Exploring Granada

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October 11th 2010
Published: February 14th 2011
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We had another rather leisurely start today. We planned to revisit the Albaicin barrio, the oldest part of Granada, as we'd only seen it in the dark last night but other than that I supposed we'd revert to my default plan of 'aimlessly wander and take photos as we go'.
We drove more or less the route the bus had taken last night... right up to the point where we were completely lost!
We eventually managed to park near a small plaza just as the heavens opened. The rain thundered down on the wind screen and I slunk back in my seat and refused to move. Eventually the weather began to look a little friendlier and we walked across the plaza and through the narrow streets and across a familiar plaza we'd been in last night.
We wandered up a tiny road past a stone church and emerged near the Mirador de San Nicolas, popular with tourists for its excellent views of the Alhambra. The church sadly burned to the ground in 1932 though now rebuilt, it is still considered one of the oldest Mudejar churches in the city of Granada. As with many churches in the Albaicin quarter, it sits on the former site of a mosque. I was frustrated to find that the Church of Saint Nicholas was crowed with a perfect blue sky while in the opposite direction the Alhambra was under grey cloud. Still, we had no plan and were content to spend some time waiting for the possible arrival of the sun. Walking around the mirador was interesting. There were lots of street sellers with crafts and jewellery and a group of buskers sitting around the base of the stone cross strumming a guitar and singing. They were very good and for once people were really enjoying themselves with the music. Most of the time people ignore buskers or toss a few coins but here people were dancing. A couple started to dance right there in the puddles and then split apart and pulled other people over until there was a large group of people still wearing their coats and struggling to keep handbags on shoulders.
The sun even decided to join in the fun and shone prettily over the Alhambra causing everyone to rush to the wall to get that all important photo of the complete complex at the summit of the hill, nestled between the dark trees on its slopes.
We began to walk down the path below the mirador and found a pretty convent, Convento de Santa Isabel la Real. It was founded in 1501, shortly after the Reconquest, and was the work of Enrique Egas. We entered the courtyard and looked around unsure as to whether we were allowed to be there. No-one came to yell at us but neither could we see an entrance or open door so we backed out and continued to explore the labirynth of streets.
We reached another small plaza dominated by the Iglesia de San Miguel, built in 1501 on top of a former mosque, and filled with empty seats outside a cafe and then turned down a narrow little pathway in the far corner. We walked between high garden walls and saw pomegranate trees leaning over bearing the fruit for which the city is named.
Winding our way downwards we had a fantastic view across the city, and then spied a group of cats huddled safely on a very high wall looking snootily down at us. Our aimless wandering took us further downwards through a market bazaar which gave the distinct feeling of being somewhere in north africa apart from the cold and the rain still shining on the pavements.
Finally emerging onto the main city streets we basically stumbled across the cathedral and bought ourselves entry. Foundations for the church were laid by the architect Egas starting from 1518 to 1523 atop the site of the city's main mosque; by 1529, Egas was replaced by Diego de Siloé who labored for nearly four decades on the structure from ground to cornice, planning the triforium and five naves instead of the usual three. Subsequent architects included Juan de Maena, followed by Juan de Orea and Ambrosio de Vico. In 1667 Alonso Cano, working with Gaspar de la Peña, altered the initial plan for the main façade, introducing Baroque elements.
The interior is spectacular. We started in the sacrista and the entered the main part of the cathedral where we were instantly awed by the size and beautiful decoration. We also visited the small onsite museum with examples of emboideries, altar cloths, statues and a rather too realistic head of St John the Baptist.
Back outside we stopped near a woman selling Muslim art and Arabic writings. She was obvioulsy making a fair profit from writing people's names in elegant Arabic calligraphy and we stopped to watch a while before purchasing several as souvenirs for people back in Mexico.
As the weather grew colder again we started to walk back upwards eventually hurrying as it began to drizzle. We paused briefly to admire one last view across the city and then started to jog as the rain grew increasingly heavy. We made it back to the car before the downpour started and finally wound our way back to the hostel. We returned to the familiarity of the Italian restaurant for dinner and then walked slowly back uphill. I added to our nightly exercise by pointing out a 'short cut' up some steps which led us to a dead end and forced us to turn back on ourselves and made the walk even longer. Still, I almost wish Balaguer had a few slopes like this - it's certianly been keeping me fit!

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