To arrive at the point of pride of Alhambra, the Red Castle, visitors have to go either through the Grenada Gate (walking up from Place Nueva) or via Cuesta de los Chinos ('Pebble Slope').
Once you arrive, the first construction you will see is the Palace of Charles V, home to the city's Museum of Fine Arts since 1958. This building was one of the King's residences (even if we're not really sure he even ever lived here). Adjacent to Comares Palace, its architecture is completely different from the Arabic style of the rest of the ensemble. Its designer, Pedro Machuca, started work on it in 1527. It is a rectangular-shaped building constructed around a circular patio. As for its style, experts believe that it is an example of Mannerism architecture, even though its interior façade is a direct reference to the Renaissance. The columns are of the Doric style on the first floor, whereas they display simplified Ionic-style lines on the second balcony, and the third floor is decorated with bulls skulls that make reference to the Greco-Roman architectural tradition.
As you walk past it, you will finally see the famous Palacios Nazaries made up of Comares Palace and the Palace of the Lions.
Built during the first years of the 14th century, these are the two most emblematic monuments of Alhambra. For centuries it was home to the splendour of the Nasrid dynasty, but also to the governing elite (this is where the Sultan usually made his rulings).
Entering the Palace through the Gate of Justice, visitors will discover the Mexuar room. It is the oldest room in the fortified town and served as the courtroom for important cases. From this room, the leaders of the kingdom could sit and listen to the hearings without being seen, thanks to an ingenious system of gratings. At the far end of the building there is a small room that served as an oratory; its decor is the result of many successive modifications over four centuries. Nevertheless, today we can still admire the azulejo tiles in shades of green, red and blue, but also covered with gold leaf. This room was later turned into a chapel on the King's orders.
The official residence of the Sultan was in this building. The Throne Room, also called the Hall of the Ambassadors, is the most imposing room in the palace and also the highest one. Its decoration is spectacular, with impressive ornamental details. Don't forget to look up at the ceiling during your visit: you will discover an incredible representation of the universe.
The Palace of the Lions
The most recent palace, it is also called the Mohammed V Palace and if you don't have a lot of time, at least have a look at its patio, which is unquestionably the most impressive part. This is where you will find a marble fountain from the 16th century, which is decorated with three lions but also the twelve signs of the zodiac. Surrounded by a gallery made up of 124 columns, these constructions are emblematic of Alhambra. Finally, before completing the visit, stop at the Chamber of the Abencerrajes. Formerly the Sultan's apartment, it makes reference to the cave where the prophet Mohammed appeared. And don't forget to have a look at the Hall of the Kings (the largest room in the heram), with the impressive representations of the first ten Kings of Grenada under the arcades.
The Nazarí de Grenada Palaces© Mohd Fuad Salleh / 123RF