Granada is the most important city in southern Spain and lies at the edge of a river valley with the mighty snow-covered Sierra Nevada in the background. The old town covers two hills. One hill is dominated by the Alhambra, a fairy-tale palace like something out of “One Thousand and One Nights.” The northern hill is the location of Albayzín, the Moorish district with its whitewashed houses, terraced gardens and its labyrinthine stairways. Granada played a key role in the history of Spain. The Iberians settled here as early as 500 BC, and the city was later overrun by the Vandals in 500 AD. The Moors captured it 200 years later and made it the capital of a Muslim kingdom. Science, technology, art and tolerance enabled Granada to flourish for centuries. When the Christians defeated the Caliphate of Cordoba in 1236, Granada was the last bastion of Islam in Europe. It fell in 1492 – the year America was discovered.
Granada's Moorish quarter
Granada's oldest city district dates back to the late antique settlement of Ilíberis, which existed before the Moors came. Yet today, the magic of the Moorish era can still be felt here the strongest. The narrow alleys are lined with irregularly shaped, whitewashed houses with large inner courtyards. You can often catch glimpses of the Alhambra on the adjacent hill. The Carrera del Darro has bars and cafés, and this is where you can experience the quarter's night life from dusk until late into the night. The Albaicín has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994.
Islamic art in perfection
This city palace on Granada's Sabikah hill is Spain's most frequently visited landmark and its most beautiful example of Moorish architecture and Islamic art. This hill has been inhabited since Roman times, but the huge fortress standing on it was built much later by the Moors. The Kala al Hambra (“the red castle”) is 740 meters long and over 200 meters wide and once served as a defense against the city's inhabitants. The Alhambra is often associated with its fabled Nasrid palace, but it actually includes the entire building complex extending from the Alcazaba on its western side to the Generalife garden palace to the east.
A symbol of Catholic resurgence
After the Reconquista, which refers to the reconquering of Catholic Spain, Granada was made into an archdiocese in the year 1492. A magnificent cathedral was supposed to serve as a symbol of new beginnings, but from today's point of view, the Catedral Santa Maria de la Encarnación actually represents a decline in Catholic influence. Construction began in 1523 after a 30-year delay. The building was initially intended to be a colossal Gothic construction, but was later completed in the Renaissance style. The church was consecrated 30 years later even though it was a long way from completion since it still lacked the towers that were part of the original design. The one tower that was built turned out smaller than intended. The southeastern wing of the Cathedral houses the Capilla Real, the burial chapel of the Catholic kings. This is the final resting place of Ferdinand and Isabella, whose graves are guarded by stone lions.