I first visited the Alhambra fifteen years ago and I don’t remember much about it except for the beautiful architecture and the numerous black and white photos that I took of the plasterwork and tiles. Now, I’ve returned to find it busier, more expensive and less enthralling. A victim of its own fame after Washington Irving immortalised it in his 1832 book ‘Tales of the Alhambra’ and its increased status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
In 2007 more than 3 million visitors passed through the gates of the Alhambra. The ease of 21st century travel enabling many Asian and American tourists to reach this treasured place. In order to control the numbers and the subsequent effects of deterioration, tickets are now limited and timed. During the busy summer months it is essential to reserve them in advance but it’s only 9am on a December morning, and although it’s a Spanish public holiday, I find obtaining a ticket rather easy. It is timed for 9.30 and had I not engaged the friendly entrance guard in conversation, I would not have realised that this time is for entry to the Nasridian Palace, a good 10 minute walk from the entrance I am currently standing at.
My visit to the Palace turns out to be disappointing, possibly because in the last 15 years I have become very well-travelled, especially in the Middle East, and this type of architecture is no longer novel for me. I get greater enjoyment from wandering the gardens, where fewer tourists bother to venture, and climbing the towers of the Alcazaba, which offer stunning 360° views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the city of Granada and the plains beyond.
I wonder if I was wise to return to such a well-known and evocative location. Perhaps disappointment was to be expected the second time around. Or perhaps my expectations have changed through experience, and I suppose I now have a preference of avoiding the popular tourist traps and seeking out little known spots off the beaten track.