Situated below the massive, historic Alhambra in Granada rests the compact, densely populated, ancient district of Albayzin. Inhabited initially by Romans, some say that people have been in the area prior to the 7th century BC. I stayed in Albayzin, a World Heritage Site during my recent exploration of Granada and the Alhambra. My blog about the Alhambra is available by clicking here.
I knew I was in a place quite different in Albayzin when the taxi driver dropped me off at the top of a hill and pointed to narrow, cobblestone steps as the route to take to find the place I had booked. Going through the narrow walkways was like being on a scavenger hunt in a maze looking for the street and door number where the GPS and mobile phone didn’t function.
There is much debate about the origin of the name and spelling of “Albayzin.” It is, however, certain to have a Moor context. The guide at the Alhambra said that the inhabitants are often referred to as “the miserables”… not to be confused with other “miserables” of France. His explanation wasn’t exactly adequate that “people are just miserable there.” I never did find out why.
For this community there is a major influence and feeling reminiscent of the Moors. The buildings are hundreds of years old. The narrow cobblestone “streets” are almost always only wide enough for pedestrians. Going up and down the hills requires that one be sure footed, have a sturdy pair of shoes with excellent soles, and remain focused for ever present steps and the time-worn slippery stones.
At night, the walkways take on an eerie feeling even though they have been brightened by modern street lighting. One can imagine ages past when an unfriendly encounter might be waiting just around a dark building corner.
The Albayzin is small and exists on a hillside leading downward to the Darro River that runs between it and the hill on which the Alhambra sits. It is one of the oldest centers of Muslim culture in Granada and you can sense the cultural influences not only in the architectures but also in the food found in many modern restaurants where a flamenco show often comes with dinner.
I ate at wonderful reasonably-priced restaurants in the Albayzin. At one particular meal the taste sensations created through expert use of herbs and spices were delightful as pictured… rice with chicken curry, shrimp, asparagus, greens, and slices of oranges. At another restaurant I ate scrambled eggs with potatoes topped with dried Iberian ham and at yet a third I delighted in eating a “fowl stew with raisins and nuts in a light dough.” I have never experienced foods like these.
The architecture in the Albayzin is distinctive where plain wooden doors in the district disappear and are replaced by works of art typical of many European cities as you leave it. The buildings outside the Albayzin take on a traditional Spanish feel and and statues commemorate famous events that have changed our world (click on the photo for a description).
In the Alhambra there are water features everywhere reflecting the Moor past. There are fountains below the Alhambra but they tend to be massive while those developed by the Moors are much smaller in scale and simpler in design.
Just like in the Alhambra, each of Albayzin mosques that existed prior to the Christian monarchs’ “Reconquest of Spain” have been converted to Catholic churches like the one pictured. Note the bell tower was erected atop the mosque’s minaret.
On exiting the Albayzin area there are many tourist shops, coffee shops and places where young people hang out. These are mostly nonexistent in the Albayzin.
Overall, Granada with the spectacular Alhambra, Generalife, and Albayzin provide a rich Moorish past that is ever present even after 500 years following the Reconquest by Ferdinand and Isabella. In the city there is a complimentary blending of the Moor and Spanish cultures which makes Granada really special for me and very enjoyable for every visitor!