The Barrio del Albayzin became UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. A unique neighbourhood and a must see for visitors coming to Granada. Founded in the mid 8th century when Asap ben Abderrahman built a fortress on this hill. International tourists flock to see its whitewashed streets and plant pot filled corners. The dramatic views of the Red Castle make it an instagrammable part of Spain.
Some of the best Alhambra views can be seen from within the Carmens of the Albaicin. These typical buildings have fragrant gardens and high walls. Many have become restaurants. With jaw dropping views of the city and the Sierra Nevada mountains. These restaurants are popular with both locals and tourists.
Yet not all is well in the Albaicin. Visitors do not realise that these quaint streets are a living breathing part of the city. The Albaicin is home to locals, often residents for several generations. The neighbourhood is dotted with school yards and small stores selling daily provisions. In recent years some residents have found the influx of tourists over recent years too much and have moved out of the area.
The challenge of living in this area isn’t limited to the crowds at weekends and high season. The practicalities of bin collection, lack of parking spaces or security in narrow streets are daily challenges. The houses also have strict rules to follow as they are within a UNESCO protected area, so building work takes longer and tends to cost more.
The Albaicin is not the most user friendly place to live. Steepness of its streets, stepped alleyways and narrow spaces are problematic for older residents. Its tranquility and charm is the trade off. It feels miles away from the city although it is part of Granada. For neighbours in the Albaicin it’s the ideal combination of village living set within a big city. If the peace is disrupted by tourists trying to wander onto private properties. Or taking photos of locals in their daily life, then maybe the attraction of living in the area could be lost forever.
Would it be as attractive to visit the Albaicin if there are only Airbnb apartments and souvenir stores?
As visitors we must remember the balance between tourism and daily life. Crossing this thin line is something that the Albaicin suffers from. With streets so narrow that cars can hardly pass through, cobbled alleys aren’t built for large tour groups.
There are many ways to visit the Albaicin without causing disruption. Enjoy lunch or dinner at one of its restaurants. Take time to visit some of the museums in the barrio. Places like the Casa Museo Max Moreau. The home of Belgian artist or the 16th century convent of the Conception.
See the Aljibes from medieval Granada which are dotted around the Albayzin. Underground wells used to supply water to residents centuries ago. The largest aljibe in the city is the Aljibe del Rey which holds over 79,251 US gallons or 300 cubic metres of water. Dating from the 11th century this impressive structure is also a visitors centre. The Fundacion de Agua opens each morning and helps visitors understand more about this ingenious system.
Other points of interest are the 10th Century city wall which stands strong. Chapels churches and convents boast impressive architectural details or ancient relics inside.
One such example is found on the Callejon de San Cecilio. This cobbled street is home to the Chapel of Saint Cecil built in 1752. Saint Cecil is the Patron of the city of Granada. Part of this small hermitage is the ruined city wall from the 10th century.
Further along this street you come to the Arco de las Pesas An 11th century gate leading onto Plaza Larga. This location is right at the heart of the Albaicin neighbourhood. It is also the marketplace. The name of the archway takes its name from the weights. Confiscated from dodgy traders conning customers by selling lighter items. When caught the false weights were put up high on the archway out of reach, to warn other traders. You can still see the metal pieces up on the wall.
A little further along is the Casa Pasteles, a great spot to have an ice cream or coffee with a cake too. They have a large variety of local cakes and pastries. Most of them are seasonal so depending on the time of year the offer varies.
Using the neighbourhood in the same way as the locals and you will get the real essence of the Albayzin. It’s a neighbourhood to walk around. Leave the hire car behind. Take a taxi up the hill and then walk back down into Granada.
Or hop onto one of the buses with the locals as they head home.