Granada is revered for its most famous site, the lavish Alhambra.
It has an enshrined medieval history and was one of the last strongholds of Moorish influence on the Iberian peninsula. It is like Seville, only less complicated or sophisticated. It hums with a cosmopolitan feel, awash with a nightlife only rivaled by its larger cousins.
But there is more to this city than the Alhambra, with the snow capped Sierra Nevada backdrop. The Alhambra is hard to sum up with a few words – it is a palace, castle, summer retreat and enclosed town all in one enchanting place. I have decided to devote a separate post to the Alhambra.
This is a place that does not require any real research as you let your intuition lead you, with a map, to discover the city. It is a stunning city, with the Sierra Nevada as a backdrop. It is where you still get free tapa with every drink ordered. It is where cultures clash but are in unison.
The beauty about Granada is that most of the sights are within an easy walk within the city centre. Plaza Nueva is the focal point of the city. It links the Albayzin on one hill with the Alhambra on the other.
Below the Alhambra lies the former Jewish quarter, the Realjo. This is central Granada.
The Albayzin, Granada’s Arab quarter, is north from Plaza Nueva. After the reconquest this is where the Moorish population that wanted to remain in Granada settled and it’s impossible to ignore the influence on the architecture of this captivating part of the city. Eventually the Muslims were expelled and their mosques became churches. As befits a Medina, the street plan is a tangle of tight alleys with tall townhouses painted white.
Essentially, the Albayzin is a place for aimless wandering – cobbled streets with Granada mansions. The mansions, or Carmens as they are known, retain the true tand original concept – a quiet, private house with high walls and terraced gardens, overlooking the Alhambra.
At the top of the Albayzin district is the church of San Nicolas, fronted by this square. It enjoys the definitive view of the Alhambra, set off by the vast peaks of the Sierra Nevada in the background.
Beneath the Albayzin district is this street that traces the course of the little River Darro as it flows through the city where the old walls would have been. It’s one of the most beautiful walks in Granada. The street can taper to just a couple of metres-wide in places, and all the while you have views down to the river and lush vegetation on its banks.
Once you make it out of the labyrinth of metre-wide lanes, the Parisian style Plaza Bib Ramblas a great spot for people watching, by the high, central fountain and at one of the old city gates into the silk souk.
Built on top of Granada’s mosque at the start of the 16th century this magnificent building is Spain’s second-largest cathedral. It was erected during a transition in fashion, so the foundations are gothic even if the main structure and interior are from the renaissance. It is easy to soak up the brilliance of this cathedral and lift your gaze to the stained glass windows, sculptures and paintings on the sides.
The Alcaiceria was the location for Granada’s Great Bazaar, where merchants would tout their silks and spices along several crisscrossing streets. Nowadays what’s left is a passageway full of souvenir shops, some of which hold more interest than others. You can still see where the gates once stood.
The oldest remaining monument constructed during the Nasrid dynasty, the Corral del Carbon was a warehouse and shelter for merchants, built in the 1200s. In its day, this was where traders who had traveled from afar to the nearby Alcaiceria could store their wares and rest for the night.
Granada is a beautiful city. It’s not all whitewashed buildings. In the Albayzin neighbourhood you experience how the city has looked centuries ago, then you can give your heels a rest and head down to the modern city. There are brightly painted buildings near Plaza Nueva. The area by the river looks almost Italian. And other parts of the old city almost look like they could be in a Moroccan souk. So many neighbourhoods and all of them with their own unique character. And, like the rest of Andalusia, the summers are very hot with clear blue skies.