“You can say to me at any time on this tour, ‘Pedro, show me a pomegranate,’ and I’ll find you one.” It’s a bold claim, but Pedro seems to know his onions, or at least his pomegranates.
He turns behind him and points to the pomegranates adorning the top of the charcoal gray wrought iron railing. He points to the images of the fruit carved into the marble tiles at our feet, and he smiles as he holds his silver pomegranate earring between his forefinger and thumb.
I’m with Pedro on a city tour in the southern Spanish city of Granada. We are in front of the royal chapel. In a crypt within the chapel’s buttermilk walls lie the remains of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand.
Shortly after Granada fell to their armies in 1492, the pomegranate was included in the city’s coat of arms and became a symbol of the city. But Granada’s love of sweet fruits goes back much further: the Spanish word for pomegranate is “Granada”.
With my travel companions Seán and Siubhán, I joined Americans, Indians and Malaysians on the tour. Pedro speaks eloquently about Granada and, to emphasize a point, stands on tiptoe. A refrain from the tour is that 1492 was a pivotal year in the history of Granada, Spain and the world.
After almost 800 years of war, the Christian reconquest of Spain reached its climax in 1492 when the Moorish kingdom of Granada surrendered to the Catholic monarchy of Isabella and Ferdinand.
This tangled history and its implications are illustrated by our next two stops. Approved by the Pope in 1492, Granada Cathedral – the fourth largest in the world and under construction for almost two centuries – is being built on the site of the city’s mosque.
The nearby square, Plaza Bib-Rambla, was the city’s souk, but shortly after the kings took Granada, the Spanish Inquisition burned entire libraries of books and executed heretics here.
Today, the Bib-Rambla, embroidered with linden trees and iron lanterns, revolves around a grandiose fountain, while its cafés are known for their churros: long, eclair-shaped strips of dough fried in olive oil and doused in sugar.
Ours came with a mug of thick hot chocolate. Like the locals, we dunked the churros in hot chocolate. It’s a rich and sweet, if somewhat enigmatic, breakfast tradition.
After the tour we will stop at Bodegas Castaneda. Granada is among the last Spanish cities to offer free tapas when you order a drink. So far we’ve had all sorts – from floury croquettes to couscous in diced peppers to Serrano ham with almonds.
With huge wine barrels behind the counter and hams hanging from the ceiling, Castaneda feels like a traditional tapas bar. After complimentary succulent pork tapas, we order a sprawling plate of fried bacon and sliced tomatoes, blue cheese on toasted bread, and Spanish omelet wedges. It’s fragrant and filling, only marred by the somewhat brusque service.
The next morning we pass under the arch of the Pomegranate Gate and up the hill to Spain’s most beautiful monument. The Alhambra towers over Granada and is described as a “pearl in emeralds”. It is a dazzling palace complex.
Built on Roman ruins with apricot-colored stone, the Alhambra was rebuilt by the Nasrid Sultans in the 13th and 14th centuries into the fortified city we see today.
In 1492, the Alhambra became the royal court of Isabella and Ferdinand and was nearly destroyed by Napoleon’s forces when they blew up eight of its towers.
Our tour guide here is Guillermo and despite his familiarity with the Alhambra, his awe of this architectural wonderland is undiminished. Throughout the tour, he emphasizes how the number eight, representing infinity, and seven, the number of heavens in Islam, are woven into the design.
In the glittering Hall of Ambassadors, the star-shaped dome ceiling contains 8,017 pieces of cedar. The cedar wood is from Lebanon and the ceiling is speckled with a deep blue pigment made from a gemstone imported from Afghanistan, underscoring the Alhambra’s international breadth. At that time, the stone was more expensive than gold.
We pass through a courtyard with a circle of 12 white marble water spraying lions and later to the Sultans’ summer residence from where we have a wide view of the city.
In Islam, gardens are often metaphors for paradise. The Gardens of the Alhambra’s Sun Hill are a latticework of pools and fountains near orange, lemon and pomegranate trees.
In the stained-glass Comares Tower, Christopher Columbus persuaded Isabella and Ferdinand to grant him the funds for his transatlantic expedition to search Asia – the queen reportedly offered Columbus her jewelry.
As Guillermo explains, Spain did not exist until the Marriage of the Kings in 1479, uniting their different kingdoms. But by 1550, through its American empire, Spain had turned into one of the most powerful countries in the world.
From the Alhambra we can see the snow-capped Sierra Nevada – our next destination. We drive to the mosaic of valleys and gorges on the southern edge of the mountains, the Alpujarras.
After taking the bus through deafening hairpin bends, we arrive in Capileira. Every building in the village is whitewashed, although today they are spattered with wet sand due to a sandstorm in the Sahara, reminding us that we are only 200 km from the north coast of Africa.
From the balcony of our house we can see over the round chimneys of the village and over the Poqueira Gorge. The next morning we climb Capileira’s vertiginously steep streets (most have handrails) to the village bakery. A small bell rings above the door when we push it open.
We choose our aromatic, freshly baked breads and colorful pastries, then follow a circular walk through the gorge, past goats and over wooden bridges to the milky-white villages of Bubión and then Pampaneira.
At the Teide restaurant in Bubión, the friendly, ponytailed waiter brings a clothes rack to our table so we can hang up our wet clothes, and we sample plato alpujarreno, a hearty local dish made with fried eggs, potatoes, Serrano ham, and spicy sausage.
Later in Capileira, we sit by a large open fire at El Corral del Castano and eat velvety black pudding under a cream of roasted apples, pine nuts and caramelized red peppers, followed by a slow-cooked Iberian pork cheek with chestnut and plum sauce in red wine.
The Berber-style flat-roofed houses of Capileira are a legacy of the Moors who settled in the Alpujarras after their final defeat at Granada in 1492. It reminds me of Pedro’s insistence on his tour that the year was a turning point in history.
When we stopped at the huge bronze sculpture of Isabella and Columbus in Granada, Pedro presented the coup de grace to the prosecutor.
“In January 1492, Isabella and Ferdinand conquered Granada. In April they gave Columbus the money for his first voyage across the Atlantic. In October Columbus landed in America. Now you see. It was the year that changed the world.”
The city of Granada is about 130 km from Málaga. Ryanair (ryanair.com) and Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) Flight from Dublin to Malaga; Ryanair also flies from Shannon to Malaga.
Brendan traveled independently on the Alsa (alsa.es) Bus company from Malaga to Granada and from Granada to Capileira.
Pedro is a guide at Walk in Granada (walkingranada.com) that offer pay-what-you-like tours. Book your place through the website. The Alhambra receives almost 2.5 million visitors a year. Advance booking is recommended. Brendan also toured with Grana Vision (alhambradegranada.org), where Guillermo is a guide.
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/exploring-the-riches-of-history-in-granada-41600755.html Discover the riches of history in Granada