Granada Warms The Heart
Updated: Jul 2, 2020
Olive color trees line the desert, and the landscape becomes glaringly hot. The city's buildings facades cook in a sun that is relentless and ever shining in the sky. Its people are passionate and proud, they live in a magical locale, and they know it.
Under the protection of the Alhambra, whose's shadow glistens on top of the hill as a beautiful mirage, Granada has seen its fair share of human settlements.
The area saw incredible development under the califates that resided in the area. The Alhambra is a palace fit for a king. A UNESCO world heritage site and one of the crown jewels of the Andalusian country.
Before them, early Romans left vestiges of fortresses and walls to protect against the moors, even though they were unable to fend them off. The Arab period was kind to the region, offering a renaissance of sorts while most of Europe was still amid its dark ages.
The most beautiful vestige imparted to the city by the califates was incorporating water elements into the landscape. Enclosed and carefully controlled gardens were not foreign to Arab culture, as neither were water elements that were always welcome and viewed as a luxury. Water is indeed a luxury in a desert landscape.
Yet, Granada is different, at the foothill of the Cordillera (Spain's mountainous terrain), the city possesses a vast reservoir of water. One that the locals have made good use in all forms. Water reservoirs and river damps provide the town with its most precious and needed resources. The water is one of the best in Spain, it is soft and bright in taste, like that of glacial reserves, which are its original resting place.
One can find the most impressive spoils of its loot in the many fountains, parks, and landscaped areas within the town. Water runs in streams through courtyards and squares, carved into masterpieces in the fountains and gardens. It soothes both visitors and locals with soft and calming sounds. It offers assurance that although the sun is relentless in its attacks, the cordillera's water protects Granada from draught. Everyone is safe from the desert inside the mirage of the squares, and bounty abounds for all.
The city has been favored both naturally and politically for a very long time. The moors who took over the Romans, eventually couldn't keep its precious jewel from the hands of European conquistadors in search of expansion and atonement from past sieges.
The beautiful Alhambra and its Arab empire fell to the catholic monarchs in the XV century. But the beauty of its 800-year presence could be neither ignored nor destroyed. Nor was the Arab influence in the region. Still, the kingdom of Castilla sought a unified Spain. The catholic period brought an impressive display of religious and royal construction, but not without a price. Excavation and future developments have proven to be challenging in modern Granada. The crimes imparted by the Spanish crown often reappear, opening wounds that are perhaps not yet healed by the region or its people who have a complex identity. Walking through the city center, mostly filled with European architecture and ascent, or even waved into the Albacin (Arab/gypsy quarter) or the Alhambra complex itself. The message was clear, careful, and political. The new monarchs were looking to entrench themselves in their new lands.
The Cathedral is impressive, especially for such a small town. Next to it, by royal decree of Spain's Catholic monarchs, a Royal chapel holds the remnants of several Spanish kings. Cementing in their sacrifice and resting place in Granada, their commitment to maintain and value the land. Andalusia is one of the most distinct and separated cultural identities in Spain. Yet one of the most fervent supporters of the Spanish crown in a country that is unified by politics but divided among nations. Judging by the province's support to the Spanish state, the plan to incorporate the region into the Spanish/European realm worked.
The mix of cultures, its prominence both culturally and politically, and its privileged natural location within the desert, make Granada, and the town's crown jewel the Alhambra genuinely magical. Spain's King Carlos V once referred to the sunset views from the Alhambra as one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. While his motives may have had political intent, no one can deny that the views are among the most valued and mystical settings in the world.
However, the kings and queens of Spain were not just looking to imprint their political presence. Entrenched in catholic religious principles, they were on a mission to convert their new province to the Christian fate. While the transition appears somewhat harmoniously on the hill, the same did not occur on the valley, where Arab squares lay under Spanish ones. The compromise is a mix of Spanish squares named Arab names such as Bib Rambla. Bib meaning river gate, as it was once the entry point of a river in the area now running underground. Little Arab markets hide in corridors holding a wide array of shops carrying everything you could think of, but perhaps nothing you want.
Tetérias (Arab restaurant and coffee houses) share space alongside chocolate shops and cafes. Walking the streets at night, travelers can see flamenco, with gypsy folk music, played on one block, and classical trained sopranos or violinists playing Strauss around the bend. Granada is a real delight for travelers looking for an escape into a beautiful mirage in the desert. Being respectful of the complex and layered culture is important, keeping an open mind, and an open heart, Granada and its people will do the same for those who do.