To me, Granada is a small city (pop. 250,000) with a big city look and feel. Like all of Spain, the flower, fountain filled squares and parks were there in abundance but it had a certain something more….sophistication, grandeur or perhaps just a city with a sense of its place in history…hard to put my finger on but it made me really fall in love with the city.
Aside from the fun of walking the different neighborhoods…and each one is markedly different…there are lots of sights to see. The main draw being the Alhambra which is part fortress, part palace and part gardens. However, there is much more to see and experience in this gem of a town. The Cathedral of Granada a 16th century beauty is nestled into the city is the first Renaissance styled church to be built in Spain…surrounded by narrow streets it does not have the monumental feel of other large Cathedrals…no squares or plazas to offer commanding views or grand porticos like Seville…it is just there. The treat comes to the visitor once inside…soaring naves and gilded altars, elegant and graceful columns supporting a beautifully latticed and coffered ceiling and of course a sacristy filled with a goodly amount of the gold from the New World.
Next to the cathedral was one of my favorite attractions…Capilla Real or the Royal Chapel. Built in the Gothic style it houses the tombs of King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella as well as the art collection of Isabella, crowns and scepters, royal swords and a magnificent carved and painted alter. The art collection, albeit small, has some of the most wonderful examples of Flemish Renaissance painting that you will find outside of Holland. No photos allowed…damn it!
After a hard morning of looking at religious art…after all, one can handle only so many graphic depictions of the Crucified Jesus running with blood…I would take myself to Plaza de Bib Rambla for a coffee or a glass of wine (even better) and some people watching. This large square lined with shops, cafes and flower stands is the heart of the city and it fills with people strolling, children playing, musicians and an occasional concert. While I was in town there was a month long performing arts festival with free concerts every day in venues all over the city.
The Albayzin neighborhood is the old muslim quarters. Located on the side of a series of hills it is a somewhat strenuous climb up narrow cobblestone streets to reach the summit and the plaza called “Mirador San Nicolas” This plaza overlooks, across the Darro Valley, the Alcazaba and the Palacios Nazaries which makes up the most recognizable portion of the Alahambra. At sunset the square is filled with photographers…the neighborhood falls away down the hill from this square and the retaining wall at the edge of the plaza is lined with tripods as the afternoon sun begins to fade. Oooo’s and Ahaa’s can be heard mixed with the click, click, click of camera shutters. Everyone is jockeying for a spot to take the quintessential photo of the Alhambra at twilight and I was right there amongst them but I was not traveling with a tripods so my shots are not a sharp as I would like but still I captured the image and I’m glad to have been there.
Vantage points situated on the hills around the city offer majestic views of the city and the valleys around it. One of my favorites is the Garden de los Martires…located on the south eastern side of the park surrounding the Alhambra are 7 hectares of beautifully landscaped gardens in the French and English style looking out over the whole valley. This is a good spot to take a break from the tourist treadmill….sit on a bench in the shade of a palm tree, read a book, listen to the sound of water gurgling the many fountains and enjoy the view.
Granada has a custom that I did not observe in either Seville or Cordoba….in Granada when you buy a drink they give you free tapas. So every evening we would go out for a few glasses of wine our free tapas and no dinner was necessary…a good thing for budget conscious travelers like myself.
Next stop the Alhambra!