Granada a history and romantic town in Andalucia Part 1 of 2.

Say Granada and everyone say directly Alhambra palace, but what do people real know more about Granada? Granada is one of the most beautiful and history towns in Andalucia and Spain. With all the battles between the Moorish, Christians, and Romans under thousands of year to own and control Granada. The historic Granada is situated one hour driving from Malaga and Malaga International Airport on the north side of the Sierra Nevada, the nature parks in the Mountains and Las Alpujarras; it was a very strategic position in the old history.

The Alhambra palace.

There was much sighing, maybe sobbing too, when the Alhambra palace was piped at the post in the new 7 Wonders competition. Ever since the 11th century of the Nazid kings made it to the short list, emotions – not to mention the cost of the Vote Alhambra campaign – had been running high. But Granada is a city that has always inspired passion.

Moorish rules were no sissies but the great Boabdil himself fell to sighing and sobbing when he got his marching orders in 1492, illiciting the oft-quoted retort from his harder-hearted mother; “Do not weep like a women for what you could not defend like a man.”

Other great men have been similarly affected. The 19th century writer and literary historian, Francisco de Icaza, wrote: “Dale limosna, mujer que no hay en la viva nada como la pena de ser ciego en Granada.” (“Give him alms, women, because there is nothing like the pity of being blind in Granada”). The poet Federico Garcia Lorca enjoyed a love hate relationship with his homeland, waxing lyrical about the capital’s charms while dismissing the Grandadinos as “the worst bourgeoisie in Spain”.

Anyone who has ever queued up for the chance to see it would agree that the Alhambra is indeed, a world wonder. But there are other reasons why, as the local saying goes, “Quien no ha visto Granada no ha visto nada”. (“Whoever has not seen Granada has seen nothing”). The eponymous province is a wonder itself, the only one of Andalucia magnificent seven where you can ski in the Sierra Nevada and swim on the Costa Tropical at Almonecar, all in one day.

Granada City’s interesting places and Quarters.

The Capital deserves a little more time to explore. Only when you have seen every facet is it evident that Granada City, a jigsaw of colourful barrios, is even greater that the sum of its many component parts; the tumbling alleys of the Moorish Albaicin quarter – ranked a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the mysterious gypsy district of Sacromonte, home of that elusive spirit of flamenco called el duende; the reealejo Jewish quarter; the Old Town with is brooding Renaissance cathedral; the cybaritic pleasures of the modern shopping centre and the youthful buzz of the university district; each has its own place in Granada’s history, and a story to tell.

Granada is made for walking and plaza Nueva is a good base from which to begin your journey. The seven-day Granada Tourist Voucher – Bono Turistico – introduced in 2001, has quickly become the key to the city; for 24,50 euros, a 30% discount on normal prices, it offers visitors no-queuing admission to eight of the top monuments and attractions, including the Alhambra and the Science Park.

The Albaicin Granada Muslim Quarter.

The Albaicin sits above the city centre like one half of a mixed-race couple – the former defiantly Arabic, the latter unquestionably Christian. The locals say that, to understand it, you need to spend time in “el Corazon de su Corazon” – at the heart of its heart. Finding that heart, through its maize of cobbled, winding streets, is a tall order. Landmarks occasionally serve for orientation, but are a wary not to use a church (there are five) or a decorative doorway (there is no other kind).

Granada Muslim quarter since long before the Christian Reconquest still retains its identity. The streets wind past colourful Arabic and New Age craft shops packed with jewel-bright fabrics, odorous leather goods and eager proprietors, while the fragrant darkness of traditional Arab teterias (teahouses) beckons visitors out of the opened in the past 30 years by homesick Moroccan immigrants seeking familiar, alcohol free meeting points where they could devour gossip and sweet pastries around traditional, three-legged sinya tables.

Church of Santa Ana and Plaza San Nicolas.

Half way up this hilly district is the 16th-centrury church of Santa Ana whose bell tower is a converted minaret. Nearby is an original, working Baños Arabes, beautifully restored with brick-vaulted ceilings, star-shaped skylights and wall mosaics. At one time it was used as a laundry-bathing having been designated one of many crimes during the Catholics persecution of the Muslims. Today, visitors can legally enjoy the traditional experience of wallowing in cold, like warm and scalding hot waters for a few euros.

The reason for carrying on to the top of the Albaicin is the Plaza San Nicolas, with its mirador overlooking the terracotta roofers of the entire city, and to the mountains beyond. On the way up, narrow streets run between whitewashed houses called carmenes. These were homes built by wealthy Arabs between the 12th and 15th centuries who hid their prosperity behind high walls, but the gates and grilles reveal some wonderful secret gardens, geometrically-designed with Moorish patois, fountains and a profusion of fruit trees, plants and flowers.

Casa de Castril Archaeological Museum.

On the downward journey its worth stopping at the Casa de Castril Archaeological Museum, housed in a Renaissance mansion and exhibiting artefacts dating from Paleolithic times. The pride of the Moorish section, a 14th century bronze astrolabe, was used to chart the position of the stars, primarily to precisely orient the mihrab of the mosques towards Mecca. Afterwards, it’s almost obligatory to call in at the neighbouring San Bernardo Convent, home to a closed order of nuns farmed for their delicious, home-baked cakes and biscuits. To place your order, go to a door in the side street, speak into an intercom and your delivery will suddenly appear on the wooden turntable, almost like a miracle.

Sacromonte the gypsies and flamenco guitarists Quarter.

The Albaicin morphs into Sacromonte via a barely noticeable fountain, but the atmosphere subtly changes. This is the home of an ancient and still considerable gitano population from whose clans many of Spain’s best flamenco guitarists, singers and dancers have emerged. The gypsies originally lived in cave carved out of the hillside – some still do, although the majority have been converted into attractive tourist apartments, restaurants and night clubs. The area still has an anarchic energy, fed by late-night flamenco zambras and a wilful opposition to the norms of the working day.

Although there are a few bona fide flamenco clubs, sadly most of these once-spontaneous gypsy festivities have become blatantly contrived for tourists, with entrance priced at anything the gitaro hosts feel like charging in exchange for a quick show and a small sherry. Visitors should also keep tight hold of their personal belongings here, in the Albaicin, because bag-snatching is common.

But this is still a barrio well worth experiencing, and not only for its 17th-century Sacromonte Abbey and museum dedicated to gypsy traditions. During Semana Santa, when religious statues are paraded through the streets, the mix of incense, candles and singing creates a highly-charged atmosphere. Sacromonte caves also do a roaring trade in gypsy wedding receptions.

 

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