25 Sep 2013

The beauties of Granada (1/2)

No, this article is NOT about Andalusian ladies!

The Alhambra (in the background, with the Sierra Nevada range beyond) from the top end of the Albayzin district, which is the old moorish part of the city

I recently spent a couple of days in this Spanish city, partly working, partly just wandering about. Granada is the capital of the eponymous province within the region of Andalusia in southern Spain. It is certainly most famous for having been the last capital of the moorish colony in Spain, under the Almohad dynasty that was finally defeated by the catholic armies in successive battles as they gradually advanced south between 1212 and 1248. Anyone who doubts (and current affairs sadly lead to such doubts) the extent of refinement to which some forms of islamic culture have engendered, would be well advised to visit the Alhambra, not to mention reading the works of such as Averroes, which is the latinized name for the philosopher, poet, mathematician, astronomer, etc., whose full name was Abu'l-Walid Muhammad ibn Rouchd of Cordoba, usually shortened to Ibn Rouchd.

A 19th or early 20th century painting of one of the inner courtyards of the Alhambra palace, seen in the fine art museum on the first floor of the Charles V palace that is now part of the Alhambra complex.

The best-known visible legacy of this cultural high-point of muslim culture is of course the Alhambra palace, a place of immense refinement and beauty which I had visited a few years ago during a bike trip to the region. This time I did not revisit the Alhambra as such visits need to be booked ahead and queued for. And I dislike queuing intensely. Anyway there is so much else to enjoy and admire in Granada and this is my subject here.

Doors are a constant and beautiful features of many old buildings (this one of a church currently being renovated along the Darro river)

Another one that mixes cedar (the mouldings) and walnut (the main panels). I love old doors. This one to what may well have been a former merchant's house, again along the Darro river.

Granada is also an significant student city in Spain and this is apparent from the high proportion of younger people walking or bicycling around the streets. There must be almost as many students as there are tapas bars here. I will return to the latter subject in a while. Geographically speaking, Granada lies in the north-eastern corner of the region of Andalusia, at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains where one can ski in the winter. The water resources that result from this are what made the construction and plantings of the Alhambra possible, as Granada is built, at an altitude of just over 700 meters, at a point where three rivers flowing from the much higher Sierra Nevada range converge: the Beiro, the Darro and the Genil.

a good tapa dish, served free to bar patrons

The practice of tapas, however irregularly it may be followed throughout Spain and even Andalusia, is to me a joy of refinement and a sign of true hospitality on the part of the bars that maintain this tradition of serving a free small dish of varied foodstuffs, often quite elaborate, to customers who order a drink. It makes me want to stay there and order some more, which indeed I always do. A proper tapa is more than a few olives or, God forbid, some rancid peanuts or horrible crisps. Shown above is a typical example of a good tapa dish : small broad beans in olive oil with some soft red peppers and ham cooked with them.

water destroys roads. Just imagine what it does to your intestines

the 1 pm rush hour at Castaneda. hard to find a slot at the bar before 2, when they all go to lunch

The essence of a good tapas bar is ambience, a good selection of wines, and varied tapas dishes. A dose of humour also comes in handy 

Tapas bars in Granada may be traditional, like this excellent one above, Bodegas Castaneda (and a big hello to Alan S who introduced me to this place on a previous visit), or more modern, like this one, called Mariscal, next to the Corte Inglès department store.

and, if you turn around, you will see this fabulous collection of hams and other delicacies forbidden to muslims, as the bar backs onto a major delicatessen in which I saw people queuing up for hours to do their shopping.

Walking in Granada is a constant joy, partly because the city has managed to keep motorcars out of much of the centre and the many narrow streets that naturally discourage our 4-wheel friends. But also on account of the often beautiful pavements made of small stones hammered into sand and then cemented into intricate and functional designs.

Manhole covers look good too...

A biker can find occasional solace by checking the machinery parked outside some bars, like this KTM 1190 RC8R. A ride up to the Sierra Nevada? Just miss the manhole covers on the way out of town.

More about Granada and its attractions quite soon.....