Originally Posted December 3, 2008 on Viaje de una Vida

My tour guide was wearing an olive-colored North Face windbreaker and some sensible walking sandals that cool bright morning in Granada. His appearance portrayed him as a sensible hiker who just finished biking his way into town. But when he opened his mouth, it was obvious that a very relaxed, life-loving hippy was there through and through.

According to said tour guide, all of Granada has what are called “good beams” which seems to mean, that anyone who has ever stepped foot into Granada’s white city has wanted to stay. First it was the life-loving Muslims when they conquered Granada from the Christians of Roman/Greek decent. They did a pretty great job running the place, including freedom of religion, rights to local government, and women could own property.

All of which helped them hold it for 700 years. Then the righteous and beautiful Northern Spanish, Isabelle and Ferdinand, wanted that pretty palace all to themselves. And now apparently young hippie Americans and English folk seem to get caught there giving free tours of the city.

I felt those good beams this past weekend when I went to Granada with two friends from school here, in Barcelona. We hopped on an early flight to Granada and landed in what I have always thought Spain to be. The white wash uniform buildings, covered in Islamic tiles and small cobblestone alleyways. Orange trees everywhere and Spanish guitar players out in front of the ancient churches.

Our neighborhood, the Albaicin is full of Islamic style white houses, little restaurants, and great views of the city. We spent the weekend enjoying amazing North African food and of course visiting the most famous Islamic palace in Europe – The Alhambra. The Alhambra dates back to the 9th century during the Nasrid kingdom (which I’ve learned all about in my Religious Tolerance & Conflict Class) and it still stands today in great condition.

The Alhambra exhibits many characteristics of Islamic architecture including; cube rooms, highly decorative and detailed vaulted ceilings, and geometric wood panel roofs. It was also built with a healthy respect of the many common Moorish symbols, stars representing the heavens, nature, earth, fire, and of course water.

Since water was a commodity in the North African deserts where these original ‘Moors’ had invaded from, they built their palace dedicated to the beauty and abundance of water that they had found in Spain.

We also visited the Generalife which are a huge amount of gardens around the Alhambra meant for the sultan to frolic with hundreds of his women in the harem. Throwing parties and having a good time. The gardens overlook the entire Albaicin and the rest of Granada.

Sultans had to party it up cause they were being killed off very quickly as all their illegitimate sons vied for power. They even had a tower in the center of the city that would raise the new flag of whoever had become Sultan that day.

In Granada there is a history of war and peace between mostly Christians and Muslims, and this struggle between powers is mostly seen in the churches and cathedrals of Southern Spain. These buildings were all converted into Christian buildings after Isabelle and Ferdinand conquered Granada. However they kept the Alhambra perfectly intact.

Southern Spain is closer to the imagined dream of what most people think Spain to be. Guitar, food, dance, cobblestone, churches, tapas, wine, graceful religious memorials, Mediterranean foliage, Moorish influence, Islamic tiling, and a passionate warm friendliness.

While Barcelona is very different. People are more reserved and can sometimes come off cold. They  can be friendly, its just more subdued, and going to Granada showed me how different the two people really are.

Spain maybe a relatively small country, but all its peoples are so different from one another I felt as if I had left the Spain I knew and entered a more dream-like and fantastical Spain where everyone wanted to know my name. I miss the good vibes of Granada, and hope I find my hippie-self there too one day soon.

All photos by Observant Nomad

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Looks beautiful!

You’re a great writer too? Eesh. Beautiful post.