The Albaicin, Granada Spain: The Other Moorish Wonder
Granada is in Andalusia, in southern Spain, and it was the last Muslim stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula to be conquered by Ferdinand and Isabella. And it’s this city’s long Moorish period (711-1492) which fascinates me the most. During this time, even as most of Europe was experiencing the Dark Ages, Granada flourished – it was a center of great learning with magnificent art and architecture and was the home of eminent scientists and philosophers. Granada was one of the wealthiest cities in Medieval Europe.
I love Granada! It’s easily one of my favorite cities in all of Spain. It’s got this interesting mix of polished shopping streets, beautiful architecture, and a gritty counter-cultural vibe that all seem to get along together nicely. And it’s easy to think that visiting Granada is all about seeing the Alhambra. No doubt, you should absolutely spend a day there, as it's one of the most famous and best-preserved Islamic palaces in all of Spain. However, the Alhambra need not be your only reason to visit Granada. The town itself is very compelling and its Albaicin neighborhood is a World Heritage Site.
The Albaicin is a maze of narrow and hilly streets to the north of the Alhambra. During the Muslim rule, this area is where “the ordinary” people lived and worked - those who were not considered important enough to live within the walls of the Alhambra. Here Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived together peacefully for a time and walking these streets feels to me a little like a stepping back into that time. It’s the Albaicin that fills me with wonder each time I visit Granada.
Wandering these ancient streets is both captivating and enjoyable – they are filled with cafes, small shops, and homes that look much like I imagine they did 800 years ago. The cobbled streets and winding hills do not always make for an easy stroll, but it’s well worth the effort. If you make it to the highest point you’ll reach The Mirador de San Nicholas, which has a magnificent view of the Alhambra, and is filled with street musicians, vendors, and a laid-back vibe, which reminds me of the parking lot scene outside a Grateful Dead concert. The Mirador is also where you have the best views of the city along with the gorgeous and towering Sierra Nevada Mountain range. And, if you happen to make the climb near dusk you will be rewarded with one of the most gorgeous sunsets your eyes could possibly take in.
Today, the Albaicin is a modern-day melting pot with bohemians and countercultural types, a very young and progressive student population, as well as people who have lived here for generations. This unique blend fills the streets with a laid back, yet exciting and eclectic vibe and that’s what makes this part of the city so engaging and interesting. As Carla and I were walking around we passed a street musician playing Santana’s Black Magic Woman, and as I moved on a few steps, with the song swirling around in my head, it occurred to me that the music of Santana is the perfect soundtrack for the Albaicin.
It’s difficult to describe the musical style of Carlos Santana. He tends to combine rock, jazz, blues, Latin, and even African into his rhythmic percussion. He blends and harmonizes these different influences even as each sound remains unique and distinct. The Albaicin is similar with its blended multicultural heritage mixed with today’s unique street scene. It’s a delightful blend of contradictions (much like Santana’s music) - and the very reason why Granada is such a dynamic and appealing city for us.