Granada: Palacio de Dar Al-Horra

Why did you visit?

Palacio de Dar Al-Horra, located in the Albaicin neighborhood, was the last house tour of my visit to Granada. The last day of my trip, at the end of an entire week of sightseeing in Granada – yes, I bought tickets for the Alhambra for two days – yes, I’m an architectural junkie. So, tired, I arrived at the palacio, and it turned out to be one of the best of the many palacios that you can visit in Granada. The house has quite a few exhibits inside in contrast to many of the houses that are open for tours that have only empty rooms.

The Palacio Dar al-Horro itself was splendid. It had similar tile and plaster decoration to the Alhambra, and no tourists to contend with at all. I toured it in the morning when it opened, so I may have simply beat the crowds. In general, the only thing that was crowded in Granada was the Alhambra (well ok, restaurants at dinner time).

The palacio is a typical wealthy person’s home for this region and the time when it was built 15th century. The house is organized around a center courtyard, and the rooms mainly opening directly off the courtyard (or walkways open to the courtyard on the upper floor). There was another group of rooms off to one side, probably a later addition. The upper floor room on the north side had gorgeous views of the Monasterio de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción aka “La Cartuja”. The palacio includes a couple of lovely small gardens.

How did you find this house museum?

The palacio was included in the Granada card Monumentos Andalusies. I tried to visit everything on the card in the five day limit, but missed one or two. There are other worthwhile things to see beyond what is included on the card. The card includes bus tickets, which is useful for the fistful of far-flung things. Far-flung being only a few miles in Granada. Distance is less of a problem. It’s hill climbing that will wear you out.

What is the Granada Card?

The city of Granada, in an effort to get tourists to spend more days in Granada (instead of the one day dash in only to see the Alhambra), has created a Granada Card. There are a few variation and options to consider. I got the full monuments version (the most expensive). I think I got to all but two of the monuments. You have five days to see the items on your card. By the way, they don’t give you an actual “card”. They email you a PDF page of your “card” which you need to print out. That is what you carry around and show to enter monuments. Every place checked it. So no sneaking in. The list of monuments and options is on Granada website.

What did you learn?

The house had a windcatcher of a sort – up on top. In hot dry climates, many houses are built with “windcatchers”. Towers that rise up above the house to let hot air escape – pulled out by the wind blowing through the opening at the top of the tower. The Palacio de Dar Al-Horra had a variation on this, an entire room above part of the house, with openings in the walls to allow the air to flow through, and provide a second roof above the house roof. This top roof room was hot, substantially hotter than the rooms of the house below. But the rooms below were cooler because of this room. The sun heated this room up and because of the air flow, the rooms below were protected from the heat.

What was most impressive?

The view of Cartuja. I did the tour earlier in the week. Cartuja is also included with your Granada Card. I opted to walk up to Cartuja, which seemed an awful slog. I took the bus back down. I advise you do the other way – bus up and walk down. Anyway, the view of it from Al-Horra is stunning. Better than the views that I got walking up to it.

What was most interesting?

The astrolabes. The solar quadrants. The armillary spheres. The numerous 15th century science manuscripts. I had seen a few astrolabes in the museum at the Alhambra, but this place had a whole bunch of them. They had them hung up glass cases that allowed you to see both sides of the instruments. The exhibit also had solar quadrants, which I had never seen before.

On a later trip to Spain, I bought a small astrolabe in a gift shop in Segovia (very unexpected). I opted for one in Arabic, which I cannot read. It hardly compares to the ones in the museum, as it is not as fancy, probably not accurate, and substantially smaller.

What was most unexpected?

A model of the aqueduct that brought the water from the Darro River to the Alhambra. I had been searching for this information the entire week that I was in Granada – and here it was hidden away in the last place I visited on the last day of my trip! In a far corner of a dark room, no less.

I had hiked around Sabika Hill a bit – timidly avoiding anything steep or rocky – hoping to catch a glimpse of the old aqueduct. But other than some speculation, I found nothing. I ended up buying a book (in Spanish – with an English translation in the back of the book) at the Alhambra Bookstore that shows maps and research on the water supply – and the transport system – to the fountains. Research that had been done as part of the effort to (successfully) restore the water system. And here I was, on my last day, staring at a model of the aqueduct. At which point, I wished I had another day left in my trip and a pair of good hiking boots. Sigh.

Can one find the parts of the aqueduct by hiking on Sabika Hill?

This was never clear. I suspect you can, but they might be small, overgrown, and hard to spot. At any rate, the hiking can get rough – dirt paths, that are narrow, and steep in places. You will need boots, hiking poles, and a hiking buddy. You will also need to carry plenty of water. It is hot in Granada. I was not prepared to do any of this. I didn’t realize prior to my trip that there was an old aqueduct to go hunting for. Nor did I realize that there was great hiking on Sabika Hill. There are some nice paved, smooth, wide easy paths to go up to the top – which I did – and enjoyed. Great views, of course.