Friday, May 13, 2011

Spain: Ronda and Granada

By Melissa at 8:10 PM
Ronda, the third city we visited in Andalusia, was a last minute addition to the trip after taking the advice of some fellow travelers we met in a restaurant in Madrid. Ronda is one of the so called Pueblos Blancos, or towns known for their white washed buildings in the southern part of Andalusia. We had originally planned to see some of these towns by renting a car and taking a day trip from Granada, but we changed our minds and decided to stay in one of them. And the scenery in Ronda was well worth it. The town is built on a mountain ridge and you can easily hike down the hillsides filled with wildflowers and into the valley. Partway down we were rewarded by views of the beautiful Puente Nuevo, an 18th-century arched bridge connecting the old and new parts of the city. Rooms built into the bridge used to serve as the town's prison up through the Spanish Civil War. Another quick hike from the old town takes you down to the Guadalevin River where we toured some well preserved Moorish Baths.

Lookout point on the other side of the gorge
From Ronda, Spain

Brian and Melissa in front of the Puente Nuevo bridge
From Ronda, Spain

A view along the old city walls looking into the new town
From Ronda, Spain

View from within the aqueduct that fed the Arab Baths
From Ronda, Spain

From Ronda we took a train to Granada, which is one of Spain's most visited cities. We stayed about a 10-minute bus ride from the center of Granada, which was nice as we found the modern center of Granada to be quite uninteresting as pedestrians. We did however enjoy walking around the Albayzin, or old Moorish town in Granada. It was a nice reminder of the time we spent wandering around the medinas in Morocco, this one decidedly easier to navigate than the others though.

A random street in the El Albayzin
From Granada, Spain

After winding our way up the hill to the Mirador de San Nicolas at the top of the Albayzin district, we were rewarded with a fabulous view of the La Alhambra, the valley below and mountains in the distance. We also spent some time exploring the Cathedral and the Capilla Real, or royal chapel, which is the highlight of the church. It houses the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella, the royal monarchs whose marriage set in motion the unification of the kingdoms that now make up modern Spain as well as funding Christopher Columbus expeditions to the New World.

View of the La Alhambra from Mirador de San Nicholas in the El Albayzin
From Granada, Spain

But of course the icing on the cake was the visit to the La Alhambra, the palace and fortress complex of the Moorish rulers of southern Spain, built on a hill high above the modern city. We were unable to get the advance sale tickets, but luckily they reserve about 500 tickets for same-day sales, so we dragged ourselves out of bed at 6:00am to make sure we would not miss one of the highlights of Spain. When we arrived there were only about 100 people ahead of us waiting for the ticket office to open and we were able to get a morning time slot to view the Alhambra.

Visiting all of the buildings and gardens in the palace took about 5 1/2 hours and we didn't even see everything, so I'll just mention a few things. The highlight of the grounds are the Nasrid palaces, a grouping of three palaces built during the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries of truly inspired Moorish architecture. Each palace has a series of courtyards centered around either a fountain or a landscaped garden. Next we saw the Alcazaba, an 11th century fortress that is in much disrepair, but the scale of the building is still quite impressive and there are wonderful views from the top of the remaining towers. We also toured the Generalife gardens and summer palace. The name Generalife is a Spanish mispronunciation of a phrase that means Architect’s Garden in Arabic. The grounds contain a series of luxurious patios with lush gardens and imaginative fountains. You can hear and see water flowing in every location in the Generalife and it must have been quite a wondrous place to spend a summer afternoon.

View of the Albayzin from the lower gardens of the Generalife in the La Alhambra
From Granada, Spain

Fountain in the Generalife of the La Alhambra
From Granada, Spain

Palacio del Mexuar in the Alhambra
From Granada, Spain

Salon de Embajadores in the La Alhambra
From Granada, Spain

From Granada we flew to Barcelona, where we relished being in the same place for 8 days! But I'll write more on that in our next post.

Melissa and Brian in at the top of the Alcazaba in the La Alhambra
From Granada, Spain