history to the building (it took 234 years to finish).

Close to the mosque-turned-church is Alcázar of Córdoba, a fortress-turned-palace. It looks very beautiful, the botanical gardens especially, but hides a dark history, as many of the rooms served as torture and interrogation chambers during the period of the Spanish Inquisition by the catholic monarchs.

Today, this city on the banks of the river Guadalquivir and at the feet of the Sierra Morena mountains still has a mixed population, but just like the weather, the locals are warm. During the Patios Festival in the 2nd and 3rd week of May, locals open the patios of their houses to the public after abundantly decorating them with flowers. In the last week of May, there is the Fair of Córdoba (La Feria de Córdoba).

Palm trees meeting orange trees in front of a historical building: a colourful synopsis of Andalucía

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