What to see in Granada

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What to see in Granada

A Little bit of History

Crossing of civilizations since time immemorial and located in an unbeatable situation, Granada is configured as vibrant, lively, cultural, and close metropolis. The Alhambra is the flagship of its vast historical heritage, and it attracts around three million visitors every year.

What you will find is a gritty, compelling city where serene Islamic architecture and Arab-flavoured street life go hand in hand with monumental churches, old-school tapas bars and counterculture graffiti art.

The city, sprawled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, was the last stronghold of the Spanish Moors and their legacy lies all around: it’s in the horseshoe arches, the spicy aromas emanating from street stalls, the teterías (teahouses) of the Albayzin, the historic Arab quarter. Most spectacularly, of course, it’s in the Alhambra, an astonishing palace complex whose Islamic decor and landscaped gardens are without peer in Europe.

There’s also an energy to Granada’s streets, packed as they are with bars, student dives, bohemian cafes, and intimate flamenco clubs, and it’s this as much as the more traditional sights that leaves a lasting impression.

Granada has been inhabited by humans for at least 2,500 years. It started as an Ibero-Celtic settlement before becoming a Greek colony. It flourished as an economic center of Roman Hispania before being ruled by the Visigoths and then reconquered by the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire.

The Moorish conquest of 711 AD brought Islamic rule to the Iberian peninsula with Granada becoming the center of Muslim Spain. After the Christian Reconquista in 1236, it became the center of the Nasrid Kingdom for the next 250 years before ultimately falling to Christian Spain in 1492. This marked the end of Moorish rule in the Iberian peninsula.

Although now predominantly Christian, Granada has inherited rich Islamic, Jewish, and Gypsy influences. The Renaissance Catholic cathedral was once a mosque. The Albaicín (old Moorish town) and the Alcaicería (spice market) have an authentic Arabic flavor. Colorful Gypsy culture and fabulous flamenco dancing is found in the caves of the Sacromonte quarter.

Explore Granada

Most places of interest are within walking distance of central Granada. Plaza Isabel La Catolica is just a block west of Plaza Nueva and marks the intersection of Gran Via de Colon (the main drag heading north) and Calle Reyes Catolicos (the main drag heading southwest to Puerta Real, where it splits into Calle Recogidas and Acera Del Darro, heading west and south respectively). The Cathedral and Royal Chapel are just to the northwest of this square. The Alhambra and Albayzin (the Arabic quarter) are on opposite hills on the east side of town with Carrera del Darro and a small river separating them.

Top attractions in Granada

The Alhambra stands majestically on a fortified hilltop with the snow-peaked Sierra Nevada Mountains as a backdrop. An absolute must-see attraction in Granada, this UNESCO-listed World Heritage site was the residence of the Moorish rulers of the Nasrid Dynasty for 250 glorious years, from the 13th to the 15th centuries.

The complex of palaces was the Moors’ last stronghold in Spain. A veritable museum of Islamic architecture, the Alhambra is surrounded by ancient defensive walls and appears from afar to be an impenetrable fortress.

The Alhambra complex consists of four groups of buildings in carefully landscaped grounds. The Alcazaba is the original 13th-century Moorish fortress, the oldest part of the Alhambra. All that remains of the Alcazaba are the ramparts and the towers.

The Nasrid Palaces are the most splendid buildings of the complex, with marvelous accommodations and public spaces used by the Sultans of the Nasrid Dynasty. Typical of secular Moorish buildings, the Nasrid Palaces are plain on the exterior but sumptuous on the interior, with decorative tile work and peaceful courtyards.

The Palace of Charles V was built in the 16th century after the conquest of the Moors and was used by the Spanish emperor as his summer palace.

Beautiful and serene Moorish gardens surround the Generalife Palace, which was used as a leisure villa by the sultans of Granada. The grounds feature shady patios, fountains, fragrant roses, and flower-adorned terraces overlooking the places of the Alhambra and the mountains.

One of the most enchanting things to do in Granada is to get lost in the hillside neighborhood of the Albaicín, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site. The Albaicín, Granada’s medieval Arabic quarter, was once surrounded by defensive walls and has retained an authentic Moorish character thanks to its picturesque narrow streets and simple whitewashed houses.

From Puerta Nueva (Puerta de los Estandartes), a well-preserved stretch of the town’s old ramparts runs west to the Puerta Monaita. The best view of the walls is from the Cuesta de la Alhacaba, near the ninth-century Puerta de Elvira, once the town’s principal gate.

Many places in the Albaicín offer stunning outlooks onto the Alhambra complex, which is separated from the Albaicín by the dramatic gorge of the Río Darro.

The most spectacular viewpoint in the Albaicín is the Mirador of San Nicolas, the terrace in front of the 16th-century Church of San Nicolas at the heart of the Albaicín quarter. This frequently painted panorama captures the Alhambra Palace and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Not far from San Nicholas, the Church of San Salvador was built on the site of an earlier mosque and is noteworthy for its Mudéjar style (Christian architecture influenced by Islamic design).

Another fabulous view of the Alhambra that is popular with tourists is from the Carrera del Darro, one of the oldest streets in Granada, which runs along the north side of the Río Darro.

The grandeur of Spain’s Catholic Monarchs is best seen at the Capilla Real de Granada, which houses the royal tombs. This impressive 47-meter-high domed chapel is attached to the Catedral Santa María de la Encarnación but has a separate entrance; it was an addition to the cathedral built from 1506 to 1521 in Late Gothic style.

The interior features beautiful 16th-century stained-glass windows and seven large paintings by Alonso Cano. An elaborately wrought grille by Bartolomé de Jaén encloses the richly decorated royal tombs. To the right is the Tomb of Ferdinand and Isabella in a monument of Carrara marble created by sculptor Domenico Fancelli of Florence.

The crypt houses sarcophagi of other kings and princes. To the left is the tomb of Philip the Handsome and Joan the Mad by Bartolomé Ordóñez. A large beautifully carved retablo behind the royal tombs features statues of the Catholic Monarchs by Diego de Siloé.

In the transepts are richly decorated relicarios (side altars) by Alonso de Mena. The north transept displays the famous Triptych of the Passion by Dieric Bouts.

A highlight of the Capilla Real is the Sacristy-Museum, a treasure trove of artwork, including Botticelli’s Christ on the Mount of Olives painting, Rogier van der Weyden’s Pietà, and Hans Memling’s Descent from the Cross. The collection also displays polychrome wood figures of the Catholic Monarchs in prayer by Felipe Vigarny; King Ferdinand’s sword; Queen Isabella’s crown; and a prayer book, which belonged to the Catholic Monarchs.

Granada’s Cathedral of Santa María de la Encarnación is arguably the finest Renaissance church in Spain. The cathedral was built by Queen Isabella as a monument to the victory of Christian Spain over the Moors. It stands on the site of a former mosque.

Begun in Gothic style in 1523 and continued in Plateresque style from 1525, the cathedral was consecrated in 1561 while still unfinished.

The 16th-century west facade features a large relief by José Risueño over the main doorway. The northwest side of the cathedral is also richly decorated with ornate sculptures. On the entrance arch pillars are statues of the Catholic Monarchs and bronze statues of the Apostles.

Visitors enter the cathedral through the main doorway and revel in the Renaissance splendor of the interior with its spacious nave and ornately adorned chapels. Exquisitely decorated, the Capilla Mayor (Main Chapel) exemplifies harmonious Renaissance architecture that was perfected in Granada during the 16th century.

The choir boasts two impressive Baroque organs, which sound out sacred melodies during religious services. Mass is celebrated at the cathedral on Sundays and holidays. Special religious ceremonies are held for Semana Santa (Easter week) and for the Catholic holidays during Christmastime (Navidad).

The cathedral’s Sala Exposición (museum) displays a collection of religious art, including paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and sacred objects. Highlights are the large silver monstrance and the Flemish tapestries.

Granada’s colorful  quarter on the Sacromonte («sacred mount») is a fascinating place to visit. This hilltop neighborhood begins around the Cuesta del Chapiz, where the Camino del Sacromonte ascends the hill. The Gypsies (Gitanos) have had a presence in Granada since 1532 and settled in the caves of Sacromonte in the 18th century.

You will enjoy wandering the hillside roads of this atmospheric neighborhood to discover the artistic Gypsy homes; some are decorated with vibrant handcrafted ceramics. The caves in the upper area of the Camino del Sacromonte are in the best condition, and one has been made into a museum, so you can see inside.

One can find many cave venues in Sacromonte where flamenco is performed, including Cueva de la Rocío, whose famous guests have included the King of Spain, Bill Clinton, and Michelle Obama. The Cueva de la Rocío is renowned for La Zambra, a special type of flamenco dancing and singing that originated in the gypsy caves of Granada.

The Sacromonte offers some of the best views in Granada, with panoramas over rugged ravines, the Valparaiso Valley, and the Darro River. Some vantage points look out to the Alhambra Palace and the Albaicín.

A steep and picturesque footpath (a difficult walk) climbs through deeply indented gullies to the Ermita San Miguel de Alto. This 17th-century Baroque hermitage has a magnificent viewpoint of the Alhambra and the Albaicín.

Another noteworthy religious monument is the Sacromonte Abbey. Built in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Abbey’s church is a gem of Baroque architecture. Standing on Mount Valparaiso and accessible by the Camino del Sacromonte (a 10-minute taxi ride from the Plaza Nueva), the Abbey is open for guided tours. Several caves were found on this site, which possess precious relics of the 16th century, as well as a cross of Saint John.

The Moors brought the ritual of the hammam (Arab Baths) from their homeland in North Africa to Andalusia, and Granada’s 11th-century Bañuelo are among the oldest and best preserved in Spain.

One of the few bath complexes not destroyed after the Reconquista by the Catholic monarchs, who considered the baths as immoral, they are one of Granada’s oldest surviving Moorish sites.

Today, visitors can sample a similar experience to the Arab baths at the Hammam Al Ándalus near Plaza Nueva. Although it is on the site of an original Moorish bathhouse and constructed in the authentic style, with graceful arches and exquisite Islamic-style tile work, this hammam is a newly built replica and offers the latest pampering spa services.

This traditional Arab bazaar is a recreation of the old Moorish market that existed here before the fire in 1843 destroyed the area. Close to the cathedral, the Alcaicería runs on the Calle de la Alcaicería from the Plaza Alonso Cano.

The entire neighborhood of the Alcaicería, a maze of narrow streets, once held the silk and spices market. The Alcaicería recalls the original souk, but nowadays the vendors cater mostly to tourists.

Nearby is Plaza Bib Rambla, a spacious public square that teems with people and activity. An artistic fountain stands at the center of the square surrounded by decorative ironwork and colorful flower stands.

This serene 16th-century monastery is on the outskirts of Granada, about 25 minutes from the center (one kilometer north of the Plaza del Triunfo). The Monasterio de la Cartuja, also known as the Monasterio de la Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, belonged to the Carthusian order that was founded in France in the 11th century.

Behind the simple exterior and courtyard is a surprisingly opulent interior. The monastery’s ornately decorated church is one of the most extravagant religious buildings in Spain. The 17th-century Baroque sanctuary leaves visitors awestruck with its marvelous display of lavish paintings, marble statues, gilded details, and impressive altar pieces.

The most striking feature of the church is the sacristy, designed by Luis de Arévalo, with a riot of elaborate stucco ornamentation and marble pilasters. The refectory displays a painting of the Last Supper by Fray Juan Sanchez Cotán.

The Monasterio de la Cartuja is open to the public for visits (entrance fee required) everyday year-round (except during religious services)

Amid the beautiful medieval Islamic art and architecture, Granada’s masterpiece of Baroque often goes unnoticed. The Basílica de San Juan de Dios immerses visitors into a fantasy of ornate decor and dazzling gold. Intricate gilded carvings adorn almost every corner of the ceiling, walls, and side-altars and frame the monumental paintings.

The basilica is open to the public for visits (for an entrance fee) everyday year-round, except Mondays. An audio guide in English is included with the admission charge.

You can get more information on places to visit from the Granada tourist office:

Explore the city:  https://www.ugr.es/en/visitors/explore-the-city

 Wikitravel: https://wikitravel.org/en/Granada_(Spain)

Official website of Tourism of Granada: http://en.granadatur.com/

 Official website of Tourism of Andalusia: https://www.turgranada.es/en/