After leaving Salou, Neil and I have been to three cities in southern Spain in a span of three weeks: Granada, Málaga, and, currently, Seville.
While doing some research for our trip to Spain I read that the southern region, the province of Andalusia, contains many of the cultural aspects of the country that one may picture when they think of Spain: flamenco dancing, tapas, beautiful Muslim palaces, bullfighting, hillside villages with white buildings, orange trees, and (most importantly!) sangria.
Mural in Málaga.
Granada is Spanish for pomegranate. I had previously learned that Granada was where Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, had once lived. (For me, all historical roads eventually lead to Henry VIII). Katherine was the daughter of Catholic rulers Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castille, who “reconquered” the south of Spain from Muslim rule in 1492. Katherine had a pomegranate, the symbol of Granada, included in her heraldry. Katherine grew up inside the walls of the Alhambra surrounded by lush gardens, exquisite architecture, and hot weather. I can’t help but think that moving north to England with its damp weather and dark, medieval castles must have been a bit of a let-down.
Below is a page from a medieval manuscript featuring a crowned Tudor rose (representing Henry) and pomegranate (representing Katherine).
Neil and I spent a few hours touring the Alhambra on a windy Saturday morning. The Nasrid Palaces were definitely the highlight. Unfortunately, our visit in the end of March was too early in the season for the Generalife gardens, but I’m sure they’re a delight later in the year. If you’re thinking about going to Granada and want to see the Alhambra, I would suggest that you book tickets to see it as far in advance as possible. They go up for sale on the Alhambra’s website three months ahead of time. A limited amount of tickets are available each day to tour the site and they sell out. Direct tickets from the Alhambra itself were already sold out by the time Neil and I realized we wanted to go there, but we were able to book with a tour company instead. It was more expensive, but it’s an option if, like us, you didn’t sort out your plans until a month before.
The Summer Palace in the Generalife Gardens.
A detailed façade in one of the Nasrid Palaces.
The Alcazaba is a military fortress, the oldest part of the Alhambra.
Neil and I stayed in an apartment in the Albaicín (also spelled Albayzin) neighbourhood. The area retains its medieval layout with steep, narrow, winding streets. Some of these streets aren’t suitable for motor traffic, and the ones that are remain a bit of a tight squeeze. It’s a fun place to explore, with lots of restaurants and small shops.
Outside of the sights, we really enjoyed how friendly everyone in Granada was. Neil has been learning Spanish and locals have been happy to have him practice with them. Granada has a small centre, so it was easy to gain a walking familiarity with the area.
This was our super friendly neighbour. She didn’t provide us with the best opportunity to practice our Spanish, but she had other admirable qualities.
Neil and I had three weeks to fill between the end of our stay in Salou and the day when we would be meeting up with his brother, Colin, in Barcelona. We knew we wanted to spend that time in the south of Spain. We wanted to go to Granada for one week and then Seville for two. This didn’t work out because the first week of our anticipated stay in Seville coincided with a major festival that is celebrated throughout many Andalusian cities in the week before Easter, Semana Santa. It is especially big in Seville, and so finding affordable accommodation for “Holy Week” was out of the question. We decided to go to Málaga for that week instead.
What we didn’t know was that Semana Santa is also a big deal in Málaga! I expected that there might be a single, big parade at the beginning of the week and then more festivities over Easter Weekend. As it turned out, parades took place every single day starting on Palm Sunday and running until Good Friday. Depending on the day, they started around 3:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon and ran until well after midnight! They made for an interesting and welcome addition to our stay in the city.
Semana Santa, Holy Week, is a celebration that dates back to the middle ages in which large floats of the Virgin Mary and Jesus are paraded through the streets. Each float procession is undertaken by a different church brotherhood, and there were as many as eight different groups/parades each night. (In Seville, there can be up to sixty of these each night!). These floats are massive and can weigh up to five tonnes; hundreds of people work in tandem to carry them on their shoulders. The floats are accompanied by marching brass and percussion bands, women wearing black mourning clothes, penitents carrying wooden crosses, altar boys bearing incense, and nazarenos who dress in robes with tall, pointy hats. Various marchers will be walking with candles that are only lit at night. A single procession can take up to eleven hours as it slowly moves through the streets. The float will occasionally be lowered to the ground to give its hard-working bearers a break, and there are replacement carriers who will swap out.
A close-up of one of the floats.
A couple of hours later, we caught the same float just a little further down the street. The picture below shows how many people are tasked with carrying it. There are about eight long supporting handles with dozens of people holding up each one.
Below are some nazarenos in their characteristic dress. The colours and details of their habits are distinctive to each brotherhood. I know what you may be thinking (because I was thinking the same thing), but wearing these hoods are part of a tradition that existed for centuries before some racists in the American south ruined it for everyone.
It is an impressive spectacle. I had never heard of, let alone seen, anything like it. Trying to get around the city in the evening felt like a game of Pac-Man, where suddenly your route would turn into a dead-end as you came across a new procession. The beating of increasingly closer drums and wafts of incense would warn us before the crowds came into view. It was a lot of fun to take part in the smaller version of this celebration that is put on in Málaga; I bet it is surreal in Seville, where the number of processions is at least ten times that size!
My favourite thing about Málaga was the blossoming orange trees; they smelled divine. We saw orange trees in other parts of Italy and Spain, but Málaga was the first place where they were actually blooming.
Málaga also has its own Alcazaba fortress, which dates back to the 11th century. It doesn’t have the same level of splendour that the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra do, but the fortress itself is better preserved than the one in Granada. There are more areas to explore and ramparts to walk along. It also has beautiful gardens and designwork.
The Alcazaba standing sentinel over the city.
Tough to see all the towers for all the trees.
Mixed daisy and palm garden.
Detail from a roof panel.
There’s also a castle located further uphill from the Alcazaba, Castillo Gibralfaro, with amazing views of the city and its harbour below.
Overlooking the bullfighting ring.
The castle ramparts.
I’ll save Seville for another post as our best sightseeing is still ahead of us this coming weekend. On Monday, we head north to Barcelona for a week where we’ll meet up with Colin for a few days. In addition to the excitement of seeing Colin, Neil and I are both thrilled for Neil to have someone new to talk to! (Haha).
After Barcelona, we head to Madrid for a couple of weeks. Then, sadly, it will be time to leave Spain behind. It’s for a good cause, though: we’re going back to Munich for 2 weeks! Why Munich? Neil has a work conference to attend, and I have a couple of castles that have politely requested my attendance. We’re both looking forward to going back to Germany for a short time. Hopefully it’ll be warmer there than when we left it in November!