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Granada City Guide - Things to See
This former stronghold of Moorish Spain, at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, is part of the folklore of the world. Washington Irving used the image of this city in "Tales of the Alhambra" to conjure up a spirit of romance. Today, the Lower City may seem a dull area. But the spirit of Granada is truly reflected in the 13th century Alhambra Palace - which is one of the most celebrated edifices in the world. Sitting high on a hill overlooking the city, it is a crowning achievement. Granada has played "host" to many "visitors". The Muslim invaders left the biggest imprint on the city. In 1492, after Isabella and Ferdinand took over this last remaining stronghold of the Arabs, the city entered a decline. In the last century it began to prosper again, and today it is one of Spain's most important commercial cities.

The Alhambra: When you first see the Alhambra, don't be surprised by its somewhat somber exterior. Remember that the Arabs applied the same principle to architecture that they did to their women - they kept the outside parts veiled. You have to walk across the threshold to discover the true treasures. One enters this Moorish Palace through the incongruous 14th century Gateway to Justice. The average visitor does not need a guide. It's easy to be content to stroll along in a contemplative mood through the richly ornamented open-air rooms, with their lace-like walls and courtyards with fountains. The most photographed part of the palace is the Court of Lions, containing a highly stylized fountain of lions. This was the heart of the palace, the most private section, where the sultan wanted to be alone to enjoy his harem. Open onto the court are such rooms as the Hall of the Two Sisters, where the favorite of the moment was kept, or the Gossip Room, that factory of intrigue. In the dancing room (Hall of Kings), an early version of the striptease was performed nightly to amuse the sultan's party. In all, it's like a theatre, around which the eunuchs guarded the gems of the harem. You can also see the room where Washington Irving lived (in the Chambers of Charles V) when he was writing his "Tales of the Alhambra" - the best known of which is the legend of the three beautiful princesses, Zayda, Zorayada, and Zorahayda, who fell in love with three captured Spanish soldiers outside their chambers. Also, don't miss the Roman-inspired Royal Baths, and the 13th century Alcazaba, which is in ruins. An oddity was built here by Charles V. He built a Renaissance palace at the Alhambra. It's really quite beautiful but it seems to have as much reason here as Anne Hathaway's cottage would at Times Square. Today that palace houses a Museum of Fine Arts and a National Museum devoted to Hispanic-Muslim art.

The Generalife: Proceed uphill from the Alhambra. The sultans spent their summers here at this palace, safely and serenely locked away with their dancing girls. Built in the 13th century to overlook the Alhambra, the Generalife depends on its gardens and courtyards for its glory. Don't expect an Alhambra in miniature. The Generalife was always meant to be a retreat - even from the splendors of the Alhambra. Hours 9-7

The Cathedral and Royal Chapel: This richly ornate Spanish Renaissance cathedral with its spectacular altar is one of the great cathedrals of Spain. It is acclaimed primarily for its beautiful facade and interior gold and white decor. Work on it began in the 16th century, roughly some 30 years after Isabella and Ferdinand reclaimed the city. It is in the Lower City, off the principal avenue Gran Via de Colon. In the back of the cathedral (entered separately) is the flamboyantly Gothic Royal Chapel, where Isabella and Ferdinand are buried. It was their wish to be buried in recaptured Granada, and not Castile or Aragon. The coffins are remarkable tiny by today's standards, which is a reminder of how short folks used to be. The tombs are properly accented by a wrought-iron grill, which is a masterpiece. Occupying much larger tombs are the remains of their daughter, Joan the Mad, and her husband, Philip the Handsome. (11 - 1 PM).

The Albaicin: This old Arab quarter doesn't belong to the Granada of the 19th century buildings and wide boulevards. This section once flourished as the residential section of the Moors, even after the re-conquest of the city, but it declined when the Christians declared the Muslims intolerable and drove them from the city. A narrow labyrinth of crooked streets, the Albaicin was spared the fate that many parts of Granada suffered when they were torn down in the name of progress. Happily it has been preserved, as have its old cisterns, fountains, plazas, whitewashed houses, and the decaying remains of the old city gate. Be sure and see the old Arab Baths.

The Alcaiceria: This section huddles close to the cathedral in the Lower City. It is a rebuilt Moorish-style village of shops in the heart of Granada. Its narrow streets are filled with shops selling the tipico arts and crafts of Granada. For the souvenir hunter, the Alcaiceria offers one of the most splendid assortments in Spain - everything from tiles to castanets to wire figures of Don Quixote. For the window shopper, in particular, it makes for a pleasant stroll. In former days, the Alcaiceria was the silk market of the Moors.

Gypsy caves of Sacro Monte: These inhabited gypsy caves have been the subject of some controversy. They are a tourist trap - but an interesting attraction. Once thousands of gypsies lived in the caves. Nearly all of the gypsies remaining are in one way or another involved with tourism. When evening settles over Granada, hoards of tourists descent on these caves - for entertainment... and to see the caves. Many of the caves are quite comfortable, with such conveniences as phones and electricity. If you go, leave your valuables at the hotel under lock and key. While at the caves, refuse to accept any "gift" even under the friendly guise of having you join in the fun. If you accept them, you'll be asked to pay for them later.
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Author of this article is Gene Gill. For more information visit his website: Gene Gill Miniatures.
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