5 Facts About The Alhambra, Spain’s Iconic Castle

The Alhambra: part fairy-tale castle, part medieval fortress, rising above the hills of Andalusia with graceful towers and smooth arches. Those attributes help soften its stern red walls, but there’s no doubt the Alhambra was built to withstand the centuries. Named The Red Castle for those massive walls, within you’ll find a complex of palaces built and rebuilt over the centuries for sultans and kings. You’ll find graceful courtyards and patios built with the complex precision of Islamic geometric design; dizzying domes set with intricate tile mosaics or wooden marquetry, and carefully designed gardens meant to enliven the senses and calm the mind. It’s a must-visit on any tour of Spain or a vacation including the beautiful Andalusia province.

So where did this astonishing palace come from? Here are five facts about the Alhambra:

The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

The Alhambra looms on its hilltop in Granada, Spain.

1. The Alhambra is more than just a castle.

It’s not just one palace: in fact, the Alhambra is comprised of three main sections: the Nasrid Palaces, the Alcazaba, and the Generalife. The most famous section of the Alhambra is the Nasrid Palaces, which feature the Alhambra’s signature Moorish architecture and mosaic-work. The Alcazaba, built in the Renaissance era by the Spanish, today houses the Alhambra’s artifacts and offers spectacular views of the surrounding area. The Generalife are the meticulously designed gardens and the summer palace of the emirs.

The Alhambra is both fortress and palace, with both Moorish and European Renaissance designs.

The Alhambra is both fortress and palace, with both Moorish and European Renaissance designs.

2. The Alhambra was already six hundred years old when it became part of Spain.

The high hilltop overlooking Granada was ideal for a lookout, and its first fort was built around 899. The first change from fort to palace occurred around 1333, by the Sultan of Granada, Yusuf I. It would stay in the Moorish royal family until 1492, when the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon conquered Granada. While King Fernando and Queen Isabella were planning their campaign against Granada, the queen found time to fund Columbus’ expedition across the Atlantic.

The Alhambra's hilltop commands views of the surrounding countryside.

The Alhambra’s hilltop commands views of the surrounding countryside.

3. The Alhambra was designed to be “paradise on earth.”

As the years went by and new rulers came into power, each added their own touches to the palaces and gardens. The theme never changed, though: the Alhambra was meant to be a paradise on earth.

The Alhambra fountains

Fountains and symmetry create calm courtyards in the Alhambra’s palaces.

4. The Alhambra’s exquisite decorations are purposefully flawed.

The geometric artwork decorating the interiors of the Alhambra follow Islamic law, meaning there are no depictions of living beings. This also means that within the seemingly perfect patterns, intentional flaws were placed, as aspiring to perfection would be blasphemous.

Geometric patterns, The Alhambra

Geometric patterns appear perfect on the walls of The Alhambra

5. The Alhambra is one of the most popular attractions in Spain.

As many as 6,000 people a day visit the Alhambra in the busy summer months. When you plan your visit, buy your tickets ahead of time, booking your time slot for the Nasrid Palaces in particular early in the day. Or pick an escorted tour which includes the Alhambra as one of its destinations–your tour guide will know how to best get you through the palaces and gardens.

The Alhambra is a must-do on any Spanish vacation.

The Alhambra is a must-do on any Spanish vacation.

Visit the Alhambra as part of a fantastic vacation in Spain. To travel with a knowledgeable tour director, try our popular escorted tours of Spain, many of which includes stops in Seville, Granada and the Alhambra, Toledo and Madrid.

Ready to explore on your own? Try our independent Spain Sun Coast Vacations, complete with airfare and hotel in historic Malaga, less than two hours from Granada and located on the sparkling blue sea.