The One with Granada, Spain

Sunday, March 15, 2015

At long last, my final Southern Spain recap post - Granada!

Can I be honest? At this point I was done, as I often find myself on the last day of a big trip. I was sick of being cold, sick of not having a routine, sick of sight-seeing, sick of poop and feces everywhere, etc. But, I didn't want to be a party pooper, so on we went! Sorry if you live in Granada, I really do think it's a lovely place :)

We stayed at "Siesta's House" for 75 euros a night.

In photos it looks quite charming!
So much character.
Love the Spanish flair.
In reality, it was so very cold, there were ants all over the kitchen, and the bathroom was COVERED in black mold. Ew. If none of that bothers you, then go for it!
The apartment was located in the Albayzín neighborhood, according to Rick Steves the best old Moorish quarter in Spain. As he says, it is an odd mix of very touristy and very gritty with very little in between. There were a ton of hippies and gypsies. But, there was one great thing about the location that you'll see in a bit.
Anti-bullfighting grafito?
A market near our apartment in the Albayziín. 
We had tickets to see the Alhambra at 12:30pm so we decided to do Rick Steves' walking tour of the city in the morning before heading up to the palace. We trudged our way downhill through tiny lanes down to the old town.
For a time Granada was the grandest city in Spain, but after the tumult that came with the change from Moorish to Christian rule it lost its power and settled into a long slumber. Today Granada seems to specialize in evocative history and good living. Settle down in the old center and explore monuments of the Moorish civilization and its conquest. Taste the treats of a North African-flavored culture that survives here today.

Our walk started at the Corral del Carbon, the only surviving caravanserai of Granada's 14 original. A caravanserai was a protected place for merchants to rest their camels, spend the night, get a bite to eat, and spin yarns. This one is just a block away from the silk market. After stepping through the grand Moorish door you find a square surrounding a water fountain. This plain-yet-elegant structure evokes the times when traders would gather here with exotic goods and swap tales from across the Muslim world. After the Reconquista, this place was used as a coal storage facility and today it houses two offices where you can buy tickets to concerts and the like.
The afore mentioned grand Moorish door, the entrance to the Corral del Carbon.
Just across the street is the Alcaicería. Originally a Moorish silk market with 200 shops, it was filled with precious salt, silver, spices, and silk. It had 10 armed gates and its own guards. Silk was huge in Moorish times and silk-worm friendly mulberry trees flourished in the countryside. It was such an important product that the sultans controlled and guarded it by constructing this fine, fortified market. A terrible fire in 1850 destroyed what was left at that time. Today's Alcaicería was rebuilt in the late 1800s as a tourist marketplace to complement the romantic image of Granada popularized in western literature. 
Story time: After Chris and I got married we went on our honeymoon to Disneyworld. At the World Showcase in Epcot we loved the Moroccan themed section. Since then, whenever we see something with cool geometric designs a la northern Africa, we say, "That's Moroccan!" (like more-rockin'). While the reality of Morocco was not nearly so cool, these lamps are still Morockin'!
Passing through the market we passed through Plaza de Bib-Rambla. This square used to be the center of Moorish Granada, the focal point of market and festivals. Today Plaza de Bib-Rambla is good for a snack or meal amid the flower stalls (not too many of those in winter) and the burbling of the Neptune-topped fountain.
Our next stop was the Cathedral. Wow! The facade just screams triumph. That's partly because its design was based on a triumphal arch, built over a destroyed mosque. Five hundred yards away, there was once open space outside the city wall with good soil for a foundation. But the Christian conquerors said, "No way." Instead they destroyed the mosque and built their cathedral right here on difficult, sandy soil. This was the place where the people of Granada traditionally worshipped.
We went into the Royal Chapel, but alas, no photos were allowed. It was cool though and is probably Granada's top Christian sight. It is the final resting place of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel.
Continuing on the walk, we saw Plaza Isabel La Católica. Granada's two grand boulevards, Gran Via and Calle Reyes Católica. A beautiful statue shows Columbus unfurling a long contract with Isabel sitting on the throne. It lists the terms of Columbus' 1492 voyage.
Looking back up the Gran Via.
Eventually it was time to head up hill to the Alhambra. We hopped on a minibus and met Jaylie at one of the entrances to this vast complex.
The Alhambra is the last and greatest Morrish palace, and also is one of Europe's top sights attracting up to 8,000 visitors a day. Nowhere else does the splendor of Moorish civilization shine so beautifully. The complex consists of four sights clustered together atop the hill overlooking Granada: the Palacios Nazaries, Charles V's Palace, Generalife Gardens, and the Alcazaba. 
You have to buy tickets in advance, usually online, to see the main attraction - the Palacios Nazaries - and I dutifully did so: 12:30pm entrance time. However, take note cuz this is a big deal that we somehow missed when doing our research: when you buy tickets you get either an AM or PM ticket depending on whether your Palacios entrance time is before or after 2:00pm. What that means is that you can only enter the other 3 sights before or after 2:00pm. We didn't know that so we didn't get up to the complex until around noon, meaning we didn't have time to see the other stuff there. But, we did get to see the big daddy of the Alhambra, the Palacios Nazaries. 
We got in a huge line, waited, and eventually made it in to the Moorish royal palace.
As we wandered we kept the palace themes in mind: water, a near absence of figural images, geometric designs, and stalactite-ceilings.
The whole place was once painted with bright colors: red, blue, green, and gold. Throughout the palace, walls, ceilings, vases, carpets, and tiles were covered with decorative patterns, mostly poems and verses of praise from the Koran written in calligraphy. Much of what is known about the Alhambra is known simply from reading the inscriptions that decorate its walls.
The palace is very well preserved but the trick to fully appreciating it is to imagine it furnished and filled with Moorish life: sultans with hookah pipes lounging on pillows upon Persian carpets, heavy curtains on the windows, and ivory-studded furniture. 
The Courtyard of the Myrtles.
Moors loved their patios with a garden and water under the sky.
Awesome stalactite ceiling.
The largest room in the palace is the Grand Hall of the Ambassadors. This room functioned as the throne room. It was here that the sultan, seated on a throne opposite the entrance, received foreign emissaries. The room is a perfect cube and the stucco walls, even without their original painting, are glorious, decorated with ornamental flowers made by pressing the mold into wet plaster.
It was in that room that Columbus made one of his final pitches to Isabel and Ferdinand to finance a sea voyage to the Orient in 1492. Talk about historic!
More awesome decoration. So intricate!
One of the most famous areas of the palace is the Courtyard of the Lions named for its fountain ringed with 12 lions. The fountain was a gift from a Jewish leader, so the 12 lions probably represent the 12 tribes of Israel. The courtyard with its 124 columns resembles the cloister of a Catholic monastery.
The Evans Family in the Courtyard of the Lions in the Palacios Nazaries of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain on Wednesday February 11th 2015.
The Hall of the Abencerrajes has an exquisite ceiling based on the eight-sided Muslim star. This was the Sultan's living room and has a sad history. The father of Boabdil took a new wife and wanted to disinherit he children of his first marriage - one of whom was Boabdil. In order to deny power to Boabdil and his siblings the sultan killed nearly all of the pre-Boabdil Abencerraje family members. He thought this would pave the way for the son of his new wife to be the next sultan. He stacked 36 Abencerraje heads in the pool, under the sumptuous honey-combed stucco ceiling in this hall. But his scheme failed, and Boabdil ultimately assumed the throne. Bloody power struggles like this were the norm here in the Alhambra. Yikes.
The Hall of the Two Sisters has gorgeous inlaid colored tiles. If they look "Escheresque," you've got it backward: Escher is Alhambra-esque. The artist M.C. Escher was inspired by these very patterns on his visit.
Great view of Granada from the Alhambra.
Courtyard in the palace.
After the palace, technically our tickets were no longer good for entrance to any of the other sites. But I read in Rick Steves that the Alcazaba fortress had great views (ding ding ding ding!) so I had to get in. Thankfully the ticket-taker/guard let us in with our "expired" tickets.

Looking down on he remains of the fortress.
A section of the Alhambra complex.
And what I came for! Views!
And More Views!
Hello feral cat. 
Another garden area in the complex.
The exterior of Charles V's palace. The Palacio Nazaries wasn't good enough for king Charles V so he built this new home. It has a unique circle-within-a-square design by Pedro Machuca, a pupil of Michelangelo, and is Spain's most impressive Renaissance building. We didn't go in.
After enjoying our tour of the Alhambra we rode the minibus back down into town to head back to the apartment. On the way we saw the Palace of Justice on the Plaza Nueva. Apparently this square is a popular hangout for the local hippie community. The locals call them pies negros, black feet, for obvious reasons. Many of these are the children of rich Spanish families from the north, hell-bent on disappointing their high-achieving parents.
Located at the top of the square is the Church of Santa Ana. This church was originally a mosque and the church tower replace a minaret. The architecture is in the Mudejar style by Moorish craftsmen.
Tired, and a little burnt out on sightseeing, we hopped on another minibus to wind up the tiny lanes of the Albayzín. So tiny, in fact, that the bus tail slammed into one of the walls. Fox thought it was hilarious and laughed his head. We got off the bus intact and uninjured and headed to the grand finale of our trip to Granada: the San Nicolás viewpoint. Remember when I said there was one good thing about the location of our apartment? It was this, located just five minutes away. 
Evans family in Granada, Spain, overlooking the Alhambra.
And that, my dear friends, at long last, more than a month after returning home, concludes our super Southern Spain fiesta! 

Next planned adventure: Amsterdam/Brussels/Bruges. Suggestions welcome :)


  1. Sorry the apartment had issues... glad none of you got sick from the mold!!! LOVING the photos!! That is a sad story about the 36 people he killed!

  2. Whew! What a trip! While it didn't have the variety of our Slovenia-Croatia-Bosnia-Montenegro road trip with Jaylie, it was still awesome!

  3. WOW--these pictures are AMAZING, to bad about the scary apartment--sounds like an AMAZING adventure!

  4. Paige do you and your sweet family use Rick Steve's guides everywhere you visit? I've seen you mention them often. I'm wondering if you've found them helpful/valuable in your travels or do you have other travel guides you use or love. Have the sights he recommends been worth your time or have you ever felt like your time in these cities could have been spent better visiting other attractions? My husband and I will be getting to Graf middle of April and we are so excited to get out traveling (:

  5. Hey Cassy! So excited for your move to Graf :)

    We go by Rick Steves books exclusively. They're the best and cover everything we could possibly want to see. As soon as we moved here we purchased them all from Amazon. Or buy them before you get here so you don't have to wait as long for shipping ;)

  6. Wonderful, thank you! I will have to invest in some once we get there, Amazon shipping to Alaska is pretty slow too (:

  7. Hi!! What a beautiful trip! Granada's one of my favourites city in Andalusia (I was living in Almeria for 13 years). But there are an error: the name of the street is 'Reyes Católicos' (catholic monarchs. Men and women mixed) not 'Catolica' (only a catholic woman).


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