Living in the midst of an Arabian Tale

After a five-hour bus journey from Madrid, five coaches full of Erasmus students arrived in Granada. A place rich in Muslim heritage until 1492 witnessed its entanglement with the West, as the ‘Moorish sultan issued from the gates and kissed the royal hands of Your Highnesses’.
Yet more than half a millennium later, this duel between two old civilizations is still present and the city appears like a battle scene eternally on pause.
The river Darro is the border separating the opposing civilizations. On one side is the district of Albaicin with its impressive San José church, built over an old mosque, a clear manifestation of Christian dominance. Across the river on the high side of the hill stands its juxtaposition, the incomparable glory of the Alhambra.
In-between these two opposing parts one can see the intermingling of Christian churches and Arabic baths. The city’s dual identity is unmistakable.
At ten o clock, dinner-time for any respectable Spaniard, we flocked to ‘calle Navás’ for a ‘ruta de tapas’. Legend has it that the tapas tradition started by coincidence: In the 19th century, King Alfonso XIII was visiting Andalucia and ordered a glass of wine in a local pub. Unfortunately for Alfonso at that very moment, a strong gust of wind blew and the owner of the bar had to place a slice of ham on the glass to protect the drink from dirt carried by the wind. The King was amused and from then on wine and tapas lived happily ever after.
Several tapas’ later, we moved on to the ‘Barrio de Sacromonte’, the famous caves where over six generations of gypsies have inhabited. The gypsy temperament and passion make it the best environment to watch an authentic flamenco show, without which no visit to Granada is complete.
For this experience I would recommend the ‘Tablao de Flamenco de Maria la Canastera’, where Spanish Kings have enjoyed the show. Maria herself greeted us with a glass of Sangria and invited us into the narrow cave, whose walls were decorated with photos of flamenco as well as pots and pans! We sat so close to the dancers, we could hear the continuous taping of their feet and watched the perfect coordination between the guitarist’s music, and the steps of each dancer.
Like most cities with a high population of young people, Granada is not only famous for its traditional flamenco shows, but also for the numerous bars and night-clubs, which stay open until 7 a.m.
Raising this young demographic by 250, my fellow students and I gathered on Saturday nights for a ‘botellón’ Spanish drinking game in the ‘Mirador de San Nicolás’. We then descended the winding roads of Albaicin, where taxis and mini-buses passed through the narrow streets barely fitting, the drivers hummed songs and talked on their mobiles, everything working as it should by the relaxed Spanish hour.
Granada’s magic reaches its peak at the Alhambra Palace the most-visited monument in Spain. The Alhambra, ‘the red one’, was constructed in the 14th century during the city’s acme under the Nasrid dynasty.
It is a fortress of thirteen towers embracing an entire town within its walls. You can climb up the Vela Tower in its military district, or follow the scent of flowers and the voice of fountains to the ‘Jardines de Generalife’, designed to create paradise on Earth. The arches and columns of the Nasrid Palace are the most spectacular of all. It’s interior maze of patios and streams adorned with engravings and mosaics are example of the detailed workings of Islamic art on a grand scale.
Alike to Washington Irving’s feelings while standing in the Alhambra Palace, my experiences in Granada were as if living ‘in the midst of an Arabian tale’.


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