Often referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the world (and voted eighth wonder in a recent worldwide poll), the Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex of the Moorish monarchs of Granada, in southern Spain (known as Al-Andalus when the fortress was constructed), occupying a hill on the south-eastern border of the city of Granada. It was the residence of the Muslim kings of Granada and their court. A Renaissance palace was also added by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. The Alhambra and the surrounding area – including the gardens of the Generalife – is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and museum exhibiting exquisite Islamic architecture.
The name Alhambra derives from the the Arabic words “al hamra”, meaning “the red”, a reference to the colour of the red clay of which the building is made. (The English word “amber” is derived from a related word in old Arabic: “anbar”).
The first reference to the Qal’at al Hamra was during the battles between the Arabs and the Muladies during the rule of the Abdallah (who reigned from 888-912). In one particularly fierce and bloody skirmish, the Muladies soundly defeated the Arabs who were then forced to take shelter in the Alhambra. According to surviving documents from the era, the red castle was quite small at that time, and evidence from Arab texts suggests that the building was extended to its present size some time later, almost certainly during the Nasrid Dynasty.
There are no further historical references to the Alhambra until the eleventh century when its ruins were renovated and rebuilt by Samuel ibn Naghralla, vizier to the King Badis of the Zirid Dynasty, in an effort to preserve the small Jewish settlement also located on the Sabikah hill.
Ibn Nasr, the founder of the Nasrid Dynasty, was forced to flee to Granada in order to avoid persecution by King Ferdinand and his supporters during attempts to rid Spain of Moorish Dominion. After retreating to Granada, Ibn-Nasr took up residence at the Palace of Badis in the Alhambra. A few months later, he embarked on the construction of a new Alhambra fit for the residence of a king. According to an Arab manuscript published as the Anónimo de Granada y Copenhague, “This year 1238 Abdallah ibn al-Ahmar climbed to the place called the Alhambra inspected it, laid out the foundations of a castle and left someone in charge of its construction.” The design included plans for six palaces, five of which were grouped in the northeast quadrant forming a royal quarter, two circuit towers, and numerous bathhouses. Over the reign of Nasrid Dynasty, the Alhambra was transformed into a palatine city complete with an irrigation system composed of acequias for the lush and beautiful gardens of the Generalife located outside the fortress. Previously, the old Alhambra structure had been dependent upon rainwater collected from a cistern and from what could be brought up from the Albaicín. The creation of the “Sultan’s Canal” solidified the identity of the Alhambra as a sumptuous palace-city rather than a defensive and ascetic structure.
Public guided tours
The ideal way to visit the Alhambra is as part of a walking tour group with an official guide who is a member of the Provincial Association of Guides of Tourism of Granada (A.P.I.T.). Daily guided tours take place mornings only, at 10.00 am. The tour includes entry to the monument in the morning session, the official guidebook, and return transport from and to your hotel (Granada, Seville, Almería and Almería Coast, Málaga and Costa del Sol).
Click here for further information and to book online.
Private guided tours
Available for groups of up to 30 people. An official guide is included in the price, and the tour can be adapted to your personal wishes. Ideal for families, school groups etc. Click here for further information and to book online.
Private guided tours at night
This is the “illuminated Alhambra” walking tour, for groups of up to 30 persons. Itinerary: Alhambra interior, Nasrid Palaces and Charles V Palace. Transport is not included in the cost of private tours. To book a night tour online, please click here.
Schools. colleges and other educational organizations can apply for tours to be arranged that have been specially adapted to their students’ level. The guide-educators for these groups are official guides with an additional qualification in teaching, called CAP (Pedagogical Aptitude Certificate) from the University of Granada. For further information and to book online, click here.