The Albaicín quarter was declared a World Heritage Site in 1984. It is the original core of the town of Granada and still maintains the captivating magic of its Moorish past.
During the Moorish occupation, the Albaicín quarter was made up of a group of different independent town centres and it was not until the modern period when it was considered a district as a whole.
The Albaicín district originally extended to the northeast of the former Alcazaba Cadima fortress. There are several versions as to where the name Albaicín originally came from. The most popular one refers to an Arabic word for ‘district of the falconers’. It was not until the late 15th and the early 16th century when the name referred to the small area on the outskirts of the town and the entire district situated directly opposite the Alhambra.
To stroll through the Albaicín quarter is like taking a walk through the history of Granada itself. The buildings, squares and the very streets will show you how the city has changed culturally and socially over the years.
A tour of the Albaicín
Only the arch remains of the Puerta de Elvira. It is located at the foot of the hill and was the former entrance to the city of Granada. Today it is the perfect starting point to visit the district. Below lies the Plaza de San Gil, which was known as the Plaza de Hatabin or Plaza de los Leñadores during the time of the Moorish occupation. It was a hive of activity during this period, as it was a meeting point between the city and the outskirts and the medinas on the opposite bank of the Río Darro.
When you enter the Albaicín for the first time you will soon see that it is a lively area full of splendid moments that tell the history of Granada. Little is known of its first settlers, as there are hardly any traces of its Iberian or Roman past. However, the traces of the centuries of Moorish occupation can be easily recognised, not only in the buildings, but also in the aroma of jasmine that fills the streets, the Moorish gardens dotted around the area, the typical houses of this district (called cármenes) and the style in which the houses are decorated.
The Calle Elvira, which starts from the Puerta de Elvira, was one of the most important central streets of the city, until the Gran Vía was built. Following a straight line, it passes the Iglesia de San Andrés with its minaret reminding us of the fact that it was a former mosque.
At the end of the street, you reach Plaza Nueva that dates back to the 16th century. The buildings around here show clear signs of Christian influence. The Royal Chancery and the Iglesia de San Gil y Santa Ana are located here, perfect examples of Mudejar architecture which developed in the city during the early 16th century.
Continuing on from the Plaza Santa Ana you will reach the Carrera del Darro, one of the most picturesque and beautiful streets in Granada. Its unique location in the valley of the river perfectly captures the contrasts of light and shadows and magnificent buildings that flank it on both sides. You will see the Casa de los Condes de Arco, the Convento de Santa Catalina de Zafra, the Casa de Castril and the Baños Árabes del Bañuelo, that captured the imaginations of the French and English Romantics, who wove them into many of their tales.
La Carrera del Darro leads to the Paseo de los Tristes, another typical part of the Albaicín quarter. This is where the Cuesta del Chapiz hill begins its steep ascent leading you to the Sacromonte district. On the Cuesta del Chapiz hill you must stop to admire the splendid Casa Morisca, or the Palacio de los Córdova, based on a 16th-century building that was reconstructed on the same site in the 1960’s. Today it houses the Municipal Archives.
On the route to the Sacromonte district you will see another architectural curiosity of Granada – las cuevas. These caves used to be inhabited by gypsies, but have now been converted into flamenco staging areas, restaurants, night clubs and tourist accommodation, although some are still inhabited.
Continuing up the Cuesta del Chapiz you will reach the wall of the Alcazaba Cadima, the old fortress, as well as the Iglesia de San Salvador nearby, built on the Grand Mosque of Albaicín. The former Patio de Abluciones is still perfectly preserved both here and in the Convento de las Tomasas.
On your right hand side, going down through the Plaza Aliatar and the Calle Panaderos, you will reach the Plaza Larga, the main square of the Albaicín district. From there, you can go to the Mirador de San Nicolás to enjoy the best views of the whole of the Alhambra. Alternatively, you can walk along the Calle Larga de San Cristóbal to the viewpoint there, from where you can see an amazing panoramic view of the city. Nearby is the Iglesia de San Cristóbal, which has an Arabic cistern.
The aljibes (Arab cisterns) are dotted all around the Albaicín quarter and are one of the most typical features of the district. Their use was more functional than purely decorative – they were used in mosques for the purposes of ablution. The cistern in the Iglesia de San Cristóbal and the Aljibe del Trillo cistern, with their horseshoe arch, are particularly fine examples
From San Cristóbal, you can either climb the Cuesta de la Alhacaba hill that follows the ancient Nasrid fortress wall, or go down the Carril de la Lona and get some great views of the eastern part of Granada, especially from the Mirador de la Lona.
Nearby you will come across the Plaza de San Miguel Bajo, a lovely square and a great place to have a rest and enjoy some delicious local food at one of the many open-air restaurants. It is also pleasant to stroll through the narrow streets and alleyways leading off from the square to find the Convento de Santa Isabel la Real, or the Palacio de Dar-Al-Horra, the home of the mother of the King Boabdil. This building’s austere-looking façade contrasts sharply with the lavish decoration inside.
The Calle Santa Isabel la Real, which later was renamed the Camino Nuevo de San Nicolás, takes you back to the bustling Mirador de San Nicolás with its unparalleled views of the Alhambra, which perfectly finishes off your visit to the Albaicín quarter.