Granada, the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the Nasrid dynasty, described by Moorish poets as ‘a pearl set in emeralds’, outstandingly beautiful with its backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada, city of the magnificent Alhambra, the last city to be reconquered by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492, is now, sadly, a tarnished reminder of past glory.
Industrial haze often hangs over the city below the heights of the palace and fortress, adding to the oppressive heat in summer and doing little to warm the place during the bitterly cold winter.
Somehow, despite the ravages of modern man, Granada still has charm and vibrancy not found elsewhere. The Alhambra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, high above the pollution, looks down now, as it has for 700 years, on the capital of the Caliphates. The palace and adjoining Generalife gardens are, undoubtedly, beautiful and historically fascinating. One day is never enough to explore this masterpiece of Moorish architecture and style fully.
In the city itself the Cathedral and, alongside it, the Royal Chapel of Granada should not be missed. The Royal Chapel contains the graves of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. Despite the wishes of the Catholic monarchs to be buried in an ‘honest’, i.e. unadorned, chapel, the mausoleum is worthy of royalty. Lying close by are the graves of Queen Joanna ‘the mad’ of Castile and Aragon and her husband Philip I, the handsome’, of Castile. Interestingly Philip’s heart is buried in Bruges, Belgium.
The cathedral is alongside the most colourful street in Granada. Calle del Zacatan was Granada’s main thoroughfare until the 19th century. The name El Zacatan is Arabic for old clothes dealer and, halfway up the narrow, bustling street, you will come across the Alcaiceria or Moorish silk market. Originally the Alcaiceria was much more extensive and functioned as an independent ‘village’. Access to it was closed at night and the district had its baths, exchange, House of Justice, mosque and customs house as well as a souk where exotic goods from all over the Moorish world were bought and sold. Even today, mixed in with all the tourist glitz, you will come across real silk garments, products from North Africa and genuine jewellery from the Near East.
Narrow streets lead from Calle del Zacatan into Plaza de Bib-Rambla. This square is the hub of social life in Granada and the site of the fish and meat market. In the centre of the square is the enormous 17th-century statue, Fountain of Los Gigantones, dedicated to Neptune and made in Elvira stone. Restaurants of every sort and nationality bound the square. They tend to be tourist traps so check to make sure the tapas put before you is included with the drink and that IVA is included in the prices.
For an authentic taste of Granada, its culture, Arabic influenced cuisine and its flamboyant citizens, you must try Restaurante Jardines de Zoraya Tablao which is about 600 metres northeast of the Cathedral. Apart from the exquisite food served on the terrace, you will be treated to a flamenco performance in this city that claims to be the home of the dance.
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