Al Andalus: Granada

Calle Elvira.  Granada, Spain.

"Quiero vivir en Granada
porque me gusta de oír
la campana de la Vela
cuando me voy a dormir".
                            Gypsy song

"Granada, tierra soñada por mí" (Granada, land of my dreams) says Agustín Lara's song, and dreamed I had of walking along the waves of the Darro, of resting under the shade of the azahares, of falling asleep to the toll of La Vela.  Granada had cast a spell on my imagination and I had been there without travelling, in my grandfather's pictures, in my father's stories, in the pages of Washington Irving.

The Alhambra seen from the Albaicín.  Granada, Spain.

I first visited Granada as a student, in a whirlwind road trip of the Iberian Peninsula.  I was dazzled, by the mosaics, the marbles, the light sparkling on the fountains!  It was, as we like to say in Dear Polia, Surrealism; but our short stay in the city did not wholly satisfy the dreams that had begun as nightly fairy tales and grown into lessons in the history books and the architecture classroom.  And so it was that 10 years later I found myself once again, like many others before me drawn in her spell, at the gates of Granada.

Puerta de Elvira, Plaza del Triunfo.  Granada, Spain.
Granada is a city of monumental layers, monumental lives, monumental history.  It was settled by the Iberians who called it Elibyrge or "New Town", the Greeks colonized it in the 5th century BC, and in the 2nd century it passed under the Roman aegis as Illiberis.  After the fall of the Roman Empire Illiberis was ruled by Christian Visigothic kings and reconquered by the Eastern Roman Empire.  When the Berbers arrived in 711 (calling it Ilbira or Elvira to the remaining Christians) they encountered, on the edge of the city, the Jewish community of Gharnatah Al Yahud (Gharnatah of the Jews) and, after Ilbira's destruction in the 11th century, the community was incorporated into the new city that now came to be known simply as Gharnatah.
Carrera del Darro.  Granada, Spain.

Granada thrived under the Moors, her streets bustling with merchants from the "Silk Road",  her mines rich with gold and silver, her fields fertile thanks to the intricacy of irrigation, her air full of the smell of spices... 
El Corral del Carbón. Built in the 14th century during the Nasrid kingdom. It provided lodging to travelling merchants. Today the building houses offices for the Cultural Delegation of Andalucía, and Granada's Orchestra.
The Patio of El Corral del Carbón.
A city of monumental history, Granada became the capital of the Nasrid Empire, the last bastion against Castilla, until January 2nd of 1492, when "the bride of Al-Andalus" fell to the Catholic Monarchs Isabel of Castilla and Fernando of Aragón.  In April of 1492, under the vaults of the Alhambra, Christopher Columbus would receive a contract to search for an alternative route to the Indies, their gold, and their spices.

Tea merchants near the Cathedral. Granada, Spain.
Spice merchants near the Cathedral.  Granada, Spain.

A city of monumental layers, Granada has built and rebuilt herself throughout the centuries, weaving in the process a seamless tapestry of architectural styles: Islamic, Mudéjar, Gothic, Renaissance, Plateresque, Baroque, Churriguresque, Beaux Arts...

Granada's layers can be uncovered in the narrow streets of the Alcaiceria (the old silk market), which today still sells silk, albeit in the shape of Flamenco shawls:

shops line the streets of the Alcaiceria, in the shadow of the Cathedral.  Granada, Spain.
In the colorful streets, lined with tea houses and shops, that lead from the Calle Elvira to the Albaicín, the neighborhood at the foot of the Alhambra that served as refuge to the Moors exiled after the reconquest of Baeza:

Teterías (tea houses) and shops in the Albaicín.  Granada, Spain.

A lamp shop in the Albaicín.  Granada, Spain.

In the Arabic baths preserved within the fabric of the Albaicín:

Windows in the entrance court of the Bañuelo (Arabic baths).  Granada, Spain.

The cold room at the Bañuelo.  Granada, Spain.

Or in her civic buildings, like her monasteries:

Monastery of San Jerónimo.  Granada, Spain.
Or her churches:
The Renaissance facade of the Cathedral of the Incarnation.  Granada, Spain.

After Granada's reconquest by the Catholic Monarchs, several buildings served as her bishop's seat, including the mosque in the Alhambra and the Medina's (Moorish city) main mosque.  Granada's actual cathedral was commissioned by Queen Isabel and built on the site of the main mosque which, after many alterations to transform it into a church, had fallen into disrepair.  Work began on the church in 1523 according to designs executed by architect Enrique Egas.  Egas laid out a Gothic plan for the church (rather late in architectural history, the advances of the Renaissance having not yet reached Spain), but 5 years later the commission was transferred to architect Diego de Siloë, who had traveled through Italy and was versed in the style of the Renaissance.

Gothic elements on the side facade of the Cathedral of the Incarnation.
Capilla Mayor, jewel of the Baroque.  Cathedral of the Incarnation.  Granada, Spain.
View of the nave.  Notice the Gothic proportions and vaults.  Cathedral of the Incarnation.  Granada, Spain.
Retablo (altar) in a side chapel gilded with the gold of the Indies.  Cathedral of the Incarnation.  Granada, Spain.

On the edge of the Darro river, finishing the axis of the Plaza Nueva (the "New Square", built from 1506-1515) we find the church of Santa Ana.  The church was constructed in 1501 on the site of the Aljama (mosque) Almanzra in the Mudéjar style.  Mudéjar is the name given to the Moors that remained in Al-Andalus (modern day Andalucía) after the reconquest and to their artistic style, which is characterized by intricate plaster ornamentation on walls and ceilings, colorful mosaic tiles of great design sophistication, elaborate wood carvings, and by fusing Gothic and Romanesque with their Islamic influences.  After the reconquest, the Mudéjar no longer built alminares (minarets), they instead built bell towers:

Church of Santa Ana.  Granada, Spain.
A Renaissance fornix now covers the Mudéjar horseshoe arch that once provided entrance to the church.
A view of the Plaza Nueva with the Real Cancillería on the left (today the Superior Tribunal of Andalucía) and Santa Ana's bell tower in the distance.

The church of Santa Ana witnessed the wedding of Mariana de Pineda Muñoz (1804-1831), heroine and martyr of Spanish Liberalism; she was later immortalized in a play by another of Granada's residents, the great Federico García Lorca (1898-1936 dramatist, poet, patriot, and also martyr). 

Granada has been home to many monumental lives, home to the Almohad and Nasrid kings who made in her their own version of Paradise, home to the Catholic Monarchs who chose to be buried at the site of their most precious victory, home to mystics like San Juan de Dios (1495-1550), founder of hospitals and charities; and home to poets like García Lorca (champion of the gypsies and Flamenco) and San Juan de la Cruz (1542-1591).  I can't help but think that when San Juan de la Cruz wrote in his "Poem of the soul that delights in knowing God through Faith": "Qué bien se yo la fonte que mana y corre, aunque es de noche" (How well I know that fountain's rushing flow, though it is night) he was thinking not only of the eternal fountain that has no origin and is the origin of everything,  but also of the many fountains that sing in Granada.

The Royal Chapel, where Isabel of Castilla and Fernando of Aragón are buried along with their daughter (and mother of emperor Charles V) Juana "la loca" and her husband Felipe "el hermoso".
The house in the Albaicín where San Juan de Dios lived during his illness is now a museum.
The ceiling of La Cueva de María la Canastera, a cave and former dwelling in the gypsy neighborhood of the Sacromonte where ancestral traditions are kept alive.  Granada, Spain.
Gypsies of the Sacromonte.  Granada, Spain.
Patio de la Acequia (the garden of the canal) in the Generalife.  Granada, Spain.

All good things come to an end, and so it was that we bid farewell to Granada, with the hope that, like Washinton Irving, Rubén Darío, and Owen Jones before us, our sojourn in this most magical of cities made in us a lasting impression.  We left Granada forever delighted, forever changed, forever inspired...

The Alhambra seen from the Albaicín.

All images by NPL


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