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Sightseeing in Granada

La Alhambra

La Alhambra is known throughout the world and is one of Spain's most emblematic monuments. It goes without saying that it is also Granada's most well known monument. The word is derived from the Arabic, اَلْحَمْرَاء (Al-Hamra), meaning "red". Incidentally, the modern Spanish word for "carpet", alfombra, is the castillianised descendent of a related Arabic word, al-humrah, meaning "redness". There are various theories as to the why this name was chosen. Some argue that it was a shortened, popular form of the full name of the fortress, al Qal'at al-hamra, meaning "red fortress". They speculate that it earned this name due to its characteristic red tone. Others, however, rebut these claims arguing that in the al-Andalus era the Alhambra was whitewashed and so its colour would have been white, not red. Some historians believe that the name of the fortress comes from the red hue that it gave off at night, lit by torchlight, which was when the work on it was done. Still others opine that Alhambra is simply a feminisation of the nickname of the redheaded and red-bearded Sultan who ordered its construction, Abu al-Hamar, (Abu the Red). The Alhambra is one of the greatest works of art to come out of al-Andalus.

A castle had already been built here in the early days of the Corodoban Caliphate, but it was not transformed into the Alhambra and made the royal palace until the rise of the Nasarid dynasty in 1238. This was the height of the Alhambra's splendour, though subsequent Christian rulers continued developing and expanding the complex up until the reign of Charles V, for whom the palacio de Carlos V is named.

The Alhambra

This enormous edifice is so large and so intricate that it is impossible to list all of its many components here. Its sheer size alone is enough to impress any visitor, but as impressive as it looks from the outside this is nothing compared with what you will find on the inside. This was definitively the most luxurious palace and the height of Islamic art of its day. Be sure to explore the gardens bordering the Alhambra, known as El Generalife.

Following the conquest of Granada by Castile in 1492 the Alhambra was made a royal palace. In 1984 it was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.

There are a multitude of options available for enjoying the Alhambra. You can visit by day or in the nighttime. A regular ticket costs 12€. If you have a bono turístico, it's only 8€. A visit to the gardens of the Alhambra costs 6€. A circular azul ticket lets you visit the Alhambra and Generalife for two consecutive days, once during the daytime and once at night, and costs 20€. You can also bring your own private tour guide along. Children under the age of 12 and senior citizens over the age of 65 get in free while students from EU countries get a discount, so be sure to ask about this if it applies to you.

Granada Cathedral

La Santa Iglesia Catedral Metropolitana de la Encarnación de Granada, located in the city centre, was built over the Nasarid-built Great Mosque of Granada. Construction began at the beginning of the 16th century, just a short time after the city was conquered by Castilla and Aragón. As tends to be the case with Spanish cathedrals, and given the relatively late arrival of the Renaissance in Spain, the Cathedral of Granada started out with classically Gothic design parameters when it was first conceived by the arquitect Enrique Egas only to switch later on to an early-Renaissance style when Diego de Siloé took over the project. A Renaissance-style Cathedral was thus built over Gothic foundations. The chapel is of particular note, with its elegant praying statues of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand.

Granada Baths

Few of these magnificent structures have survived to the present day as most were destroyed by the invading Christians during the years of the Reconquista, who viewed the Arab bath houses as little more than brothels. Indeed, within the city proper only three Arab bath houses are still around. El Bañuelo, in the Albayzín district, is perhaps one of the most striking of these baths. Hidden beneath a house, it is one of the few to have avoided destruction when Castilla conquered Granada. The house on top of it dates back to the very same day of the Castilian occupation. It was declared a national monument in 1918 and is quite well preserved. El Bañuelo is located on Carrera del Darro 31, look out for it (it can be a bit hard to spot the entrance). It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 in the morning to 2:00 in the afternoon. The other two Arab bath houses in Granada are los Baños Árabes de Hernando de Zafra on calle Elvira, and el Baño de la calle del Agua, on calle del Agua, which is the largest of the three. To round off your tour of Granada's baths, you might also stop by el baño de las Mercedarias, a public bath discovered in 1984 in the old Jewish quarter at Plaza del Padre Suárez.


The Albaicín (also spelled "Albayzín") is a veritable feast for the eyes with its tangle of charming, narrow streets. This was the first area of what today is known as Granada to be settled, becoming Iliberis (Elvira), but it was ultimately abandoned when the Roman Empire collapsed. It was not resettled until the founding of the Zirid Kingdom in 1013. The name albaicín appears to derive from the Arab word al-bayyāzīn, pronounced with an imala in the Granadan Arabic accent as al-bayyīzīn, meaning "the falconers", although this is disputed by some linguists. Water reached the inhabitans of this neighbourhood through a network of Arabic-style rainwater deposits, called aljibes in Spanish. This system of water collection remains in use today in the Canary Islands.


Another emblematic Granadan barrio, Sacromonte, was traditionally a Roma neighbourhood since the conquest of Granada by Castilla. The Roma who accompanied Castilian troops when the city was conquered settled in Sacromonte. Roma artesans worked with wicker and forged metal implements, particularly from copper, while artists laid the foundations for what would become flamenco. Granadan Roma today have a local form of flamenco called the zambra mora, believed to have evolved from Moorish dances, which is played in wedding ceremonies and for tourists in the caves and hills of Sacromonte. In Moroccan Arabic zambra means "party". The dance used to be banned in Spain as it was considered obscene; the zambra bares some resemblance to belly dancing. The views of the Alhambra from the Sacromonte district are stunning. This is not the safest area of Granada, however, so be sure to keep your wits about you if you go here.

Many legends have developed over the years about the caves of Sacromonte. One such legend, called la leyenda del Barranco de los Negros, sustains that when Castilian troops conquered Granada and expelled the Nasarids, many Arab nobles buried their fortunes in this mountain before fleeing to the Magreb so that they would not be robbed of them. Their African slaves, now liberated, decided to recover this treasure. They were unsuccessful and, exhausted by the effort, they took refuge in the holes they had dug, eventually conditioning and furnishing them and turning them into fully furnished and functional homes. Later they were occupied by the Roma community. These caves are to this day used as homes by Granadans, and even have electrical outlets and indoor ("in-cave?") plumbing, though these days generally they attract a more bohemian and alternative young crowd.

Calle Elvira

Calle Elvira is named after the Puerta de Elvira, known popularly in Granada as the Arco de Elvira, a Mudéjar style arch which used to be the gateway to the city. The street leads into the Albaicín and is lined with a variety of shops, including bars, cafeterias, tea houses and kebaps. The calle Caldererías, which can be accessed from Elvira, is a must see if you're passing by here - it has perhaps the highest concentration of Arab tea rooms on a single street anywhere in Europe and is also full of shops selling Arab-style handcrafting and souvenirs. Elvira is a magnet for the bohemian, alternative crowd.


The Plaza Nueva was created in the 16th century to cover the River Darro (which still flows beneath it) in an area which was already crossed by numerous bridges. The goal was to improve traffic flow and create more space on which to build. It was the first new plaza built by Christians following the capitulation of the Nasarids (hence the name). The Plaza Nueva is located at the other end of Calle Elvira from the Puerta de Elvira.

Jardines del Triunfo

Before the Islamic conquest this was the site of a Visigothic basilica, later destroyed and replaced with a Muslim cemetary. After the second Christian conquest churches and mansions were built around the cemetary along with a hospital. When French troops occupied Granada during the Napoleonic Wars, public executions were held here. A Spanish national hero, the martyred Granadan liberal Mariana Pineda, was executed here by absolutists in 1831 by garrote vil. She is honoured here with a statue and the main entrance of the European Parliament is also named after her, in honour of the Spanish contribution to human rights and freedom in Europe. Her name is also listed among other freedom fighters in the Spanish Congress in Madrid.

Calle Calderería

Those with a keen passion for the culture of Moroccan pastimes will find Calle Calderería a rewarding place to visit with several unique bazaars hosting a selection of tea houses (teterías) and hand painted lanterns. These make for a much more enjoyable purchase than your run of the mill light bulb, not to mention a tailored sense of individualism rarely found in the mainstream. Also on offer are an abudance of traditional woven rugs to which the owner has not only purchased a rug but also the history behind it. After indulging in what Calle Caldería has to offer, visitors may be forgiven for building up a well deserved appetite. Fortunately, you will be welcomed by several Arabic themed takeaways where you can regroup over a satisfying plate of savoury Moroccan food and tea, more than enough to satiate even the deepest of hungers. Those wishing to take a piece of the culture home with them need not worry about packing their suitcase to the brim with momentos; instead, a delightful little tea set can be readily purchased on your way back through the bazaar for your own homemade Moroccan delicacies. And those looking for an alternative to tea will be pleased to know North African pottery is also a frequent favourite for passers-by.

Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada, meaning "snowy mountain range" in Spanish, has a reputation of beauty which has been described as "intense" and "breathtaking". Caught your interest? A location that caters to all ages and all backgrounds, this is certainly a refreshing challenge whether your travels have just begun or you're a seasoned enthusiast. The key word around this mountain terrain is "skiing". A prime location for winter sports, those who prefer to take it easy can relax at the ice rink, which includes a creche for small children. The ski season runs from late November until mid April.

Sierra Nevada boasts scenery that appeals to and engages all five senses. Take a step back and a deep breath as you appreciate all that nature has to offer. For those seeking an alternative to winter sports or an all-year-round activity will be pleased to know there are also a number of hiking routes tailored to your needs. The main route, called Vereda de la estrella, has become a particular fan favourite. Whether you're just passing through or intend to stay for a while, there are a number of hotels and rooms at reasonable prices and ranging from 3 to 4 stars. Another popular site to visit is the Sierra Nevada national park, Sierra del Sol, the largest of its kind in Spain and also a recipient of UNESCO biosphere status. Over 60 species of flowers blended around the park tickle your sense of smell and sight. The park is also home to the Spanish ibex (wild goat), though, tragically, two forms of the species have already become extinct. Sierra Nevada is certainly just the place for those in search of adventure and not to be missed when passing through Granada.

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