The Prague astronomical clock

The Prague astronomical clock

Prague

Prague is the capital of Czech Republic and, in my opinion, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. I visited it last month and I loved it. I’m sure I’ll be back.

The historic center is gorgeous, with exceptional buildings, an imposing castle and a bridge which is one the world’s most famous. The whole historic center has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992.

The astronomical clock

The astronomical clock

The city of Prague has two banks, divided by the Vltava river:

  • On one side, Malá Strana and Hradcany – The Castle is located in this side;
  • In the other bank: Staré Mesto (old city), Nové Mesto (new city), Josefov (Jewish quarter) and Vysehrad.

On the facade of the old City Council, located in the city’s heart (old town), we can find one the most emblematic points of Prague. It’s the astronomical clock, one of the world’s oldest and most elaborate. In addition to telling the time, it also shows the moon phases and movement of the stars… It’s a monument to sky observation.

Actually, the main function of the astronomical clock was to describe the movement of the celestial bodies, showing the time was just a secondary element…

I’ve passed by it several times and the number of tourists looking at it and photographing it is unbelievable. This building is being repaired since June 2017, the access to its interior is closed to the public and the outer side is partially covered. You will see that in this article’s photos.

If you are thinking about going to Prague, do it next year preferably. The works will finish at the end of 2017.

The construction of the clock

The building of the City Council was created in 1338 and its initial goal was to be the administrative headquarters of the old town. Some years later, a tower was added to its southern part. In 1410 the astronomical clock was installed in its facade.

This masterpiece was achieved by the royal clockmaker Mikuláš de Kadaň and was perfected, at the end of the 15th century, by the hands of the master Hanuš de Růže. There is a legend that says that Hanuš built the clock, but this is not true. The legend also affirms that, in order to ensure that the clockmaker wouldn’t build an identical clock, the counselors of Prague gave the order to blind him. But, in a revengeful act, Hanuš stopped the clock…

In reality, the astronomical clock stopped indeed, but that happened many years later, already in the 19th century. Its mechanism was repaired by the clockmaker Ludvík Hainz.

Prague was constituted by 4 cities which, in the 18th century, came together and so the City Council became the city’s headquarters. Back then, a proposal to remove the clock from the tower’s facade was made. Fortunately it was not accepted.

Since then, several actions were conducted to enhance the clock, in order to preserve it and improve some mechanisms. Even though the clock already has several centuries of age, some parts of it are still the original ones.

The 3 parts of the astronomical clock

Part 1 – The 12 Apostles

On the top, there are 12 mechanical statues which depict the 12 apostles. These images were added to the watch in the 17th century. During the fire of 1945, these statues were destroyed, having been replaced by wooden statues made by Vojtěch Sucharda 3 years later.

When the clock strikes the hour, between 9 am and 11 pm, you can see a parade of statuettes in 2 small windows under the roof. You will recognize each of the apostles, since they have attributes that make them identifiable.

In addition to the apostles who show up every time the clock strikes the hour, some other statues also “come to life”. The skeleton, which has in its hand an hourglass that measures time, pulls the thread and unleashes the parade. It nods its head to the Turkish, who symbolizes extravagance. The Turkish refuses it.

The miser moves his head and shakes his cane and bag, as a threatening gesture, while, right by his side, the statue that represents vanity is looking itself in the mirror. These figures are symbols of Prague’s medieval society.

When the rooster sings, all movements come to an end and the astronomical clock sleeps for another hour.

Part 2 – The astronomical display

The astronomical clock has more than 600 years of age and is unique in the world. From its astrolabe we can get different sorts of information. The astrolabe is an astronomical instrument used to determine the local time, as well as the position of the sun, moon and stars.

What exists in the tower of the old Prague City Council is an enormous circle with 2 circular discs kept together in the center. The upper part represents the day and the lower part the night. In the lower part we can see 2 colors with the sunrise and the sunset, on the left and on the right, respectively. One just needs to look at the position of the sun and we can confirm what time of the day we currently are!

When looking closely to the astrolabe we can also be acquainted with:

  • The time of the old Bohemian – Gothic numbers indicate the hours that have passed since the sunset, which was the beginning of the new day;
  • The time of Babylon – the Arab numbers measure the hours between the sunrise and the sunset, therefore the summer and winter days have different lengths;
  • The time of Central Europe or the Old German Time – the golden hand indicates the time used by all of us. The day starts at midnight;
  • The time of the Stars – it’s shown on the Roman numeral display and derives from the movement of the stars;
  • The sunrise and sunset – the location of the sun in the regions of 3 different colours indicates if it’s day or night. The sunrise and sunset happen in the boundaries of these colours;
  • The Zodiac signs – marked by the 12 zodiac symbols;
  • The position and phases of the moon – a ball travels through the display, performing a round of 29 and a half days (lunar month), changing its aspect based on the phases of the moon;
  • The declination of the sun – based on the position of the sun on the golden circles, which represent the Tropic of Cancer, Capricorn and the Equator;
  • The equinox and solstice – based on the position of the sunlight on the bars that connect the Zodiac ring to the clock.

This is the medieval perception of the universe.

Part 3 – Display of the calendar

This is the newest part of the astronomical clock, having been added to it in the 19th century.

The most important part is the Cisiojanus. This is the mnemonic display used to remember the most important festivities on a certain day of the month. This information is found on the outer ring. The man responsible for this device was Karel Jaromír Erben, a Czech historian, poet and writer.

On the calendar’s display there is also information on the zodiac signs, as well as on the days and months of the year. To verify the current date one just needs to check what’s at the top.

In addition the symbol of the old city, we also find statues of the philosopher and Archangel Michael, an astronomer and chronicler.

Calendar display

Calendar display

The Prague Castle

The Prague Castle

When visiting Prague, the castle is an absolute cornerstone. You are going to see it when you cross the Charles Bridge, the city’s most famous and oldest. I also recommend that you do not confine yourself to this part and devout some time (one morning or afternoon) to visit its interior.

The castle is a super important symbol, not only of Prague, but of the whole Czech Republic. It’s the seat of political and religious power, having been the residence of the royal Bohemian family and the Bishop of Prague, and also of the presidency of the republic since 1918. It’s the world’s largest complex of castles, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, occupying an area of 70.000 m2. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In my opinion these are 2 really strong justifications to consider a visit (or a comeback) to Prague in the near future.

What is its history?

The castle of Prague was founded approximately in the year of 880 by Prince Bořivoj, the 1st Duke of Bohemia. This prince was the 1st royal figure of the Přemyslid Dynasty, who ruled Bohemia throughout 400 years, until 1306.

Bořivoj had the ambition to establish himself in a place whose location offered more benefits, on the top of a hill, by the river Vltava. And thus the huge complex we see today was started.

The 1st construction of all was a wooden fortress and, later on, stone buildings were built. The Church of St. Mary, which no longer exists (just some ruins of it) and the St George’s Basilica were the first ones.

Over the years, on the initiative of successive monarchs, several churches and other buildings were constructed. In the 14th century, on the initiative of Emperor Charles IV, the semblance of the castle underwent some changes. The name of Prague’s most famous and oldest bridge derives from this Emperor. During his era, the construction of St. Vitus Cathedral began and some changes were made to the fortifications of the castle and to the palace. The royal family started to live in the castle itself.

Many changes have already happened so far, given the specific context of different kings and emperors, the styles that were the major trend of their eras, the fire that took place in 1541, or due to different belligerent conflicts. The vast array of events which took place over the centuries produces a complex with buildings that have totally different styles.

What can we visit?

Inside the castle there are several palaces, church buildings, offices which represent several architectural styles, built throughout several centuries. Up next I will talk a bit about those places which may be regarded as “mandatory”.

The Old Royal Palace

The underground area is the oldest of the whole complex. The Palace was the residence of princes and kings of Bohemian until the 16th century, having been built on the top of the ruins of a Romanesque palace, an edification on the initiative of Prince Soběslav.

There are several points of interest, but perhaps one should emphasize the Vladislav Hall. It’s an enormous room built between 1492 and 1502 by Vladislav, who gave it his own name. This space has windows 5 meters high, a wooden floor of the 18th century and tin chandleries (only 3 of 5 are made of tin).

Vladislav Hall has already been used to hold several events, such as banquets, commendations, assemblies or tournaments. Currently this room is used for ceremonies of state and presidential elections.

Equally noteworthy in the old Royal Palace is the Church of All Saints. It was built by Petr Parler on the spot where once a Romanesque church was, also devoted to all Saints. This Church was decorated in a similar way to the Saint Chapelle of Paris, until it was partially destroyed by the fire of 1541.

St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral is the largest and most important church in Prague and the Czech Republic. It was founded in 1344 and it took 600 years to be built in its entirety. Saints, princes and kings were buried here.

Inside we can find the arm of St. Vitus and the crown jewels. If you are interested, take a look at the cathedral’s treasure, it’s the country largest and also one of the most important in Europe. But the hallmark is the gorgeous Chapel devoted to St. Wenceslaus, the country’s patron saint. It was created in the 14th century by Charles IV and it’s a well-known space for its décor.

From the top of the Cathedral south tower, with almost 100 meters in height, you will be able to have a breath-taking panoramic view of Prague. Climbing its 287 stairs it’s well worth it!

The construction of this tower began in the 14th century and was finished 3 centuries later. We can find in it several bells, one is the biggest in the Czech Republic. It’s known as Zikmund and weighs 15 tonnes.

The legend says that, when the Emperor Charles IV died, the city’s bells started to toll on their own. Another legend says that if the heart of Zikmund breaks something really bad will affect the nation. It already happened once, in 2002, and floods happened throughout the country a couple of weeks later…

Detail of the exterior of the Cathedral of S. Vito

Detail of the exterior of the Cathedral of S. Vito

Cathedral of S. Vito

Cathedral of S. Vito

St. George’s Basilica

St. George’s Basilica is Prague’s 2nd oldest church, having been founded in 920. One can easily identify it much due to its 2 bell towers with 41 meters of height, made of white stone.

It started as a convent of Benedictine nuns, but the damage caused by a fire prompted changes to the building. When visiting it we can see really old walls and a rich collection of Gothic and Baroque art.

If you have time, watch a music concert in this Basilica. The acoustic is just astonishing!

Golden Lane

The Golden Lane is a tiny street with several coloured small houses, which are quite beautiful indeed. It was one of the things that I enjoyed the most in the entire complex.

They were built at the end of the 16th century to serve as housing for the snipers who safeguarded the castle. There was a total of 24 houses and, since there was a lack of space, they had to be built really small. The Emperor forbade windows facing the Deer Moat and the houses couldn’t be sold or rent.

Throughout the years, some houses were destroyed and the snipers were no longer needed. The street was then occupied by people with other jobs. The renowned writer Franz Kafka lived at number 22 and a fortune teller named Madame de Thebes occupied the 14th, having predicted the fall of Nazism, something that led to her arrest (and murder).

The name of the street derives from the time when houses were inhabited by goldsmiths.

Mihulka Tower

The Mihulka Tower is the largest of the cannon towers. It was built in the 15th century and was part of the castle’s new fortifications.

It already has served as an alchemy lab, gunpowder warehouse, dungeon and, as we speak, its interior hosts a permanent exhibition about the Castle Guard. The tower has had several names, with Mihulka appearing only in the 19th century, due to the presence of gunpowder inside of it.

Rosenberg Palace

The Rosenberg Palace started, in the 16th century, as a Renaissance building which was the property of the homonymous family. Later, it was rebuilt in the Baroque style and used as an Institute of women who were part of noble families. 30 noble girls were educated there who, for several reasons, ended up penniless.

The Palace has been occupied since 1919 by government offices.

When visiting the Rosenberg Palace, check the chapel, the main room and an exhibition where you can get to know the Institute a little bit better.

 

To know more about so many centuries of history of the complex, I recommend visiting the permanent exhibitions on the castle’s history and the European art gallery (painting) between 15th and 18th centuries.

If you visit the city in the summer, as I did, you can also see the gardens and an enormous ravine named Stag Moat.

On a perfect day, start by crossing the magnificent Charles Bridge and climb your way up to the Castle. Take your time to see the surroundings and step inside. Save some hours to see everything calmly.

The most famous bridge in Prague

The most famous bridge in Prague

Prague is the capital of Czech Republic and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful European cities. I’ve visited quite recently and I loved it. The historic centre is gorgeous, with exceptional buildings, an impressive castleand a bridge renowned as one of the world’s most famous. The whole historic centre is a UNESCO Heritage Site since 1992.

The castle

The castle

The centre of the Prague is crossed by the country’s longest river, the Vltava. It has 435 km, its source is found in the Bohemian region and the mouth is located a few kilometres north of the Czech capital. The river splits Prague into two banks:

  • On one side, Malá Strana (a tiny city) and Hradcany – The Castle is located in the small city;
  • In the other bank: Staré Mesto (old city), Nové Mesto (new city), Josefov (Jewish quarter) and Vysehrad.

The city has more than 300 bridges… over the Vltava and also over other water courses found there. This is why it is aptly named the city of the hundred towers and also of the 100 bridges.

The most famous of all is the Charles Bridge. It’s the oldest and, for 450 years, it was the only connection between both banks of the Vltava.

Who ordered the construction of the bridge?

The Emperor Charles IV ordered the construction of a bridge in Prague in 1357, with 1402 being the deadline. The old Judith bridge needed a replacement, since it had been shattered by the 1342 floods. The Emperor assigned the bridge’s drawing and construction to the architect Petr Parleř, but the work was finished already after his death.

The legend says that Charles IV consulted astrologers to know what would be the most favourable day to launch the construction. The 1st stone was placed by the Emperor himself at the exact moment the astrologers recommended him to. It was at dawn (5:31 am), on July 9 of 1357.

Some say as well that, at the time of its constructions, eggs, wine and milk were all used to make sure that it would last many years… the fact is that it’s almost 660 years old already!

It was initially called Stone Bridge and the name of Charles was only given to it in 1870, as a tribute to this ruler.

What the bridge looks like and what can see in it?

Charles Bridge is 515.76 meters long and 9.5 meters wide approximately. It’s a construction made of sandstone with 16 arches.

The arches

The arches

I’d say that, first of all, the most important of Charles Bridge is the view we can have to the castle and river, and all of its dynamics.  Quite probably you will cross it coming from the old area and so you will have this gorgeous monument right in front of you. It’s a magnificent complex located on the top of a hill. Quite interesting as well is being able to look at the river, both banks and to all the ships that placidly sail the Vltava.

Secondly, the bridge itself. It has 3 towers (one located in one of its ends and 2 in the other) and 30 statues depicting important saints, spread throughout its length.

Thirdly, the whole frenzy caused by the perennial streets artists and small jewellery merchants. I don’t recommend buying anything given how high the prices are, but checking and being part of this is really worth it.

Street artists

Street artists

The bridge has been car-free since 1965, so you can walk on this precious gem as freely as you want.

The towers

The towers found on the edges of Charles Bridge are regarded by many as the world’s most beautiful gothic constructions. On the old city side, there is one and, around it, there’s the statue of the Emperor Charles IV, from whom the name of the bride derives. This tower was built in the same period of the bridge and it holds gorgeous sculptures, also authored by the architect Petr Parleř.

It’s highly likely that your crossing will start precisely here. Get ready for a journey back in time. After half a kilometre of bridge, already on the side of the castle, there are 2 towers with different heights. The smallest is also the oldest and it was part of the Judith Bridge. The highest is more recent, from the 15th century, just like the portico between both towers.

Tower of the old city side

Tower of the old city side

Castle side towers

Castle side towers

The statues and sculptural groups

The 30 statues and sculptural groups that are found in the bridge were placed there between 1683 and 1928, many years later after its construction. It’s a rather interesting mishmash of styles, since the bridge is still medieval and there are baroque statues. They were donated by judges and noblemen who were part of the Counter-Reformation movement, since it resembled the Sant’Angelo Bridge in Rome.

I just have to mention that what we see today in the bridge are replicas, if you want to see the originals you will have to visit the Prague National Museum.

The statues depict saints in their vast majority, with these being Saint Ivo; Saint Barbara, Saint Margaret and Saint Elizabeth; – the sacred virgins; Pietà; Saint Sigismund, Saint Lugardis, Saint Albert or the rather popular statue and tribute to Saint John of Nepomuk. This is the bridge’s oldest statue.

The legend says that this saint was the queen’s confessor priest and, when he refused to tell the king what the queen was telling him in confession, he was killed and his body thrown into the river.

There are a statue and a tribute carved in iron dedicated to this saint. In both monuments it’s possible to check the 5 stars in his head, a depiction of what is said to have happened with his body in the river…

Yet another sculpture found on the bridge is the Calvary, which underwent several changes over the years. Death sentences were consummated in this place.

Lisbon Passport

Lisbon Passport

For long as I can recall I’ve always enjoyed keeping stuff during my trips. Souvenirs that make me go back to a city I’ve visited, a subway ride, a great dinner (or not so much) or a show.

Nowadays there’s an ever-growing number of records made on social media networks but, for me, that’s not the same. Being able to touch the papers changes how the memory works, perhaps it turns it into something more real…

Page of identification in Lisbon Passport

Page of identification in Lisbon Passport

Quite recently I’ve heard about Lisbon Passport and I’ve really enjoyed this concept. I’ve got mine already and soon I will start stamping it 😉

What is it?

Lisbon Passport is a diary of the trip to the Portuguese capital. In a tiny booklet with little more than 30 pages, we can register everything we’ve seen and visited.

For me, the document in itself is interesting right away. The pages let us know a bit more about Lisbon’s history. There’s a total of 17 milestones which register events like the conquest of the city against the moors, the departure of Vasco da Gama to India, the 1755 earthquake or the more reccent event Expo 98.

Interior of Lisbon Passport

Interior of Lisbon Passport

Interior of Lisbon Passport

Interior of Lisbon Passport

There’s also a children’s version, exactly the same size, but with more blank pages.

The stamps

The goal behind Lisbon Passport is, like I’ve said, to register what we’ve seen, using stamps that are made available at the city’s main attractions. Of course you can (and should) also write down your personal notes, for instance your remark on a particular spot you’ve visited.

Another quite interesting detail is the stamps. These are design pieces made precisely for this diary. Each one will remember you of the spot you’ve seen, not only because of the name, but also due to the drawing itself.

Attractions worth visiting

In this moment there are around 40 stamps available, in 40 tourist attractions in Lisbon (and surroundings). It’s worth mentioning that these stamps are available in public access spots, so you don’t have to enter and purchase a ticket or consume anything in order to stamp your passport. In other words, if you want to see a specific attraction from the outside you can also make a register about it.

Attractions are located in Lisbon, Queluz, Almada and Sintra. They are not far from the Portuguese capital’s centre.

The places worth visiting can be:

  • Areas like Alfama, Rossio, Chiado, Bairro Alto, Avenida da Liberdade, Príncipe Real, Rua Augusta or Belém;
  • Monuments like Castelo de São Jorge, Castelo dos Mouros, Padrão dos Descobrimentos, Lisbon Sé, Cristo Rei, Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Torre de Belém or Panteão Nacional;
  • Palaces (Belém, Pena, Sintra, Queluz or Ajuda);
  • Football stadium (Luz);
  • Experiences like taking the Tram 28, visiting Ginjinha Sem Rival or even Pastéis de Belém or also the Hard Rock Café;
  • Museums (Carmo, Calouste Gulbenkian, Oriente, Etnologia, Fado, Campo Pequeno, Marioneta, Santo António, Coches, Arte Antiga, Azulejo, Arqueologia)

These are unavoidable landmarks and you will surely visit some.

Arab Baths in Córdoba

Arab Baths in Córdoba

For several hundreds of years, the region of Andalusia was occupied by the Arabs. Granada was the last place to be reconquered by the Christians, already in the 15th century. Therefore, these people had a massive influence on the life of Andalusians, in terms of food, architecture or language.

A legacy that also stood the test of time is the Arab baths. When I was in Córdoba I visited them several times, at the end of the day. I loved the atmosphere and the relaxation induced by the different water temperatures. In my opinion, this experience is part of the trip. I deeply recommended it!

You can visit the Arab baths a bit all over Andalusia, not only in Córdoba. If you visit Almeria, Granada, Malaga, Seville, Jaén, Cadiz or Huelva, you will also find it.

How did the Arab Baths appear?

First there were Roman thermal baths, Byzantine baths and steam baths. Going there was already treasured even before the 7th century.

When the Arabs occupied the spots which once were part of the Roman Empire, they took advantage of the then-existing baths, however they adapted and turned them into something slightly different.

They ended up mixing several traits of baths of that time, Roman included, but not only.

It’s interesting to see that many of the Arab baths which currently exist are found in the vicinity of mosques. As it is known, the ablutions, i.e., the purification of the body, is a mandatory act before praying. The fact that baths are found near the mosques may be related to this matter.

Usually, there is a water point located in the mosque’s access, but visiting the Arab baths would have been even a better option.

Initially, the baths could only be used by men, only many years later women were allowed to attend as well. In some cases, different schedules were set to keep both sexes apart and, in others, two structures were built, one for each sex.

But visiting the baths was much more than washing the body, it was a social moment between the inhabitants. I can imagine the immense number of things that were addressed there… politics and businesses, for instance. The Arab baths were indeed part of the people’s daily life.

When the Arabs left Europe, the baths stopped being used. The Church did not have the best of opinions about a place where leisure and laziness were common practice, and even the rumour that this sort of bath was harmful to health started to be spread. And, due to all this, the facilities stopped being used.

This idea that the baths could be something pernicious would only be debunked almost in the 20th century, already with more information (science). And, as a result of this change in mentalities, more Arab baths started to emerge. Nowadays it is known for a fact that baths are useful to boost blood circulation.

How does the Arab bath in Córdoba look like?

The Arab baths are public buildings divided into several rooms, and these may vary depending on the facilities. I’m going to talk about what I had the chance to know in person in the city of Córdoba, the biggest in Europe. It is located right next to the mosque, which is a common trait.

These facilities have already been a setting for movies, series and several cultural events, and they are quite magnificent. They are worth a visit in themselves.

In Córdoba, the Arab baths have 3 water rooms, which include the cold room with water at 16ºC, the warm room with water at 36ºC and the hot room with water at 40ºC. We can walk freely throughout these for 90 minutes. There is also the vapour and the relaxation rooms.

At the time, I had never before had the chance to visit one and so I didn’t exactly what I was supposed to do, but you just have to walk around, try the temperature that you enjoy the most and pay attention to what the regular attendees do.

Reception

Temperate room

What’s it like to go to the Arab baths?

After putting the swimsuit we go to the warm room, into a pool heated to a pleasant temperature of 36ºC. Most of the people stay here.

From time to time we visit the cold room, where there is a shower with water at 16ºC. Everyone can be there as much as they want, depending on their own sensitivity. I hate the cold so I just spend a couple of seconds!

After that, we should always go the warm water pool. The other option is the hot room, stepping into a small-sized pool which includes a waterfall at 40ºC. We have to enter it very slowly, given that it is not easy to be in touch with water which happens to be warmer than the temperature inside our bodies. Yet again, just like it happens with the cold water shower, we can stay as long as we want.

After the hot water, it’s always time to relax at the pool heated at 36ºC.

So the idea is to stay in the warm area and, from time to time, visit the cold or the hot room. After every journey we should always go back to the warm area. We don’t go from the cold to the hot area straight away.

Doing this circuit several times it’s indeed extremely relaxing. The area, the decoration, the music, the smell, it’s a whole array of experiences.

On top of all this, we can always book a massage. Do it in advance, in order to make sure that you will have the opportunity to experience it during the days you are in Córdoba.

 

The photos of this article were courtesy of the Hammam Al Andalus.

A wonderful named Alhambra

A wonderful named Alhambra

Granada is a stunning city. It can be found in the region of Andalusia, which a Spanish autonomous community as well, in the country’s south. It’s a charismatic region and, in my view, one extremely interesting when seen through the lenses of heritage and history.

The whole region of Andalusia was occupied by the Arabs for several centuries and the last stronghold of the entire Iberian region was the city of Granada. Only in 1492, and already after several years of combat, the Catholic kings were able to take the city from the Arabs.

Its landscape positioning is perfect. The city is about 20 km away from the Sierra Nevada, Europe’s 3rd largest mountain chain. Its peak reaches a height of 3482 meters. Alhambra, which is the symbol and most famous monument of Granada, is found on the top of a hill named al-Sabika, with a height of approximately 700 meters and has the Sierra Nevada as its setting. It’s perfect.

The hill is found on the bank of Darro river, west of Granada. On the river’s opposite side, one can find the popular quarters of Albaicin and Alcazaba.

Believe that the 1st impression that will have of Alhambra will be splendorous, but the true enchantment happens on the inside… Regardless of the time of the year, there are always tons of people visiting it. Do what I did, wake up at dawn and queue up. It’s worth it 😉

What does Alhambra mean?

The name Alhambra derives from the Arab “qa,lat al-Hamra”, which means red castle. So its name is related to the reddish tone of the walls.

What is the Alhambra?

The Alhambra complex is the world’s most jaw-dropping Arab citadel. It’s a walled city where one can find royal rooms, never-ending gardens, courtyards and many other things.

Who built the Alhambra?

The first references to the Alhambra date from the 9th century, a period when a fortress is referenced. However, the royal occupation of the Alhambra only took place in the 13th century, under the Nasrid dynasty. Mohammed ben Al-Hamar was this dynasty’s 1st king and he was also the 1st to occupy the complex. And this event was the starting point of the Alhambra’s golden era.

Over time, others kings succeeded him and the Alhambra underwent several changes. These overhauls kept taking place even after the Christian victory in Granada. A part of it was demolished, with that space being replaced by the Palace of Charles V, and new areas were born, like the Emperor’s Chambers and the Queen’s Dressing Room.

In the 18th century, whilst the French occupation was in full fledge, the Alhambra endured an explosion that caused serious damages. The recovery endeavours started in the following century, which are being conducted up to the present day.

What can we see in the Alhambra?

Inside the Alhambra, we can visit 4 different areas, with these being the Alcazaba, the Palace of Charles V, the Generalife and the Nasrid Palace.

1 – Alcazaba

The whole set constituted by the Alcazaba and the Bermejas towers is the complex’s oldest part, dating from the 9th century. This Citadel’s objective was to guard and control the city of Granada. The Bermeja towers, whose name is related to the colour of their walls, were part of a wide set of watchtowers, called Torre de La Quebrada, del Homenaja e de la Vela.

These towers were the city’s first military strongholds and became part of the Alcabaza, some time after having been built. Already a unified structure, they also were connected to Alhambra by the means of a wall.

From this whole area we have a gorgeous view over the rest of the Alhambra complex and the splendid city of Granada.

Alcabaza

Alcabaza

Alcabaza

Alcabaza

2 – Palace of Charles V

The Palace of Charles V is one of the most important works of the Renaissance. The King of Spain and Emperor of Germany, Charles V, visited Spain during his honeymoon. He enjoyed Granada so much that he chose the city to live and order the construction of a stunning palace at the Alhambra for that same purpose.

The architect accountable for this endeavour was Pedro Machuca, whose artistic education was rooted in Rome, having been a disciple of Michelangelo. And, due to this influence, he enacted something entirely unprecedented in Spain. The most interesting detail is that the palace has a round shape in its interior, even though the outer walls convey a squared shape instead.

Currently the Palace of Charles V holds the Fine Arts Museum and the Museum of the Alhambra. Charles V actually never had the opportunity to live in the place whose construction he ordered…

Carlos V Palace

Carlos V Palace

Carlos V Palace

3 – Generalife

Generalife was a resting and leisure spot for the kings of Granada, just like its agricultural area. Its name means architect garden, which dates back to its origins, before being acknowledged as royal heritage.

This space comprises 2 buildings which happen to be connected through Patio de la Acequia, one of Alhambra’s most emblematic and photographed locations. This courtyard holds the royal irrigation channel, providing water to the gardens and to the whole complex.

The whole set of elements, like the environment, the water sound, the Arab motifs, light and plants, is just pure magic.

Generalife

Generalife

Generalife

Generalife

4 – Nasrid Palaces

The Nasrid Palaces were the old residence of the Sultans and they represent the heart of the whole complex of Alhambra.

Here we can find 3 buildings:

  • Mexuar or Meshwar – it’s the oldest part. Royal ministerial meetings were held here, having functioned as a court as well;
  • Comares Palace – it was the sultan’s official residence and it holds the throne room. It comprises a beautiful lake;
  • Palace of the Lions – this is the most iconic palace, since it has the central courtyard with lions and the Observation Point of Daraxa.

Nasrid Palaces

Nasrid Palaces

Nasrid Palaces

Nasrid Palaces

I’ve once read that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The Alhambra is like that.

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