Spain

My Tale of the Alhambra

With 8500 visitors each day, the Alhambra is Spain’s most visited monument. If you go, I strongly advise you to purchase tickets in advance. You can buy tickets onsite the day of your visit but the lines are long and the number sold is limited, so if you’re not there before 8 am, forget it. Each ticket has a specified time for entry into the Nasrid Palace to control the number of visitors to 300 each half-hour, and you must arrive within the designated time or admission is denied. In my last post, I explained why we generally don’t book excursions through the cruise line but there are exceptions and our day trip to the Alhambra was one of them. Spain Day Tours told us they could not get tickets for April 30 so we paid $200 for our cruise excursion rather than miss out.

Our ship docked in the port of Malaga at 8 am and we departed soon thereafter on the 2.5-hour bus ride to Granada. After a rest stop midway, we arrived in Granada late in the morning.

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Our guide shows us a map at the entrance to the Alhambra

Originally a military fortress to house troops in the Alcazaba, the Alhambra (Red Castle in Arabic) was rebuilt in the 1300’s to add palaces and the medina or court city. Home to the sultans of the Islamic Nasrid dynasty, their rule in Spain ended in 1492 when Ferdinand and Isabel defeated the Moors to reestablish Christian rule. Following the rule of Ferdinand and Isabel and the Reconquista, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V began construction of the Charles V Palace in 1527 and added other Christian elements to the Alhambra. By the time Washington Irving took up residence in 1829 to write Tales of the Alhambra, the place had fallen into ruin. Fortunately, in 1870 Spain declared the Alhambra a national monument beginning the protection and restoration of this important historical complex and culminating in its designation in 1984 as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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View of the walls around the Alhambra

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Outsides the walls of the Alhambra as we approach the Gate of Justice

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Looking down the path we walked up to the Gate of Justice to enter the Alhambra

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The Gate of Justice entrance to the Alhambra

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Plaque commemorating Washington Irving outside the Gate of Justice

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A hand, Islamic decoration above the Gate of Justice

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A key, another Islamic symbol with Arabic script above on the Gate of Justice

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View from inside the Alhambra overlooking the outer walls

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Ornamentation within the Alhambra

Just as we entered the area of the Nasrid Palace where the time of entry is strictly controlled, our friend Rick had a malfunction on his headphone that was furnished to better hear our tour guide. The rubber earpiece detached and descended into his ear canal where it lodged beyond the reach of desperate fingers. He announced he was leaving to seek medical attention. Our guide had a hard time understanding what he was telling her and once she understood, she had an even harder time explaining it to the staff guarding the entrance who were determined to keep out anyone without the proper ticket. None of us were sure whether they would allow him back in upon his return. Our bridge instructor from the cruise ship, Jeff, shepherded Rick back to our group upon his return after medical personnel used tweezers to pluck the renegade rubber piece from his ear.

I asked Jeff, a retired Navy captain, if he was somehow responsible for our group. He told me the previous day Susie had gotten separated from the tour group when she stopped to purchase a souvenir causing her husband, Charles, considerable worry and consternation. Jeff found the lost sheep and returned her to the fold and now just liked to keep an eye on the herd. (My words, not his.)

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Charles V Palace in the Alhambra with Jeff in the pink shirt at the rear of our group

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Court of the Myrtles, Alhambra

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Ornamentation

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Decorative art in a niche in the Court of Myrtles, Alhambra

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Throne Room, Alhambra

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Throne Room, Alhambra

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Tile floor in Throne Room, Alhambra

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The Court of the Lions, Alhambra

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The Court of the Lions, Alhambra

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Our tour group with Susie and Charles listening to the guide and Rick on the right after the ear piece incident

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Hall of Abencerrages, Alhambra

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Ceiling in Hall of Abencerrages, Alhambra

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Partal Palace, the oldest palace in the Alhambra

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St Mary Church, Alhambra

We didn’t have nearly enough time to fully appreciate the Alhambra and we saw just a fraction of the splendid and majestic complex on our tour. At the end of the tour, the guide offered to lead anyone interested to the Generalife, the nearby extensive gardens where royalty escaped the drudgery of the Alhambra. (It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.) We, of course, joined the group.

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Walk to the Generalife

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Generalife Gardens

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Patio of the Irrigation Ditch, Generalife

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Generalife

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Jim and I enjoy the view

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Generalife

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Generalife

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Lori, Rick, Laura, and Jim at Generalife

A buffet lunch followed our tour before we began the long ride back to Malaga and our home at sea, the ms Rotterdam. In spite of the confusing and complicated history, the crowds jostling to get a view, and the tightly controlled access, the Alhambra is definitely a five star historical and cultural monument not to be missed.

As Washington Irving penned in his Tales of the Alhambra, “Such is the Alhambra—a Moslem pile in the midst of a Christian land, an Oriental palace amidst the Gothic edifices of the West, an elegant memento of a brave, intelligent, and graceful people who conquered, ruled and passed away.”

 

Based on events from April 2016.

Categories: cruise, Europe, Spain, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Day Trip to Sevilla, Spain

Many cruise passengers take an excursion to Sevilla, Spain from the port of Cádiz and we were no exception. Obviously, history nerds like Jim and me wanted to see the Real Alcázar, and yes, you guessed it, it’s another UNESCO World Heritage site and so is the cathedral and the bell tower that was once a minaret. If you’re new to UNESCO World Heritage, these are places deemed to be of universal importance which you can read more about here.

Holland America offered an all-day excursion to Sevilla that included the Alcázar for almost $200 per person. Our experience with cruise ship excursions isn’t terrible but they’re nearly always more expensive, there’s often a stop somewhere to sell us something we don’t need or want, and we’re usually fed a mediocre meal. Instead, we opted for an all-day tour through Spain Day Tours, which cost a mere 69 euros ($75) with no meal or stop to shop although we had free time to do both on our own.

The bus picked us up at the cruise port and our guide provided lots of commentary during the hour and a half ride to Sevilla. We learned that Spain is the second largest producer of almonds in the world behind the U.S., and Andalusia is one of the major locations for that crop. Even more interestingly, cork oak trees grow in this area, and incidentally, they also grow in Portugal (but no one told us about it while we were there). Harvested every nine years without harming the tree, the cork comes from the bark. I took a poor photo of cork oak trees out the bus window but I want to share it nevertheless.

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I also found a photo in the public domain that shows a tree after the cork was harvested. The white area is the bark and the red is where it’s been removed.  cork-oak-505260_1920

Upon our arrival in Sevilla, our first stop was the Plaza de España, built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929. Plaza de España refers to both the plaza and the magnificent,  semi-circular structure anchored by towers at either end connected by porticos. The building is constructed of brick decorated with azulejos (colored ceramic tiles).

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Plaza de España showing one of the towers

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Plaza de España with the other tower

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Portico at Plaza de España

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Columns on portico with azulejo decoration

Along the front of the building are 48 alcoves representing the provinces of Spain with benches and murals made of azulejos. Our guide showed us the alcove for Huelva, the province where Cristopher Columbus set sail for the New World.

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Alcoves for the provinces along the front of the building

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Alcove for the province of Huelva with mural

A canal, with four bridges representing the four ancients kingdoms of Spain, follows the curve of the building.

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The canal at Plaza de España

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Azulejo (ceramic tile) decoration on a bridge at Plaza de España

Following this impressive introduction to Sevilla, we walked through the old Jewish Quarter, today called Barrio Santa Cruz, to experience the charming and historic atmosphere of the old city.

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Walk through the old Jewish Quarter, today called Barrio Santa Cruz

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Barrio Santa Cruz, Sevilla

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Barrio Santa Cruz

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Barrio Santa Cruz

American author, Washington Irving, spent eight years in Spain and wrote several books about the country including Tales from the Alhambra, published in 1832This plaque commemorates his time in Sevilla and his love of Spain.

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Plaque honoring Washington Irving, Sevilla

Seeing the abundant orange trees lining the squares in this neighborhood as we had seen them in Cádiz, we inquired whether they were good to eat. Our guide explained that the bitter orange is not good to eat as is, but the bitter or Sevilla orange is used to make marmalade. You can tell if it’s a bitter orange by the leaf. If the leaf has a little bump at the base, it’s bitter.

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Sevilla orange

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Bitter Sevilla orange with bump at the base

Before a tour of the Real Alcázar, some historical context may be helpful. The Romans ruled the area of Sevilla from the second century, followed by the Vandals and then the Visigoths. The Moors, or Muslims, conquered the area in 711 and ruled Sevilla until 1248 when the Christians under Ferdinand III drove them out. The historical period called the Reconquista, in which Islam was expelled and Christian domination restored, wasn’t finally completed throughout Spain until 1492.

The Alcázar was originally built in Islamic style during the 10th century to house the Moorish governor.  Over the years, however, the palace was rebuilt, restored, and expanded combining both  Islamic and Christian elements to create an architectural style called Mudéjar.

Today, the Spanish royal family stays here when they are in Sevilla. Luckily for us, they were not in residence because the palace is closed to the public when they are present. The palace also served as a film location for several episodes in the fifth season of the HBO series, Game of Thrones. Maybe some of my photos will look familiar to enthusiasts.

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Entrance to Real Alcázar

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Patio del León, Alcázar

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Patio de la Monteria, Real Alcázar

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Real Alcázar

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Real Alcázar

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Sala de la Justicia, part of the original palace

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Baños Doña Maria de Padilla, actually a water tank at Alcázar

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Gardens at Real Alcázar

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Gardens at Real Alcázar

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Gardens at Real Alcázar

Following our tour of Real Alcázar, we had free time to tour the cathedral, shop, or get a bite to eat. We chose to find some tapas.

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Another stop for Tapas

We planned to see the Santa Maria de la Sene Cathedral of Sevilla, the burial site for Christopher Columbus. When we saw the lines, however, we didn’t want to spend our precious time standing in line so we contented ourselves with viewing the outside.

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The Giralda, originally a minaret for an Islamic mosque, today it is the bell tower for the cathedral

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Santa Maria de la Sede Cathedral in Sevilla

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Santa Maria de la Sede Cathedral, Sevilla

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Santa Maria de la Sede Cathedral, Sevilla

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El Giraldillo Weathervane outside Santa Maria de la Sene Cathedral, Sevilla

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Santa Maria de la Sene Cathedral

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Santa Maria de la Sene Cathedral

I’m sure there’s plenty more to see in Sevilla but our day trip was a satisfying introduction.

Based on events from April 2016.

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, Spain, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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