Across Andalucia: Granada’s “Garden of the Architect”

My travels have taken me from Venice to Florence, Genoa, and Istanbul. In 2012 those travels brought me to Andalucia, in search of the remnants of medieval Spain when it was under Moorish rule. My next stop is Granada and its famous Red Fortress, known as The Alhambra, and the Generalife, also known as The Garden of the Architect.

The Alhambra (Al Qal’a al-Hamra,) or “The Red Castle”, was built during the Nasrid Dynasty in 1243 and was the last Moorish stronghold to fall to the Spanish Reconquista in 1492. It gets its name from the red clay the buildings were built from. It was designed to be a palace-city (like the Topkapi in Istanbul) and was further transformed in the 13th century when water was brought up from the Taro River and the castle was expanded into a fortress. The complex consists of several gardens, and the Nasrid Palaces, the oldest and most well preserved Islamic palaces in the world.

Entry to the Nasrid Palaces is timed, so I visited the Generalife, a separate area outside and east of the Alhambra Fortress. It housed the ‘country estates’ of the Nasrid sultans and served as their retreat, as well an agricultural area, originally including orchards, farmland and animal pens to produce food for the Alhambra itself.

The Generalife (“Garden of the Architect”) reflects the Muslim concept of garden as it is referenced in the Koran and to reproduce paradise on earth. Dating back to about the 13th century, it originally included orchards, farmland, and animal pens. Its gardens are planted with citrus, jujube, pomegranate and grapes, cypress, laurel, jasmine, and roses which are very fragrant. It is also built on several levels to adapt to the landscape.

Andrea Navagero, the Venetian ambassador to Charles V, wrote in 1526: “…Although it is not very large, it is extremely beautiful and well constructed and the beauty of its gardens and waters is the best that I have seen in Spain… The water arrives at a stunning green courtyard, which has the appearance of a meadow with a few trees, and by closing off certain channels, the stream that flows through this meadow, I know not how, swells underfoot and dampens everything and then effortlessly retreats without evidence of human hand…“

Alexander Dumas wrote in 1847: “…What is truly wonderful about the Generalife…are the gardens, the waters, the views. So remain for as long as you can in the gardens, drink in the perfume that you will not find anywhere else in the world…”

The Court of the Myrtles (shown above) is named after the hedge that surrounds it. It is also known as the Court of Alberca or Patio de la Acequia. It is an example of classic Granada architecture, and dates to the 19th century.

The photo below shows a fountain located in one of the arbors and surrounded by pools of goldfish. I also admired the hedges here that are pruned to such precision that the gardens in Florence were primitive in comparison.

Goldfish fountain
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno
Water Stairway
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

Beyond the Patio of the Sultana is the Water Stairway (shown at right), dating to the 16th century. Under a canopy of bay trees, four sets of terraced stairs are linked by three landings, with a small fountain in the center. The stone handrails have channels carved into them that are filled with water that flows so fast that they create little whirlpools at the round joints. The sound of birds and water throughout the gardens is omnipresent, and at times, drowned out all other sound. I am impressed at how water is used in the gardens here.

I exit the Gardens and enter the Alhambra, which I will detail in a separate article.

For a concise history of the Generalife and a selection of travelers’ accounts between the 15th-19th centuries, please read “The Generalife: Garden of Paradise” by Jose Antonio Garcia Lujan.

Travel tips

Reservations are highly recommended for the Generalife and the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra. Due to ecological concerns, they limit the number of visitors per day. After waiting in line for over an hour, I was one of the three last people to get to the ticket counter before they cut off sales for that day.

Every eatery here seems to order the same menu of pre-packaged processed foods. There are plenty of places to sit down with your own picnic lunch. Water and shade are limited, especially in the area where you queue up to enter the Nasrid Palaces. Bring a hat, food, water and patience.

Also make time for the Tienda Libereria de la Alhambra, the official bookstore.

PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

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Heather Daveno

Heather Daveno hails from Seattle, Washington, where she works as an office manager by day and a self taught textile artisan by night. In her spare time she is a “hobby historian” and is currently researching the female side of her family history for a book she plans to write, titled: “The Matriarch Diaries.”

You can see her current textile projects at August Phoenix Mercantile and her travels at Daveno Travels.