It has been more than 500 years since the Moors were pushed out of Spain, yet their presence is still felt here on what was once the “frontier” of the Requisition. The history of the churches that were once mosques, the sounds of flamenco music, Arab bath houses – all are evocative of this Moorish past. It is what gives this region a distinct feel, almost less European. We were able to feel this pulse most strongly on a recent trip to Granada, the last stronghold of the Moorish Kingdom in Spain.
Three hours or so east of Rota, nestled in the hills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, is the bustling city of Granada. Granada, and its number one attraction the Alhambra, had been high on our list of places to visit since learning of our move. When Dennis’ mother booked her visit over Memorial Day – our first visitors! – we knew that it would be the a perfect getaway to really show her something truly Spanish and truly remarkable.
We made the old Moorish neighborhood, the Albayzin, our headquarters for the long weekend. Accessible only by taxi or foot, our townhome and surrounding neighborhood were charming and full of life – well into the night. Once we made a few laps around the winding streets, we realized it was a smaller area than we at first realized. It was a neat place to get a feel for Spain, as our windows opened onto a large church on one side, and the balcony on the other to the hanging laundry of our neighbors.
San Nicolas Viewpoint
Wandering out of the Albayzin and down the hills into the Old Town of Granada, we were able to stop at the San Nicolas mirador, or viewpoint, for an amazing view of the Alhambra – fully visible against the backdrop of the mountains. We went out of our way numerous occasions for this million dollar view, which is saying a lot given how many hills and miles our legs traveled that weekend. To start our Saturday, we stopped by hoping to find a table, some toast, and coffee, but there was not a single place open. Which we just couldn’t believe given how many tourists were already descending with their cameras. Later in the day, Dennis and I were even able to steal away on a short date to see the Alhambra glowing against the mountains at night. We quickly realized that we weren’t alone and there was no way that I was going to see over the heads of my closest hippie friends (and who make this city home). Fortunately, we ducked into the San Nicolas church and for a couple Euro donation, were able to climb to the bell tower. There we were truly alone, just us and the amazing view.
Old Town Granada
After stopping at the San Nicolas Viewpoint, we continued down the winding, narrow streets towards the Old Town. Some of the streets were rebuilt reminiscent of a tourist souk to capitalize on the history and romantic idea of Granada at the height of the Moorish times, when guards stood watch over more precious commodities such silk and spices. While we did see some spice stalls, most stores were peddling cheaper souvenirs with a North African flair. The fans and swords and encrusted notebooks were like sirens to Charlotte who stopped without letting any of the adults in our group know. While it was a short episode and no one was ever at real risk, she definitely learned her lesson to stay with mom and dad on that trip.
Overall, the Old Town was much larger than we expected with grand architecture. When we finally made it down from the Albayzin, we entered the large Plaza Isabel La Catolica. Here there is a statue of Queen Isabel and Christopher Columbus reviewing the terms of his voyage. Remarkably, 1492 would be the year of his discovery, and the final defeat of the Moors and establishment of the Spanish Kingdom.
On our first night in town we ate some ice cream to catch our bearings, and then entered what we thought was the Cathedral. While we did see the coffins of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel, we were underwhelmed by the size and grandeur of the building, only to later realize we were only in the Royal Chapel. We fixed this the next day by visiting the attached Cathedral, much more impressive, indeed.
We were also fortunate to witness the beginning of Granada’s feria parade, as numerous traditionally dressed men, women, and horses prepared to move to the feria grounds, which was such a neat sight! It was if the city had gotten my mental memo to showcase the best of Andalusia for our special visitors.
Overall, Granada was a truly unique and remarkable city. It has a little of everything to offer – amazing views, mysterious, small streets and flair from a bygone empire. Grand buildings of a conquering kingdom. Gypsies and hippies galore. And this is without even mentioning the Alhambra, the main attraction!