The name Generalife means 'Architect's Garden', and this soothing composition of pathways, patios, pools, fountains, trimmed hedges, tall trees and, in season, flowers of every imaginable hue, is the perfect place to end an Alhambra visit.
This summer home of the Moorish kings, the closest thing on earth to the Quran's description of Heaven, was planted over 600 years ago. Five-hundred-year-old paintings show it looking essentially as it does today. The Muslim rulers' summer palace is in the corner furthest from the entrance
From Darro River, the royal aqueduct diverted a life-giving stream of water into the Alhambra. It was channelled through this decorative fountain to irrigate the bigger garden outside, then along an aqueduct into the Alhambra.
The Courtyard of the Water Chanel (Patio de la Acequia)
The Patio de la Acequia was thought inward garden, except for a small gazebo located on the western side, on axis with the central roundabout. This whole side was originally closed by a high wall.
The lookout station had to be the only original opening to the outside patio. Retains a rich decoration of plasterwork time of Sultan Ismail I (1314-1325), part of which were dismantled evidencing that were overlapping other vintage Muhammad III (1302-1309) inside.
The Court of Sultana (Patio de la Sultana)
It is also known as Patio de la Cypress. It is closed on the north side by a gallery built in the late sixteenth century by the Christians. Entire surface is occupied by a U-shaped ditch, having in its centre a source of Christian era. This courtyard is the access to the bathroom through the palace stairs.
Inside the gardens, I only managed to take the photos with the mobile phone. It was the time to head back to the hotel to charge the battery.
The Stairways of Water (Escalera del Agua)
This is called the Water Staircase. It is accessed from a garden that exists to climb from the Patio de la Sultana. The ladder itself is the nineteenth century. It is covered with vegetation and has two side walls with the drainage, where the water goes. It is believed that at the end of this staircase was a small oratory and the sultan could access it here, performing the religious duties proper to their ablutions. Walked through the sprawling gardens (planted only in the 1930s - in The Muslim times, there were no cypress trees there).
I came to the audio guide desk to return the device and I was given the deposit back.
Bus ride to the city
I walked to the bus stop at the front of the Palace. It was busy there and when bus arrived after five minutes, everyone ran towards the bus in way that it was the last bus to the city. The driver had stopped the bus and it happened to be that I was next to it (It was my luck rather than myself being a famous tourist), while other people had to walk from a non-extant queue. I gave the card to the driver, who scanned it and managed to get a seat but some of the people were standing in the bus. The bus drove downhill through a small forest of Alhambra.
In the beginning, I couldn’t understand why mini bus was being used for that route, now I understood the reasons. It was to do with the narrow and turning street which I couldn’t see in the Morning because it was still dark. When the bus reached closer to the city, it started to move very slowly, it almost came to a halt. There was lots of traffic in on the road. At last, the bus brought me to the Gran Via Colon. Surprisingly, it was all quiet; there was no traffic on that stretch of the road. It was rather odd. Though, the bus stops were full of people.
I was told that there was a protest going on, which was very close to the Gran Via and it explained why the bus from Alhambra slowed down; most likely, it was to do with the diversions in place. I thought for a moment to take a taxi but at the same time, I wanted to use my bus card. I decided to wait for few moments to get a bit of news and if nothing improved, then I would take a taxi. I asked a police man, who was standing on the right hand side of the bus stop and he was blocking the traffic, coming from the smaller road. He told me that buses will start to run in ten minutes.
There was a bus arrival sign on display at the bus stop, it came into life and it showed that bus number 3 would reach that bus stop in eight minutes. Now there was more traffic on the road than yesterday Evening, may be it was due to the protest and traffic blockade?
I came to the hotel and put the camera on the charge, after having lunch. I stayed in room for a while, and then I decided to go out again. I went to the bus stop, I was nearly waiting for fifteen minutes, but there was no sign of the bus. Then number 33 came but it was jam packed, bus number 3 was right behind number 33, which was almost empty. Probably number 33 was picking up all the passengers on the stops and number 3 was finding them empty. I took bus number 3.
Hop-on Hop-off bus
It brought me to Gran Via; my plan was to take Hop-on Hop-off bus. So I went to a uniformed girl on one of the sales counter of the bus. She issued me with a ticket after taking the pass from me. While I was purchasing the ticket there, the red bus came at the stop. I went inside and showed the ticket to driver. He gave me a free headpiece and I came to the upper deck.
The weather had been fair for the day so far with nice breeze and sometimes with an odd cloud cover. The bus passed the stop of Santa Maria De La Alhambra and now road was climbing up to the Alhambra Palace. The view was worth every minute spent on the bus, overlooking the beautiful Mountains of Sierra Nevada, the highest peak of the mountains is called Mulhacen, It is named after Abul-Hasan Ali, or Muley Hacén as he is known in Spanish, the penultimate Muslim King of Granada in the 15th century who, according to legend, was buried on the summit of the mountain. He was the father of the last King of Granada, Abu Abdullah (Boabdil).
The bus stopped close to the car park, I didn’t get off the bus because I had visited the area already. It was nice to see the palace for that angle. Now bus came back to the city again and next stop was a beautiful building made of glass, Palacio De Congresos. It is a conference centre of Granada. The next stop was of Science Park and then bus came to the Museum of Lorca, which belonged to famous Granadian poet Federico Garcia Lorca. He moved to Granada in 1909, a dreamy-eyed schoolboy, and was endlessly fascinated with its life, including the Alhambra and the Gypsies, whom he later described compassionately in his Gypsy Ballads. The running commentary on the bus mentioned about the Arabic society in Granada, which was working to represent the beauty of Granada during the Muslim rule in Spain. Then bus brought me to the second last stop of Plaza De Toros. It was a bullring for the Granadians.
The bus dropped me on Gran Via, in front of the Cathedral. When I walked to the entry door of the chapel, I saw beggars and some artists on both sides of the Calle Oficios. One guy particularly caught my attention, was writing names on display cards in a very artistic way in Arabic language. He looked an Afghan to me. When I looked at him he gave me a strange look. I wondered why he did that. On my right hand side were few orange trees, they were loaded with the oranges. I also say few gypsies on the scene, who they were offering few green leaves to the visitors. The entry door to the Royal Chapel was on my right hand side, I showed my pass at the counter as usual and I was allowed to enter.
The construction of the Royal Chapel of Granada was ordered by the Catholic Monarchs in 1504 as a place of burial for their bodies. The monarchs died before the chapel was finished, and their bodies rested in the convent of San Francisco de la Alhambra (today the Parador Nacional de Turismo) until the Royal Chapel was completed.
Charles V was subsequently commissioned in 1521 to move the bodies of his grandparents to the newly completed chapel. Carlos V buried almost all the dead of the family in the Royal Chapel, including Ferdinand and Isabella, Philip the Handsome and Joanna the Mad, his wife Elizabeth, their children and Princess Maria of Portugal, wife of Prince Philip.
It was Philip II who moved everyone buried in the chapel to his newly built Escorial. He left only the Catholic Monarchs and their children Philip and Juana, who currently lie with their parents.
Four buildings now stand on the site where the Main Mosque used to stand: the Royal Chapel, the Cathedral, the Merchants' Exchange, and the Church of the Sagrario. The only thing left today of the Mosque is a well outside the chapel and it was here that ablutions were performed before the prayers.
The altarpiece consists of four painted wooden panels showing the Conquest of Granada, one of which shows a Muslim being baptised. On either side of the altar there are the two praying statues of Isabel and Fernando. The chapel also houses Isabel's art collection.
Then I came to the second room, that room contained some personal belongings of the Queen Isabella, a comb, mirror, queens' hat to name few.
When I came out of the Royal Chapel, in front of me was the Madrasa, the gypsy women were still there and one of them managed to stop a young tourist girl, the tourist girl was rather surprised at their approach. She couldn’t get rid of them without paying. When I came to the door, I saw a guard at the door. I asked him if the entry was allowed. He just nodded his head, which was enough for me to go inside. In front of me was a mehrab of an old madrasa. It was decorated beautifully. Apart from the facade, simply architectural patio and stairs, chaired by a monumental canvas of Granada School.
History of the building
It was called Yusufiyya or House of Science, founded by Yusuf I (1349) was the first university in the West of the North African style. It was also a religious building, dedicated to the study of the theological. Ferdinand II of Aragon gave the building to house the Cabildo (Town Hall) in 1500, after his library was burned by Cisneros in the Plaza Bib-Rambla, and has since been completely transformed to its current Baroque appearance in 1722, demolishing the remains of Arab construction was here until 1841 housed the City - known Old City Hall also. It is now owned by the University of Granada, also are the offices of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Granada Our Lady of Sorrows.
I came to the Cathedral of Granada, that cathedral was erected on the site of a former Jamai Mosque or the Grand Mosque. There were people outside the church who were beginning. I hadn’t seen that number anywhere else in Spain so far. The roof was very high. There were electric candles on one side, one could put money in one of the slots and the candle would stay lit and person could say the prayer (there were different packages and prices for the candles). I also saw a statue of a guy on a horse, which was holding a sword in his hand. I wondered what that guy in uniform and sword had to do with the place of worship. In other part of the cathedral, I saw seen a woman showing her breast and there were also naked angels portrayed in various parts of the church.
History of the building
Built on the site of former mosque, the work on the cathedral began on 15th March 1523 and it was not completed until 1704, 180 years later. Building stopped during the plague, and several architects were involved including Juan Gil de Hontañón, Enrique Egas and Diego de Siloe.
Plaza Bib Rambla
Then I came to the Plaza Bib Rambla. There were small shops or stalls in the square, those stalls were selling traditional bread, cheese, wine, dried Spanish ham and salami to name few. There were also the Egyptian mummies on display in the square. It looked that exhibition was temporary.
Plaza Bib Rambla is also called the Square of the Flowers (Plaze de las Flores). During the Muslim times, festivals and jousts were held here, and later in Christian times bullfights. Unlike the bullfights of today, these were extremely violent and during one which took place in August 1609, 20 bulls killed 36 people and injured another 60.
Following the Christian conquest, however, the autos-da-fé were held here to decide the fate of many Muslim and Jews. Many important Arabic manuscripts, documents and books, (particularly Korans) were also burnt, as they were in other public squares all over Granada, and it is thought that as many as 1,000,000 were destroyed in this way.
Then I went to the Egyptian Mummies display counter and asked one of the staff about the halal restaurant in the area. He told me that I needed to go to Calle Caldereria Nueva. After that, I came to the other side of the Square and bought few souvenirs. One of them was about the Alhambra Palace. It liked it so much that I ended up framing and putting inside my house.
Then I walked to the Alcaiceria market. This market of Granada is a commercial area full of small shops, mostly devoted to selling memorabilia or souvenirs and handicraft. Its name comes from the Arabic al-qaysariya that designates a commercial institution and the buildings within it. The alcaicería was founded in the fourteenth century next to the Great Mosque at time of Muhammad V. The entrance was through nine gates that were closed at night to protect it. On the night of the 19th July 1843, a fire broke out in one of the shops making matches in nearby Calle Mesones and consequently the entire original bazaar burned down. It was soon rebuilt but never regained its importance as a bazaar.
Now, I was walking to the Plaza Nueva, I took left turn on a Plaza Isabel La Catolica, which had a statue of Christopher Columbus asking for the permission to sail to India. Then I asked an old man about the square, because all I could see was road on one side and buildings on the other. He pointed to the ground and started to laugh. I didn’t feel like laughing so just contented at the smile because I was already standing in the square I was looking for.
Despite its name Plaza Nueva (New Square), it is the oldest square in Granada. In this square, the River Darro is covered in order to create more space, and on the far side I could see the Watch Tower of Alhambra with flags flying on it. Yellow Evening light was spraying its' wings over the tower and it was making it more majestic than ever.
The square soon became one of the most important centres in Granada and supposedly tournaments and bullfights used to be held here as well as public executions. On one side of Plaza Nueva was the Royal Chancellery. Work on this building began in 1530, at the back of the building, a prison was built in the 17th century and it served its purpose until the end of the 19th century. The building is being used today as the High Court.
Dinner in Plaza Nueva
I took Calle Elvia from the plaza Nueva in order to reach Calle Caldereria, on one side of the street, I saw a homeless man whose head was against the wall and he was sleeping. His two dogs were sitting beside him. Then I decided not to go any further because I saw few restaurants in the square, so I sat on one of the tables in the square and ordered food in one of the hilal restaurants. While I was sitting and enjoying the beautiful Evening, an African guy came to me and suggested that I should buy watch from him. I apologised and told him that I wasn’t interested. A few moments later, another African guy came over, he was selling t-shirts. Then in no time, a third person came to me and put a card in front of me, there was something written in Spanish language. Then he showed me a cigarette lighter. I told him that I didn’t want to buy any of his merchants.
Then waiter came over and he took my order, I was relieved that some progress was being made. There were two American guys sitting next to my table. They were discussing what to order for the dinner? Then one of them, which was older than other, turned to me and asked what I had ordered for my dinner? I was rather surprised at his question. Then I though, he could be thinking that I was from the Middle Eastern country and I wold know food better than them. I told them what I had ordered, they thanked me and they were back to the discussion again.
Then I started to look at my notes, and few moments later, when I looked up. There was a waiter with food plates in his hands. While I was eating there, a young Spanish couple came over and sat on my left hand side. They had a very small dog with them, which dog was smaller than average cat in Granada. The girl put the dog in her lap and started to play with him. Then their food arrived, each of them would put one loaf of bread of chip in their mouth and then a small portion in dog's mouth, which was sitting on the floor and munching his dinner.
After paying the bill, I came to the main road and took bus to bring me to the hotel. I was very tired now. Even though, it was early in the Evening but I preferred to sleep.
The one good thing about my going to bed early last night was that when I woke next Morning feeling very fresh. After the breakfast, I took bus number 33 which brought me to the city centre, and then I took number 31 to go to the Albaicin. The bus drove to the Plaza Nueva, stopped there for few second and then came back to the Gran Via and it took right turn to go to Albaicin.
The Albaicin quarter is located north of the Darro River on the hill opposite the Alhambra. Its name may be derived from the Arabic Rabad el-Bayyazin "quarter of the falconers, it may refer to Muslims from the city of Baza who settled in the quarter in the thirteenth-century.
San Nicolas Mirador
Calle Jon de San Cecilio leads me to the Mirador San Nicolás, a lookout with unbeatable views of the Alhambra and Sierra Nevada. It was only 9:45am, and I was feeling little bit cold in the Morning.
It was quiet in the square and I managed to get few photos without crowd bothering me. There were also few gypsies playing their instruments. At 10'o clock, a big group of tourists came there and whole place looked like a fair now. Then I walked to the Mezquita de Mayer but the gate was only half opened. When I put my foot inside the gate, a guy with a beard came over and informed me that the mosque will open at 11am. So I decided to explore the other monuments of Albaicin. I looked at the map and I wasn’t far away from an old door of the city walls. I walked there and I asked an old man about the door. He pointed towards the steps and at the other end of it was the door.
This simple typically Muslim eleventh century door is set into the walls of the old alcazaba is Gateway to the weights or Bab-al-Ziyada.
The door of the Weights located next to the present Plaza Larga is one of the approaches that formed part of the wall that surrounded the Alcazaba Kadima. His most popular name is because the weights were placed there by faulty confiscated since the late sixteenth century Eixample Square and immediately Plaza Larga, built in 1576, to become the hub of the Albaicin repopulated after the war of the Muslim Revolt.
Then I turned left and came on Cuesta de Alhacaba, the road was going downwards gently I could see the old defensive wall of Albaicin on my left hand side.
I took left on Carril del Lona Street and I was going upwards my stamina was being tested by this constant up and down walk. Another left brought me into a small street which led me to the front door of the Dar Al-Horra, but sadly it was closed that day.
Dar al-Horra (House of the Honest Lady)
It was built in the 15th century on the remains of the destroyed palace of the Ziri kings. A typical Muslim building, the Palace of Dar-Al-Horra rotates about its central courtyard, in which east and west are various rooms, and porches. On the other side of the courtyard there is a Christian chapel. The Palace of Dar-al-Horra belonged to the royal family. The mother of Boabdil (Abu Abdullah) had lived there.
Mezquita de Meyer
I walked back to the San Nicolas Mirador, it was almost 11am, I waited for few moments and entry door swung open and I was facing a masterpiece which was built in 2003. It was the first mosque built in Granada since 1492. The Mosque of Granada is composed of three main, contrasting elements. These are the garden, the prayer hall and the Centre for Islamic Studies.
The Garden looks out over the valley of the River Darro towards a vista of the Alhambra standing on the Sabika Hill, perched against the peaks of the Sierra Nevada. It has two fountains of classical Andalucian mosaic surrounded by plants of local Mediterranean species, such as pine, olive, pomegranate, orange and lemon. The minaret is a tower module albaicinera although less than the adjoining church steeple. It is topped by a hipped roof that overlaps the space where the muezzin stands open with six arched windows provided horseshoe. From there, the call to prayer adds an exotic touch to this Albaicin 21st century, but to evoke the neighbourhood it was in other distant times.
They guy which I had met earlier and also who opened the door, was sweeping the floor in the garden. Now guy was getting closer to me, though still busy in sweeping. I was standing and staring at the Alhambra and the mosque. I wanted to ask him a question.
Do you work here, I asked.
No, I don't, he replied.
Can I ask you a question, if you don't mind?
That’s’ fine, go ahead, he replied calmly.
You sound and look Spanish to me, Am I right?
Yes, I am, I have come from Seville.
Well, if you don’t work here then then do you have any connection with the place? I feared that he might get angry with my question.
With the God's grace, I am a Muslim and my name is Malik, he replied.
That means you are a convert? I looked at him with a question mark.
Yes, you are right. Now he put down his sweeping brush and continued. My mother was a German while my father was Spanish; I embraced Islam few years back.
How do you feel after converting to Islam?
I feel very happy, Allah had guided me to the right path and I am thankful to him.
Do you know that Muslim ruled Spain for nearly eight hundred years and then they were wiped out?
Yes, I know, he replied with ever existing calm.
Which country you have come from? He asked me a question.
I am from Ireland. I replied
Why did you come to Granada?
I am trying to trace the footsteps of the Muslim past and this quest had brought me to Granada.
Malik looked excited.
If you are searching the Muslim past, then you are at the right place. What one can do at the sea side, most western will go there, if one wants to learn something in life from the past, then go to Cordoba, visit Seville or embrace Granada with your arm stretched, learn and then teach others.
His last words rose hair on my neck, Malik was so right about everything. Our conversation was becoming little emotional now.
Malik, probably you would know that even today 7% of Spanish people are carrying North African genes in them and if one would focus on Southern Spain, this percentage goes up to 15%. It is believed that three hundred years of the Muslim rule in Spain had been the best years of Spain.
Wow, that’s very impressive, Malik looked very happy now.
Then he asked me how many Muslim converts are living in Spain? He asked me.
They could be around 30 - 40 thousands, I replied.
Alhumdu lillah, that is a good number, I hope one day we will be as great as we were in the past, like our forefathers. (He had forgotten that his forefathers were German and Spanish).
He looked very happy; he shook his hand with me and walked outside the main gate of the mosque. I went inside the mosque, where the main prayer hall was. After spending few minutes inside, I came out, now I wanted to go to the site of a former mosque, which is church now, Iglesia del Salvador but was closed as well.
Iglesia del Salvador
Mudejar-style church, built in the 16th century over the former Main Mosque of Albaicin conserving the courtyard (sehn) of the old mosques well as the western gallery with pointed horseshoe arches, the water tank (aljibe) and some of the starting parts of the columns coupled with few carvings are reminder of its past.
Then I was coming downhill from Albaicin on large stairs. There was an old woman climbing up with a young girl. I asked them with my normal style of question (with finger on map) about the Arab baths. They pointed to the bottom of the streets. They were also closed. Now I had found out that it was a “Fiesta Day”.
The Banuelo baths are located at the bottom of a private house in the Carrera del Darro, at the foot of the Alhambra, and show how skilled the Spanish Arabs were a thousand years ago. Those baths used to be part of the Mosque of the Walnut Tree (Mezquita del Nogal) which previously stood here. They were built in the 11th century and are considered to be among the oldest and most complete baths in Spain. This was a traditional meeting for place for locals, who would come here for haircuts and massages. There were different times for men and women, sometimes brides-to-be would also come here before their weddings.
Now I was back at the ground level, facing an old bridge of Alhambra. The river Darro was on my left while Albaicin on the right and I was heading to the city. The street was crowded and some of the people were wearing colourful clothes.
The River Darro
It is little more than a creek, but in other centuries supplied the palace and the city with the precious liquid, which was taken up by the aqueduct water created by the Sultan Alhamar. The Romans called the Rio de Oro - Aurus - because of the prospectors who, until quite recently, made ??a living taking out nuggets from his bed. Later river was called Darro.
Four bridges cross the River Darro: Puente de Espinosa (16th century), Puente de Cabrera (16th century), Puente de las Chirimias (Bridge of the Pipers) and Puente del Aljibillo (Bridge of the Cistern). One can also see the remains of the Puente del Cadí (Bridge of the Kazi), built in the 11th century - an old Arab bridge which was knocked down in the middle of the 17th century, and now only its base and the part of its horseshoe arch still exist.
Then I came to the other end of the Plaza Nueva, at this end of the square was the church of Santa Ana. I went inside the church to have a look but a mass was being carried out at that time so I came out straight away.
Iglesia Santa Ana
The Church of Santa Ana in Granada was built in 1501 in place of the mosque. The minaret, which still stands beside the church, belongs to the mosque of the past.
There was a Segway station next to the church, where one could rent or join the group to explore the city on two wheels. My next destination was the church of St. Jose.
Minaret of Saint Jose
From Plaza Nueva, I took Calle Carcel Alta then I took a left and then sharp right turn. I saw a large group of people coming from somewhere; the street was full of them. Now I was walking on Cuesta de Maranas. After taking two more right turns and finally a left turn, I was at the front of the St. Jose Minar (minaret).
The minaret at the Church of San José is one of two which have survived in Granada, a city in which, according to textual evidence, there were once well over one hundred mosques. The eleventh-century minaret and its mosque, identified in post-conquest documents as the Mosque of the Murabitin, were located within the citadel. In 1517 the mosque was destroyed to make way for the church of San José, and as happened elsewhere on the Iberian Peninsula, the minaret was appropriated to serve as the new bell tower.
On the way back, I walked through on Calle Caldereria Nueva. There were lots of shops on both sides of the street. That street resembled more like a street somewhere in Egypt or Morocco.
I came to Plaza Nueva and wanted to have a lunch. I could have walked onto Calle Elvira and then into Plaza Nueva but I chose to walk to Gran Via and then came back to Plaza Nueva. I chose a restaurant which was called Shawarma King at the front of the main road. I sat outside and ordered the food and started to enjoy the crowd watching.
There were two guys sitting next to me and they were talking. One was a younger guy and he was around twenty five or so, while older guy was around 45 or 50. In the beginning they were talking slowly but then they started to talk loudly more openly I could say. They seemed to have some sort of disagreement. Both were from Pakistan, the younger guy sounded that he was from Sialkot or Gujranwala (two cities in Punjab - Pakistan). There were discussing a topic on public place which I think no one would like to hear if one was sitting next to them.
The waiter, who brought food to the table, was from Morocco, a nice chap really. He didn’t have much English but he insisted that I should drink Pakistani tea from the restaurant. I told him that I would love to have one cup but I was tight on my schedule. I could see the Tower of Watch of Alhambra, there were few people standing on top of it.
I came to Gran Via, but road was closed again. There was a protest earlier but it had ended already. The road was opened within five minutes. It took another fifteen minutes before the bus arrived. I was thinking it wold have been better to have a cup of tea at that restaurant. Well, none of us could predict things from future.
Farewell to Granada
I sat in the bus and had a last look at Granada's main street. It was also the last time I had used the city pass; it had reached its maxim number of journeys.
After reaching the hotel, I brought down my bag, paid my bill and took elevator to the underground car park.
Leaving Granada wasn’t easy; there were so many things which were running in my head. Tariq bin Ziayad, Musa bin Nusair, Abd al-Rehman III, Al-Mansur (Abi Amr), Yusuf bin Tashfeen, Alzagel, Abu Abdullah, Musa bin Abi Gissan, Torquemada, Ferdinand, Queen Isabella and Zeminus, there were so many names, so many characters, so many stories. So many questions I had in my mind. I came to get the answer in that historical city but I was leaving with lots of home work to do. Perhaps that was the beauty of this splendid city. I closed my eyed, the time had slowed down and then someone beeped. The light was green and I wasn’t moving and I hit the first gear and the car moved once again to a new destination.