Granada in Andalucia is a stunning city sheltering at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains and is famous for the Moorish palace of the Alhambra that overlooks the city.
Founded by the Romans as Illibris, it became known as Granada in the 8th century when the Moors invaded the Iberian peninsula. For several hundred years, the Moors built up the city and it became a stronghold of the Nasrid dynasty. The Catholic kings finally laid seige to the city in 1492 during the Reconquista - it was the last of the Moorish cities to fall to the Catholic Spanish kings.
Today, Granada is a large university city and is renowned as the home town of the poet and playwright, García Lorca, who also studied here. It is a stunning city to simply take a stroll in - the medieval Albaicin quarter is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes the Alhambra, Generalife and Alcazaba; Realejo is the old Jewish quarter and Sacromonte, up on the hill, is a curious area where the Roma traditionally lived in the cave dwellings cut into the rock.
However, it is the Alhambra, overlooking the city that draws the crowds to Granada and gives it a distinctly Middle Eastern twist. The current building of the Alhambra was built in the 13th century although smaller palaces had existed here before. A fortress, palace and small 'city' all in one, the Alhambra also encompasses the gardens of the Generalife and the fortified walls of the Alcazaba.
One remnant of the city's Moorish past has been making a comeback. Under the shadow of the Alhambra you'll find the Hammam Al Andalus - a Moorish public bath that has been restored. You can enjoy the steam rooms, massage and other beauty treatments - try the ones with pomegranate (Granada's meaning in Spanish). Most of the hammams were destroyed by the Catholic kings although there is a preserved medieval hammam on Carrera del Duero that you can take a look around.
The influence of the Catholic kings is also plain to see around the city with the stunning Renaissance cathedral, where several kings are buried; the abbey on the hill of Sacromonte that contains religious artworks and tapestries as well as the oldest known map of the city; and the Carthusian monastery further out of the city centre where an austere sect of monks known for their silence and fasting lived, perhaps unexpectedly, with some spectacularly decorative Baroque architecture.
The festival of Semana Santa (Holy Week) at Easter is a huge event in Granada and the impressive processions through the tiny narrow streets of the Albaicin are an amazing sight. A procession in honour of Granada's patron saint, Our Lady of Angustias, is a dramatic scene filled with the smell of incense, and bonfires and the singing of devotional songs also takes place.
Albaicin is also the place to go for some great shopping. You can pick up a souvenir or two at the market near the cathedral but if you really want to find some traditional Middle Eastern goods like jewellery, clothes, bags, furniture, crafts and all kinds of other gifts, then head to Albaicin where the stores spill out into the street. You'll also find several tetarias here too - little 'tea shops' that sell all kinds of aromatic teas and you can sip your tea in plush, exotic surroundings.
There's plenty of interesting local foods to try including migas, a dish of fried breadcrumbs often served with sardines; remójon, an orange-based salad with cod, spring onions and sometimes boiled eggs and black olives; habas con jamon, a dish of fried broad beans and jamon ham; and gazpacho, a tomato-based cold soup made from raw vegetables. Granada is also famed for its fantastic tapas that you can get in bars all around the city. You can even follow some great 'tapas routes' to really explore.
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