Drawn by the allure of the Alhambra, many visitors head to Granada unsure what to expect. What they find is a captivating city where serene Islamic architecture and Arab-flavoured street life go hand in hand with Moorish palaces, monumental churches and old-school tapas bars.
The city, sprawled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, was the last stronghold of the Spanish Moors and their legacy lies all around: it’s in the horseshoe arches, the spicy aromas emanating from street stalls and the teterías (teahouses) of the Albayzín, the historic Arab quarter. Most spectacularly, of course, it’s in the Alhambra, an astonishing palace complex whose Islamic decor and landscaped gardens are without peer in Europe.
There’s also an energy to Granada’s streets, packed as they are with bars, student dives, bohemian cafes and intimate flamenco clubs, and it’s this as much as the more traditional sights that leaves a lasting impression.
The historic center is divided into four old towns: the Muslim “Albaycin” (part of the Unesco World Heritage List since 1994), the Jewish “Realejo”, the gypsy “Sacromonte” and the Christian city center. The Moors crossed the strait of Gibraltar in 711 and settled in what was then a small Visigoth town perched atop the Alhambra hill. Here they settled, erected walls and laid the foundation for the prosperous civilization that would follow. It was in the 9th century when Granada rose to importance after the fall of the Caliphate of Córdoba. Its splendor was reached in 1238 when Mohammed ben Nasar founded the Nasrid dynasty, and the kingdom of Granada stretched from Gibraltar to Murcia. This dynasty bore twenty kings until King Boabdil was forced to surrender Granada to the Catholic monarchs (Fernando and Isabel), in 1492.
Granada is a relatively compact city. It’s easy to reach virtually all the important historical sights on foot. This being said, there’s no avoiding hills, steep flights of steps or narrow, cobblestone alleys, so comfortable, sturdy footwear is advisable.
South of Granada lie the remote valleys and gorges of La Alpujarra. This regionis popularly known throughout Spain because of its unique mini-ecology. Its terraced farmlands are constantly watered by the melting snow from Sierra Nevada mountains creating a high-altitude oasis of greenery which stands in dramatic contrast to the dry foothills below. This is the area where you will find the few villages which were the last stronghold of the Spanish Muslims. A perfect place for those adventurous travellers wanting to hike or explore some off the beaten paths.