Granada Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Granada

The story of the city of Granada does not properly begin until the Umayyad conquest of 711 AD. The Iberian peninsula fell under Moorish rule that would last 700 years and the Jewish settlement of Garnata al-Jahud grew to become Granada of Al-Andalus.

The long Reconquest of Spain finally ended when the Emirate of Granada was ceded by Mohammad XII to the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile.

Spanish-Islamic art and design is epitomized in the Alhambra. A World Heritage Site of UNESCO, it is a walled complex of the Royal Residences and the exotic gardens of the Generalife. The complex also holds the Museum of the Alhambra and items from the Museum of Fine Arts.

We cannot talk of the Alhambra and ignore the gardens of the Generalife. They are located on the hill Cerro del Sol, overlooking the rivers Genil and Darro. The Generalife was created to be a restful retreat of the Muslim Kings of Granada. It is kept in the Islamic Nasrid style. It is one of the main attractions of Granada today.

The Cathedral of Granada is built over the site of the Great Mosque. It was designed in a blend of Gothic and Renaissance styles. The Royal Chapel of Granada was built over the terrace of the Great Mosque. It holds the ornate tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella.

The Albaicin is an ancient Al-Andalus neighborhood of the City. It has architectural wealth including the towers of Alcazaba, the old Muslim bathhouse, the Old Royal Chancellery, and the churches of San Cristobal, and San Miguel Alto.

Palaces, mosques, cathedrals, exotic neighborhoods (and flamenco!) are waiting.
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Granada Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Granada Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Spain » Granada (See other walking tours in Granada)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 16
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.8 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: anna
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Plaza Bib-Rambla
  • Alcaicería (The Arab Market)
  • Granada Cathedral
  • Capilla Real de Granada (Royal Chapel)
  • La Madrasa (The Prayer Room)
  • Plaza Nueva (The New Square)
  • Tablao Flamenco La Alborea
  • Calle Calderería Nueva (New Caldereria Street)
  • Low San Miguel Square and Church
  • Mirador de San Nicolas (San Nicolas Lookout)
  • Paseo de los Tristes (The Promenade of the Sad)
  • Carrera del Darro (Darro Street)
  • El Bañuelo (Traditional Arab Bath)
  • Puerta de las Granadas (Gate of the Pomegranates)
  • Puerta De La Justicia (Gate of Law)
  • The Alhambra Palace and Fortress Complex
1
Plaza Bib-Rambla

1) Plaza Bib-Rambla

In the Plaza Bib-Rambla, when you stand before the Fountain of Giants, here's what you should do. Sit down. Sit at one of the cafes. Look at the giants, enjoy the flower market, have churros with your hot chocolate and allow your mind to go back in time.

You are in the square of Medina Garnata of the Nasrid era. The square is a Muslim bazaar, a souq. The Arabs call this place Bib-Rambla (Sand Gate) for the sandy banks of the Darro river nearby. There are three other rivers, the Genil, the Monachil, and the Beiro.

Here's a factoid. Where you are sitting was a Jewish ghetto. But that's another story. Sip your chocolate, move on. Going forward (as they say), see Bazaars, jousting knights, bull fights, burning heretics, executions, Corpus Christi processions.

In December the square is given over to Christmas markets and stalls selling hot chestnuts. In May carnival giants with swollen heads dominate in the Tarasca procession, in observance of Corpus Christi. The figure of a warrior mounted on a dragon (La Tarasca) is wafted around the square to remind people that good will triumph over evil.

Bib-Rambla today is a haven to buy flowers, enjoy the shade of the lemon trees and study the faces on the Gigantones Fountain. Still hungry? Have some tapas.
2
Alcaicería (The Arab Market)

2) Alcaicería (The Arab Market)

In the sixth century the Byzantine Emperor Justinian granted the Arabs the exclusive right to make and sell silk within the Empire. To show appreciation the Arabs gave their bazaars the Arabic name for Caesar, al-Kaysar-ia, "the place of Ceasar." Sounds like "Alcaiceria." And so from that time all Arab bazaars took this name.

The Alcaiceria of Granada was opened in the 15th century. It lasted well into the 19th century when it was destroyed by fire. The fire was caused by a shop for matches. The shop went up first, then all else followed. The replacement Alcaiceria is a weak imitation of the original. It is smaller, made with cheaper materials. It looks worn.

The first Alcaiceria held over 200 shops and stalls within a maze of streets and alleys. The streets were closed with iron gates to keep horsemen out. The gates were locked at night. Business was given over almost exclusively to the precious silks. Today the Aciceria is devoted to souvenir stalls, knick-knacks, and memorabilia.
3
Granada Cathedral

3) Granada Cathedral (must see)

Granada Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church. It is the seat of the Archdiocese of Granada and it was built on top of the bones of the Mosque of the City. The construction took place in 1518 after the Christian Reconquest of Andalusia.

The Cathedral was started in The Spanish Renaissance style rather than the Gothic. In 1523 the first architect, Enrique Egas was replaced by Diego de Siloe. The work continued for forty years. Diego planned for a triforium of five naves rather than three. His principal chapel (capilla mayor) was circular, not a semicircular apse.

For 181 years alterations and revisions proceeded under different architects until 1667. Alonso Cano and Gaspar de la Pena introduced Baroque elements to the facade. In 1699 after 181 years, this document of stone might be considered almost complete. But two high towers were planned and never built. The ground underneath was considered unstable.

The Cathedral was meant to be the royal mausoleum but Philip II moved the royal burial site to the palace of El Escorial near Madrid.
4
Capilla Real de Granada (Royal Chapel)

4) Capilla Real de Granada (Royal Chapel) (must see)

When Queen Isabella moved into Granada, she was a woman who had found her new home. She was determined to fix it up, to make it her own. Among the first things on her list was to make an addition to that new cathedral that was sitting on the old mosque. The add-on would be her very own chapel, not a little one either. It would be her Main Chapel.

The Main Chapel was constructed at last by 1517. It was built in the new Isabelline style. It is a transition from Gothic to early Renaissance architecture. Isabella planned to stay. By royal decree the chapel was declared to be the future burial site for herself and King Ferdinand. The King did not object.

The chapel is dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. The interior is reminiscent of the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes in Toledo. It has four side chapels in the form of a cross and a Gothic vault. In the center of the transept are the tombs of Isabella and Ferdinand. The tombs are sculpted and raised.

Spoiler alert. The tombs are empty. The royal remains are actually in the crypt below. Since the church is still used for services, the crypt is not always open to visitors. The Catholic kings and queens are joined in this chapel. Their memorials mark the emergence of the coming power and glory of Spain and the brilliant renaissance of Europe.
5
La Madrasa (The Prayer Room)

5) La Madrasa (The Prayer Room) (must see)

On the Oficios Street, between the Granada Cathedral and the Alcaiceria, where gold, and silk were traded long ago, sits the Madrasa of Granada. Founded in 1349 by Yusuf I, Nasrid Emir of Granada, the Madrasa was a school of Islamic law and grammar. The syllabus also included Rhetoric and Medicine.

The Madrasa survived when the city was ceded to Ferdinand and Isabella. Then in 1500, after a Muslim rebellion, Gonzalo Jimenez de Cisneros, Inquisitor-General, attacked the Madrasa. The building was sacked, the irreplaceable library books were burned in the Plaza Bib-Rambla. No one was ready for the Spanish Inquisition.

Subsequently, the building was variously standing empty, used as a city hall, or taken over to serve as a textile warehouse, its noble purpose long forgotten. In 1860 The Mihrab inscription dedicating the mosque to the month of Muharram was found. After several restorations, the Madrasa was opened to the public in 2011.

The sole part of the original Madrasa surviving today is the Prayer Room. It has a high ceiling. Halfway up the walls the shape of the room changes to an octagonal form. The upper walls are covered with stucco decorations and calligraphy. There are 16 windows and a wooden cupola overhead.

Within the entrance an inscription reads, "If in your spirit you provide a place for the desire to study...you will find within it the beautiful tree of honor..." The Inquisition tried to erase this place, and it failed.
6
Plaza Nueva (The New Square)

6) Plaza Nueva (The New Square) (must see)

Despite its name, the Plaza Nueva (New Square) is one of the oldest squares in Granada. In former times the plaza was the scene of bull fights, tournaments and an occasional execution, definitely a spectator event. Before it was a square, however, it was a bridge. Called the Bridge of of Loggers, it spanned the River Darro.

The square is centrally located and is an ideal starting point for explorations on foot. Walk from the Puerto Granadas to the Alhambra forest to the Alhambra, a 15 or 20 minute journey. Exit by way of the cobbled street on the left of the Church of Santa Ana to the River Darro. Perhaps go up Elvira Street to the Mirador San Nicolas and the Albaicin.

The main attraction of the square itself is the High Court of Andalusia. The court building was formerly the Chancilleria Real (Royal Chancellery). Construction of the Chancellery began in 1530. In the rear of the building a prison, handy to the court. The square is also home to the Arborea Flamenco. Cafes, flamenco, ole!
7
Tablao Flamenco La Alborea

7) Tablao Flamenco La Alborea (must see)

The mission of the Tablao Flamenco La Alborea is to deliver the unique dance experience called Flamenco to Granada. Located in the Plaza Nueva, it is easily accessible by foot from any place in the old city. One hour flamenco shows are presented by four artists. Seating is available by the stage or in the balcony. The acoustics are great.

A one hour show will consist of a singer, a guitarist, a bailaor or bailaora. Often the artists will be from the Sacromonte, one of the six districts of Albaicin.

In the dance there are five elements: cante (singing), Baile (dance), guitarra (guitar), palmas (hand clapping), jaleo (a call, like "ole!"). There is also a festero or festera, the one who is "throwing the party." The flamenco is performed on a tablao, a small stage usually of wood. The wood enhances the sounds of heels stamping in the dance.

The flamenco is gypsy in origin. During the Franco era in Spain, the flamenco was changed to become more sensual. Many aficianados feel this has had a corrupting effect on the dance itself, making it less genuine.
8
Calle Calderería Nueva (New Caldereria Street)

8) Calle Calderería Nueva (New Caldereria Street)

Looking for a cup of tea? Most tea rooms and tea shops in Granada can be found on the New Caldereria Street, in the quarter of Albaicin. Also called La Calle de las Teterias, the street is packed with shops offering international selections of teas, juices, cakes, crepes, rugs, arrases, and, yes, hookahs. Drink, smoke, absorb the ambience of Albaicin.

Continuing down the narrow, cobbled street encounter more and more teas. Arab teas, oriental teas, and, oops, aphrodisiacs. There are smoothies, juices, and liqueurs. Feeling peckish? There is Arab cuisine, vegetarian fare, Indian and middle eastern dishes. Last but not least find a wide selection of Andalusian pastries and desserts.

The lasting impression of the New Caldereria Street is one of aroma and color, fabrics draped over balconies, the liveliness. That's more than one impression. If we had to pick just one it would be the exotic perfume of the many different teas, the enticing smell of the cuisines...wait, that's more than one...
9
Low San Miguel Square and Church

9) Low San Miguel Square and Church

Low San Miguel is low because it is lower than the other San Miguel, High San Miguel. Low San Miguel church has a humble simple appearance, but the church and the plaza tell the story of the city.

The fountain alongside the church is of red brick, indicating the church may have been a mosque in the time of the Muslim Almohads. Two marble columns from the Roman imperial age suggest an even earlier time. A statue of Christ on the cross is bound with iron clamps, a veteran of the Spanish civil war.

The church was built in the Mudejar style but it has Renaissance accents. The entrance is flanked by two corinthian columns and pilasters bearing shields. There is an image of San Miguel above the doors, made in 1558 by Toribio de Liébana. On the sides of San Miguel's niche are two oculi with angels. On the western portal is St. Peter, similarly arranged.

The church has one nave and side chapels, a Main Chapel and a choir. In the 16th century Tomas de Morales installed an altarpiece in two sections. In 1753 Blas Moreno replaced Morales' altar pieces with an altar with sculptures by Turcato Ruiz del Peral.

At last, visit the tower. The tower is square, with five floors accessible by stairs. On each floor there are chairs for those not used to serious climbing. From the top floor of the tower there are spectacular views of Albaicin, the convent of Santa Isabel, and the city of Granada.
10
Mirador de San Nicolas (San Nicolas Lookout)

10) Mirador de San Nicolas (San Nicolas Lookout) (must see)

Bill Clinton is supposed to have said "the most beautiful sunset in the world" when speaking of the sunset view from San Nicolas Lookout. San Nicolas does offer the best view of the Alhambra at sunset, but there are a lot of spectacular lookouts in Granada. San Cristobal is reputed to be a fantastic viewpoint of the City.

Each clear day at sunset there is a crowd gathering in the square of San Nicolas. They are there to watch the Alhambra turn red in the setting sun. Alhambra in Arabic means "red castle." Tourists, locals, and travelers come together at the overlook. There are vendors hawking snacks, flamenco dancers, souvenir sellers and other entertainments.

The lookout is named for San Nicolas Church and Square. The church was built on the top of a mosque in 1525. There seems to have been a trend, when the Catholic Monarchs took over in 1491, to drop a church on a mosque. Location, location, the man said. The church has been destroyed several times by fires, but the original bell tower survives.

For only a few euros it is possible to climb the tower San Nicolas and get a better view.
11
Paseo de los Tristes (The Promenade of the Sad)

11) Paseo de los Tristes (The Promenade of the Sad) (must see)

Officially, the real name of Paseo de las Tristes is Paseo del Padre Manjon. The paseo was at one time a route for funeral processions. "Tristes" in Spanish can mean "sorrows." The paseo is easy to reach with the city's hop-on hop-off train or try a bus. When the weather is mild and clear the path is often crowded, especially at sunset.

The promenade is a pleasant walk bordered by the River Darro and some finer restaurants. There are stunning views of the Alhambra against the skyline. There is a flamenco venue (of course!) and tourist shops galore. The ancient cobblestone streets recall the medieval era.

The paseo leads to the San Jose cemetery, across the river and above the Alhambra. It was a long trip on foot for mourners. They must have stopped here, in this pleasant place to say their farewells. Today there is a spacious terrace with umbrellas from which to contemplate sunset views and have a drink and let go of the "sorrows".
12
Carrera del Darro (Darro Street)

12) Carrera del Darro (Darro Street) (must see)

The whole left bank of the River Darro is called the Carrera del Darro. Carrera del Darro is unique in a city full of unique things. The street runs in between the river and the forest of Alhambra. At night the churches are lighted and the Alhambra at the top of its hill glows with light.

Starting in the sixteenth century the nobility of Granada made their homes in this picturesque place. Renaissance buildings, churches, and ruins beside bars and cafes line the street and the banks of the river. The Banuelo is here. Public baths came in the 11th century. Mudejar churches like Santa Ana and San Pedro date from 1567.

Then there is the tragic story of the House of Castril balcony. Today the Castril House is an archeology museum. It is a Renaissance dwelling built in 1539. It belonged to a rich nobleman named Zafra. Zafra was obsessive with keeping his daughter Elvira locked away from the local swains.

He ordered the death of a servant who was caught with a message for Elvira from a likely suitor. He believed the message of love was from the servant and ordered that he be hung from his daughter's balcony. When the servant protested his innocence, Zafra suggested he hang from the balcony and wait. Elvira took poison and killed herself.

There is an mysterious inscription that was found, "Esperando La Del Cielo" ("Waiting for Heaven") above Elvira's balcony. A melodramatic tragedy, the case was never solved.
13
El Bañuelo (Traditional Arab Bath)

13) El Bañuelo (Traditional Arab Bath)

El Banuelo is a well preserved hammam, an Islamic bathhouse. It can be found on the banks of the Darro in the district of Albaicin. It saw use as a bathhouse until the 16th century. It fell into disuse until the 20th century when it underwent several restorations.

Hammams were common throughout the Muslim world. They were used for ablutions, hygiene and socializing. They functioned very much like the old Roman baths. Many Islamic bathhouses have been uncovered in Granada. Most of the bathhouses were found to be quite simple. The exception to the rule is the lush hammams of the 14th century Alhambra.

The Bañuelo dates from the 12th century, the time of Nasrid rule in Granada. the baths would have been in the old royal citadel in Abaicin before the Alhambra became the center of political power.

The baths were organized by sequential rooms. The first, open to the street, was a reception room with a small pool. A doorway in the room led to rooms with latrines and from there to a changing room. Then came a cold room, a warm room and a hot room. There was no immersion. The patrons were simply doused with warm water.
14
Puerta de las Granadas (Gate of the Pomegranates)

14) Puerta de las Granadas (Gate of the Pomegranates)

Also known as the gate of the pomegranates, the puerta de las Granadas is the gate to the path through the Alhambra Forest to the Alhambra itself. The path originates in the New Plaza and leads to the Nasrid Palace, the Alhambra.

The gate is made in a Roman style, with triumphal arches with a classic facade. It is the main entrance to the walled Alhambra enclosure. It was constructed during the reign of Charles V. The gate is made of stone with carved Florentine designs. The gate was built to memorialize the wedding of Charles I after his marriage to Isabel of Portugal.

The gate was made to replace the original Islamic gate, Bib al-Buxar, a defensive tower. Arabic architecture is to the right of the gate. On the left is a baroque style door to the Palace of the Marquise of Cartagena. The gate is named for the three pomegranates above the main arch, a promise of peace and abundance promised to Andalusia by Charles I.
15
Puerta De La Justicia (Gate of Law)

15) Puerta De La Justicia (Gate of Law)

The walled enclosure of the Alhambra has four doors or gates. They are each impressive but the awesome one is the Gate of Law. The gate was the Gate of Law in the Arab era of Granada. It was called Bib-Xarea and it was built by Yusuf I in 1348. However the official name then was Bib-Xaria, Door of the Esplanade, for the area in front.

Today this esplanade is filled with gardens and walks. Back in the day it was a military camp. Next to the gate is an artillery bastion. A cut stone wall descends from the wall. Before the wall a renaissance stone pillar is dedicated to Charles V. In the center of the esplanade is a pillar honoring Washington Irving on the centenary of his passing.

The interior of the Gate has three vaults. There is a cross-vault, a cupola, and three additional cross-vaults common in Nasrid architecture. The inner Gate is still decorated with the rhomboid tile patterns in the arch spandrels. Outside the gate is an altarpiece to mark the site of the first Catholic mass said after the reconquest.
16
The Alhambra Palace and Fortress Complex

16) The Alhambra Palace and Fortress Complex (must see)

Alhambra in Arabic is "The Red One." It is a palace and fortress complex. It was originally built on the ruins of a Roman fortress in 889. It was rebuilt in the 13th century by the Muhammad I of Granada, the first ruler of the Emirate of Granada. It was converted to a palace by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada. In 1492 it became the royal court of Ferdinand and Isabella.

The Alhambra was the place where Christopher Columbus received his commission to find the Indies which he never found. In 1526 Charles I of Spain ordered a Renaissance palace in the Mannerist style with its humanism contrasting with Nasrid architecture. After the decline of Nasrid influence, the Alhambra complex fell into neglect and disrepair.

Centuries later after Napoleon I had destroyed the site, the Alhambra was rediscovered. It is today one of the greatest tourist attractions in Spain. The Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has been described by poets as a pearl in emeralds. This was a literal description of the colors of the stones imbedded in the surrounding woods.

The Alhambra park is stocked with nightingales. Running water from the fountains and cascades can be heard at all times. The idea was to create a kind of "paradise on earth." The exterior was made to be plain and austere.

The Alcazaba, also known as the old citidel, is the oldest part. All that is left are the great outer walls, towers and ramparts. Beyond the Alcazaba is the palace of the Arab rulers. There are the Nasrid Palaces of Alhambra and then the Alhambra Alta. originally meant for court officials.

The royal palace is of three parts. The Mexuar is plain and simple. It was for functions of business and government. Sersllo contains the Court of the Myrtles. The Harem is richly decorated. It was the living quarters for the wives and mistresses of the Sultan. It provided hot and cold running water, including showers.

Poets of the Nasrid period made poems for the Palace. Lines are inscribed in arches and columns in arabesque, cursive script. "There is no victor but God." appears often.

Why you should visit
One should visit often in order to focus on the different places of interest. There are so many, all of them captivating. Don't travel thousands of miles to see a Spanish McDonald's. Visit to see what you can see nowhere else.

Tips
Be prudent about crowds. There were cutpurses in Nasrid times, there are pickpockets now.

Walking Tours in Granada, Spain

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