Most accounts of Granada concentrate on the Alhambra and Generalife but, magnificent as they are, we don't want to do that. Over the next few months we want to show you the real city and the best way to do that is on foot. There are plenty of good hotels in or near the city centre and the bus service is very good, charging a standard 1.10 Euros for each journey no matter how far you travel. Before embarking on the tour make sure you have two maps, one showing the street plan of the city and the other showing the bus routes. Both are available at the hotels and any Tourist Information office.
Granada is a vibrant city. It bursts with life both during the day and in the evening. Its citizens are cheerful and friendly and include a healthy dose of students for Granada is a university town. The students here are the same as elsewhere, hard up and always interested in finding good value cafés, bars and restaurants. In Granada there is no shortage of places to eat and even the most exclusive restaurants are less expensive than run of the mill places on the Costa.
For those wanting to sample the authentic culinary delights of the area then the streets leading off the south east corner of the Plaza del Carmen are filled with bars where, when you purchase a drink, a tapas is automatically put in front of you. These are not normal tapas. The competition is so fierce that the bar owners seem to be engaged in a tapas war, each one trying to outdo the other, which benefits the customer. You can expect a tapas to be a media ración of sweet morcilla, four huge gambas a la plancha, a large chunk of melon served with succulent jamon or meatballs in a saffron and almond sauce, all for the price of a couple of tubos. Not surprisingly these bars are packed daily with locals from noon to 4pm when everybody in Granada takes a siesta before starting again about 8pm. For those who prefer a more tourist atmosphere then there is the main city square, Plaza de Bib-Rambla, near the cathedral. This is the site of the meat and fish market and, on many days, the fiestas and celebrations that are part of this city's life. The square is bounded by restaurants of every sort and nationality. They tend to be tourist traps so check to make sure the tapas put before you is gratis and that IVA is included in the prices. Having said that, again the competition is fierce so the food is good. Keep your eyes open for the Heladerias in one corner. Each tub of ice cream displayed is a work of art.
It is appropriate that our tour starts at the Puerto Real, right at the heart of this city. In 1624 a gate was built here to commemorate the visit to the city by Philip IV and from here the tour takes us up one of the main shopping thoroughfares, Reyes Católicos, to the Plaza del Carmen and the imposing façade of the town hall, previously the Convent of Carmelitas Calzados.
Leave the Plaza via Calle Mariana which runs parallel to Calle de los Reyes Católicos and after a hundred metres you will see one of Granada's hidden surprises, the Corral del Carbon. This 14th century building, incredibly still intact, was an inn and warehouse for merchants visiting the city. Entering through the ornately decorated main gate you find yourself in a square. This was where the merchants gathered to haggle and barter. Surrounding the square is a covered patio with stables and storerooms behind. On the upper floors were the inns and sleeping accommodation. The building is still used for a variety of commercial concerns.
Return to the Calle de los Reyes Católicos and turn right. You soon enter the Plaza de Isabel la Católica where you will see a monument. This sculpture, in stone and bronze is the work of Mariano Benlliure and was erected in 1872. It depicts Columbus showing the queen his maps and charts.
Further along you will come to Plaza Nueva. Here you will see one of the most outstanding palaces in Granada. It dates from 1530 and is now the seat of Andalucia's High Court. Adjoining the square is the Church of Santa Ana. Designed in 1537 it sits on the site of an older mosque and has a slender brick tower decorated with glazed tiles. It is said to be one of the loveliest churches in Granada.
Passing the church you enter the Carrera del Darro. In Moorish times there was a wall parallel to the river with bridges connecting the Alhambra, that rears up on your right, with the Albaicin district of the city, then the most important and wealthiest area. In the 16th century the wall was demolished to make way for a new street with churches and aristocratic houses. One of the original Moorish buildings to survive is El Banuelo, or public baths, built in the 11th century. A vestibule leads to a number of rooms that had cold, warm or hot water. The cold water room is the largest whilst the hot water room is the smallest. Beneath this room, with its extra thick walls to retain the heat, is the oven that heated the water. The capitals that support the portico in the main room are a mixture of Roman, Visigothic and Caliphal, clearly showing this building's origins and continued use through the ages. A Moorish innovation was the star shaped holes in the arched ceiling. They were originally covered with coloured alabaster to allow a rainbow of light to illuminate the interior. The whole atmosphere was enhanced by perfumed smoke from the perfume holders on the walls.
Opposite the baths you will see the remains of the Puente del Cadi. This was a bridge built by King Badis that was the main communication route between the Albaicin behind you and the Alhambra ahead.
With its bars, cafés and artisan shops the Carrera del Darro is a good place to stop this month to allow you to explore the small alleys across the tiny pedestrian only bridges. These narrow streets, nestled at the foot of the Alhambra, contain some of the nicest, and oldest, stores in the city.
Last month we explored part of the centre of Granada on foot and left you in one of the oldest streets in the city, the Carrera del Darro with the mellow sandstone walled Alhambra rearing above you to the east and the oldest residential area, the Albaicin, above you and to the west, the two separated by the Rio Darro. Here we take up our tour at the Granada Archaeological Museum.
As you may expect, Granada has a long history, from prehistoric times through to the Christian reconquest in 1492. The museum depicts that history in seven large rooms. The Albaicin hill appears to be the first area settled, during the Bronze Age. The inhabitants gradually increased the size of their settlement that, by Iberian times, was known as Elibyrge and then Iliberis by the Romans. By this time it had been influenced, inevitably, by the Phoenicians, Greek and Carthaginian merchants who took produce from the rich agricultural lands back to their coastal settlements at Almuñécar and Salobreña and from there back to the eastern Mediterranean. In return they introduced the Iberians to their own civilization.
When the Romans arrived there was already a sizeable city and it became the principle urban centre in the region. During the Visigothic period following the decline of the Roman Empire in western and northern Europe Iliberis became an important religious centre and, in 313 AD was chosen to host the first Church Council in Spain.
The Moors landed at Carteia in 711 and took three years to reach Iliberis where they found, already established, a Jewish settlement clustered around the Torres Bermejas at the south eastern side of the hill on which the Alhambra now stands. This settlement was called Garnata al Yahud and it is from this name that the present name, Granada, derives.
Initially Granada was capital of the Granadan territories that were part of the Cordoban Emirate but in 1013 became part of the kingdom of the Ziries. It was during this period that the fortress of Alacazaba Cadima was built in the centre of the Albaicin district and the cities' walls were erected. The Ziries were succeeded by the Aloravides in 1090 and they were replaced by the Almohades in 1190. The Almohade empire disintegrated in the 13th century and in 1238 the Kingdom of Granada was proclaimed by Mohammed Ibn al-Ahmar, the founder of the Nasrite dynasty.
The kingdom stretched from Murcia to Gibraltar and it is during the following two and a half centuries that the Kingdom of Granada enjoyed its period of maximum splendour and peace during which time Moors, Christians and Jews coexisted quite happily. The Alhambra citadel and palaces were constructed during this time and Granada became a seat of learning with the founding of La Madraza, the Islamic University.
Following the reconquest the Moors were guaranteed respect for their language, faith and customs under the terms of the treaty of surrender negotiated by Boabdil, the last Nasrite king but the Christian Monarchs soon rescinded that term to impose Christianity on any Moor that wanted to remain in Granada. Converted Moors were known as Moriscos but they were still seen as potential enemies of the state and were persecuted by the Inquisition. They were eventually expelled totally in 1611.
Following the reconquest many of the fine palaces and churches still admired today were built in the Renaissance style and the history of Granada became intertwined with that of the rest of Spain.
Leaving the museum turn left back on to the Carrera del Darro that soon changes its name to Paseo del Majon popularly known as Paseo de los Tristes (Passage of the Mourners) since this was the route taken by funeral corteges. You will enter an open space with the river on your right, fine views of the Alhambra above and a few cafes. From here you can admire the small houses clinging to the side of the Alhambra hill, nestled under the walls for protection, each with its own vegetable plot, still inhabited as they have been for the last six hundred years, before we go to an area of the city less frequently visited by tourists.
You will have reached the end of the Paseo de Padre Majon. A bridge over the river leads to two paths, one of which is a steep winding climb to the Alhambra. Take the Cuesta del Chapiz to your left, a steep street leading into the northern part of the Albaicin. A couple of hundred metres up this street, on your right, you will see the Granada School of Arabic Studies that comprises two Morisco dwellings with later Christian style additions, a typical example of the architectural style employed immediately after the reconquest. You will then enter the Plaza del Paso de la Harina with, on your right the Camino del Sacromonte. At the entrance to this road is a statue, a Monument to a Gypsy, for this narrow, winding street leads to the barrio famed for its gypsy cave houses. You soon find yourself in an area of dilapidated dwellings that merge with the rock behind. Chimneys protrude from the solid rock above and narrow twisting alleys lead to flamenco taverns. The Sacromonte gypsies are credited with the creation of the zambra or flamenco fiesta and the house of the flamenco dancer, Maria la Canastera is open to the public to celebrate the event. One of the cave dwellings has also been opened as a museum and shows a sanitised, romanticised, version of how these people lived. It is hard to imagine the poverty, filth and disease that must have been endemic in this area so close to the opulent Albaicin. Many of the cave dwellings are in fact still inhabited and you are given a unique opportunity to glimpse life as it must have been unchanged since Mediaeval times.
It is with something like relief that you will retrace your steps to the Monument to a Gypsy. You are given the impression, probably totally erroneously, that this is not an area in which to linger and it will only be the most adventurous who venture back here at night to sample the zambra.
Last month we continued our tour of Granada through the gypsy cave dwelling area below the Alhambra. This month we take up the walk from the end of the Camino del Sacromonte at the statue of the gypsy.
Turn right onto Cuesta del Chapiz. This road leads up into El Albaicin, the former Alcazaba district that was clustered around the now disappeared fortress built by the Ziri monarchs. The hill on which this district sits is the site of the original Iberian and Roman settlements although nothing now remains of that period. The district is however packed with wonderful examples of Moorish and Christian architecture. Time really does seem to have stood still in these narrow, winding streets. Another feature of El Albaicin is the aljibes or cisterns. These were used to collect rainwater and protect it from evaporation giving the residents a source of fresh water. Many are still in use. El Albaicin is a warren of narrow, winding streets constructed over the ages with no thought for town planning.
The first plaza encountered, after a few minutes walking, is Plaza del Salvador. At one side of this square is the Casa de Yabquas, a Morisco house with Nasrite, Gothic and Renaissance decoration. Opposite is the Aljibe de Polo and on the third side, dominating the square, the church of El Salvador. The church was built in the 16th century on the site of the main mosque. At the time of the reconquest the Albaicin had a total of 26 mosques.
Leave this Plaza by heading down the left hand side of the church into Plaza del Abad where you will see a very elaborate aljibe known as Bib-al-Bunud. Keep left down the Calleja de las Tomasas and then right as you go around the Convento de las Tomasas and into Cuesta de las Cabras. Go straight ahead until you reach the Mirador San Nicolas and see possibly the finest views of the Alhambra, the city and in the distance the Sierra Nevadas. Behind you as you look out over the city, is the Church of San Nicolas.
Go up the left hand side of the church into Callejon de San Cecilio. You will see the Chapel of San Cecilio that was built on the gate to the former Alcazaba Cadima in the 11th century. The gate was replaced by the Puerta Nueva with the typical turret and zig zag design of Moorish gates. This leads into Plaza Large. It is normally full of colourful market stalls and surrounded by cafes and bars, still performing its function as the busiest thoroughfare in the district.
Leave Plaza Large via Calle de Agua until you reach Calle de Pagés. You may now walk up Calle de San Gregorio Alto until you reach the outer city walls and the Puerta de Fajalauza. This gate has an impressive minaret and barrel vault and was the start of the road to Guadix. You should then retrace your steps to the top of Calle de Agua and down Calle de Pagés until you enter Plaza de San Bartolome that contains, inevitably, another church that was built on the site of an older mosque. The Church of San Bartolome boasts a fine Mudejar tower.
Take Callejon del Matadero into Brujones and so to the Mirador and Church of San Cristobal. You are now at the highest point in the Albaicin with, again, the city spread out at your feet, in particular the remains of the old city walls.
At the foot of the Mirador you will see the beginning of steeply descending streets on which, if you count them, you go down over 120 steps into the Cuesta de Alhabaca where you turn right and continue descending until you arrive at the Elvira Gate, at one time the principle gate into the city.
About half way down Cuesta de Alhabaca look out for Carril de la Lona off to your left. A diversion down here takes you to the Puerta Monaita, once another entrance to the Alcazaba Cadima. Stay on the twisting Carril de la Lona and in a few minutes you will arrive at the Convent of Santa Isabel la Real with an ornate and elaborately carved Isabelline entrance and just beyond that the Palace of Dar Al Horra.
In the 15th century this palace was built on the site of the Ziri Alcazaba and housed the Sultana Aixa, mother of Boabdil after she was disowned by her husband who then married a beautiful Christian woman, Isabel de Salis.
Return to the Cuesta de Alhabaca and turn left on your original route. You will now have time to consider some of the explicitly descriptive street names used in the Albaicin to describe the activities found there. Calle Ladron del Agua (Water Thief Street), Calle Arremangadas (Rolled Up Street), Calle del Horno de Vidriol (Glass Oven Street), Placeta del Mentidero (Gossip Square), Peso de la Harina (Weight of Flour), and Calle Oidores (Judges Street), much more useful for the first time visitor in the 15th century than names like Albert Square or Coronation Street.
The arch that survives dates back to the 9th century. From there take the Calle de Elvira back to the centre of the city. This street, although dilapidated now, was once the main road separating the Albaicin area from the administrative and commercial centre during the Moorish period. For those who prefer a modern road with shops and restaurants, the Gran via de Colon runs parallel about 50 metres to the right.
Either way you will find the Cathedral, the Royal Chapel of Granada and the most colourful street in the entire city, Calle del Zacatin.
During the Nasrite era, dating back to the first half of the12th century, the area around the cathedral was the main administrative and commercial centre of the city as well as being the site of the main mosque. Today we can only experience a small part of what must have been the most colourful and vibrant area on Calle del Zacatan, just east of the cathedral.
Calle del Zacatan was Granada's main thoroughfare until the 19th century. The name El Zacatan is Arabic for old clothes dealer and half way up the narrow, bustling street you will come across the Alcaiceria or Moorish silk market. Originally the Alcaiceria was much larger and functioned as an independent 'village'. Access to it was closed at night and the district had its own baths, exchange, House of Justice, mosque and customs house as well as a souk where exotic goods from all over the Moorish world were bought and sold. Even today, mixed in with all the tourist glitz, you will come across real silk garments, products from North Africa and genuine jewellery from the Near East.
Even narrower streets lead from Calle del Zacatan into Plaza de Bib-Rambla. This square is the hub of social life in Granada and the site of the fish and meat market. In the centre of the square is the huge 17th century statue, Fountain of Los Gigantones, dedicated to Neptune and made in Elvira stone.
From Plaza de Bib-Rambla take Calle Oficias towards the cathedral and you will arrive at the Royal Chapel of Granada.
The Royal Chapel is the final resting place of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. These two monarchs made Granada part of the Kingdom of Castile and unified Spain under one monarchy. Through the arranged marriages of their children they established relationships with Portugal, England and Austria. Their heirs, Philip I (the Handsome) and Joanna of Castile (the Mad), parents to Charles I of Spain, are also buried in the Royal Chapel.
In 1492, the capture of Granada and the remaining Nasrid Kingdom in Spain was the culmination of Ferdinand and Isabella's joint reign. The discovery of America later that year and the establishment of a judicial, municipal, military and ecclesiastical government in Granada to administer the territories of the New World made the city the centre of the Catholic Monarchs reign. They both decided that the city would be their final resting place and commissioned the Royal Chapel in 1504. Sadly Isabella died in November of that year, before the chapel was even started. Construction began in 1506 and was completed in 1517 just after Ferdinand's death the previous year. The original style, that can still be seen, was a very sombre Gothic.
Charles I (who was also the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) provided money to enhance the chapel after 1518 and you will see the Renaissance ornamentation to the building, particularly on the outside of the 'Lonja' or exchange that was originally designed as a commercial centre and incorporated into the Royal Chapel towards the end of the 19th century. From the Lonja you enter the chapel proper.
This is a Gothic building with a low vault supporting the choir. The walls are decorated with heraldic motifs, the coats of arms of the Catholic Monarchs with the yoke and arrows, the symbols of their united kingdoms. Two highly decorated chapels lead off from the Nave. They contain religious paintings, sculptures and religious silverwork.
Beyond those you arrive at the Main Grille-screen. It is made in forged, guilded steel and is considered the finest Spanish grille in the plateresque style.
Passing through the grille into the crossing you are now confronted with the tombs. On the right are the Renaissance tombs of the Catholic Monarchs and on the left the Michelangelo inspired tomb of Philip and Joanne. Beneath the tombs is the crypt, where in lead coffins the remains of their respective occupants lie.
To one side of the chapel you enter the chapel museum. The centrepiece is the crown and sceptre of Isabella and the sword belonging to Ferdinand. Possibly of more interest though is the Queen's mistral and a mirror. The mistral is a 1496 work, written on vellum with magnificent miniatures. The fine Italian silver mirror belonged to Isabella and until the 19th century it was used as a monstrance to hold the sacrament before its true function was discovered.
Many historians consider the year 1492 to be the time Spain was dragged out of the mediaeval period into the modern era. The Royal Chapel epitomises that change in its architecture and decoration, part Gothic, part Renaissance with the Italian painter Michelangelo's influences. The history of the building itself also places it firmly at that great crossroads of history when Spain was united in religion and nationality. The sombre demeanour of the Catholic Monarchs gave way to the less sedate, insane but mercifully brief rule of Philip and Joanne before Charles I came to the throne in even more exuberant but clearly saner style. It was also a time when Spain was expanding its empire in the Americas to become temporarily, the richest nation on earth and that also can be seen in the richness of the later decorations.
The growth in confidence of the new nation and its changing attitude and eagerness to be rid of its past is portrayed by the story of the tombs. Isabella had stipulated, in 1504, that she be buried in a low tomb with a single tombstone at floor level. Twelve years later Ferdinand decided not to respect her wishes and commissioned the mausoleum that now graces the chapel. Similarly the tombs of Philip and Joanna were originally intended to be simple but the designer, Ordonez, in 1520, had grander ideas and produced the flamboyant sarcophagus you see today.
© Nicholas Craig Nutter 2004 - 2012. Nick Nutter asserts his rights as the author of this article and all associated images. This article and images may not be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.