Although it may seem that the origin of the name of the city (Granada) lies in the Muslim core of the Arab Medina, the reality is quite different. While Madinat Ilbira was rising in the current Albaicín, the Sabika hill housed the Jewish suburb of Garnata al-Yahud: the Jews’ Granada. On this old land, the traditional district of Realejo is currently thriving. What’s more, it’s my neighborhood.
Always in the shadow of the Albaicin – and somehow forgotten by those who visit us – the Realejo hides many small, well-kept secrets. This neighborhood offers so much heritage that it could house a rich and historical center independent of any middle-sized city that prides itself.
In this post, I describe what you can discover on a walking route through the Realejo neighborhood of Granada.
A Brief and Historical Introduction to Realejo
Jews were forbidden to settle intramurally, they were forced to live outside the city of Elvira. For that reason, they settled into the foothills of the opposite hill that, coincidentally, was closer to real power: right at the foot of the Alhambra.
The typical ringlets of the Jews, the first inhabitants of the area, gave rise to the popular nickname of the residents of the neighborhood: “greñúos” (people with long hair). The first great change of the neighborhood happened when the Almohads (the ISIS of the time) invaded the Iberian Muslim kingdoms and expelled the Jews. Although centuries later they were allowed to return, the Jewish population never recovered.
Another theory about the origin of the term «greñúos» seems to point to the Virgin of the Rosary, patron saint of the neighborhood, to which during the procession of one year the hairs came out and she was left with «those hairs».
In the decades before the Christian conquest, the upper part of Garnata al-Yahud was chosen by refugees from Antequera to settle there. For this reason, the upper part of the neighborhood is known as the Antequeruela.
It is in 1492 when Garnata al-Yahud disappeared definitively. The shunned Jewish population and the frightened refugees from Antequera left, and the Castilian and Aragonese established their royal and military camps here and the Realejo was born.
It is interesting how the myth of the peaceful and common life of the three cultures doesn’t apply whatsoever in this neighborhood. Throughout the Middle Ages, it is in the Realejo where Christians, Jews and Muslims show that coexistence had little peace.
But let’s not look at the bad, let’s look at the vast heritage that all the swirls and turns of history have left in the Realejo, thus configuring one of the most traditional areas of Granada.
From Plaza de Isabel la Católica to Cuarto Real de Santo Domingo
One of the natural entrances to the Realejo is through the Plaza de Isabel la Católica. A statue commemorating the beginning of the adventure of Columbus to the Americas presides over the lively square that indicates the road to Pavaneras street. As a good Jewish neighborhood, the Hebrew Yehuda Ibn Tibon, patron of the translators, also welcomes us in the form of a statue. Unfortunately, this is one of the few reminders that we are in an area formerly inhabited by Israelites.
The first monument of relevance that we will find on Pavaneras street is the Museum of the Casa de los Tiros. This little ethnographic center goes through the history of the city. The building is a magnificent mansion that hides intriguing details such as the musketeers who keep their facade or the inscription “El corazón manda” (The heart rules). There is no doubt that Granada is the city of love, right?
From here we will go to the Cuarto Real de Santo Domingo (or simply Cuarto Real “Royal Hall”). Although we can go directly down the Varela street, it is best to get lost in its streets to discover the House of the Girones and the Church of San Matías. The latter is actually the Imperial Church of San Matías, since it was the Emperor Carlos V himself who ordered its construction. Sadly, he never returned to Granada to visit it.
Llegamos al Cuarto Real, uno de mis monumentos favoritos de todo el Realejo. De reciente apertura, muestra una magnífica qubba islámica que recuerda a la arquitectura de la Alhambra, si bien debería ser al contrario ya que el Cuarto Real es anterior a las maravillas de la fortaleza nazarí. Puedes leer más sobre el Cuarto Real aquí.
We finally arrive at the Cuarto Real, one of my favorite monuments around the Realejo. Recently opened, it shows a magnificent Islamic qubba reminiscent of the architecture of the Alhambra. However, it should be the other way around since the Cuarto Real predates the wonders of the Nasrid Fortress.
If you want some energy, this is one of the newer areas to enjoy a beer and a good tapa. Between Rosario, Varela and San Matías streets, many new places, bars and restaurants have opened to offer the best of Granada’s gastronomy.
From Cuarto Real to Campo del Príncipe
Very close to the Cuarto Real is the Church of Santo Domingo. This is perhaps my favorite temple in all of Granada. Its simplicity and tramp d’oeil on the facade give this church something special, a je ne sais quoi. A secluded square with a statue of Fray Luis de Granada ends up giving it that different air from the small and discreet churches of the Realejo.
Just behind the church is the famous Camarín de la Virgen del Rosario. Built in the 18th century, it is one of the great jewels of the Spanish Baroque. Thought of as a small chapel, it represents in its adornments the battle of Lepanto, as an allegory around the struggle and victory of good over evil.
Siguiendo por nuestro camino encontraremos el convento de las Comendadoras de Santiago. El que fuera primer monasterio femenino de la ciudad de Granada tras su conquista es hoy el punto de partida del Camino Mozárabe de Santiago. Cualquier peregrino que se precie deberá comenzar en este mismo sitio los 1.123 kilómetros que separan la capital nazarí de la compostelana. Para coger fuerzas para el camino también podemos comprar unos deliciosos mantecados que las monjitas elaboran con mucho amor.
Following our way, we will find the convent of the Comendadoras de Santiago. The first female monastery in the city of Granada after is today the starting point of the Mozarabic Way of Santiago. Any self-respecting pilgrim must begin the 1,123 kilometers here that separate the Nasrid capital from the Compostela. To get strength for the road, we can also buy some delicious mantecados that the nuns make with love.
Y llegamos ahora al «centro urbano» del Realejo: el campo del Príncipe. El nombre de la plaza viene dado en honor a las bodas del príncipe don Juan con doña Margarita de Austria. Antaño escenario de justas y juegos medievales, el campo del Príncipe es un popular punto de encuentro para tapear y alternar con los amigos. Especialmente durante el Viernes Santo, día en el que tradicionalmente se le piden tres favores a la estatua del Cristo de los Favores: viajar, tiempo para viajar y dinero para viajar. ¿O no?
And now we come to the «urban center» of the Realejo: Campo del Príncipe (the Field of the Prince). The name of the square is given in honor of the wedding of Prince Don Juan with Dona Margarita de Austria. Formerly a scenario of jousting and medieval games, the Campo del Príncipe is a popular meeting point for tapas and hanging out with friends. Especially during Good Friday, a day in which three favors are asked of the Cristo de los Favores: travel, time to travel and money to travel- am I right?
From Campo del Príncipe to the Rodríguez Acosta Foundation
We are now going to enter into the upper part of the Realejo. Here the slopes are steep, so you have to prepare your legs for the journey. As I have already pointed out, this area is also known as the Antequeruela, because during the wars in Granada it welcomed the bulk of refugees fleeing from the Antequera area.
El primer monumento que nos encontraremos será la iglesia de San Cecilio, patrón de la ciudad de Granada. Uno de ellos, vaya. Además de presidir orgullosa toda la zona del Realejo bajo, esta cuenta con una bella portada plateresca, levantándose sobre una de las pocas mezquitas que existían en el barrio judío de Garnata al-Yahud.
The first monument that we will find will be the church of San Cecilio, patron of the city of Granada (well, one of the many). In addition to proudly presiding over the entire area of the lower Realejo, it has a beautiful plateresque doorway, rising above one of the few mosques that existed in the Jewish quarter of Garnata al-Yahud.
Toca ahora subir las cuestas del carril de San Cecilio y de la Antequeruela Baja. En esta zona, los artistas más ligados al siglo XX granadino (con la excepción de Lorca) decidieron levantar sus moradas y estudios. Uno de ellos fue el gaditano Manuel de Falla. Tras decidir vivir en Granada, se alquiló aquí este carmen, que alberga hoy en día precisamente la casa-museo del autor con unas vistas impactantes sobre la ciudad y la Vega.
Now it is time to climb the slopes and lanes of San Cecilio and Antequeruela Baja. In this area, the artists most linked to the twentieth century Granada (with the exception of Lorca) decided to build their homes and studies. One of them was the Cádiz-born Manuel de Falla. After deciding to live in Granada, he rented this carmen, which houses today the author’s house-museum with stunning views over the city and the Vega.
The other artist who fell in love with Realejo was José María Rodríguez Acosta, who, at the beginning of the century, erected this impressive white and eclectic building visible from all parts of the Realejo. This mixture of styles with gardens, labyrinths and even secret passages that lead to the nearby Alhambra, is, in my opinion, one of the most amazing monuments of all that you can visit in Granada. Especially in a neighborhood as traditional as the Realejo. Something totally unexpected.
From the Rodríguez Acosta Foundation to the viewpoint of Puerta del Sol Square
We now begin the descent back to the center. Just to the left of the foundation’s exit, we find a small «loose» part of the Alhambra: the Bermejas (Spanish for auburn) Towers. Loose, because it is not connected to the main complex, but part of the fortress since they are linked to it by a wall canvas and the beautiful Gate of the Pomegranates. The towers are named after the color of the mortar used for its construction and are believed to be the oldest buildings in the city, dating from the eighth century.
We continue down the Aire Alta street to reach the end of our journey. The viewpoint from the Puerta del Sol Square is the perfect place to observe the sunset over the city of Granada. Located on an old door of the Zirid wall, today the square is presided over by an old “lavadero” (a public space where housewives used to do laundry and socialize before running water was available in Spain) of the 17th century, an epicenter of the female life of the Realejo when these type of constructions were the scene of the little social life that was allowed to the women of that time.
You have arrived back to the center of Granada. Now what?
An ice cream from Los Italianos? Or do you have the strength to discover the Arab quarter of the Albaicín?
If it is time for lunch or dinner, you can not leave the neighborhood without trying the delicious croquetas from Los Manueles– a gastronomic institution in Granada!
To see the location of all these places and many others in the city, see my map of Granada.
I would like to thank my colleagues from the City of Granada for their contributions to this post.
Thanks to Belén, Francisco and Antonio Luis.
Translation: Layne Ivy