There are windows and doors through which we get glimpses of history. One such door is the Puerte de Elvira, where this tour begins. It starts at the Palacio de Dar-al-Horra, which was the house of the mother of Boabdil and is the only palace in the area that is still standing. From its tower you get a picture-postcard view of the Alhambra.
By Gonzalo Cappa / Granada Hoy
Route: The route begins at the Puerta de Elvira gate and runs into the neighbourhood of Zenete in Albaicín. Here you can visit the Iglesia de San José, the Plaza Larga, the Palacio de Dar-al-Horra and the Iglesia de San Salvador.
Duration: Two hours.
There are many historical windows and doors in Granada. The Puerta de Elvira was built in the 11th century and was the main gate to the Albaicín district and the Medina. Today it stands grandly amongst adjacent buildings, looking down on the passing cars, instead of the carts and animals of former times.
This is the starting point of the tour through the heart of Albaicín, where you will come across graffiti at every street corner. Despite this, the neighbourhood is full of history and inspires visitors that wander through the streets.
Once you have passed under the archway, walk down Calle Elvira and enter the neighbourhood of Zenete. In the 16th century there was a song that went as follows: “There are three things in Granada that last the whole year/snow on the Sierra Nevada/ a glow on the cheeks/and mud on the Calle Elvira.” The mud is now covered with irregular paving stones, and the pedestrian has to move out of the way every time a car passes.
Going up Calle Abuqueros you reach at the Calle Zenete. About 50 metres from here is the Aljibe del Zenete, restored in 1985, which contains drinking water for the inhabitants of the neighbourhood used to drink. According to Gomez Moreno, this cistern was built in 1517, although it is in the style of Muslim cisterns. From this point you can almost touch the towers of the Cathedral.
Next, make your way towards the bell tower of the Iglesia de San José. Its white-washed walls hide its age. After the conquest of Granada, the Christians built their new churches on the site of mosques, although at times they left some Muslim architectural elements. In the case of the Iglesia de San José, a minaret from the Almurabitín Mosque (10th century) still remains. It was one of the oldest mosques in Granada, built with La Malahá stone.
The Iglesia San Miguel Bajo church was also built on the site of a former mosque. Here, the cistern that dates back to the 13th century and that used to belong to the mosque, still remains to one side of the church. The church’s facade has a semi-circular archway held up by two Roman stone columns.
Leaving the Plaza de San Miguel Bajo, you will see the Palacio de Dar-al-Horra, which can be reached via Callejon del Gallo. Dar-al-Horra, literally, “the house of the honest lady,” belonged to the mother of Boabdil and is the last of the palaces in the area to have survived the test of time.
You can visit the palace from Monday to Friday. It is a place that has become increasingly popular with tourists, and has only recently been recommended in guidebooks. After the conquest of Granada, Queen Isabel ordered the building to be converted into the Convento de Santa Isabel la Real. This was the fate of the house of the mother of Boabdil until it was acquired by the State at the beginning of the century.
The rooms located next to the courtyard have beautifully decorated ceilings that are well preserved and still have some of their original colour. When you go up to the rooms on the top floor, you can easily imagine how the staff of the mother of Boabdil lived.
On the wall of one of the rooms there are three great examples of typical Moorish closets. These are niches carved into the wall, decorated with verses from the Quran, in which perfumes were put to scent the room. You will see a similar feature in the adjacent corridor, where the original inscription reads: “Only Allah is great”.
From one of the windows in the tower you can get a great picture-postcard view of the Alhambra. As the tour guide explains, “It is one of the most stunning views, and is relatively unknown.” Even without the smell of incense from former inhabitants, the palace ruins show that there is life and charm beyond the Alhambra.
From here, follow Callejón de San Cecilio and you will arrive at the Plaza Larga, called ‘Rahba Almajar’ by the Arabs, where commercial transactions took place in Nasrid times. From here you will approach the Iglesia de San Salvador, just by the Plaza Larga. The Albaicín’s oldest mosque was located here, which had to be demolished at the end of the 16th century because it was in such bad condition. However, behind the façade of the Christian church, the typical Moorish courtyard gives away the building’s Arab past – the only mosque courtyard still remaining in Granada today.
The final part of the tour focuses on the Moorish houses located around the Albaicín district. These include the Casa del Corralón (Plaza de San Miguel Bajo), Casa Yanguas (at the end of Cuesta del Chapiz) Casa del Chapiz (in the Peso de la Harina) and the Casa del Horno (opposite the Paseo de los Tristes).
With simple façades, the houses keep their most intimate history private from the daily passers-by who for centuries have looked for shade and nearby water cisterns in the summer. Inside, the houses are structured around a rectangular courtyard with a reservoir and two floors and a tower.
When you leave the Albaicín district behind you, you will have absorbed the spirit of the past in the narrow, zigzagging streets of the neighbourhood.