Granada: Exploring the Legacy of Lorca and the Beauty of Andalusia
Federico García Lorca, one of Spain’s most celebrated poets and playwrights, once said, “If by the grace of God I become famous, half of that fame will belong to Granada, which formed me and made me what I am: a poet from birth and unable to help it.” Lorca was born in 1898 and gave this speech in his hometown when he was 30 years old. His work is studied and performed across the globe a century on. However, six years after giving that speech, Lorca was arrested in the same place by Franco’s troops in the Spanish Civil War. He was shot outside the village of Viznar, and his body was thrown into a mass grave, one of an estimated 50,000 people who died during the bloody conflict that lasted four years. Lorca’s tragic legacy is enduring, but it’s a drop in the ocean compared to Granada’s itself.
Granada was founded in the 13th century by the architect of the Nasrid dynasty, King Muhammad I. The Arabs were expelled by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. The majestic Alhambra Palace is the Nasrid’s crowning glory and the principal reason why tourists come to Granada. Not visiting the Alhambra would be like going to Cairo without seeing the Pyramids or to Rome to ignore the Colosseum. The Alhambra is not just a palace; it’s a network of the Generalife gardens, Alcazaba fortress, and more. It’s a walled village whose grand designs were directly inspired by Islamic principles. The decorative tiles of exquisite Arabic script, divine symmetry, and tinkling water features are for spiritual purification. This is a complex so vast and varied that it deserves at least a half-day to appreciate its many facets. Passports must be shown at various turnstiles, and bags are screened. It also gets infamously crowded in summer, so a trip outside of high (and steaming-hot) season is strongly recommended, as is pre-booking tickets online far in advance.
Our group visit was in November 2022, warm in the afternoon but chilly in the mornings and nights. Fortunately, our theatrical ‘Granada of Lorca’ walking tour (€20; garnatatours.com) included stops in sun-kissed squares and parks as we followed two local actors showcasing key landmarks from the writer’s life and work. Lorca’s works Gypsy Ballads and Poem of the Deep Song tapped into his love of flamenco and the mysterious ‘duende’; the heightened expression of emotion in music and dance that’s unique to the genre. We witness this first hand at Cueva Venta El Gallo (cuevaventaelgallo.es), a cave restaurant in Granada’s Sacromonte quarter which offers a meal and a live show. Performers’ voices ululate, fast fingers pluck guitar strings, hands clap and drum, feet stomp, there are random cries of Olé! and sweat drips from their every pore. It’s the very same, undiluted art form as when Lorca was alive and dates back to at least the 18th century. There are photographs of Lorca and the great composer Manuel de Falla in “the episcopal and melancholic city of Guadix,” as Federico described it to his brother in 1926. Guadix is some 55km from central Granada and is nicknamed the European Capital of Caves. There are around 2,000 cave homes over an area of 200 hectares. A melancholy air remains during our winter morning visit, nearly a century after Lorca’s exploration. Downtown, many once grand historic convents, churches, and townhouses are derelict. Dogs appear to bark at nothing, and at one point, I see a piece of tumbleweed stuck between two bike railings. However, we’re promised by our guide that the place springs to life come dinnertime, as per any Spanish square. It’s cinematic, almost like a film set, and in fact, many movies have been made here over the years: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and several Westerns, such as The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. The Martian-like rocks into which white-washed dwellings are carved, some centuries ago, add an extra frisson of otherworldliness.
We stay in the Cuevas La Chumbera Benalúa de Guadix, mine a large troglodyte self-catering apartment with comfy, rustic decor. Still, the lack of windows in crypt-like bedrooms located at the back makes me feel uneasy after our late-night check-in, until I throw open the living room shutters and front door the next nippy morning and walk down towards the (unheated) swimming pool. The sky is clear blue, my breath becomes clouds, and I see the valley in widescreen. I hear the busy chatter of sparrows, rasping magpies, and the fiery whoosh of hot air balloons overhead. There’s more remarkable scenery in Gorafe, a geopark some 80km northeast from the city of Granada, which has echoes of the Grand Canyon, with its rugged mountains, and olive and kaki (persimmon) tree-lined valleys. We hire electric bikes and follow the bumpy cycle track whose intermittent viewpoints allow for soaking up the epic topography and the occasional raptor gliding on the thermals.
In conclusion, Granada is a city that offers a rich cultural heritage that is a treat for the senses. From the majestic Alhambra Palace to the cave restaurant in Granada’s Sacromonte quarter, the city is full of surprises. The melancholic city of Guadix and the Gorafe geopark are also worth exploring. The legacy of Lorca is an essential part of the city’s history, and his works continue to inspire people across the world. A visit to Granada is a must for anyone who wants to experience the true beauty of Andalusia.