Before traveling to Spain, we had read, and been told, that we could not visit the country and miss Granada and the Alhambra palace. Heading into the center of the old town, Alan wove down the narrow streets missing pedestrians oblivious to the cars, and buildings unnervingly close. Happy to arrive at our hotel, and abandon the vehicle for a couple of days, we went out to explore. Ready for some lunch, we wandered into a nearby restaurant displaying dozens of Iberian and Serrano hams from their ceiling, combining decorative theme and inventory storage in one fell swoop.
Iberian hams are a type of cured ham which comes from the black Iberian pig, raised primarily in southwestern Spain. There are a few varieties depending on the exact type of feed the pig receives, but the most expensive hams come from animals that are fed acorns, just before they go to market, and are cured for as long as 48 months. Obviously, not your grocery store variety of ham. Online, I found a 4.5 pound ham for only $240., such a deal! Serrano hams are derived from white pigs, and are cured for only 6-18 months. They are not as fatty as the Iberian ham, and not nearly as expensive.
Boarding a small bus at Plaza Nueva, for a 1,20 euro each, we rode to the top of the hill, and were treated to great overviews of the city and the Islamic castle, Alhambra. Then, we took a second bus from the same plaza, offering a different route, but still providing views of the castle and the city. This probably saved us about 3 hours of walking, a lot of it uphill, in the 98 degree heat, so we thought it was a good deal. Riding the bus is a different experience in the old city. We were amazed at the way the drivers maneuvered through the narrow streets, seemingly inches from the walls as they took corners, or backing up when there was a conflict with another vehicle. Incredible job!
Walking through the old town, vendors sold a bit of everything, not exactly the markets of Marrakesh, but a little taste of it. Planning to visit Alhambra, we had made online reservations a couple of days earlier, which is okay during their slower summer season. We spoke with a few people who had gotten shut out of the visit by not realizing the need to plan ahead. During their busier season, it can take 2 weeks or more to get tickets, and you have to select a specific time for the visit to the Palace Nazaries.
Originally built as a military area, the Alhambra became the home to royalty. Starting in 889, a small fortress was built on the hill on the outskirts of the city. In 1237, a Moorish king, Muhammad I. Al-Ahmar, of the Kingdom of Granada rebuilt and renovated the structure to the size which exists today. An assortment of Muslim rulers made additions and improvements within the walls over the next two hundred plus years. Then in 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella further altered the palace after their conquest of the city. In 1527, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, had another palace built within the walls of the fortress. With each new ruler the property was further enhanced, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and a major tourist draw.
The fort, palaces, gardens and grounds of Alhambra are extensive. With our 5:00 PM ticket to enter the Palace Nazaries, we were allowed to enter the grounds of Alhambra at 2:00 PM, we left around 7:00 PM, and we hadn't seen it all! Heat and exhaustion ultimately won out. Alhambra has been the inspiration for many stories, poems and music through history. The beauty has been tarnished by age, vandalism, war and an earthquake, but the beauty still manages to shine through.
Next we are moving on to Serville.