Once again, we boarded the FRS Ferry for the return jaunt from Tangier to Tarifa. In Tarifa, we were met by yet another Daytrip driver to take us to Grenada. What would have taken up to 8 hours (if all went well) by train / bus/ public transit would take us 3 hours in a comfortable Mercedes van. Our driver, Manuel, provided us with a wide variety of information as we travelled, and what we thought would be a boring travel day turned into an enjoyable and interesting tour.
Gibralter stands prominently on the horizon to the east of Tarifa. This narrow peninsula has been a British territory since it was granted through the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
We passed by Spain’s south coast (Costa del Sol) and viewed the area where European tourists flock to enjoy the sun. Miles of beaches are lined with hotels and time-share complexes, and golf courses reign. According to Manuel, Spaniards don’t golf – so it’s all tourists. 🙂
Past Malaga, we turned slightly in-land and arrived in the Olive Grove Landscape of Andalusia. For miles, tidy line after line of olive trees stretch for as far as the eye can see. We learned that Andalusian olive groves are the country’s biggest producers and the world’s leading olive tree grower, with over 1.5 million hectares, 900,000 tonnes of Olive Oil and 380,000 tonnes of table olives. On average, Andalusian production accounts for 80% of national production and 30% of global production. It is the main crop in Andalusia, and has in fact come to be the only crop grown in many areas.
Olives are harvested from late November to January. Although there is some mechanisation, much of the job is still done by the traditional method, which is to spread a cloth or net beneath the tree and then beat it vigorously with sticks. On small olive groves this can involve the whole family and be quite a festive occasion. However, it is becoming more common that large olive groves are owned by just a few landowners.
We arrived at our hotel in Granada, the Eurostars Catedral. As the name would imply, it is located directly across a narrow lane from the Catedral de Granada. One of only two Renaissance churches in Spain, it is the second largest church in the country (after Sevilla’s).
The Alhambra is the big deal in Grenada. It is the last and greatest Moorish palace and considered one of Europe’s top sights. When we planning our trip, we were undecided on whether we could commit the time required to tour the Alhambra – given that we only had one day to spend in the city. In the end, our decision was made for us – when we checked on the availability of tickets approximately a month ahead of our trip, there were none to be had (and apparently, the supply is 8000 / day).
On a rocky hill of difficult access, on the banks of the river Darro, protected by the mountains and surrounded by forest, among the oldest districts of the city, the Alhambra rises like an imposing castle of reddish tones in its walls that hide to the exterior the delicate beauty of its interior.
The fortification has existed since the 9th century. Designed as a military zone at the beginning, the Alhambra became the royal residence and court of Granada in the mid-13th century.
We were quite content to stroll around the areas that do not require tickets. The Palace of Carlos V was built by Charles I of Spain (aka, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor). The circular courtyard features mottled marble columns. The courtyard is know to have perfect acoustics.
The location of the church of Santa María in the centre of what was once the city of the Alhambra denotes that there must have been a mosque there previously. Although the current building dates from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the space had been enclosed since the early 500s.
For the best view of the Alhambra, we walked to the Mirador de San Nicolas (San Nicolas Viewpoint).
The views of the city from the viewpoint were also quite impressive.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of our favourite things about the Spanish cities are the multitude of squares – large and small, they present Spanish design and life at it’s best.
The Albayzin is the old Moorish quarter. Filled with twisty lanes, steep staircases, and colourful corners, it was definitely was one of the best preserved areas we visited on this trip.
The Jardines del Triunfo are located where the old bullring existed and were opened in 1960. With wide walkways, they are crowned by the monument to the Triumph of the Virgin and a 75 meter long fountain.
The Monasterio de Santa Isabel la Real was founded in the 16th century by Queen Isabella of Castile after Granada was conquered. The church has a fine door in the late Gothic style. Next to it, the the Moorish-style belltower seems strangely plain and unassuming.
Granada’s two grand boulevards, Gran Via and Calle Reyes Catolicos, meet at the the Plaza Isabel La Catolica. The statue, surrounded by a fountain, depicts Columbus unfurling a long contract with Isabel. Isabel wanted to spread Catholicism, and Spain needed an alternate trade route to the Orient. Columbus was driven by his desire for money. Isabel died thinking that Columbus had found India or China; Columbus died poor and disillusioned.
In our short time in Granada, we managed to find some great food – tapas, tuna filled pastries – and of course, the obligatory coffee in the square!
We are disappointed that we only had time for two nights in Granada, as we are certain that there are many interesting sights and neighbourhoods that we could explore. It’s a cosmopolitan city, but with evocative history and well-preserved antiquities. The mixture of Spanish and Moorish culture presents a great atmosphere. We hope to return at some point!
Bev & Harvey
I want to visit the Alhambra!