With over 2.5 million visits each year the Alhambra Palace and Generalife Gardens in Granada lays claim as the most visited tourist attraction in Spain. The town allows 6,600 visitors to the Alhambra each day with just 600 people/hour allowed into the best section, the Nasrid Palaces. If you want to visit this UNESCO World Heritage site you’d best plan ahead.
Though tickets can be purchased in advance online they usually sell out well before the date. Indeed, we discovered two weeks before our planned visit in early November that there were no tickets available from the Alhambra’s ticket office during the three days of our visit. Rather than taking our chances at the walk up window, we, like many others, opted to visit the Alhambra in a guided tour. The Alhambra’s restricted ticket policy is a boon for Granada’s tour guides.
On the day of our visit we arrived in the morning and met our guide. Each member of the tour group was issued a set of ear buds and a radio receiver pre-tuned to the guide’s broadcast channel. With so many guides inside the compound, pre-tuned radios are a practical response to keep the overlapping poly-lingual narratives from clashing.
In our case there was little chance that our guide would have been outdone by the competition. Once the tour started the ear buds pumped out a non-stop narrative, frequently banal and repetitive. Impossible as it seemed, the guide looked to be capable of breathing in and speaking out at the same time.
Snarky comments about tourism and the guide aside, the Alhambra is an interesting place to visit. The gardens are beautiful; the indoor spaces are cool and peaceful. Unlike many European palaces of the same era, living in the Alhambra during its Moorish heyday did not seem like a serious hardship.
Striking is the intricate detailing on the inside of the palaces. In contrast to Western styles, Islamic decorations typically do not depict humans or animals. Consequentially most of the decorations in the Alhambra are either patterns or script.
The tiles in the Alhambra are remarkable in that they contain nearly all, if not all, of the seventeen mathematically possible wallpaper groups. (Rest assured; I did not personally verify that all of the plane symmetry groups were present.) Given the influence of the Islamic world on the development of mathematics, the inclusion of highly symmetrical patterns in the Alhambra’s decorations seems unlikely to be coincidental.