There’s an estate outside the walls of the palace-city of Alhambra that was built around the end of the 13th century and today is reputed to have the oldest garden in all of Europe. It’s called Generalife, meaning ‘market garden’ or the ‘estate of the architect’. It was built to contain several market gardens and for the raising of livestock. It was also a place for the owners to go when they wanted to relax. Much has changed since then.
Although Generalife is outside the Alhambra compound, it is close enough to be reached by foot. The relationship between both compounds has always been close and when the two properties were connected new gardens were created in the 1930s and 40s to facilitate the movement from one to the other. The same body of water, the Acequia Real, irrigates both properties and there are spectacular views of the city of Granada from both.
The New Gardens (Jardines Nuevos)
The Generalife has been altered and rebuilt several times and today the area between the Alhambra and the Generalife palace is divided into three parts, referred to as the Lower Gardens or New Gardens. Coming from the Alhambra, you first pass an outdoor amphitheater, then a Muslim-style garden, with what is referred to as an irrigation channel crossing. The walls here are lined with cypress and there is a gorgeous view of both the Alhambra and the city.
The area closest to the Generalife palace was built as a labyrinth garden, with roses and cypress trees. The overall effect is utterly charming.
Court of the Main Canal (Patio de la Acequia)
The strict geometry of this garden is unchanged over time. It is the waterspouts that have made this garden famous and these crossing jets have supposedly been copied around the world. Along the sides are gardened parterres and vines cling to the walls.
This was designed as an interior garden although there is a small lookout.
Court of the Sultana’s Cypress Tree (Patio del Ciprés de la Sultana)
This courtyard is rumored to be the setting of romantic novels by Genés Pérez de Hita and hence its name. The garden is intimate, said to have a baroque flare, with a U-shaped pool of water in the centre and water jets.
The Water Stairway (Escalera del Agua)
This small stairway, from the original site, has four flights of stairs with three landings and is surrounded by laurel trees. It leads you up to the highest part of the Generalife.
The Romantic Observation Point and the High Gardens (Pabellón Romántico)
At the top of the Water Stairway you have fabulous views of the gardens below and of the surrounding area. The gardens below, called the High Gardens, are reached by the Stairway of the Lions (Escalera de los Leones). There are small fountains with jets, parterres, and magnolia trees.
Promenade of the Oleanders and Cypress Trees (Paseo de las Adelfas – Paseo de los Cipreses)
The long walk running through the upper area of the Generalife is quite something to see, with hundred-year old oleanders and cypresses Moorish myrtle, considered to be a heritage variety native to the Alhambra. From here you look over the New Gardens and the market gardens until you reach the exit.
The Alhambra has long been a destination of choice for millions of travellers and a visit there should also include a visit to the Generalife.
See also: Travel in southern Spain is surprisingly easy and so rewarding
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses™ 2015