Located on the Valparaíso hillside and separated from the Alhambra by the Darro River, the Sacromonte neighbourhood is a great place from which to gaze at the ancient Nasrid fortress. However, this neighbourhood in the Albaicín district, spotted with whitewashed homes, agave plants and prickly-pear cactuses, is much more than a lookout point. It is the traditional home of Granada’s gypsies who have resided here in caves since the 16th century, and for many years it has drawn travellers and bohemians searching for the legends and traditions that appear on every corner as part of its simple everyday life.
One of these legends, regarding Barranco de los Negros, explains the origin of the neighbourhood’s cave dwellings: it is said that after the Christians conquered Granada in 1492, many noble Moors buried their treasures in the hillsides and fled with the idea of returning one day. Their slaves, many whom were black, discovered the plan and upon being liberated, they headed to Valparaíso with the aim of finding those treasures. They dug large holes where nothing was found, but at least they could be used as homes from that point on. According to people who believe this legend, the treasures remain here, hidden somewhere below ground.
As the years passed, black residents mixed with the nomad Romany ethnic group to eventually become the people that Sacromonte is famous for. This is the group behind the famous gypsy zambra, a song and dance performance that brings hundreds of tourists to these caves every night. Originating from an ancient pre-wedding Moorish ritual, zambras were adopted by gypsy culture and made famous by great flamenco families such as the Mayas and the Heredias, who own renowned establishments that include Cueva La Rocío (Camino del Sacromonte 70) and Zambra de María la Canastera (Camino del Sacromonte 89).
Since the 17th century, the top of Valparaíso Hill has been home to Sacromonte Abbey, a pilgrimage destination built after the 16th century discovery of the relics of Saint Cecil—considered to be Granada’s first bishop, although in reality it was Iliberri in the 1st century—and other disciples of the apostle Saint James. The Lead Books (lead plaques written in Arabic describing the martyrdom of those saints) were also found here. This historical-religious complex is made up of the Holy Caves—where the Romans supposedly tortured and burnt Saint Cecil—, the abbey and a museum containing some of the famous lead plaques and interesting incunables such as a copy of The Generalities of Medicine by Averroes, a letter from Pizarro to Emperor Charles V and a world map by Ptolemy.
The first weekend in February, locals trek to Sacromonte Abbey to pay tribute to Saint Cecil, the city’s patron saint. During the Holy Week, this landmark once again fills with people on Holy Wednesday as part of a procession in honour of Cristo de los Gitanos (Christ of the Gypsies), a crucified Jesus Christ carving from 1695 that is kept in the abbey’s church. Visitors interested in learning more about the history, traditions and folklore of the legendary Sacromonte neighbourhood should stop by the Sacromonte Museum-Interpretation Centre located on Barranco de los Negros.
Sacromonte is a cradle of flamenco and there is no better place to enjoy this art.
Granada would not be complete without its Arab quarter. This is a route through the squares, palaces and alleys where the city was founded in the 11th century.
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