Andalusia confounds expectations. Images of the beaches and high-rise towers of Torremolinos and the Costa del Sol easily spring to mind. Viewed from another perspective, it would be tempting to characterize it as the region of the flamenco dancer, oppressive heat, refreshing gazpacho, sangria and bullfighting. Yet, these are only fragments of a more complex truth for this is a region that is also rich in culture and steeped in history. To attempt to list all its highlights would be a difficult task, so we will focus on the most impressive monuments.
Highlights of Andalusia
With its cooling backstreets and alleys, the city in itself overflows with charm. However, it is also home to two of the most impressive monuments in all of Spain- namely, the cathedral and the fortress.
By some calculations it is bigger than St. Peter’s in Rome. However it is similar to the Duomo di Milano in its Gothic style.
Seville Cathedral is imposing in every sense of the word. In fact, you can hardly leave Andalusia without paying it a visit. The Giralda, or main bell tower, is an icon of Seville and provides unmatched views across the city. Originally a minaret constructed by the city’s Muslim rulers, it has been subsumed into the cathedral and the long climb to the top will reward your effort with truly stunning views. The spacious Patio de las Naranjas, which takes its name from its numerous orange trees, will delight children of all ages. Along with the Alcazar and the Archivo de las Indias, Seville Cathedral is one of three UNESCO World Heritage sites in the regional capital.
Tickets cost 9 euro for an adult and there is no charge for children. It is open from 11am to 3:30pm on Monday, 11am to 5pm Tuesday-Saturday and 2:30pm to 6pm on Sunday.
Although easily overlooked in favour of the legendary Alhambra Palace in Grenada, the Real Alcázar or fortress is a treasure trove of Moorish architecture and culture.
Home to intricate reliefs, brightly tiled walls and small fountains, the very stones of the building breathe history. Wandering through the rooms of this ancient fortress, it is easy to forget time in an afternoon of pure discovery. However, no matter how alluring its buildings, don’t forget to visit the gardens. Their perfect symmetry and bright colours make them a photographer’s paradise.
Tickets cost 9.50 euro for an adult and there is no charge for children. It is open from 9:30am to 7pm from April to September and from 9:30am to 7pm from October to March.
Due to its mountainous location, Granada can be relatively cool when Seville seethes in the heat of an Andalusian summer. The cobbled streets and whitewashed buildings of the Albaicin attract appreciative visitors while the area around the cathedral hums with busy restaurants, cafes and shops. At night the cool cuevas come alive to the sounds of flamenco, but there is one reason why everyone stops here- The Alhambra Palace.
The last bulwark of Muslim Spain when it finally fell to the Christian armies in 1492, it is the stuff of legends. More than just a palace, it is really a complex of palaces with gardens that will make you believe that you have finally reached heaven on earth. Can you visit Andalusia without coming here? NOOOO!
The Nasrid Palaces and the Generalife gardens are the highlights of a visit here. However, make sure to enter the palaces at the time indicated on your ticket. Due to the historic importance of the buildings, visitor numbers are strictly controlled and you must enter at the time indicated. The Muslim mosaics are typically intricate, but again it is the views from the gardens that may leave you with lasting memories. Although it can be visited on a daytrip from Seville, there is easily enough in the city to keep you entertained for a number of days.
Tickets cost 14 euro for an adult and there is no charge for children. Note that ALL visitors must have tickets, including children. Morning or afternoon tickets can be purchased and it is advisable to book in advance if possible. Evening or night visits run from Tuesday to Saturday (March-October) and on Friday/Saturday off season.
This is a city that comes into its own in the first two weeks of May when its patios, considered the best in Spain, open to the public. However, even if you choose to visit at another time of year, it is also home to two architectural delights- La Mezquita and the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. The former is indeed so impressive that it would be easy to forget about the latter- a big mistake.
Make no mistake about it, this building is impressive, so much so that it might be considered one of the most astonishing buildings in Europe and this is no mean feat.
Similar to Seville Cathedral, it also started life as a Muslim mosque. However, the unique feature here is that its original Islamic architecture remains absolutely intact and the Christians have merely added a lavish cathedral. With light penetrating from above through stained glass windows, the red and gold arches and intricate mosaics seem to constantly change in aspect. Add to this the sheer vastness of the building, which seems to swallow busloads of tourists, and this is a place that will surely enchant you. For those who love history and architecture, a visit here will devour their time and interest. It may be hard to leave, but the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos really does deserve a look.
Tickets cost 8 euro for an adult, 4 euro for a child from 10 to 14 and entrance is free for children under 10. It is open from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday and from 8:30am to 11:30am/ 3pm to 6pm on Sundays and religious holidays.
Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos
As charming as charming can be, its ramparts offer views across the gardens whose centrepiece is a long rectangular fountain. On a sunny day, the waters in the fountain shimmer in the sun and the views are…sheer bliss. Apparently, the waterwheel by the river once helped to supply the gardens and the fountains with water. This is another place to wander and to dream…Don’t miss it!
In winter it is open from Tueday to Friday from 8:30am to 8:45pm, Saturday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, Sunday from 8:30am to 2:30pm. In summer (June 16th to September 15h) from Tuesday to Saturday from 8:30am to 3pm, Sunday from from 8:30am to 2:30pm
Useful References to Plan Your Visit to Andalusia
Seville Cathedral: www.catedraldesevilla.es (in Spanish)
Real Alcázar: www.alcazarsevilla.org
The Alhambra Palace: www.alhambra.org
La Mezquita: www.catedraldecordoba.es
Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos: www.alcazardelosreyescristianos.cordoba.es