The Covid restrictions started to ease in Spain in early May and we were able to travel within most of our home region of Andalucia and so on the third of May, we set off to explore the city of Granada on the northwestern slope of the Sierra Nevada.
We arrived on a cool and misty afternoon, dropped our bags at our Airbnb and set off to check out the old Moorish neighbourhood of Albaicín.
Albaicin was largely built during the Nasrid era (around the 11th century) in Andalucia, and given the limitations of the geography of the site (it’s perched on a valley hillside with the Darro River running along the valley floor) it is unsurprising that it's still a compact network of winding cobbled streets and whitewashed houses peppered with intimate plazas.
Carrera del Darro
At the bottom of the valley, there is a road that runs alongside the River Darro, called the Carrera del Darro and it is known as one of the most romantic walks, not just in Granada, but the entire country. It is lined with centuries old buildings rising up from the riverbank, their worn façades covered by lush creepers. The river passes under two of the oldest surviving bridges in Granada, and you can also see the remains of a stone bridge that used to connect Albaicín with the Alhambra which is at the top of the hill directly opposite Albaicin. Interestingly the locals call this road the Paseo de los Tristes (walk of the sad) so called because funeral processions once passed through it on the way to the cemetery.
We walked around the old part of the city for an hour or so and then it was off to a bar for a drink and a ‘free’ tapa. The travel information guides said that the tapas in Granada are free when you buy a drink but our friends had advised that the price of the tapa is loaded onto the price of your drink and you don’t usually have a choice of what ‘free’ tapa you are served - of course we had to investigate - our first 'free' tapa was a substantial plate of albondigas (meatballs) that came with bread and chips - which we thought was pretty good. Based on this, on the following evening we decided to bar hop and have tapas for dinner. I guess we chose the wrong bars because at every one, much to Alan’s disgust, our’ free’ tapa was olives. I didn't mind so much but by the time we got to our fourth bar with only olives to eat it was getting a bit old and we were getting a wee bit tipsy!
Back to our first day - feeling satisfied with our free tapa, we met up with our walking tour guide, Nacho, in the lovely Plaza Nueva, Granada's oldest square. The square was built to create space and cover the Rio Darro river which still flows underneath it.
It was formerly one of the most important parts of the city where various tournaments, games and bullfights were held. On the East side of the square was the Plaza de Santa Ana named after the Santa Ana church (officially Iglesia de San Gil y Santa Ana) church), built in 1537 out of bricks and in the mudejar style - see the second picture below. We went back to the plaza the following day to take pictures of the church under a blue sky (picture 3 - it almost looks like a different building).
More on Albaicin
Nacho took us up many, many steep, narrow, cobbled streets and steps in Albaicin, stopping at numerous points to take in dramatic views of the Alhambra on the opposite side of the valley, and to tell us about the history of Granada especially in the time of the Moors. He told us that In the 13th century, Albaicin was a prosperous district with a slew of palaces, villas and mosques.
After the reconquest of Granada by the Catholic Kings in 1492, the original mosques in Albaicin (there were 27 of them) were either torn down and replaced with churches, or converted into churches - with the minarets becoming bell towers. Interestingly, Nacho told us that in recent years there has been an increasing awareness in the city of the importance, and commercial value, of its Islamic past; and that now, after 500 years the call to prayer of the muezzin can again be heard in the narrow streets and alleyways of Albaicin, where there is a new (2003) mosque financed by donations from the United Arab Emirates.
At the top of Albaicin is the Plaza San Nicolas with the most spectacular view of the Alhambra - unfortunately for us the rain had set in by the time we got there and we missed the view.
The final part of the tour was just east of Albaicin - the cave-studded Roma (Gypsy) neighbourhood of Sacromonte (“The Sacred Mount”). Sacromonte is compact and very steep. Most houses are actually caves, burrowed into the wall of a cliff. Nacho told us that these affordable, practical cave dwellings (warm in the winter and cool in the summer) are likely what drew so many Roma to the hill.
In pre-Covid times this neighbourhood came alive after dark with flamenco music and dancing in cave taverns - Nacho said that it is quite commercial now and many of the shows are for the tourists but in the small streets behind the main road, late at night the true flamenco still happens after a few drinks but in private homes - in normal times of course!
Granada old town
On Tuesday and Wednesday we had a look around the Cathedral and nearby streets in the older part of the city.