Whitewashed buildings, cobble stone pathways and blue skies – the Mediterranean locale of Granada, Spain is clear. But beyond the bell towers, in the lower quarters of the Albaycin district, a vibrant, colourful market comes to life. It feels like the medinas of the Maghreb. Of all the Andalusian towns I visited, the North African influence seemed strongest in Granada (read about Seville here). It was in fact, the last stronghold of the Moors on the Iberian peninsula. And their legacy remains in the renowned citadel and palace, Alhambra.
Bypassing the ticket queues (you need to pre-purchase a ticket online weeks in advance to avoid the queues), we spent the afternoon at Alhambra’s complex of palaces, forts and gardens. Alhambra sits atop a hill and has commanding views of the valley below, the sprawling city of Granada, the whitewashed quarters of the Albaycin, and the snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada in the distance. The centerpiece is the 14th century Nasrid Palace, with its exquisite carved arches. With the skilled use of geometric patterns in their art, it’s no wonder the Moors were accomplished in mathematics. (Geometry energized me at school – I can spend hours tracing the motifs and calligraphic designs at these buildings.)
The Alcazar (fort) looked raw in comparison, but had great views of Granada. At the other end of the complex, we ambled through the gardens at Generalife, (from the Arabic Jannat-al-Arif or Garden of the Architect). The carefully laid out gardens and water fountains led the way to the much simpler residence with its peaceful courtyard.
Unlike the grandeur of the palaces I visited, the hotel room at the Melia Granada was disappointing. It was not the room itself, but the terrible sound proofing which was bothersome. It doesn’t matter how well appointed the room is, or how elegant the lobby is, if I can’t get a good night’s sleep because of wafer walls, I won’t be returning to that hotel again! My morning grogginess was quickly dissipated, however, thanks to the pastry selection at the breakfast buffet.
Granada’s contrasts is also its diversity. One of my dinners was a paella with a tagine, a blend of Spanish and Moroccan cultures. In the higher areas of the Albaycin district, the Church of Saint Nicholas stands side by side the newly built Mezquita of Granada (the first mosque to be opened after a 500 year ban). The plaza outside these buildings affords a splendid view over the rooftops of the residential neighbourhood and across the Darro River Valley to the hill on which the palaces of Alhambra sit.
Continue reading the next part on Spain, as I experience Cordoba.