We took the high speed train from Madrid, 295 miles south to a little town called Antequera. There, we boarded a bus to Granada, 60 + miles east. What I recall seeing from the train and bus windows is acres upon acres of olive trees, covering the hillsides in lovely, neat rows.
Granada is a small city with a big history. Back in 711, when it was known as Garnata, Muslim forces took control of the area from the Visigoths, with the help of the Jewish community there. A small fortress was built in 889, then it was mostly ignored until the 13th century. From the year 1238, Granada was ruled by 20 successive monarchs over a period of 250 years. It was a thriving Muslim community with a strong Islamic culture. The Alhambra fortress/palace was the epicenter, and it was lavishly embellished during these monarchies.
But then the economy stagnated and a rivalry to the throne occurred. In 1491, the Christians took advantage of the situation and took over. Over time, Jews and Muslims were persecuted, and were either baptized under force or expelled. During the ensuing centuries, there were revolts, uprisings, the Spanish Inquisition, and an invasion by Napoleon, resulting in a steep decline for Granada and the Alhambra. However, in the 1830s, Granada was rediscovered and tourism developed. Washington Irving, an American author, stayed in Granada in 1829 and wrote Tales of the Alhambra, which helped draw attention to the area. In 1984, Alhambra, Generalife (palace gardens), and the medieval barrio of Albayzin became UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Mike and I stayed in a small, charming, family-run hotel inside the walled area. Since it was mid-afternoon when we arrived, we were able to take a mini-bus down into the town of Granada to explore the Alcaiceria, an old Moorish silk market cum tourist marketplace. We walked past the medieval cathedral, and followed narrow cobbled calles to busy plazas. We took another mini-bus ride up to the hillside barrio of Albayzin, where we had a gorgeous view of the Alhambra citadel on an adjacent hillside, silhouetted against the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The next day, we spent all morning and part of the afternoon experiencing the Alhambra and gardens of the Generalife. The Moorish architecture: spectacular! The Generalife gardens: magnificent! Hopefully, the photos will show what I can’t possibly describe.
We were able to score two tickets to a concert that night, held in Charles V palace, a 2 minute walk from our hotel. The palace is a 2-level inner circle, inside a square, built in 1527. It was supposed to have a dome but was never completed, so the circular inner space is open to the sky. We heard a famous French sister-duo, Katia and Marielle Labeque, play some amazing classical piano duets, followed by the Granada Symphony Orchestra playing Mozart’s Magic Flute and Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Under the stars in Granada, Spain….bliss! As mentioned, the venue was a 2-minute walk from our hotel, and this was lucky for us, since the concert started at 10:30 pm and ended at 12:30 am! Way, way past our bedtime.
Next stop: Sevilla.