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Granada Holidays: A Moorish Past Revisited

Granada’s name is as old as its history, and it has been motherland to Romans, Jews, Arabs, and Christians through the centuries. “Granada” could mean “great castle,” referring to an ancient Roman citadel built here; or it could mean “hill of strangers,” from the Moorish “Karnattah,” referring to the Jews the Arabs first encountered when they settled here; or “pomegranate,” the fruit which grows here in abundance.

It is the Moors who have undoubtedly left the biggest mark on this Andalucian city at the foot of the Sierra Nevada. Fleeing their homes in Baeza after it fell to the Christians in the 13th century, they established a hilltop medina (city) here called Albaicín. Whitewashed buildings with gardens are a common sight within the protective walls of Alcazaba, of which only ruins are left today. The towers, minarets, and gates are still intact, though, as well as the cisterns used for the ritual cleansing before the Moors stepped inside the mosques. These mosques now have churches built in their place, and the Colegiata del Salvador has one of the most intriguing stories.

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The Colegiata del Salvador was once the site of Albaicín’s Great Mosque, and was constructed amid immense resistance to evangelise the Moors in the 15th century. During the Middle Ages, this was also the site of the Great Bazaar of Granada or “Alcaicería,” which was known for its silk trade. It was reduced to ashes in the 19th century when a shop selling matches (which had just been invented) caught fire, and today is the site of many shops.

The Muslim dynasty of the Nasrids left an architectural gem for visitors on their Granada holidays: Palacio de Generalife, the leisure home of kings. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, “Generalife” means “garden of paradise,” a fitting name indeed. White and black pebbles adorn the walkways, leading to waterfalls, ponds, and an open air stage which hosts the yearly International Festival of Music and Dance. This features performances of ballet, flamenco, and jazz, among others. Workshops are held during this time, too.

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