Reflections on a Journey: Andalucia Day 2
We began our second day in Granada very early to try to get the Alhambra at opening time. We started by going to a traditional European style cafe for breakfast, we realised very quickly that English is not very widely spoken in Andalusia, which is a big contrast to the many areas of Spain which are full of British tourists year round, so this is something to keep in mind if you go. But on the plus side, the Andalusian people are very friendly and open, it didn’t seem strange to them to have two Pakistani faces walking into a room full of Spanish people. It is a stark comparison to many areas of Europe where you would be bombarded with inquisitive and quite often very rude looking stares.
We then began our journey down Gran Via de Colon taking in the sights along the way. We eventually reached the area near the Alhambra and began a steep walk upwards, I had known it was up on hill but I had no idea it was that steep. Another thing to keep in mind if you have someone with you who is elderly or very physical, there is a bus you can take if you do not feel like walking it. We arrived at exactly 8.30 which is when the ticket office opens and there was already a short queue. When you purchase a ticket to the Alhambra you will be given either a morning or afternoon ticket, it will then also have a time written on for when you can enter the Nasrid Palaces, the main attraction. Our time was 9am which was perfect, it takes about 20 minutes to get from the entrance to the Nasrid palaces, I would recommend asking the staff when you get there for the exact location as you might end up wandering around the different areas without knowing and miss out on your entry time.
Then after years of waiting we finally saw the great splendour that is the Alhambra. The main beauty of the Nasrid palaces is the overindulgent calligraphy that adorns all its walls. The repetitive reminder to the kings of who lived here: “Wa la Ghalib ill’Allah” – And there is no Conqueror except Allah. Perhaps a clue as to what it was the sultans of old forgot that made them lose this timeless treasure. Room after room you are treated to glistening white marble, no artificial illustrations of idolatrous figures, but the pure natural monotheistic beauty of calligraphy and natural lines. Of all the travels I have had across the Muslim world, the Alhambra is by far the greatest testimony to the pinnacle of our civilization, it is only a shame that the painstaking work of restoration undertaken by Spanish authorities is not seen at other sites of Muslim heritage in our own lands where there are (or used to be) wonders just as magnificent or even more so. The only downside to our visit of the palaces was that the fountain in the famous Courtyard of Lions had been removed for restoration. Insha’Allah I hope to return in the future to see the work they will have done to restore it to its original splendour.
After finishing our tour of the palace we walked around and looked at the gardens of the Alhambra, which were constantly being cleaned and improved by the diligent workers of Generalife. We also wandered around the Casbah area, the fort used to protect the Alhambra. One thing that popped into my head was the question: “Where are all the Muslims?” Why are there not more Muslims from Europe and afar learning about their culture and history, and the mark they left behind on civilization? Then eventually we saw a fair number of brothers and sisters, I had remembered we had come early and Muslims are usually only good and getting up early for Fajr, if even that! After a couple of hours we left the Alhambra at around 12 o’ clock and went to the Albayzin area.
Albayzin was the main Muslim quarter of Granada. A key feature of any Muslim city are its winding and often narrow streets that make it extremely easy to get lost in, and Albayzin is no different. Again many of the streets here are steep uphill climbs, especially in the north and centre of the area. Wander around and you will come across a number of old remnants from the past, the area used to have over 20 Mosques, many of which were converted in churches after the reconquista. You will notice this as you wander round Granada, and Albayzin in particular, the number of bell towers which were former minarets. Of all the sites of Albayzin, the one thing I really wanted to see here wasn’t very old at all, the Mosque of Granada.
After getting lost a couple of times, we eventually found it next the Plaza of San Nicolas, where people come to take in the great view of the Alhambra. At the time of writing the only way to get into the Masjid was through the garden, so this is something to keep in mind when you wonder why no one is letting you in at the main entrance. Ring the bell and someone should come and open it for you. The Masjid was set up by Abdal Qadar as-Sufi’s Al-Murabitoun movement, although they have some opinions I disagree with, one thing that cannot be denied about them is their ability to mobilise native Muslim communities to do an immense amount of good in their local areas. Something that we can witness here in the UK at the Norwich Mosque, also run by the same group. The Mosque is beautiful, a true modern testimony to the great Islamic past of Granada. Similar in design to the Andalusian buildings of old, the interior of the Mosque is bathed in natural light and ventilation, no oversized Saudi-funded chandelier or artificial air conditioning, if the builders of the Alhambra were transported to today and given a budget a fraction of the Alhambra’s, this is what they would have probably built. As with most of the Al-Murabitoun movement, the majority of the members of the Masjid are natives of the country in which they reside, although there are a fair number of migrant Muslims as well. We met a brother whose name was Abdal Hady, (Servant of The Guide), a name that suited him well. He talked to us about the brief history of Islam in modern Spain, as well as the situation of Muslims currently residing there. After praying Zuhar he took us to a small cafe/restaurant whose owners made us a nice small meal of rice and meat.
For Muslims traveling to Granada, the Albayzin area is where you will find most of the halal restaurants in the city. There a large number of kebab and takeaway places along Calle de Elvira, which is on the boundary of Albayzin and the rest of Granada, (So it’s on the flat side). In the centre of the Albayzin area, where all the sites are, you might find some dotted here and there, but don’t expect to go looking for a huge selection. Along Calle de la Calderereia Nueva (Or somewhere around there) you’ll come across some higher end halal places to eat as well as infusion tea parlours and shisha cafes. You can get prayer times from the Masjid, they also have a small selection of books for sale in Spanish and English.