It is modest and always at the shadow of its well-known sister. That is the Albaicín: the heart of the Arabic medina of Granada. It is located opposite the famous Alhambra and it is often unacknowledged by the visitors to our city. We are talking about a UNESCO World Heritage Site neighborhood that would outshine on its own if it was located in any other city that didn’t have a world wonder as the Alhambra.
One of the most important attractions in the Albaicín neighborhood is its Arabic heritage. Besides its typical street network of the Muslim medinas, this district hosts manors, palaces, baths and walls that have witnessed of the relevance of one of the most populated cities during the Middle Ages.
Get ready because we are about to enter history and discover the most important Arabic corners in the Granada’s Albaicín.
Albaicín or Albayzín?
First of all, you may find the name all around the district with different spellings. Webpages and signage show all the possible combinations of I, Y, C and Z. The most common are Albayzín, Albaycín or Albaicín.
Those who use the first two spellings argue that the correct way to write it is with Y and Z as it is a word of Arabic origin. But the truth is that Albayzín and Albaycín aren’t anything but old Castilian spellings used before the writing reforms of the Spanish Language Academy during the 18th Century. Back in the days, there were no fixed rules so many used to spell names in various ways.
After the reformations of those times, the most accurate way to spell the name of the neighborhood is Albaicín. Furthermore, the board that governs the heritage of this part of Granada is called Agencia Albaicín.
The bridge of Cadi
Starting on Carrera del Darro, the first clear example of Arabic architecture that we’ll find is the Bridge of Cadi or the Gate of the Tableros. These intriguing ruins show a half horseshoe arch over the river letting us know that there was an old gate to the walled complex of two Muslim fortifications. The gate let the water pass through but it prevented the pass of invaders as a fence formed by a grid of metal bars protected the arch.
An oddity in this gate is the secret inner system that allowed the Arabs to collect water from its inside. Sadly, this feature is not open for visits nowadays.
The Arab Baths of El Bañuelo
After admiring the Gate of Cadi we can turn around and visualize the entry to the Arab Baths of El Bañuelo. Also known as Baños del Nogal (Baths of the Walnut Tree) this complex is honored as the oldest monument in the city of Granada. It dates back to the 11th Century!
The fact that it has made it to our time is almost a miracle as these kind of spaces were seen by the Christians as filthy and impure and they basically destroyed every one they happened to find. El Bañuelo had the luck to be rapidly covered with a Christian house right after the conquest of Granada, thus it remained unnoticed.
Even if we have to force our imagination a little bit, this complex gives an idea of the refinement of the Arabic population in Granada during the Middle Ages.
The price of the Arab Baths of El Bañuelo is €2.25. It’s free on Saturdays.
The House of Zafra
Heading up on the Calle Bañuelo and leaving the bank of the River Darro we’ll find the magnificent House of Zafra (Casa de Zafra). It is one of the best examples of domestic manor during the Nasrid times and hosts the Interpretative Center of the Albaicín. This fact makes the House of Zafra a must-see place in the neighborhood and helps us to understand its history. On this link you can read a full post about the House de Zafra (in Spanish).
Most impressive in the House of Zafra are its views of the Alhambra and its rare wall paintings, ones of the few that have been preserved to this date.
The visit to the House of Zafra is free.
The House of Horno del Oro
We continue our visit through the Spanish-Muslim houses with a stop at the Arab House of Horno del Oro. This building is an architectural metaphore of the History of Granada. The ground floor is from the Arab times and has its typical entry built to preserve the privacy from the outside world. It also hosts a courtyard with its Arab pool and arcades on both sides. The upper floor follows the typical Castillian and Morisco architecture trends, visible thanks to its columns and side naves.
The Arab House of Horno del Oro also hosts different temporary exhibitions that are worth a visit as they usually are about the Albaicín and its surroundings. Highly advisable.
La casa árabe del Horno del Oro alberga también diferentes exposiciones temporales que merece la pena conocer ya que suelen versar sobre el Albaicín y su entorno. Muy recomendables.
The price of the Arab House of Horno del Oro is €2.25. It’s free on Saturdays.
The Houses of Chapiz
The last of the Arabic manors on our route is -better said- are the Houses of Chapiz. They are located on a street with a slope bearing their same name (Cuesta del Chapiz) and it is a complex of two different houses connected by the means of an arch. They date back to the 14th Century.
Experts believe that -after the analysis of the arches and columns- the Houses of Chapiz were part of larger complex: the Palace of Dar al-Baida, of which we don’t have many documents left.
Nowadays the Houses of Chapiz host the School for Arabic Studies and are located on a strategic point for continuing our route, either to the Sacromonte, or to the highest part of the Albaicín.
The price of the Houses of Chapiz is €2.25. They are free on Saturdays.
The Mosque of Granada
We go up the Cuesta del Chapiz slope and head towards the Plaza del Salvador to find the famous Mirador de San Nicolás, the viewpoint of San Nicolás. Just next to it, the New Mosque of Granada stands. It is “new” because it’s the first Muslim temple to be open in Granada after 1492. And it was not that long ago: in 2003.
We can say that the opening of the Mosque of Granada represents a reconciliation with the past of the city. A live example of a multicultural society where every religion has its room and lives along the others in peace and harmony.
The Mosque has amazing views, just as the nearby mirador and its inner courtyard is also open to visit. Furthermore, you can have here an Arabic tea and get yourself together after climbing the slope.
The visit to the New Mosque of Granada is free.
The Palace of Dar al-Horra
The last stop on our route could be the ideal stage for the most popular soap opera. We are talking about the Palace of Dar al-Horra. Its name means “the palace of the Lady” and it was indeed the residence of the Lady (with capital L). The Queen Mother Aixa (Sultan Boabdil‘s mother) was sent to live here. Not for long, as the one who happened to be the last King of Granada didn’t really like the idea of his mom having such a cool palace and he himself moved in with his mistress: Isabel de Solis. A Christian woman! Who converted to Islam for love and changed her name for that of Fatima. A scandal in the Nasrid court.
Focusing on its monumental history, the Palace of Dar al-Horra suffered many changes after the Christian conquest: a church and a convent were attached to the complex. However, after all these centuries the palace has been preserved in an astonishing way and it has been recently re-opened to the public after the latest restoration.
Most notable is its original decorations which have been preserved in their most parts and its architectural layout which allows us to get to know how a typical Arabic palace was during their rule over Granada.
The price of the Dar al-Horra is €2.25. They are free on Saturdays.
There’s still more…
We have covered the main visitable Arab monuments in the Albaicín with this route. Those who are most representative of the Muslim times. However, there are other places of interest built during the reign of the two dynasties of those days (Zirids and Nasrids). For instance: the Gate of Monaita, the Alberzana Wall of the Arab Cistern “Aljibe del Rey”. Furthermore, we can also talk about the monuments of the Christian Albaicín. But that’s a field for another chapter.
Photos: Turismo Ciudad de Granada.
Translation: Layne Ivy