CITY BENEATH RED RAMPARTS
author: Olivera Batajić
translation into English: Vesna Jevtić
I was lucky enough when in Granada to be accommodated just beneath the battlements of Alhambra. I slept propped against her tummy. From the balcony, on the right hand side, there loomed little hills full of sort of holes. It was Sacromonte. Right in front there was a small square where Arabian tea stores and sweet-scented tea shops began. Over there, yet, to the far left, behind the bell tower of St. Anne’s Church, you could feel the city where Spaniards lived. It may have just been the point where Spain began, I thought. All of that rounded with the mount of Sierra Nevada.
The original name of the city was Ilbyr, while the Greeks lived in that region. When the Romans colonised the city, it changed the name into Illibris, and it was only when the Arabs conquered the peninsula in 8th century, when the city was named Granada, meaning the pomegranate in Spanish. The Arabs came across the name of Garnat-al-Yahud, meaning the Granada of Jews, as the largest part of the inhabitants were actually Jewish. It was the last Muslim city the Christians conquered in 1492.
It was interesting to participate in everyday life of so many different cultures put together. You could sail the world in a day. And that was wonderful. So different, yet so characteristic, and everything was sort of there, cohabiting. What was most interesting, nothing seemed to be excessive, everything fitted in perfectly, and there was on every corner an imprint left by all those civilisations.
The “hills full of holes” are filled with the Romany living in those so-called caves. Some of them have been there for so long and used flamenco to earn enough money to plaster the holes in the ground and make funnily shaped houses, not adjusting the space to themselves, but themselves to the surroundings. Although they have brought a little something from the “civilised world”, they haven’t spoiled the nature that has welcomed them so. There, at the very beginning of the road, you could always find a lot of tourists. Only when you reach the summit of the mount, as they call it, you could find those that don’t care much about tourism – the hermits. At least they used to live there. Nowadays, apparently, some new hippies from Spain and some other European countries have found their shelter there.
The Arabian part Albaicin, or the one right in front of me, is full of kind people. The products come there directly from Morocco. The shopkeepers are not aggressive and can be very careful when explaining the mystery of tea. Before I bought three packs from the woman with enchanting eyes, I dived into countless magical scents, and for each heard an appropriate short story. The teas I now drink on special occasions.
Tea-shops (teteria) are also kept by the Arabs, the African Arabs that is. The tastes differ from those I have sniffed in the stores. They have surely made them the other way than I usually do. The hookahs are smoked everywhere. Everything is multi-coloured and joyful.
Behind St. Anne’s Church, there is a turmoil of the European style of living. Lots of shops you could come across at every step. Those, though, considerably smaller, not packed with goods which is carefully selected. If you get tired you could sit down and have a drink, enjoy the refreshment of hot chocolate with Churros (Chocolate con Churros) – a sweet (can’t miss it) specialty of Spain. the Churros should be dipped in the chocolate, and then devoured with delight. In the evening, the refreshment comes in the shape of tapas. You could sit down and order a drink, and together with it come the munchies. This is the only city where tapas is the part of the welcome (free of charge). The more drinks ordered, the more different plates of food you got. If in Israeli café, you would get their specialties, if in Arabian, it would be Arabian specialties, and so on.
Granada is, first of all, a university town. The University originated from 16th century, and there is the last Serbo-Croat lectorate in the Iberian peninsula. I met some of the students attending the course. There were lot of them.
On top of everything, as sort of a crown, proudly stands Alhambra (Arab. – Al Hamra’ – the red fortress). While you climb to the entrance to Another World, all along the way you are welcomed by the water. It hurries restlessly towards you. The Arabs used the water as the music. And really – it is everywhere! From large to small fountains, drinking fountains, canals by the steps. Everything is hidden by the water and each stream sounds differently. Near the rooms of the one-time harem it runs softer and subdued, while by the ruler’s chambers it is loud and resolute.
Alhambra is a Moorish construction. The building was commenced at the time of the Christian Reconquista in the late 13th century during the reign of Al Ahmar and his successors. It was built by three conquerors. And the idea was to make heaven on earth. Besides the abundance of water, the fortress and the palace are surrounded by magnificent gardens known as Generalife.
Very often those times and the contemporary Spanish Christians are described as culturally far more retrograde from the Arabs that ruled before them. The walls of the fortress and the interior of the palace are covered with arabesque calligraphy, however, the names of the calligraphy masters are utterly unknown. I heard a guide explaining that the lacy façade wasn’t chiselled, but modelled by plaster casts. Whatever, it is impressive, and leaves you breathlessly staring at the handicraft, ready to spend hours rambling along the incisions of the calligraphic strokes.
And while you sadly crawl toward the highway leaving this enchanting city, you may think that it is the moment you’ve just woken from some sort of a dream, and that the time stood still for you there.At the crossroads, there is a sign pointing to the left, southwards. The inscription is in Arabian, and I was told that it said Algeciras. That is where the ships sail from and where, it is said, Africa begins.