The Alhambra and Parador de San Francisco – Granada, Andalusia, Spain

What Wonders Lie Within

Nothing in life could be crueler than to be blind in Granada,” reads an inscription within the walls of the Alhambra, the greatest expression of Spanish Muslim art and architecture. With sections that date back to the 9th century (begun by the Caliphate), the wonder you see today was cre­ated mainly under the reigns of Yussuf I (1333-1353) and Mohammed V (1353-1391).

Although austere and unassuming on the out­side, nearly every surface inside is covered with fantastically ornate geometric and flowing arabesque patterns.

For almost 250 years the “Red Fortress” served the Moorish rulers of Granada as palace, harem, residence for court officials, and, once, as a garrison for 40,000 soldiers. With the Christians’ ultimate victory in 1492, the last Moorish ruler, Boabdil, and his entourage left Spain forever, and the Catholic monarchs moved into the Alhambra.

It is in the great Hall of Ambassadors that Ferdinand and Isabella supposedly met with Columbus in 1492 before his first voyage. Here, as everywhere, is the soothing murmur of water, coming from the tiled pools, fountains, and channels that are an integral part of the archi­tecture. The dramatic use of exquisite webs and lacy filigree is showcased in the Hall of the Two Sisters, whose intricately honey­combed ceiling somehow escapes gaudiness, managing to be simply beautiful.

The most famous and perhaps the most beautiful of Spain’s eighty-some government- run inns, the Parador de San Francisco enables guests to sleep within the enchanted walls of the Alhambra. Itself a former Moorish palace converted into a Franciscan convent by the newly arrived Catholic monarchs in 1492, the parador offers privileged views of the Alham­bra gardens and Nasrid palaces, the ancient Moorish Albaicin quarter and the countryside beyond.

A better location can hardly be imag­ined, and a long waiting list attests to its popularity. The rooms in the richly appointed original building are filled with antiques and character, plus the opportunity to meander about the Alhambra patios and magnificent gardens after closing hours. More ordinary and less-expensive rooms are available in the new wing, For those who didn’t book far enough in advance, an outdoor lunch might suffice: the parador’s terrace offers romantic views of the Alhambra’s rose gardens while you dine on regional Andalusian specialties.

If you visit in early summer, you can enjoy Granada’s annual seventeen-day International Music and Dance Festival, which begins in late June and features everything from clas­sical music to bewitching flamenco.

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