Beside the rich cultural legacy stemming from its Christian period, Granada still preserves its Islamic architectonical hallmarks, among which stands out the Alhambra, a massive Moorish castle located on a hill above the city. It consists of gardens, fortifications and sumptuous palaces. It was the home of many of the Moorish Sultans who ruled the province for centuries, and so it received the optimum in interior decoration and architecture.
The Islamic paradise, Jannah, is often described in the Qur’an as a garden with running water, and it would not be exaggerated to say that the Alhambra was an attempt to recreate heaven on earth. Nowadays, two million people visit the palaces each year and 8,500 people visit the Alhambra every day, making it Spain’s most visited monument.
If you can spare a few hours, we strongly recommend visiting this landmark. There is also the possibility of a nightly visit, which, especially in summer, with the heat abating, makes the experience even more extraordinary. Since the number of visitors per day is limited, you may want to book your ticket in advance, for instance here. If you need any assistance with booking, don’t hesitate to approach us.
Famous quarters of Granada: the Albaicín and the Realejo
The Albaicín is an old Moorish quarter located on the hill opposite the Alhambra. It is characterised by cobble stoned streets with whitewashed houses. Despite several centuries of neglect and architectonical anarchy it still retains a peculiar Moorish atmosphere. There are many squares with terraces and places to laze about and have a bite to eat. The Albaicín is an oil painter’s paradise and almost at every turn of the head there is an attractive view, almost always involving glimpses of the Alhambra. A particularly popular place in this regard is the Mirador de San Nicolás next to the San Nicolás church.
The Realejo was the old Jewish neighbourhood of Muslim Granada, and is now a lively quarter with vibrant streets and a distinctive character. You can reach the Realejo going down from the Alhambra, walking through winding streets, between the Carmenes (interior gardens) and whitewashed houses, and the Puerta del Sol, a former laundry that stands as a witness of the past. The Campo del Príncipe is a popular meeting place next to the San Cecilio church, and offers a good opportunity to taste some of Granada’s famous tapas (see “Gastronomy” below). Walking down the streets of Realejo, you will also see the Palace of La Casa de los Tiros from the sixteenth century with its stone façade, the Palace of Los Condes de Gabia, and the Santo Domingo church.
Monuments: Cathedral, Mozarabic Churches, St Jerome and Cartuja Monasteries
Works on Granada’s Cathedral began after the conquest of Granada, in the 16th century, commissioned by Charles V. Though initially designed as a gothic cathedral, it was finally built in the style of the Spanish Renaissance. The cathedral of Granada has impressive facades, a rich interior with a grand altar and several chapels. In the majestically decorated Royal Chapel you can find the tombs of the Catholic monarchs.
The Mozarabs were Iberian Christians who lived under Arab Islamic rule in Al-Andalus. Their descendants remained unconverted to Islam, but did however adopt elements of Arabic language, architecture and culture. After the Reconquista, churches were built on the former sites of mosques and temples erected in mudéjar style: a perfect symbiosis of gothic and Renaissance art with elements of Islamic architecture. San Gil y Santa Ana church on the Plaza Nueva and San Nicolás and San Miguel churches in the Albaicín are some of the most interesting mudéjar temples.
The Royal Monastery of St Jerome (Monasterio de San Jerónimo), located on the Gran Capitán street (continuation of San Juan de Dios street) was founded by the Catholic Kings in 1492. It consists of a church, two cloisters with gardens decorated with fountains and orange trees, and several rooms. The impressive facade and tower are characteristic of the early Renaissance. The richly decorated Renaissance interior features coffering, scalloping and sculptures.
The Carthusian Monastery (Monasterio de la Cartuja), located just under the university campus, was built on the site of a former Roman cemetery. Its construction began in 1506, when the Spanish general Fernández de Córdoba donated the land to monks. The monastery is an amazing example of Baroque architecture, with its Doric arches, ornate decoration and intricate sculptures and carvings.
Sacromonte, Flamenco and the Gypsies
Sacromonte, the Gypsy neighbourhood adjacent to the Albaicín, is one of the places that gave rise to the association between Spain and flamenco. The Gypsies arrived in Granada about 600 years ago and one of the places where they congregated was in the caves of the Sacromonte. The mixture of Arabic influence combined with their particular lifestyle and temperament created flamenco. You may want to attend one of the many flamenco performances given in Sacromonte’s characteristic caves.
Spanish cuisine is well known all around the world, and Granada is particularly famous for its tapas (small appetizers included in the price of your drink). The location of Granada, between mountains and the sea, explains its rich and varied kitchen. Some of the best known local dishes are the Tortilla de Sacromonte (Spanish omelette with ram or calf brains), Habas Fritas con Jamón (broad beans with cured ham) or Choto al Ajillo (pieces of kid and garlic fried in olive oil). Granada’s cuisine is also appreciated for its Trevélez ham, asparagus, tropical fruit, olive oil and wine.