Granada

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Granada

Population: 200,000.

A Bit of Geography  Granada is 2200 feet in elevation, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains. These are the highest mountains in continental Spain (Mulhacén 11,420ft and Pico Veleta 11,149ft). (The country's tallest peak is 12,188ft Mt Teide, the volcanic mountain that dominates the island of Tenerife.) This high elevation makes for colder winters, a nippy spring, and mild, breezy summers. When the sun goes down the temperature tends to plummet. Snow stays on the surrounding mountains almost all year long. The skiing is first class.

A Bit of History  Granada is a relative "latecomer" among Moorish cities. At the time that Córdoba was one of the most splendid cities in the Muslim world (11th century), Granada was only a mountain town. Its rise to power was due to the decline of the other Moorish cities.

Origins  We know less about Granada's origins than about those of any other major Moorish city. We do know that it was a small Roman settlement called Illiberis, meaning "new town." In 711, the year of the Arab conquest of Spain, there was a large Jewish community in the town, which helped the Moors capture it. The town was renamed Garnatha Aleyoud (Granada of the Jews). Various Moorish settlements rose up around the area, but the town was of little significance.

Prosperity  Up until 1025, the town of Granada was nominally subject to the Caliph of Córdoba. But political squabbles in Córdoba weakened that city's power, and in the meantime a group of Berbers (refugees fleeing a political upheaval in Morocco) came to Granada and founded their own independent kingdom. These Berbers were effective warriors, and before long Granada's kingdom included such cities as Málaga and Jaén. Various dynasties came and went in the following centuries, but Granada remained a strong power. Its prosperity grew as hordes of Moorish refugees from the Christian Reconquest streamed into the city, bringing their money and skills with them. These were the skills that built the Alhambra and other Moorish monuments of the city.

The valleys around the city were cultivated; vast irrigation works were built. Art, literature, and science flourished in the large university. The population rose to 200,000 (what it is today), four times that of C14 London.

Decline  But Granada went the way of other Moorish cities: internal strife broke out among rival families eager for power. There were intrigues, murders, and the overthrow of dynasties. At the very time the Alhambra was being built, and mosques and palaces were sprouting everywhere in the city, Granada lost a battle to the Christian King Alfonso XI of Castile (1340). In 1462, Christian forces took Gibraltar, cutting Granada off from its major port.

The Fall of Granada  In 1491, the Catholic Monarchs (Ferdinand and Isabella) demanded that the Moors evacuate Granada. The King of Granada, Boabdil, could put up only token resistance. On January 2, 1492, Boabdil and his retinue departed the Alhambra by a gate called Los Siete Suelos, and he asked that this gate be sealed up forever. Boabdil retreated south to the mountains, and as he reached a mountain pass where he could look down on his city for the last time, he wept profoundly. The pass is known to this day as "El Ultimo Sospiro del Moro" (Last Sigh of the Moor). His mother is supposed to have reproached him, saying: "Weep not like a woman for what you could not defend like a man." The loss of Granada was bewailed all over the Moslem world. Even today, Arabs mourn Granada in their evening prayers. In the Christian world, the rejoicing was just as widespread: a thanksgiving hymn was sung at St. Paul's Cathedral in far-away London. In Granada, Ferdinand and Isabella knelt down with their soldiers as the Cross was planted atop the Alhambra. The Catholic Monarchs knew at once that they wished to be buried in Granada — for them the very symbol of triumphant Catholicism. And buried there they are, side by side in the Royal Chapel of the cathedral.

Granada after the Reconquest  A long period of decline set in, partly as a result of the expulsion of the moriscos (Moslems living under Christian rule) in 1609, depriving the city of its most talented citizens. Only in the C20 has Granada grown to its original size, as modern agriculture and sugar refining bring in new wealth. Tourism, too, bolsters the local economy.

Granada's popularity with Americans is due in large part to Washington Irving, the C19 American writer who lived for a time in the Alhambra, and whose Tales of the Alhambra captured the romance of the palace. For this reason Irving is honored in Granada, with hotels, streets, and squares named for him. The book is to be found in shops all over the city and is well worth recommending.

The city's coat-of-arms shows a pomegranate, since the word granada in Spanish means pomegranate. But the name is actually derived from the Arabic Karnattah.

The Gypsy Colony  The origins of the Gypsies are lost in obscurity. They seem to have come to Europe from India, wandering from one country to another. Many of them settled in Hungary, others came to Spain. In the 18th century, the Spanish government forbade them to wander, and most of them gathered in Granada. There used to be 30,000 of them in Granada, but that number has declined to 2,500. The Gypsies speak both Spanish and their native argot; the children learn to sing and play the guitar even before they can walk. The Gypsies in Granada live on a hillside section of the city known as Sacromonte, where cobbled lanes wander past centuries-old houses.

The Alhambra  This is the most fabulous Moorish palace in Spain. It sits atop a large rock overlooking the centre of the city. Its atmosphere is one of decadent splendour. The name Alhambra means "red palace" in Arabic — the outer walls are made of red sandstone. The most famous rooms inside it are the Court of Justice (its ceiling is made of cedars of Lebanon, 4000 pieces), the Hall of the Ambassadors (the throne-room, where Queen Isabella announced her sponsorship of Columbus' voyage of discovery), the Court of the Myrtles (witha lovely reflecting pool, lined with myrtle hedges), the Court of the Lions (so-called because of the four lion statues holding up the central fountain), and the bathing chambers (with balconies where blind musicians entertained the bathers). The Generalife Gardens are the gardens of the Alhambra, about a half-mile away. The word "Generalife" comes from Djannat al Arif (Arabic for "Architect's Gardens"). It was the summer residence of the sultans, who came here to enjoy the gardens, pools, and fountains. The Spanish composer Manuel de Falla drew inspiration from the gardens for his symphonic poem, "Nights in the Gardens of Spain". The gardens are laid out with cypress hedges, purple phlox, wisteria, and fragrant oleander. In the summer, the sound of splashing fountains mingles with the chirping of birds and the droning of bumblebees.

Other Features of Granada  The Baroque Cathedral of the city is a lavish landmark. In its Royal Chapel are buried the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella. Granada boasts some of the finest Flamenco dancing in Spain. Flamenco is a dance-form typically Andalusian; its emotionalism and furious pace illustrate the passion and intensity of the Andalusian people.

You'll have a guide inside the Alhambra and the Generalife gardens.

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