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Flashback Friday: Granada's Sacromonte

Sacromonte is the gypsy quarter of Granda located in the hills opposite the Alhambra and is one of the most unusual sites in the city. Former homes in hillside caves have become part of an ethnographic museum and still house some shops and venues for flamenco shows. A visit to the area is a glimpse into how a group of persecuted individuals can create a community. There is also an Abbey on the top of a neighbouring hill, but our goal was to walk through the area and hike up to the San Miguel Mirador (lookout) for the views.

The easiest way to get to Sacromonte is to take a mini bus #34 (€1.50) from Plaza Nuevo or Carrera del Darro. From the bus stop, there is a short but steep climb to the top of the hill. Day tours are available from any of the Tourist Information offices in the city.

The Barranco de los negros (Sacromonte Caves Museum) is an ethnographic museum consisting of a group of whitewashed caves dug into the hillside. The caves provided safe homes that provided protection from the scorching summer sun and from religious and ethnic persecution.

The Gypsies first arrived after following the Catholic armies routed the last Moor dynasty in 1492. They were permitted to stay outside the city walls if they pledged to abandon their traditional nomadic life and settle into the community by taking up one of the needed trades. Following the Spanish Civil war in the mid-1900s, local farmers moved into the hills and the community reached its peak population. Unfortunately in 1963, months of torrential rain destabilized the hillside and the government ordered everyone to leave and not return to the upper hillside.

Many moved down the hill to live (legally) in houses and caves at the base of the hill. A few hardy gypsies and some undocumented immigrants live as illegal squatters in the higher elevations. One of the most colourful figures of Sacromonte was “Chorrojumo” Mariano Fernández Santiago, who lived in the second half of the 19th century. As a self-proclaimed Gypsy King, he made his living by escorting tourists around the Alhambra, entertaining them with stories of his glorious past. His statue is proudly displayed near Calle Peso de la Harina, close to Rincon del Chapiz.

The museum site includes 11 caves. Each cave has a specific focus and is furnished with basic furniture and tools. One is set up as a home, another is a stable. There is also a ceramics workshop and a textiles workshop with basic furnishings and tools.

As charming as these homes first appear, life in them would have been very challenging. While the caves would have been cool in the summer heat, they would have felt very chilly in the winter months. Some of the caves created opening to the adjoining ‘stables’ to benefit from the animal's body heat.

After arriving at Sacromonte Hill and beginning the climb, you will be treated to tremendous views of Alhambra and Sacromonte as you walk through the community. The streets are very narrow and cars are permitted, so be careful to hug the walls as they approach.

As you continue through the first section, you will encounter bars, homes and shops along the narrow and steep streets.

These lovely white-washed caves soon give way for the squatter's area. Here, the cave homes are much more rustic. These are homes, so you won't get to peek inside but the exteriors give an indication of a difficult life.

It may seem like you are getting lost but watch for the signs. A dirt path leads up the side of the mountain to the Mirador. This path is not maintained and can be difficult to follow. You will need good walking shoes and maybe even some trekking poles as it gets quite steep.

The small church at the top, San Miguel, was closed and was rather underwhelming but the views make the trek worthwhile.

Once we had got our fill of the stunning views, we headed back down the hill eventually arriving in the Albaicín, or Arab quarter of Granada, but that will be a post for another day. I urge you to explore the area, even if you don't choose to do the hike. Enjoy the caves, have a drink and meander the neighbourhood. Choose one of the bars and watch the lights of Alhambra turn on as you enjoy an evening of flamenco, tapas, and wine. You are sure to find it a special place.


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