The Albaicín is filled with history and charm.
No visit to the south of Spain is complete until you have visited one of Andalusia’s most unique neighborhoods, the charming Albaicín, located in the city of Granada, across the Darro River from the Alhambra fortress and palace. This Moorish “barrio” (Spanish for neighborhood), is just one of the many treasures of traveling through Andalusia and southern Spain.
Even though theAlbaicínis located within the city of Granada, it is like a totally different world due to the strong Muslim influence over the centuries. The Albaicín is Granada’s oldest neighborhood and is the former Arabic quarter. This compact network of whitewashed houses and winding cobbled streets is Granada’s bohemian and artistic centre filled with art, live music and beautiful squares that are just calling out to be explored. The best way to get to know this lovely and iconic neighborhood is to get lost and just explore on foot.
The Albaicín History
The community was first populated by the Iberians, who were the original inhabitants of the entire Iberian peninsula after Roman civilizations. The Albaicín became a Moorish neighborhood, which at the time was called, the Albayzín, when it was under Arab rule and Islam was the primary religion in the southern part of Spain. The neighborhood developed in a time way before cars were ever thought of so the many narrow cobble stoned winding streets were created in a huge maze of alleyways separated by small plazas (or squares).
Many of the building’s balconies are filled with geranium flowers and there are multiple glimpses of the Alhambra from many of those plazas. The entire neighborhood has an enchanting and slightly romantic atmosphere, especially when the gigantic Alhambra fortress overlooks this autonomous community within the city of Granada. That’s why in 1984, the Albaicín was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, along with it’s nextdoor neighbor, the Alhambra.
The Arab District of the Albaicín
During the Albaicín heyday, this Moorish community had a large number of Mosques located throughout the neighborhood, but during the Christian reconquest in 1492, the Muslim population decreased as practising Muslims were forced to leave by the Spanish Monarchs. Many of the mosques located within the Albaicín were destroyed and replaced by churches.
Even though the mosques were destroyed, many arabic designs can be seen throughout the Albaicín. If you are a lover of architecture, you will enjoy discovering the large amounts of Moorish architecture that have been retained throughout the Albaicín’s narrow streets, from the traditional houses to the community plazas. It definitely has an old charm feel when exploring the city with its open squares full of people.
Exploring The Albaicín: Where to Begin
Exploring the Albaicín is fantastic because after every corner you turn, you might discover a doorway with Arabic architecture to marvel over, while you can just turn your head the other way to see stunning views of the Alhambra palace. Either way, the sights and scenic views within the Albaicín are always fantastic to see with your own eyes.
One of the best places to start your visit of the Albaicín is to pass through one of the gates of the old walled city, Puerta Elvira, as it is one of the entrances to the Albaicín. Little remains of the crumbling wall except for the western wall and a few of the other gates, including El Arco de las Pesas and Monaita. After passing through the gates to the Albaicín, one of the first places most people visit is Mirador San Nicolás, as it is the most popular square within the Albaicín to view the Alhambra. The panoramic views are not to be missed.
Looking up from Mirador San Nicolás, you can see the majestic walls of the Alhambra on top of the cliff. This part of the palace and fortress complex is known as the Alcazaba, which is one of the oldest parts of the Alhambra as it is the outer wall. The fortress has the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background that are just breathtaking to view in person. This square is also a great place to watch a sunset over the Alhambra. Even though the view of the Alhambra from Mirador San Nicolás is splendid to behold, no visit to the Albaicín is complete until you have seen this Moorish neighborhood in its entirety, looking down from the Alhambra palace itself.
The Church of San Nicolás is also another great location within the Albaicín to enjoy the view of the Alhambra and the Generalife with the Sierra Nevada backdrop. It is worth the steep hike through the Albaicín, to many other notable locations like the mosque minarets that have been converted into church bell towers like the Alminar de San José and the church of the Colegiata del Salvador. This church has a history that showcases the difficult transition from Islam to Christianity. The Albaicín’s original Great Mosque was turned into a school (a colegiata) to evangelize the Moors.
There is also a Crucifix that stands in the Plaza San Miguel and is called El Cristo de las Lañas or the Christ of the Clamps. It gets this name from the heavy iron clamps which hold sections of Jesus’ broken body together. The Gate of the Weights, which in Spanish is called la Puerta de las Pesas, still exists today and you must pass through it to reach Plaza Larga, which is the square that has a market every Saturday morning. The Gate of the Weights gets its name from when the King’s inspectors discovered sellers in the market using scales with rigged weights, in which they would then hang the weights along spikes on the wall of the gate.
Exploring The Albaicín: What to Expect
Comfortable footwear in the Albaicín is necessary as you will be walking up and down steep hills and over cobblestones so wearing high heels would be a big mistake. The Albaicín is a great place to get exercise while on your vacation from all the exploring on foot you can do. You might breath a little heavier after walking around and through the streets of the Albaicín, as it is hilly, but you will be so happy you explored these tiny streets as the views of the Albaicín, the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountains behind it are so picturesque.
A walk through the Moorish Quarter should certainly be a part of any trip to the City of Granada. Just wander through the small streets and squares without a map and see where you end up and what surprises you might discover. The Albaicín is always busy with people, from the tourists just exploring for the day to the locals completing daily errands around their neighborhood. They might be shopping for unique goods and textiles at the Arab markets, buying food to cook their daily meals or drinking tea at the local teterías. They might even be taking a second to catch their breath and enjoy the magnificent views from the many miradors (viewpoints) throughout the neighborhood.
Even with the crowds of people, it is easy to find a place to escape for a few minutes of solitude with all the small streets winding through the neighborhood. You can easily find peace during the afternoon when most locals are taking their siestas and are resting indoors out of the Andalusia heat.
The local kittens and cats will still be out patrolling the neighborhood during the siesta hours, but when siesta ends, the activity in the Albaicín will pick up again with mopeds speeding by and locals taking an evening stroll after work. The Albaicín has a feeling of authenticity with its old Moorish architecture, the geraniums and flowers hanging from the balconies of aging houses that have paint peeling from them.
Exploring The Albaicín: Winding Down Your Day
After a full day of exploring the Albaicín, take a walk on the road that runs along the Darro River, which has great views of the Alhambra, which sits on top of the hill right across the river. You can also make a quick stop to see the old Arab baths on your way back to downtown Granada. You might even see an artist painting a beautiful scene of the river.
After taking the time and exploring this old Arabic neighborhood you will understand whytheAlbaicín was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984 and that’s just another reason this fantastic neighborhood is one of the Treasures of Traveling in southern Spain!
— Luke Keeler