Monday, October 3, 2011

The Albayzin

While the Alhambra is probably the most visited spot in the whole of Granada, the city has a less discovered treasure and this is the Albayzin, Granada's old Muslim quarter located on top of a hill just opposite that of the Alhambra.  It was founded in 1227 when the Muslims of Baeza moved to Granada after Christian forces overran the city. And it continued to survive even after the Christian conquest in 1492.

The Albayzin as seen from the Alhambra

an old store sign

Much of the charm of the Albayzin lies in its distinctively Moorish architecture and style.  It is one of the best preserved in Spain.  Here one gets a real sense of a way of life that tried to survive the onslaught of a hostile Christian host.  To be fair, after the conquest, Christians tried to co-exist peacefully with the Muslim inhabitants. But this attempt ultimately failed and many were forced to convert, and failing that, were expelled from their own homes.  What was interesting (and ultimately good) to learn was that by the time the Christian invasion came about in the 15th century, Muslims in Andalucia were as Iberian as modern Spaniards today. After all, they'd been living there since the 8th century. They had made their homes in Iberia, had married and raised children, founded businesses and just generally lived like everybody else, religion notwithstanding. When they were ultimately expelled back to other Muslim lands, such as Arabia, they had as little in common with them as those from Iberia! Learning this made me unutterably sad.  I feel like we haven't learned anything from our collective history.

It made for a bittersweet and poignant walk around the steep cobblestoned paths of the Albayzin. On that quiet afternoon we saw peaceful and quiet plazas that were largely empty except for some local residents sunning themselves,

Plaza Larga
Plaza Fatima
whitewashed houses with narrow balconies
replete with pots of blooming plants

and in one instance, beautiful plates.

When the Albayzin was emptied of its residents, the city fell into a long economic depression. Eventually   those who could afford it built walled large manor houses with lush private gardens.  They survive now as carmen restaurants and some of them have fantastic views of the Alhambra.

Here is a glimpse of one of the prettiest carmens of the Albayzin

with its impressive view of the Alhambra.

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