My big Arabian day

Trip Start Aug 30, 2006
Trip End Dec 17, 2006

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

So I woke up and watched a little CNN which made me kind of sad because it made me a little homesick and upset about the elections all over again. Anyways, happy Veteran's Day? Is that politically correct? I'm not sure, but Happy Veteran's Day anyways!

I'll tell you a brief history of Granada before we get into my day. Granada used to be the biggest city in the world. Obviously, this was a very long time ago when the Moors were the dominant world power. Granada was the capital of the Moorish culture, so this is the city where all of their architectural masterpieces and cultural history are most concentrated. The actual "capital" of Granada, if you will, was a city inside the city called "La Alhambra." La Alhambra was built in the 11th century and consisted of mosques, Arab baths, palaces, markets, houses, and anything else you can think of that would belong in a bustling capital city. It was surrounded by tall walls, filled with beautiful gardens, and most importantly was home to the king and the royal family.

The Catholic Kings, Fernando and Isabel, were trying to take back all of the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century during the infamous Spanish Inquisition. Since the goal of the Inquisition was to promote Catholicism, the Moors were Public Enemy Number 1. The Spanish army at this time was virtually unstoppable, and most of the Iberian Peninsula was re-conquered relatively easily. However, the city of Granada would not go down without a fight. The way that they had designed La Alhambra prevented the Catholics from taking them down: they built it in such a way that it would confuse those who tried to intrude and were not familiar. There were many doors that led to nowhere, the halls were like labyrinths that had many dead ends, there were secret entrances, and there were many doors separating every tiny stretch of hallway, each opening in a different manner, so the intruders would not simply be able to open one door and run through. There was also another purpose to the many doors in one small hallway or area that I just mentioned: many of the doors could be locked from so that Catholic soldiers could be "imprisoned" in a tiny section with an open roof. The Moors would then proceed to dump scalding oil on top of the trapped soldiers and the result would be a Moorish delicacy: fried Christian. All of this amounted to La Alhambra becoming a very intimidating and terrifying fortress. Most Christian soldiers didn't dare enter because they knew that they might be lost inside for months at a time.

Even though the Moors had lost every bit of land on the Iberian Peninsula except for this city, they held strong and maintained control until 1492. This was the year when the Christians took over the Alhambra. In fact, the meetings that Christopher Columbus had with the Catholic Kings before his first journey to America happened in the old Moorish throne room inside the palace.

From 1492 to present day, the Christians have maintained control of the Iberian Peninsula (what we now know as Spain) and have augmented the city in many ways. Inside the Alhambra, there are now churches, a new palace built in honor of the king, Carlos V, and another palace that functioned as the recreational home for the royal family for several hundred years called "La Generalife." Unfortunately, the old Moorish royal palace has gone under quite a bit of abuse over the years, and is not in the best shape. During several periods, the Christians wanted nothing to do with this building and they left it vacant. Mobsters, addicts and criminals were the only inhabitants at this time, so you can imagine the damage that they did. Part of the palace also used to be a storage area for ammunition, and there was actually an explosion where a specific area of the palace was badly damaged. Today, the palace is under a constant restoration process and it is still very beautiful, as there are many areas of the structure that have survived the test of time. The mix between the old Moorish works and the newer Christian additions is beautiful and very unique.

I would like to add a few more things about the city itself. Granada was intentionally built in a basin in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The mountains are gorgeous and snow-topped, but this is not the only purpose they served. Situated in the basin, when any Christian intruder came in, they would have to come in via a mountain where they would be extremely visible. This is another reason why the Christians had such a hard time taking over the city: there were no surprise attacks.

Granada has also maintained a very Arabic feel. While all of the people are Christian now, they are simply converted descendants of the Moors that once ruled the city. As a result, the vast majority of the architecture is still either from the ancient Arabic time or has been built using an Arabic influence. The stores are filled with Moorish clothing, incense, jewelry, lamps and other Arabic products. There are hookah bars almost everywhere, and many of the monuments and important buildings are dedicated to ancient Arab leaders. As you can see, while still in Spain, Granada feels more like the Middle East than Western Europe.

Now that you're a little bit more familiar with the city itself, I can start telling you about my day! I woke up at 9 so I could eat the free hotel breakfast and be ready to go by 10. The group set out on foot to the center of the city and we arrived at the Capilla Real in no time. The Capilla Real is where Isabel and Fernando are buried. Since they felt like their greatest conquest was Granada, they felt that their bodies should remain there, instead of Sevilla (which, if you remember, was the "happening city" in Spain during this time). Inside the Capilla Real is a tiny church and several beautiful monuments dedicated to the Catholic Kings, and their daughter Juana "la Loca" (the crazy) and her husband Alfonso "el hermoso" (the beautiful).

*SIDE NOTE: Juana la Loca was called crazy because she was suffered from severe biological depression, she did not speak the same language as her husband, she was forced to live in Portugal, her husband had many lovers among other things. Alfonso was called the beautiful not because he was strikingly good looking, but because he looked very unique. Because the Catholic Kings had conquered so much of Western Europe at this time, the King of Spain ended up being from a more northern part of Europe. While the Spaniards were short with dark hair, eyes and skin, Alfonso was tall, very strong, and had blond hair and blue eyes. And he was a jerk, a cheater and very stupid.*

While the church is beautiful, it is small and not nearly as striking as one would think, seeing as how it is the final resting place for (arguably) the most successful King and Queen ever to have existed. The reason the church is so small is that it is only open to the royal family and their guests.

Connected to the Capilla Real is the cathedral that was also constructed after the Christians assumed control of the city. This cathedral was built in the Renaissance era, so its architecture is very different from the cathedral in Sevilla. The walls are all painted white and environment is very inviting and bright. However beautiful and magnificent this cathedral is, it is absolutely nothing compared to the cathedral in Sevilla. Even so, I still enjoyed my visit and I will explain details in the captions of my pictures.

After we were done touring these two places, we had about an hour and a half of free time before we had to leave for La Alhambra. Cindy and I spent this time wandering, and we eventually made it back to our hotel so we could change our clothes (it had become much warmer since the morning) and meet the group. Again, we walked to get to the monument because the city is so small, and we took a very long tour of the whole place. It was very interesting, and I was able to take some fabulous pictures and I'm really happy I went.

By the time our visit was over, it was around 6pm and Cindy and I had the rest of the evening to spend as we pleased. Unfortunately, while Granada has some really neat monuments to visit, it does not have a whole lot else to do. Neither of us really felt like shopping (I know, it's a shock), we weren't familiar with the movies that were playing at the dinky movie theatre that we found, and we couldn't find a café where we were able to breathe (There was so much smoke in some of them that I was surprised that the smoke alarms weren't going off!). We decided to walk home, and when we were within a couple blocks of our hotel, we finally found a place where I could get some coffee, Cindy could get some hot chocolate and we could people watch. Hey, when you're really bored, that's about the only option you have!

We were sitting at a table in front of the window for awhile when all of the sudden three people from our group walked past us. One of the girls had a bag that we new contained a box of hair dye because she had told us earlier that she was going to dye her hair that night. Overcome with joy, Cindy and I rushed out of the café and walked back to the hotel with the others so we could watch the hair dying show. We spent the next (roughly) two hours watching the process unfold. It was the highlight of my evening.

When the hair party was over, we all headed to the hotel restaurant for another group dinner; I actually had an amazing piece of grilled salmon! If you know me well, you will know that I am madly in love with salmon (especially smoked). My parents even had 5 pounds of smoked salmon that was caught that day air mailed to me from Wisconsin to North Carolina on Valentine's Day instead of sending me candy! This was really the topper of my night. I went upstairs and took a shower, read my book and went to bed. I always have to be true to my dorky nature!
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