ALBAICIN Granada

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Why visit Granada's Albaicin?

The hillside Albaicin neighborhood is where Granada was born. It dates back to the 11th century when it was one of the most important centers of Muslim culture in Spain. Today, this bohemian neighborhood is characterized by its narrow winding cobblestone streets lined with whitewashed houses and palatial estates. But the most popular reason to visit the Albaicin is for the breathtaking views of the Alhambra from the Mirador de San Nicolas. Visiting the Albaicin and enjoying the views from San Nicolas are definitely some of the best things to do in Granada.

Historic buildings in Granada's Albaicin Quarter, Andalusia – Spain
Historic buildings in Granada's Albaicin Quarter

History of the Albaicin

The Albaicin was first established by the Iberians before later becoming a Roman settlement. Not much is known about the city of Granada or the Albaicin until the 11th century. It was then that the Berber Zawi ibn Ziri arrived in what was a Jewish ghetto known as Garnata al-Yahud (Granada of the Jews) and established himself as the first emir of the Taifa of Granada.

MOORISH RULE & THE ALBAICIN'S GOLDEN AGE

This first Moorish dynasty to rule Granada began to build in the Albayzín and to construct the city’s walls and gates, much of which can still be seen today. But it wasn’t until the fall of Cordoba in 1236 and the establishment of the Nasrid dynasty that the Albaicin began to really flourish.

The Moorish center of power transferred from Cordoba to Granada, bringing with it an influx of nobles, artists and trade workers. Many of these workers earned money by building the Alhambra on the other side of the valley.

Puerta de Elvira (Elvira Gate) in the Albaicin neighborhood, Granada – Andalusia
Puerta de Elvira (Elvira Gate)

The Albaicin’s elite began to build opulent villas known as carmens (carmen in Arabic means garden). These houses were separated from the street by a wall and, as the name indicates, their main feature was the garden or orchard found inside.

An advanced system of cisterns and pipes collected water and supplied it to the residents. The water was also used in public baths like those of the Bañuelos. So far, 28 cisterns have been discovered in the Albaicin, many of which can be seen as you walk through the neighborhood.

The Albaicin continued to grow into the most important center for Muslim culture in Spain. At its height just prior to the Reconquista, the area had over 40,000 inhabitants and 30 mosques.

THE RECONQUEST OF GRANADA IN 1492

On January 2, 1492, Boabdil, the last Nasrid ruler of the Emirate of Granada, surrendered the city to the Christian Monarchs. Although Boabdil was given an estate in the nearby Alpujarras region, many of the muslim residents of the Albaicin stayed and were given the status of Mudéjar. According to the Treaty of Granada, the remaining Moors were guaranteed religious freedom and fair treatment following their surrender.

Houses along the Cuesta del Chapiz in the Albaizyn of Granada – Spain
Cuesta del Chapiz in the Albaizyn

MUSLIM PERSECUTION & EXPULSION

The archbishop of Granada at the time, Hernando de Talavera (himself of converso origin), wanted to slowly and peacefully convert the Muslims to Christianity primarily by explaining the Catholic religion to them in their own language.

However, the archbishop was met with fierce opposition by Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, who was Queen Isabella’s confesor and advisor. He stated that teaching Christianity to the Muslims in their own language would be like “giving pearls to pigs.”

Cisneros (who would later become grand inquisitor during the Inquisition), ordered the burning of all Arabic manuscripts in Granada. He then forced Muslim conversion through imprisonment and torture.

Colorful flowers in a traditional balcony in the Albaicín neighborhood, Granada
Colorful flowers in a traditional balcony in the Albaicín

The remaining Muslims in the Albaicin were enraged that the treaty was not upheld. This led to a rebellion in 1499. By 1501 there were officially no Muslims living in Granada.

In the years that followed, the mosques of the Albayzin were either destroyed or converted into churches.

In 1994, the Albaicin was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an extension of the Alhambra.

What to See in the Albaicin

MIRADOR DE SAN NICOLAS

Gorgeous Alhambra views from the San Nicolas lookout in Granada's Albaicin – Andalusia
Gorgeous Alhambra Views from the San Nicolas lookout

Visiting the Mirador de San Nicolas is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Granada. Why? Simply because it has the absolute best views of the Alhambra with the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background. The San Nicolas Church gives the name to this viewpoint where you will find an eclectic mixture of hippies, locals and tourists, all taking in the breathtaking views. This is where all the travel guides (including ours) gets that iconic Alhambra shot.

The best time to be at the Mirador de San Nicolas is right at sunset. In the summer months, the square can get pretty crowded. Street musicians and flamenco dancers add to the ambience as everyone waits in anticipation for the sun to go down.

The walk up to San Nicolas can be difficult, especially if you have any mobility issues. But you can always take a taxi or hop on the C31 or C32 bus that stop right nearby.

Mirador de San Nicolas seen from the Alhambra – Granada, Spain
Mirador de San Nicolas seen from the Alhambra

Other lookouts in the Albaicin neighborhood

  • Mirador de San Cristobal: This viewpoint is located in the west of the Albaicin. It offers beautiful panoramic views of Granada with the 11th century walls in the foreground. A small part of the Alhambra can also be seen. Another advantage of this viewpoint is that you can actually see the sunset on the horizon since it faces the southwest.
  • Mirador de la Cruz Rauda: Although not very well known, this lookout is one of our favorites. It is higher up the hill than San Nicolas and provides a similar view of the Alhambra but you get to see more of the Albaicin itself. It is essentially all of old Moorish Granada in a single view.
  • Mirador de la Churra: If you want to get a more up close view of the Albaicin than what you see from the Alhambra then check out this viewpoint. It’s actually not IN the Albaicin but instead just across the Darro River along the foothill of the Alhambra.

CARRERA DEL DARRO

Visitors walking along the Carrera del Darro in the Moorish Albaicin neighborhood of Granada – Spain
Walking along the Carrera del Darro

The scenic Carrera del Darro (from latin meaning “gold road”) runs along the winding Darro River, right below the Alhambra. The river had a city wall running along it until 1590, when a powder keg exploded destroying the wall and sending it crashing into the river below. This allowed the street to be widened and helped create Granada’s most memorable promenade. Today, the street is full of beautiful 16th and 17th century buildings and has two charming bridges that span the river below.

Make sure to make it to the end of the road where you will find the Paseo de los Tristes (promenade of the sad ones), named for the funeral processions that would pass here on the way to the cemetery. This long square is situated right on the river where you can get glimpses of the Alhambra above.

BAÑUELOS (ARAB BATHS)

Bañuelos (Arab baths) in the Albayzin – Granada, Spain
Bañuelos (Arab baths)

The Arab Baths are found on the Carrera del Darro. They date from the 11th century and are some of the oldest and best preserved baths in Spain. With that being said, there isn’t a whole lot to see and you will probably spend 15 minutes at most inside.

The baths are located in a private building which saved them from certain destruction after the Reconquista when the Catholic Monarchs were trying to destroy Moorish culture. They sat in this building for centuries until 1918 when they were finally restored.

Tickets cost 5 € and give you access to a few other monuments in the area such as the Dar al-horra Palace, the Casa Morisca Horno de Oro and the Corral del Carbon. Try to visit on Sunday when it’s free.

PLAZA LARGA

The lively Plaza Larga (Large Square) in the Moorish Albaicin quarter, Granada
The lively Plaza Larga in the Albaicin

Located higher up the hill from the San Nicolas lookout, the Plaza Larga is one of the prettiest areas of the Albayzin and the center of activity. The long rectangular plaza has floors paved with black and white river stones arranged in an assortment of geometric patterns. The surroundings are full of shops, restaurants and cafes. The narrow streets around it are worth exploring too, especially the Calle del Agua.

On Saturday mornings the square houses a lively market selling food, flowers and crafts. And from Tuesday to Friday (10am-2pm) there is a colorful fruit and vegetable market.

CASA DEL CHAPIZ

Patio in the Casa del Chapiz in the Albaicin neighborhood, Granada
Patio in the Casa del Chapiz

The Albaicin is full of palatial houses and the Casa del Chapiz is one of our favorites. The property is actually composed of two houses from Muslim families who converted to Christianity right after the Reconquest. They were built in the 16th century on the site of a Nasrid palace and feature patios with fountains and an extensive garden that enjoys views to the Alhambra above.

Today, Casa del Chapiz houses the School of Arabic Studies and has an extensive library. Unfortunately, the building itself is not open to the public. But you can still enjoy the outdoor space.

Tickets are 2 € but on Sundays the visit is free.

To get there, follow the Carrera de Darro and continue left from the Paseo de los Tristes up the hill. The house is right on the corner of the Camino del Sacromonte, the same road you follow to continue to the Sacromonte neighborhood.

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