GRANADA, Spain – The Alhambra’s Watch Tower broke a three-month silence on Wednesday as its centuries-old bell rang and the iconic Moorish monument flung its doors open again after being shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It has been an honor, an eternal memory, to have the privilege of listening to this bell ring as a symbol to usher in a new era,” said Mariana Castro, a Mexican living in Granada who was the first visitor to enter the Alcazaba home to the Torre de la Vela watchtower in the Alhambra, the most visited monument in Spain.
She is one of only a thousand privileged people who have been granted access to the palatial complex on Wednesday as Andalusia, southern Spain, starts phase 3 of de-escalating its lockdown, meaning the venue can only operate at half capacity, limiting daily tickets to 4,250.
Those who go to the Alhambra from now on will find a new horizontal and vertical sign to guide their route throughout the entire site. Signs reminding visitors of the mandatory use of face masks and social distancing measures are scattered about as are antibacterial hand gel dispensers.
Inside the Nasrid Dynasty Palaces, which harbors magical spots like the well known Court of Lions – a courtyard paved with colorful tiles flanked by a marble colonnade – several signs warn that a circular route has been established and different areas have been zoned off.
Some objects have been removed, including the jamugas, hip-joint chairs with curved legs and straps to support the back and arms that until now were located in the Court of the Myrtles.
A new system has also been launched that allows visitors to access the site with ID or a passport, although punters must also show a QR code on their physical or digital ticket.
The board that manages the Alhambra and the Generalife, in addition to other assets, has rolled out the necessary measures set by the health authorities to guarantee the safety of visitors and employees, director Rocio Diaz said.
“We return with eagerness and enthusiasm and with a special thanks to the workers, who during the months of closure have done an essential job,” the director of the board added.
Diaz said that they expected sales to be “quiet” but that this would come with the added perk of enjoying the complex “like never before.”
To be able to calmly meander through the stunning palace and its intricately engraved walls and courtyards will be a welcome treat to architecture and history enthusiasts who, under normal circumstances, would have struggled to find a quiet spot in the crowded monument.
Most of the tourists EFE consulted had traveled from nearby Andalusian provinces or were locals, something that will likely change in the coming months with the reopening of European borders.
As employees returned to the grounds many were overcome with tears of joy at a glimpse of a semblance of normality.
Maria del Mar Pedrosa, who has worked in the Alhambra for 16 years, said she barely slept a wink last night and that she felt a mix of joy and apprehension amid the uncertainty of a new normal.