History of Sacromonte
Nestled in the foothills behind the city center of Granada lies the neighborhood of Sacromonte. Legend has it that after the Christians conquered Granada in 1492, they convinced the remaining residents of the city to relocate to Sacromonte, assuring them the land was sacred. “Sacre” translates to sacred and “monte” means mount. Whether this legend is true or not, Gypsies, or gitanos in the 1500 did indeed establish homes in the hillside by carving out caves big enough to live in.
An important thing to note is that there’s often confusion when throwing the word “gypsy” around. Sacromonte became a Gypsy (with a capital “G”) neighborhood, Gypsies being people from Romani or Gitano descent. Nowadays the residents of this neighborhood seem to be the artistic, out-of-society, free spirit type of people who often call themselves gypsies. My intention is not to place any unnecessary labeling on any group of people, but to portray and honor the culture of this interesting and fascinating aspect of a city I love. One of my favorite things to do in Granada is visit this part of the city for a glimpse into a lifestyle so different than mine. And not to mention, the views from up there are amazing!
Inside the gyspie homes
The hostel I stayed at in Granada offered a free walking tour through Sacromonte, which turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the trip. Normally I am absolutely against joining guided tour groups, but this one seemed to be different. The hostel workers befriended some of the people living in the caves in Sacromonte, and they offered to open their homes to us where we could sit out in their front yard to watch the sunset over the city. In return, we each bought a beer or two from the Sacromonte residents so they earned some money as well.
The tour started out in the maze-like Albayzín. Like most cities constructed during this time period, it was actually meant to be a labyrinth of some sorts to act as a defense when intruders entered the city. Today the steep, extremely narrow roads are nearly impossible to drive through, reminding me to never, ever rent a car in Granada. When cars pass by, the only choice you have is to lean against the wall and hope your toes don’t get run over.
Our little tour passed through one of my favorite viewpoints in the city, the Mirador de San Nicolas, which features an impressive view of the Alhambra. In this plaza, the liveliness of the city is tangible, and someone is almost always playing live flamenco, adding to the magical atmosphere this place has to offer.
Moving right along, we reached The Highest Staircase Ever without any side railing, so if you happened to have too many sangrias and miss a step, you’re doomed to roll violently down the hill to your very probable death. Focused, I gasped for air as we climbed up.
We finally made it to the top of The Highest Staircase Ever and were greeted by an extremely cheery Senegalese man. He welcomed us with open arms and beer for sale at a euro each. We each bought a beer after we came to the conclusion that this would be the unofficial cost of the walking tour. He then welcomed us into his makeshift cave home, which had reggae music blaring from two speakers inside. There were two bedrooms, a living room/kitchen, and an outdoor covered area for eating and hanging out. There were also tattered chairs of all shapes and styles placed out along the road for us to sit and watch the sunset.
The view from up there was absolutely beautiful. All of the city lights twinkled in the distance, and the Alhambra especially stood out at nighttime, dignified and golden. As the sun faded into the distant mountaintops, I felt truly present with the experience, totally enveloped in the magic of Granada.
After some time, we thanked our hosts, bought a beer for the road, and then we made our way down The Highest Staircase Ever, which somehow was even more terrifying on the way down. As we winded our way down through the Albayzin once more, I remembered the quote by Francisco Alarcón de Icaza:
“Dale limosna, mujer, que no hay en la vida nada como la pena de ser ciego en Granada.
(Give him alms, woman, because there is nothing worse in life than to be blind in Granada).