Know Granada!

Visiting the center and Alhambra. One day in Granada.

26 August 2022

What is this page about

Granada is one of the most important cities in Andalusia with an incredible history that fits in a thick book. Everyone comes to Granada with one goal: to visit a majestic Alhambra. Well, or one more objective: to ski on the Sierra Nevada in winter. The Alhambra is a luxurious medieval city, consisting of palaces from different eras, with a medina (old district in Muslim cities), gardens and canals.

But let’s follow an order, because Granada is not only about the Alhambra.

A little bit of the history of Granada

According to a legend Granada owes its name to one of Noah’s daughters named Grana, although it is more likely that it comes from “Hizn Garnata” (pomegranate castle), an ancient Roman city located in Albaicín.

The Phoenicians began to colonize Granada on the Costa Tropical and had their most important colony in Almuñécar, one of the most important colonies in the Mediterranean region since the V century BC.

Iberian settlements were concentrated to the north of Granada. Several necropolises with very interesting findings were discovered in Baza and Galera. I have plans to visit Baza this year, so I will gladly add information to this topic.

Roman settlement was not very intense in the province of Granada, with the exception of the three most important cities: Illiberri (Granada), Acci (Guadix) y Sex (Almuñécar). In the case of the Illiberry, it was united with Rome and received the status of a tributary city. The city was called Florentina (flowery or fertile) and paid taxes to Rome for the use of the territory.

The period of the caliphate (IX-X centuries) brings us to Medina Elvira, located 12 km from Granada.

The Elvira Gate served as the main entrance to the city during the Muslim era.

Medina Elvira ceased to exist in 1010 at the same time as the Caliphate of Cordoba. Then its inhabitants moved to Garnata (Granada), where they were received by the Zirid dynasty. The Zirids had their court in Albaicín (a district of Granada) between 1013 and 1090. You can still find the remains of walls and old palaces (poorly preserved).

Between the XI and XIII centuries, invasions from North Africa to the Iberian Peninsula began , when two Berber dynasties took control of the city. First there were the Almoravids, who ended the Zirid dynasty, and then the Almohads in 1148. Finally, in 1246, Mohammed I or Ibn al-Ahmar, the founder of the Nasrid dynasty, established the Kingdom of Granada, which extended from Tarifa to Murcia, and thus began a period of maximum greatness in the history of Granada.

The construction of Alhambra began, where the ruler moved from Albaicin in the first half of the XIII century. After visiting this amazing city, you can easily realize the greatness of the ruling dynasty in those days.

The Nasrids were on the throne of Granada for 260 years, until in 1492 the Catholic kings came to conquist their lands. Thus began a new era in the history of Granada, accompanied by construction of great Christian monuments in the city.

Christian Granada

Let’s start our tour in Granada with one of these great Christian monuments – the Cathedral of Granada. The history of the cathedral began in the same year 1492, when the cathedral dedicated to Our Lady of the Incarnation was founded in the Royal Mosque of Alhambra. In 1494, the first transfer of the cathedral took place to the temple of Santa Maria in Realejo, and then to the San Francisco Casa Grande. In 1502, Alejandro VI authorized a new and final relocation of the Granada Cathedral.

Cathedral of Granada

Entrance fee to the cathedral is 5 euros, but if you want to dive more into the history of the Christian era, you can buy a combo ticket and also visit:

The Royal Chapel (built in the XVI century, the tomb of the Catholic kings Isabella and Ferdinand). Located in the cathedral.

Monastery of Cartuja de Granada (XVI century monastery)

Sacromonte Abbey (a secluded XVII century abbey on a mountain with underground chapels and panoramic views).

Monastery of St. Jerome (royal monastery of the XVI century with a rich interior decoration in the Renaissance style). Located in the center.

There are an incredible number of churches in the center of Granada like they were trying to “expel the spirit” of the Moors from the city. Here is another architectural masterpiece – the parish of Santos Justo y Pastor. The current church of Justo y Pastor began to be built in 1575 by the Jesuits. The church has been listed as a monument and object of cultural interest since 1980. 

Parish of Santos Justo y Pastor

Granada’s worship of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary began with the arrival of the Christian kings in 1496. Granada was the first Spanish city that sweared to recognize and defend a theological truth of the Immaculate Conception of Mary on September 2, 1618, and for that reason it was decided to build this monument.

Monument to the Triumph of the Immaculate Conception


From the center, passing the gates of Elvira, we walk to the observation deck with the best views of the city. After all, that’s what we came here for.

View of Alhambra from the St. Nicholas observation deck

From the observation deck we go down to the famous street of Granada filled with historic buildings, shops and cafes. There is an archeological museum here, located in a building of 1539, where the secretary of the Catholic kings lived. The entrance is free and the museum will be viewed quickly. 

Finally, it’s time to visit a magnificent Alhambra. You can lift there by walking in 15 minutes through the Granada Gate of 1536. There is also a paid parking in Alhambra, which will cost you about 10 euros for 5 hours.

Tickets must be purchased in advance on the official website. A general ticket which includes a visit to all the palaces costs 14 euros. A visit to the Generalife only, the gardens and the fortress (Alcazaba) costs 7 euros. There is also a possibility of a night visit for 5-8-14 euros, depending on the objects you want to visit. Prepare to spend at least 4 hours here.

Our tour starts from a visit to the Generalife Palace and Gardens. The name Generalife comes from the term Yannat al-Arif, which means “Garden of the Architect”. The Generalife Palace was a summer residence of the sultans. The Generalife in Granada is the only example left that gives us an idea of what the Spanish-Muslim gardens were like. These gardens are the oldest in Europe. After the conquest of Granada by the Catholic kings, the gardens were modified according to their taste. The palace was built in the times of Almohads in the XII and XIII centuries.

After the arrival of the Spanish kings, changes began in Alhambra, for example, the construction of the palace of Emperor Carlos V, which began in 1533. The Palace of Carlos V is a work of the classical Renaissance, based on the perfect forms of a square and a circle. The goal was to build something in harmony with imperial Rome, with which the emperor felt connected. The palace forms a square with a beautiful round courtyard with a diameter of 30 meters inside.

Palace of Emperor Carlos V
Church of Saint Mary of the Incarnation of the XVII century, located next to the palace of Carlos V.

There is the Nasrid Palace of extraordinary beauty behind the palace of Carlos V, although it would be more correct to call it a complex of palaces. Sultans lived here with their families. After the Catholic kings came, they settled in the palace before the palace of Carlos V was built. The complex included four palaces:

– El Mexuar

The palace, in all likelihood, was built by a decree of Ismail I (1314-1325). It is one of the oldest parts of Alhambra and also the most modified palace after the arrival of the Christian kings. It was a place where the Court dispensed justice.

– Comares Palace

The Comares Palace is considered one of the jewels of Alhambra. Remarkable objects are the patio of Arrayanes, the tower and the embassy hall from the time of Yusuf (1333-1354).

– Palacio de los Leones (Palace of the Lions)

This is the top of Nasrid artwork built during the second reign of Muhammad V (1362-1391). Here you will find the famous patio of the lions, the symbolic center of Alhambra.

– Partal palace (Palacio del Partal)

Built in the beginning of the XIV century (probably during the reign of Muhammad III). Few things remained of the palace: the northern pavilion with its famous Torre de las Damas, a portico, a pool and a recently restored chapel.

And finally, the last part of Alhambra is the fortress (Alcazaba). It was the oldest building in Alhambra. In addition to the function of protecting the Sultan, it contained a mini town to accommodate the royal service and the Sultan’s guard. The construction of the fortress began during the reign of Muhammad I.

Alcazaba Granada. Photo credits: Google maps

Bonus: unusual shops of Granada

After our cultural tour, don´t forget to pamper yourself by shopping. I leave my selection of unusual shops in Granada here.

1) Herbolario Esencias de Granada (herbs and essences of Granada)

My favorite herbal tea store, which is nowhere to be found, no matter how much I searched. The good thing is that they have delivery (in Spain, of course). Therefore, if you love everything natural, be sure to buy something for yourself before you go. The tea combinations are amazing. My favorite: rooibos with mint and chocolate.

2) Patio de los Perfumes (patio of perfume)

A masterpiece shop that looks like a perfumer’s workshop. They sell one-of-a-kind natural perfumes, cosmetics and aromatic essences for home.

3) Arab market

If you want to move from modern Granada to the Arab world, then take a walk along all these streets with shops filled with goods from the east.

Patio de los Perfumes