If Granada wasn’t the last Moorish kingdom to be conquered by the Catholic Monarchs, I probably wouldn’t wind up here to witness the intricate charm of this once glorious caliphate whose intriguing beauty still emanates in our modern times. Every street open doors to its Arab past seeking its rightful place in the Western world while every corner is filled with poetry as reflected by each wall of the great Alhambra. Surrounded by the forbidding mountains of Sierra Nevada, it is no wonder that Granada was well-protected by its natural barriers from the advancing Christians from the North. While the two other great Moorish kingdoms of Córdoba and Sevilla had already fallen into Christian rule, Granada remained intact and reached its peak of grandeur, thus withstanding centuries of resistance until its final bow in 1492. Its geographical location in the East makes it not only the rightful heir of the unique blend of East-meets-West culture but also retains an impressive imprint of the Al-andalus identity.
Having traveled across Bratislava and Málaga, it took me more than half a day to reach my destination. But despite being exhausted from this loooong journey to Granada, not to mention having slept only an hour before my departure, I found myself overwhelmed by this uneasy eagerness of discovering another city for the first time– I already had considered Granada my favorite place even before getting there. Distracted by the medieval beauty surrounding me, a rush of excitement suddenly overcame my senses as La Alhambra came to sight the moment I arrived in the center. Of course, I had to find my host’s apartment though apparently, none of the people I asked directions to knew where it was. I was lost for a moment only to find out that the address I was looking for happened to be in a callejón (backstreet) right by the cathedral.
With the splendid view of the church seen from my solitary window, I held my hopes up for Granada.
Sharing my cultural experience with was Almudena, a true-blue Granadina who passionately showed me her deeply ingrained Andalusian culture and the locals’ way of life. With the Alhambra palace proudly standing on the Sabika hill across the Mirador de San Nicolás, we both took pleasure in watching as the sun bowed down before the majestic red palace, leaving golden rays of light that reflected against the intimidating walls of the fortress. As Francisco de Icaza once said, “Dale limosna, mujer, que no hay en la vida nada como la pena de ser ciego en Granada”, which roughly translates to as, “Give him alms, woman, for there is nothing worse in this life than to be blind in Granada”. While this saying holds true, Granada has much more to offer than the Alhambra alone and it is for me to discover in the next six days of my stay in this city.
Tapas vs. Cena
It is generally not a usual sight in this country to serve dinner before 10pm as it is done in other European countries. So, people opt for something light before dinner. Though the tradition of serving free tapas is somewhat disappearing in some parts of Spain, Granada keeps this custom well alive on their table. As the word suggests, tapa comes from the word “tapar”, meaning “to cover”. Originally, slices of bread or meat were used as tapas to keep flies and other insects away from the glasses of sherry. And since tapas do not cost a single penny in Granada, Almudena took me to Babel World Difusion, a stylish bar with a great international crowd along Calle Elvira in Albaícin. The different variations in their menu made one crave for more without having to spend much.
This southern vibe makes Granada a lively place in the evening. The warm breeze of the air seems to have magic to allure people out into the streets of Albaícin and its inviting town squares. With plenty of bazaars and tea houses, where the aroma of nargileh roams through its rooms, the Arab flair is so much alive that this nostalgic sensation suddenly made me remember Damascus during my visit in 2010. Now that I’ve started to feel a connection to this city, I find myself confronted with this big question: “Am I ready to conquer Granada or am I ready to be conquered by it?”