But first, a bit of history
From time, historical records show Granada ruled by Caliphs, Sultans, and dynasties. The Moorish empire once stretched right up into the north of Spain. When the various Christian groups settled their differences, they joined together and drove the Arabs out.
Granada was the last stronghold in Spain that succumbed to Isabel and Ferdinand (the Catholic monarchs at the time) in 1492. The Muslims and the Jews were forced to leave the country or convert to Christianity. A period also described as ethnic cleansing.
At the same time, Christopher Columbus came to Granada to ask the monarch for grants to build ships so that he could conquer the Americas. They gave it to him and the rest is history.
Location Matters, too
Granada is located next to the Sierra Nevada mountains in Andalusia in the south of Spain. It is about 70 km from the coast. What this basically means is that you can go skiing and tanning on the same day!
Cruces de Mayo
I got a bus from Marbella to Granada but was told to get down in the middle of a highway in Santa Fe (30 mins from Granada) with 3 Texan bankers. After knocking on several unanswered doors, we managed to flag down a mechanic with whom I used all the Spanish my husband Enrique Iglesias taught me to call a taxi.
The bankers made me sit in the passenger seat so I could give directions. I didn’t know how to do that so I investigated the rumors I heard on the bus about a festival in the city happening that day.
Cruces de Mayo is known as the “Day of the Cross”. As one of the most popular festivals in Granada, streets, squares, and courtyards of the city are adorned with wonderful altars in honor of the Holy Cross.
I got to my hostel located in what seemed like the backyard of the Alhambra with the view of the Albaicin neighborhood to feed an oil painter for a lifetime. When I opened my bedroom window, I was greeted with a soft rain, the kind you want to have tea by.
Around sunset, a friend took us to a Colombian restaurant for tapas and Arepas. Opting for a sidewalk table, we were able to witness women and children dressed in beautiful flamenco costumes with red and white flowers in their hair heading into the city.
We let Manuella play tour guide starting from the exteriors of the Alhambra under the moonlight.
The Albaicín is the Arabic quarter located on the hill opposite the Alhambra. It is consists of cobblestoned streets and whitewashed houses.
Despite several centuries of neglect and architectural barbarities, it still retains a strong Arabic feeling (even though the Arabic population was ethnically cleansed over 500 years ago). It carries many squares to laze or have a bite to eat. At almost every turn of the head, there is an attractive view, almost always involving glimpses of the Alhambra.
If you go to a shop which sells any of the typical Granadino pottery (white background with strong blue shapes), you will be sure to read the often quoted refrain by Francisco A. de Icaza:
Dale limosna, mujer,
que no hay en la vida nada como la pena de ser
ciego en Granada.
Give him alms, woman,
for there is nothing sadder in life than being
blind in Granada.
Shopping at Alcaiceria
Granada, being my last stop before heading back to Toronto, I indulged in whatever souvenirs that pleased my eyes. I tend to lean towards canvas-only paintings and jewelry because they pack easy but this time I also found a couple must-have journals. Walking into the market, I felt teleported back to the Middle East. You can overhear Arabic amidst the conversations of shopkeepers and the cool blue tile work on dusty surfaces reminded me so much of the beaches in Tunisia.
“Un extracto de fuego y veneno, eso es el flamenco.” – Antonio Gades
The extraction of fire and venom, that is flamenco.
If “Zahra” was an emoji, I’d be the salsa emoji which is actually the flamenco dancer emoji. Now you can only imagine how bad I wanted to see this. We went to the La Alborea Tablao Flamenco to catch a show (18 euros). One word: goosebumps.
We didn’t even get in.
If you’ve read the Quran, it continually repeats the idea that heaven is a garden with running water. From this perspective, you could say that the Alhambra is an Arabic attempt to create heaven on Earth.
The Alhambra was built by the Moorish rulers as a small city on top of the highest hill in Granada to stay cool in the summer and keep an eye out for invaders.
You have to book tickets to see the Alhambra months in advance and I didn’t. We went twice to wander the exteriors, once at night with Manuella, and once in the morning. Even though we didn’t get in, the gorgeous spring gardens outside kept us company.
Paella comes from Valencia. Paella is a dish made with rice with a variety of vegetables and meats cooked over an open fire and typically consumed right out of the paellera. I didn’t have a chance to try it in Valencia so Granada it was, and it did not disappoint.
The thing I love about paella is that it’s ordered to share. The waiter will always bring two servings. I tried black paella de mariscos (seafood paella) while my friend got the regular. The black rice is concentrated from squid ink. 10/10 recommend.
I feel such a deep connection with Andalucia because it merges two cultures I love. Every corner of the city is a storyteller of the grand empire that once was while the Spanish rhymes echo the streets.