In spite of the fact that Granada, like any other city, has seen great technological and social changes over the years, the most popular areas are still those that surround the Alhambra, one of the oldest, most important monuments in the entire country and a Unesco national heritage site.
Perhaps the most obvious thing to say about a trip to Granada is that you should make sure to have comfortable shoes while here, since there are steep hills everywhere, especially in neighbourhoods such as the Albayzín, Sacromonte and Realejo, districts around the hills upon which the Alhambra resides. A maze of narrow streets (some of which are cobbled) and endless steps to climb up or down are equally representative of all three of these areas. The beautiful whitewashed houses and the colourful flowers in the courtyards and on balconies are some of the things worth looking out for, as are the many sights of historic interest.
To get up to the Albayzín, most people take Caldería Nueva Street, which is a very narrow, steep little road that has a large concentration of tearooms, such as Alfaguara, as well as many shops selling Arabic crafts. The street leads out onto a lively little square where, especially on sunny days, people sit at tables put out by the bars and restaurants there. This is San Miguel Bajo, also the location of the church of the same name. Other places worth visiting in this area are the Santa Isabel la Real Convent, San Juan de los Reyes Church, the Bañuelo (Arab baths), Casa Castril (an old palace), the ancient wall and the San Nicolás lookout point, which offers superb views of the Alhambra. Though it lies at the very start of the Albayzín district, the Plaza Nueva area is very popular at night, as are the banks of the Darro River, overflowing with places to go for tapas, such as Casa de Todos, La Boquería and Mardini to name a few; there are also lots of bars here where you can listen to music as you sip on your drink: Al Pie de la Vela, La Fontana, Rey Momo and more.
This district has kept its distinctive infrastructure through the years. The houses in the Sacromonte are actually caves that have been dug out of the side of the hill. They used to be where many gypsies lived and are now public places where you can go to enjoy shows (Los Tarantos), bringing to life the traditions the gypsies have preserved and turned into something of an event. Don’t leave the area without stopping by the Abadía del Sacromonte (abbey), a 17th century church which now houses an art museum, and the Museo de la Zambra (museum of gypsy celebrations).
THE OLD QUARTER
Granada sprawls out at the foot of the previous two districts, dominated by another famous sight, the Cathedral. Around it, the streets of the Alcaicería are full of shops selling arts and crafts, as well as other souvenirs. The Plaza de Bib-Rambla, which is full of florists, is also here, as are many restaurants including Casa Manolo, fashionable clothing shops like Amano and Los Muñecos.
The most modern and commercial shopping area in Granada, however, is located to the southwest. If you are planning on doing some shopping while in town, take note of Tablas, Obispo Hurtado, Gran Via de Colon, Reyes Católicos and Recogidas, which are all streets full of shops where you can find names like Zara, Mango, Lacoste, Roberto Verino, Benetton and many other.
SHOPPING CENTRES AND NIGHTLIFE
In the lowest part of the city you will find the large shopping centres, such as Corte Ingles and the Neptuno Shopping Centre. And if what you want is to experiences Granada’s famous nightlife, this is also the area where you will find Pedro Antonio de Alarcon Street, which is full of bars (Colors, Halley, Marilyn, Soho), and San Juan de Dios, which in addition to interesting sights like the church and hospital of the same name, also have lots of entertainment options (Distrito 10, París, El Rincón de San Juan de Dios).
History of Granada
Archaelogical research carried out in Granada in 1916 revealed that the province had been inhabited since Paleolithic times. Findings dating from the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic eras are on display in the Museo Arqueológico (The Archaeological Museum).
By the 7th century BC there were already Phoenician, Carthaginian and Greek settlers inhabiting coastal areas of the province of Granada. These settlers also had contact with those living in the interior. According to documentation dating from the 5th century BC the very first people to live in Granada were Hebrew settlers. The city at that time was known as Elybirge.
Romanization of Bética, the Southern part of the Iberian Peninsula, was rapid. The process was completed in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. Under Roman rule the city was renamed Llíberis, although its exact location is uncertain. Later, it was occupied by the Visigoths, although it maintained control over civil, military and religious matters.
Little is known about the Jewish community, known as Gárnata, which settled in Granada. However, the fact that it is mentioned so frequently in the canons of the Council of Elvira, which took place in the 4th century, point to it being of considerable importance. Not only that, but the Jews were instrumental in contributing to the overthrow of the Visigoth monarchy, facilitating the entry of the Arab invaders in 711. With the arrival of the Arabs, the city changed its name again, this time to Llbira. Historical monuments dating from this period, such as the tower of the Mezquita de los Morabitos (Morabitos Mosque) in the Church of San José and the Torres Bermejas (Red Towers) are still visible today.
In 1010 internal strife between diverse ethnic and cultural factions virtually destroyed the city until in 1013, with the arrival of the Ziríes dynasty from Africa, it became an independent kingdom. The remains of the walls of the Albayzín date from this period. They were constructed on top of older fortifications known as the Alcazaba Qadima, which had been built on the hill of the Albayzín. Some of the gateways and towers which protected these walls also still survive, for example the Puerta de Monaita, the Puerta de Elvira and the Arco de las Pesas.
From 1238 onwards, with the arrival of the Nazarí Dynasty, the city experienced a period of great prosperity and exceptional brilliance. The first Nazarí monarch, King Alhamar, enjoyed good diplomatic relations with Fernando III and during his reign Granada grew beyond the limits of the hill on which the Alhambra and the Albayzín were built. The Alhambra palace itself dates from this time, as do the Palacio de la Madraza (Madraza Palace) and other public buildings.
Until 1492 Granada symbolised economic and cultural wealth, but internal struggles weakened the kingdom, allowing it to be taken by the Catholic Monarchs. Initially, Arab citizens were allowed to continue living according to their traditions. In 1499, however, Cardinal Cisneros forced all Muslims to be baptised as Christians. Later this policy was extended to the prohibition of their clothing, customs and language and the imposition of high taxes. During this period many mosques were either destroyed or converted into monasteries or other religious and public buildings. Examples of this transformation are churches such as the churches of San Miguel, Santa María, and San José. Owing to the levels of persecution they suffered, the Muslims finally rebelled and sought refuge in the Alpujarra Hills, until in the 17th century after their defeat at the Battle of the Alpujarras they were expelled from the city altogether.
Today Granada continues to expand. Modern buildings sit side by side with historic monuments, many of which have undergone extensive conservation work. It is one of Spain’s most visited cities, not only because of its architectural and historical interest, but also thanks to the lively atmosphere generated by the University, its nightlife, a beach less than a hour’s drive away, the ski resort in the Sierra Nevada only 35k from the centre, and the added attraction of the free tapas which are served with drinks in its many bars.