AS far as architecture goes, Spain has some of Europe’s best.
A result of the country’s unique history, Spain’s architectural treasures are marked by stark diversity, from Gaudi’s otherworldly Art Nouveau decorating the streets of Barcelona, to the 800-year old Gothic basilica towering over Galicia’s Santiago de Compostela.
But in 2023, the monument that most captivated tourists was not in Galicia, Madrid, nor Catalunya.
The Alhambra palace in Andalucia’s Granada was in fact the country’s most visited monument, counting 2.6 million visitors in 2023, outpacing La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Galicia’s Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, and the Cathedral of Burgos in Burgos.
Spaniards represented the greatest percentage of Alhambra visitors.
They accounted for 36.1%, followed by Americans at 8.5%, South Koreans at 7.2% and French at 6.6%.
In total, Spain received a record 84 million foreign tourists in 2023.
Located atop a steep hill in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, the Alhambra looks out over the Granada plain, which stretches into the distance before dissolving into the horizon.
The palace complex was built in 1238 by Muhammad I Ibn al-Ahmar, the ruler of the mediaeval muslim Emirate of Granada and the founder of the last Islamic dynasty to rule over Western Europe.
After the Christian kingdoms overthrew Muslim Spain during the Reconquista, the palace became the court of Catholic monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in the 15th century, and was the site of Christopher Columbus’ royal endorsement for his journey to the New World.
The palace’s place in the cultural imagination grew after American writer Washington Irving wrote his famous Tales of the Alhambra in 1832, which romanticised the storied building’s history and sought to capture its beauty.
- Spain’s Alhambra on National Geographic Magazine Cover
- Alhambra Museum in Granada receives more than 43,000 visitors in first half of the year