Granada, I’m falling under your spell,
And if you could speak, what a fascinating tale you would tell.
Of an age the world has long forgotten,
Of an age that weaves a silent magic in Granada today.
The dawn in the sky greets the day with a sigh for Granada.
For she can remember the splendor that once was Granada.
It still can be found in the hills all around as I wander along,
Entranced by the beauty before me,
Entranced by a land full of flowers and song.
When day is done and the sun touch the sea in Granada,
I envy the blush of the snow-clad Sierra Nevada,
Soon it will welcome the stars
While a thousand guitars play a soft Carbinera.
Then moonlit Granada will live again,
The glory of yesterday, romantic and gay.
Agustín Lara wrote it and Frank Sinatra famously sang it, and, no doubt about it, Spain’s ancient city of Granada fascinates to this day. The magnificent Alhambra towers over the city, and this former home of sultans casts its spell over the entire area.
It’s been a palace, a fortress and a citadel, and it has variously served as the residence of the Nasrid Sultans and their top government officials, court servants, and the royal guard. Its history dates back to the Ninth Century, with changing dynasties and added buildings.
Considered a “palace city,” because it contains a variety of historic buildings, The Alhambra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. It’s Granada’s most archetypal monument and one of the most visited sites in Spain. Its luxurious interiors offer glimpses into the gilded lives of its privileged residents. (An important note if you plan to visit: Since October 2017, individual tourism tickets to see the interiors have been limited to adults 14 and older and require a passport or other government-issued identification. They have also eliminated some of the long lines by making tickets available online, which was not the case when we were there.)
So, on a warm day in May, we chose to explore its gardens rather than brave those lines waiting to get into the Palace itself. But the gardens were more than enough splendor for us. As a backdrop, The Alhambra sits on a small plateau on the city’s southeastern border and has a sweeping view of the imposing Sierra Nevada, which were still covered in snow when we visited. And there is water everywhere, to irrigate an array of flowers to take your breath away. Because we are serious gardeners, these old dogs found the gardens to be a special treat.
Several playful structures dot the gardens, created of multiple layers of elegantly carved filigree craftwork that looked enough like lace that you could wonder how it could have been standing for so many years — since as long ago as the 1500s.
But Granada’s allure is not limited to The Alhambra; below it is the Albaicin — the “Arab” quarters — where we found fun little tea shops, complete, to our surprise, with hookahs for smoking exotic tobaccos. And, as we wound our way through its narrow streets, we found intriguing shops and a tasty dinner of equally exotic foods. But the highlight of the Albaicin was the nighttime vision of the illuminated Alhambra rising and shimmering above it.
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