We almost didn't come to Granada. Our vacation was running out and we had to drive the length of Spain and France to get back to our duty station in Germany, but we saw the imposing red stone pile looming over the town and stopped. The first person we met outside the Alhambra was an old gypsy woman who immediately grabbed my hand and read my palm. I understood exactly one word: "suerte"—luck—but she was smiling, so okay, we paid her five pesos and went in. Oh. My. Goodness.

Our luck certainly was in that day because the Alhambra Palace is stunning. At once gracious and forbidding, the Alhambra casts a spell from the moment you walk in. Yes, that Alhambra, for those of you who ever played "Authors" and wondered what Washington Irving's "Tales of the Alhambra" was all about. Both palace and fortress, the palace was begun in 1238 by Sultan Mohammed I, and was the last Moorish stronghold to fall, in 1492, to their very Christian majesties, Ferdinand and Isabella, the same pair who sent Christopher Columbus off to the New World.

It was not our first encounter with Moorish architecture, but it was one of the best. It is so easy to forget in these times that the Moors, Muslim conquerors of Spain, were once the cultural leaders of the medieval world. The Alhambra Palace reminds you in a big way that there was so much more to a culture so at odds with the West. The Moors were not just warriors, but architects who taught backward Europe how to build round towers, and decorated their palaces to please the eye. From the incredible Mudejar ceilings that will make your jaw drop with their originality and intricate carvings, to the fountains splashing everywhere among the trees, the Moors built to live as well as to survive.

This place is as mysterious as that gypsy's prophecy. Water runs down a staircase handrail and vanishes to feed a fountain elsewhere. Intricately carved screens shelter the women's quarters; you can almost hear their voices. Over here the last sultan of Granada murdered his enemies after inviting them to dinner. Is that blood? Through stone screens carved like lace we see 12 stone lions supporting a fountain with no purpose but to delight the eye. And did I mention the gardens?

Plan to spend the day if you come to the Alhambra Palace. You will want to linger awhile and absorb the history, contemplate the age of the place and the beauty. It's well worth it.