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Albaicín, Granada

El Albaicín

El Albaicín, also recorded in documents as Albayzín, is a neighborhood located in the city of Granada on a hillside that overlooks the Alhambra.

El Albaicín, also recorded in documents as Albayzín, is a neighborhood located in the city of Granada on a hillside that overlooks the Alhambra, where it sits separated from the Moorish fortress by the Darro River. Although the name of this neighborhood is strongly associated with the city of Granada, at least eleven other Spanish towns also have a neighborhood with the same name.

With all these other Albaicíns, one may wonder what makes this one so special. For starters, its history. Granada’s Albaicín has roots that reach back to the Iberian age, when the area was known as lliberis. Muslims settled here in the 11th century, during the time of the Zirid dynasty. The Muslim’s architectural and urban influences continue to create a unique atmosphere in Albaicín. As mentioned earlier it is located on a hill, which is bordered by Plaza Nueva, and the following streets: Carrera del Darro, la cuesta del Chapiz and calle Elvira. The urban structure of the area is special in that nearly none of the streets here are straight; the neighborhood seems like one large labyrinth of narrow passageways designed to disorientate the visitor. Although there may be some truth to this idea, it is also true that the winding roads flanked by the high walls of private homes, are perfectly designed to create cool shady areas, warm sunny spots and pleasant breezes all on the same street in a city that can get hot in the summer. The traditional homes in Albaicín are called Cármenes, single family houses that reach two to three stories tall and look almost like small castles. Although from the outside they appear quite closed, these homes contain an interior patio that is always presided over by a fountain surrounded by plants, which creates a refreshing microclimate throughout the house and in the corridor known as the calle dentro de la casa, a hallway that encircles the open space.

A stroll around Albaicín also gives you the chance to see historic aljibes, large drinking water cisterns that served public fountains and private homes. Many are still conserved today, the grandest of which is the Aljibe del Rey (the king’s cistern).

The market plaza is in the center of the neighborhood, where the market is still held. This popular square, known to most as the Plaza Larga, is the authentic heart of the barrio. You can get here by going through the Puerta de las Pesas (door of the scales), named for the metal scales nailed to the wall of the archway above the door. The scales testify to distant times, an age when the old Arab community took careful measures to prevent merchants from unfairly manipulating the scales they used to sell vegetables and other products. Fraudulent scales were displayed above the archway as a warning to the less informed.

The special magic of this neighborhood lies hidden within its streets and explodes before our eyes in its plazas. In addition to the Plaza Larga, San Miguel Bajo Plaza (with the old Christianized mosque called the Church of the Aurora) is a place where local residents get together in the afternoon to hang out with friends and have a drink. The Mirador de San Nicolás, just a little higher up, is where you’ll find the church of the same name (another recycled mosque turned into a Christian temple), and the modern mosque built by the local Muslim community. This plaza offers a spectacular view of the Alhambra back dropped by the peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, a view that reminds us of why this is one of the favorite spots for tourists take “the photo”.

This multicultural neighborhood, where residents speak a distinct dialect and they refer to the city center as “Granada” (when people from Albaicín have to go downtown, they don’t say they’re going downtown, they say they’re going to “Graná”), all of which highlights their originality even more, is still a peaceful island of beauty in the heart of a modern, cosmopolitan and university city.

A trip to el Albaicín can be therapeutic for the traveler that hopes to enjoy a relaxing experience. This is a place for calmly exploring historic surroundings that recall the neighborhood’s original residents, a place for soaking in tempting aromas drifting out of kitchen windows, the bustle of the markets and tea shops, and the emotion of holy week processions that make impossible turns around bending roads inspiring excited admiration and clamor from observers. Simply put, El Albaicín is a must-visit destination.