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Thursday, June 2, 2016

The City Beyond The Alhambra: Granada, Spain

Since I am trying to keep my blog a little more up to date with my life these days, I’ve decided to only post about my trip to Spain last year sporadically whenever the inspiration hits and today I’m going to use this month’s travel link up prompt “Unexpected Places” as an excuse to skip ahead in the timeline and write about Granada. I hope you will enjoy this piece!

I’m sure I’m not the only person whose main reason for visiting the city of Granada in Andalusia was seeing the Alhambra. I had dreamt about walking through this majestic Moorish palace for years and in my mind the stories and legends surrounding this ancient fortress had taken form long before my trip to Spain was even thought of. As both a history nerd and an insufferable romantic, I knew that the Alhambra was one of those places that I just had to experience for myself one day – but now that I have been, I have also come to realize that a visit to the Alhambra isn’t quite complete without a visit to the city that it ruled for many, many centuries.

Granada is located at the foot of the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and one of the largest cities in Andalusia. Compared to most other places I visited in the region, Granada felt a little bit more rough around the edges: The buildings weren’t quite as pristine, the streets didn’t feel as clean and in some places the amount of other tourists felt downright exhausting. But the city exuded an exuberant energy that created an image of a city where pleasure took precedence and life only had to be as solemn as you wanted it to be and that seemed to match up perfectly with the things I had at first perceived as little imperfections.

While I found the pace of life in cities like Seville and Cordoba more suitable for an introvert like me, it only took me one balmy evening walk through the streets of Granada to understand how it easily could be a firm favorite for someone else: With many laid-back bohemian bars lining the alleys and busy tapas restaurants aplenty, the city felt very much on fire at night and to me it seemed like the kind of place that would be a true paradise for nightlife lovers. But even as a non-party goer I found plenty to love and when we left I knew that there were still way too many hidden nooks and crannies to be uncovered.

We only spent two nights in Granada and in retrospect that was way too little time for a city as large and historically relevant. With train and bus connections waiting to be caught, we only had one full day to explore Granada and since visiting the Alhambra would take up a major chunk of that time already, we quickly realized that we wouldn’t have too much wiggle room to just aimlessly wander. And since I approach every trip we go on with the thought that we are going to return one day - this is the only way for me to avoid stressing out too much about creating the perfect itinerary -, we didn’t even attempt to see everything there was to see and instead concentrated on a select few places.

Our Airbnb apartment was located in the Albayzín – the historic heart and former Muslim neighbourhood of Granada – and so we naturally spent most of our time in its maze of crooked little alleyways. Some parts of the Albayzín felt almost as touristy as the Alhambra, but we were surprised how easy it was to get away from the crowds and found a lot of corners and squares that seemed to be just as deserted as they were photogenic.

With the sky starting to turn cotton candy pink in the distance and a golden light settling over the roofs of the old buildings, the Albayzín took on a particular magical appearance in the last few hours of the evening. Because of the neighbourhood’s location on a hill right across from the Alhambra, the views over the valley and the giant fortress complex were splendid and inspired me to take out my camera on plenty of occasions.

The Albayzín was not only a lovely area for strolling, though, but also a good place to gain a little bit more insight about Spain’s Moorish past beyond the Alhambra. There were a few intriguing remnants left of that time, but unfortunately we only had enough time to visit Palacio Dar al-Horra, the home of the mother of the last Moorish ruler of Granada.

Hidden away in a quiet corner of the Albayzín, it had been impossible to tell from the outside what a little gem awaited inside its walls. The rooms and gardens may not have been nearly as flamboyant and pompous as the ones in the Alhambra, but the small size of the building and the lack of visitors gave the experience an intimate feel and provided us with a much better idea of how much of Moorish Spain could actually have looked like. I wish I would have had the time to explore more of this side of Granada, but that only made me more eager to come back in the future.

The only part of Central Granada that we managed to see with our limited time frame was the Cathedral of Granada. Built in the 16th century after all of Spain had become Christian, the architecture of the cathedral formed a stark contrast with the Albayzín and clearly showed how deeply rooted Catholicism had become in Spain in the centuries since the Reconquista.

As the burial place of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragorn – the rulers who had reunited most of Spain through their marriage and conquered the last Moorish stronghold in the country in Granada - it was also a poignant reminder of a significant turning point in Spanish history and in the shadow of the Spanish Inquisition I could not help, but wonder how things might have turned out instead.

Just as there is more to see in Paris than the Eiffel Tower and more to explore in Rome than the Colosseum, so is there much more to discover about Granada than the Alhambra. You may not be able to fully appreciate the history of Granada without a visit to the Alhambra, but for me it was making an effort to discover some of the other sides of Granada – no matter how little time we had – that made the Alhambra come truly to life.

Granada was unexpected for me because I had no idea that I would find so much to love there besides the Alhambra and so I can think of no better way of ending this post than saying that the next time I visit I will do so with much more time on my hand.

linking up with Angie, Emma, Carolann and Jessi

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