Alhambra Alta - What to See in Granada

Any one who has been to Granada will tell you somehing about what to see while you are here. This part of the Alhambra is best seem via one of the many guided tours that are on offer here. We try our best here to describe the incredible wonders that are here but it is really far better to have an expert do it in front of you.

Once the Nasrid sultans picked the hill overlooking the Albaycin district as their capital and started building their palaces, it became a magnet for people searching for work, whether they were Moorish or not. The elite of scribes and sculptors were brought or came here. While the sultans and their families resided either in the main palaces or the courts of the Generalife, the rest of hill became a beehive of activity, as baths, gardens, houses and markets were constructed to welcome those who worked for them. In a sense, the Alhambra became a city unto itself. Over three thousand people lived here at the apogee of the Alhambra's splendour. They would live in what would be called the Alhambra Alta or Upper Alhambra.

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After the Christian kingdoms conquered Granada in 1492, the area would become known as the Secano. It would undergo many changes. Most Moorish buildings were destroyed or fell into ruin thanks disrepair or lack of care. The principal buildings on display today are the Church of Santa Maria de la Alhambra and the Parador de Turismo that stands on the highest point in the Alhambra. The former was built on the site of a mosque, while the latter was transformed from an old Moorish palace built by Mohammed III into a Franciscan friary, which would then become a hotel in 1943. We would suggest booking well in advance for a room.

Image across the Secano or Alhambra Alta

Two roads used to lead into the Alhambra Alta. One would lead into the Partal, while the main road was called the Upper Royal Street under which the Royal Waterway ran until at the Water Tower. It would later become the Calle Real or Royal Avenue. There are quite a few ruins sadly littering the area; most are small dwellings, but the main attractions are the Polinario bathhouse, the Palace of the Abencerrages, which belonged to a powerful Nasrid family, who would suffer a sad fate towards the end of Moorish rule. It sits right beside the wall and you can enter its tower. There is a large mansion on the left side as you approach the Cypress Walk from the west, which Leopoldo Balbas laid out while leading the restoration works of the Alhambra in the 1930s.

Adjacent to the Alhambra Alta is the Partal, in which was once some of the more beautiful private homes in the Alhambra complex. As you exit the Leones Palace, you can amble into the Partal. This could have been the wealthiest area apart from the palaces. The term Partal refers to a portico overlooking an esplanade with a large pool in Arabic. Gardens abounded in this quarter.

The whole area revolves around the Tower of the Ladies, a small palace called a mirador built by Mohammed III in 1309. Its pool extends majestically into the rest of the Partal; from its window, you can see the Albaycin and the Generalife. A lovely oratory sits near it. Slightly hidden, the Tower of the False Cemetery has a story to tell, although you have go round the Leones Palace to reach it. In the centre of the Partal, you will come across the ruined palace of Yusuf III constructed in 1417. The Christian governors of the Alhambra resided here until 1718, but their departure was costly as they destroyed the palace and a garden maze was put in its place later on.