Alhambra - Palace Gates

Alhambra © Michelle Chaplow
The Alhambra and the backdrop of the magnificent Sierra Nevada mountain range.

by Lawrence Bohme

Gates of the Alhambra

The Puerta de las Granadas, Puerta de la Justicia and the Puerta del Vino are the gates which are most commonly used nowadays, given that the Puerta de las Armas and the Puerta de los Siete Suelos have been sealed up for centuries. The Puerta de los Carros, used by automobile traffic and the guests of the Parador de San Francisco, was built after the conquest for hauling the materials used in the construction of the Carlos Quinto Palace (and, of course, the carriages of the royal occupants who were meant to live there), hence its name - Gate of the Carts.

Puerta de las Granadas

The Gate of Pomegranates - Puerta de las Granadas - was built by the Christians in the 16th century in honour of the visit of Emperor Charles V, then known as the Puerta de Carlos Quinto. It was placed at the bottom of the Alhambra forest, on a street known as the Cuesta de Gomerez, which the Christians preferred to the old Moorish entrance at the foot of the Alcazaba. Under the Moors, the slopes around the castle had to be kept stripped bare of vegetation for military purposes, and the shady trees which now grace the hill were not planted until after the conquest, by the Christians. The gate is popularly known for the over-sized, bursting pomegranates carved in stone and which stand on its massive lintel. The pomegranate - granada - became the symbol of the city because of the similarity of this Spanish word and one of Granada's prehistoric names, Granata.

Puerta de la Justicia

A few more steps up the hill and we discover the enormous Gate of Justice - the largest gate of the palace - leading to the only flattish area of the citadel, where the Palace of Carlos Quinto stands.

The Arabic name for the gate was long believed to refer to Islamic justice or law - charia. But in fact this was a misinterpretation for a similar-sounding word, and it has been shown that the translation should be Gate of the Esplanade. Its multiple arches are decorated with the Hand of Fatima, Mohammed's daughter, and the key to the Islamic paradise, as well as a Virgin and Child placed there by the Catholic Monarchs to consecrate the gate for Christianity.

Puerta de las Armas

The Puerta de las Armas - "Gate of Arms" - was the main entrance to the fortress when the Moors ruled over Granada. A rider could gallop down from the Albaicin, on the ramp atop the wall which connected the two hills, cross the river at the Puente del Cadí and ride up to this gate, which leads directly into the main courtyard of the fortress. Ever since the bridge collapsed in the 17th century, the gate has been closed.

The Puerta del Vino

The Puerta del Vino - "Gate of Wine" - stands next to the Palace of Carlos Quinto, on the "esplanade" above the Gate of Justice, and was once part of an inner wall which divided the palaces from the city - medina - of the Alhambra, and, as such, was closed every day after sundown. This is why it does not have the protective L-shaped passageway and, also, why it is so richly decorated with once-colourful geometrical motifs.

Puerta del Vino, a very pretty gate has, since the 19th century, been a favourite subject for British and French water colour artists. Claude Débussy was inspired by one of these images to compose a charming piano piece with a suggestively Spanish flavour called La Puerta del Vino, even though he himself had never set foot south of the Pyrenees.

The name is, once more, a mistranslation by the Christians who took the city in the 16th century, and whose knowledge of Arabic - a language in which the slightest inflection can change the meaning of a word - was largely oral and limited to the lingua franca of trade and peace treaties.

It would have been unthinkable for Granada's Moors to associate one of their edifices with something as sinful as wine, even though they were accused by their pious North African cousins of succumbing to the temptation of drinking it. Like the name of the castle itself, Puerta del Vino probably means "Gate of Alhamar", for the Sultan who founded the Nasrid Dynasty.

Gate of Justice & Arco de las Orejas

On the way up to the Alhambra, those who aspire to a more intimate knowledge of the city's history should once take the main road up through the woods, rather than the foot path which leads to the Gate of Justice. On the left, forgotten among the trees and mossy stones, stands the Arco de las Orejas, the gate which once stood near the Plaza Bibarrambla in the city center, and which is shown in the famous etching by the English traveller who came here in the 19th century - by which time it had become a picturesque bird's nest of garrets and topsy-turvy dwelling places.history of a gate

"History of a Gate - At the beginning of the last century, four entrepreneurs, who have since become deservedly infamous, wanted this decrepit obstacle to (their) economic progress torn down, and they naturally won out over the protests of the city's intellectuals. Like the picturesque bridges in the center of town when the river was covered over, the gate was removed, and the only consolation of the "lovers of Granada" was to keep the stones of the original construction and, many years later, have them reassembled here in the Alhambra Forest, where the skeleton of the gate now stands, stripped of its barnacle-like appendages and forgotten among the fallen leaves.

The gap created by the demolition became a street with the same proportions as the gate and called "Callejón del Arco de las Orejas", a few steps from the Plaza de Bibarrambla. A chilling insight of the cruelty of life in the Middle Ages, both among "moros" and "cristianos": although the established name of the gate was Bib-Rambla - "Gate of the Strand" - it got its popular name, "Arch of the Ears", because during the Muslim period, the ears and other extremities of law-breakers were cut off in the square and then nailed to its walls for all to see. A well-known lover of Granada has said that they should have done the same with the ears of the four entrepreneurs..." from "Granada, City of My Dreams"

Next page > Palace of Carlos V

Hotels within the Alhambra's grounds

Hotels within the Alhambra's grounds

Hotel América

Set in an unbeatable location within the grounds of the Alhambra Palace, the Hotel América successfully combines charming traditional décor with modern facilities, such as free Wi-Fi.

The Hotel América's comfortable, air-conditioned rooms are the perfect base from which to explore the city of Granada.

This itinerary was written for by Lawrence Boheme author of “Granada, City of My Dreams”. For, what fascinates us about this universal city is not only its monuments but its marvellous story, “the encounter between Moor and Christian, gypsy and Jew, medieval and Renaissance, glistening snow and Mediterranean sun. Lawrence Bohme, poet, illustrator and curious traveller, has filled these pages with luminous descriptions and drawings, the culmination of forty years of wanderings through the palaces and labyrinths.