Saturday, September 29, 2012

Albaycin in Granada

I arrived in Granada on Tuesday afternoon and checked into the Salvador Hostel with it’s own excellent restaurant next door. Lunch was a broiled salad! The chef had sliced endive lettuce into eights, broiled the pieces till they were just caramelized on the top and then generously added very crispy sliced garlic on top. They were arranged like spokes, radiating out of a center of pickled carrot shreds and topped with balsamic vinegar and oil. It was amazing, and I had it again as my parting meal from this amazing city.
The Alhambra in the sunset

Tickets to the Alhambra, the city’s most famous attraction, should be purchased online days in advance, but they wisely keep aside about a thousand more tickets for daily purchase. I was told to get there at 8:00 to 8:30 the next morning and I might be able to get a ticket.

Knowing the Alhambra wasn’t an option I went on a walking tour of the Albaycin area. It is the oldest part of the city. People began living there in about 900AD. It was the city that supported the palace of the Alhambra, and was in turn protected by the military might of the Sultan. There are still long stretches of thick walls around the Albaycin and the remains of arches across the river where once thick steel bars prevented outsiders from entering.
Before the tour started at 6:00, there was plenty to explore. Granada is a beautiful modern city with many buildings dating to the reign of Isabella la Catolica, the queen who supported Columbus. In January of 1492, after centuries of intermittent warfare, the last stronghold of the Muslims at Granada fell to the Catholics, and in the following years, Spain lost most of its creative and productive people with the ouster of both Muslims and Jews, it’s economy bolstered instead by wealth flowing in from the New World. In the center of the city is a plaza and monument to Isabella, an impressive sculpture of Columbus asking for her support. The cathedral she built is one of the most beautiful in Spain.

Demonstrators blocking the city's main artery.

The public bus that was to take us to the top of the Albaycin never showed up. Earlier, while wandering about, I’d heard chanting and wondered if a demonstration might be going on nearby. Indeed, the Gran Via de Colon was completely blocked by sitting, chanting demonstrators protesting recent government actions. Wisely, the police were calmly standing on the outskirts of the crowd. Any move on their part might have led to a violent response, as had already happened in Madrid. Our little group walked past and found a bus on down the street.

Typical Arabic home
The Albaycin is steep, built up a hillside with streets as narrow as donkey carts, some are just stairways. From up there, one can see across the top of the Alhambra to the Sierra Nevada, snowless this late in the summer. The guide pointed out homes known as Carmens. They are large impressive homes with gardens and gates, many of which we could see through to the inside. The Albaycin has had running water since it’s inception, funneled from mountain streams via aqueducts, so there are numerous fountains and pools. The architecture is simple with intricate tile designs, carved stone lintels and window frames with Arabic inscriptions. The streets are paved in cobblestones, arranged in designs, including a stylized pomegranate pattern. Granada is the Spanish word for the fruit, and in fact our own word means “apple from Granada”. Most of the buildings are white with thick walls and there are a few instances of more modern, or Catholic, architecture next door to the Moorish homes.

Due to the bus delay, our walk extended into the night. We explored an area where Gypsies used to live, known as Sacromonte, it is a plethora of “cave” homes, that from the street appear to be houses. It’s clear the mountain is directly behind, so the house has interior rooms carved from the rock. It was very romantic with subdued lighting in the streets and the bars. Traffic consisted of roaring motorcycles tearing through the narrow streets and a few small cars. The walkway was high along the river canyon, with a stonewall to prevent falling. Periodically there were arches in the wall through which the Alhambra could be seen, lit up against the night; a half moon perched above like a celestial bird.

Typical cave bar in the Sacromonte area

Pomegranate design in the street,
made from dark thin stones laid vertically.

Once an arch over the river with bars to prevent
entry into the city.

Beautiful decorations on some buildings
Night at the Alhambra