When I realized I would be spending the summer in Spain, I was beyond overjoyed. Since high school history class, I have been curiously attracted to the Spanish Empire, and my memories of earlier visits are varnished in a sentiment of young love. Although I have spent less than a week in Granada, I have already realized that studying and admiring Spain from afar (especially from America) could only cultivate a naive infatuation rather than genuine admiration. Being here has exposed me to the cultural multiplicity of Spain, and I have developed a more mature appreciation of the country because everywhere you walk in Granada exposes a little more of its true beauty.
Through an American lens, it’s often easy to overlook just how much Arabic and Muslim influence endures throughout Spain, especially in the Andalusia region along the southern coast. But it’s impossible to miss when you’re surrounded by Arabic architecture in Granada’s hillsides. The sun-bleached apartments and old, little avenues have been there for centuries, constantly reminding you that the Iberian Peninsula was once inhabited by the Arab Empire.
At Mirador de San Cristobal at the top of the hillside, you can to look out over the rest of the more modern parts of the city, and in the adjacent slopes you can unmistakably spot the Alhambra’s palace and fortress complex. Pink roses grow everywhere and many of the houses have little balcony gardens. A guitar player was posted there (probably to attract donations from tourists) and played some flamenco, contributing to the nice pseudo-romantic ambiance. I have learned here that the guitar was adapted from an Arabic precursor — an experience that I have would have simply and ignorantly stereotyped as quintessentially “Spanish” now has a deeper significance to me.
It was impossible to go almost a week in Spain without trying some tapas. In a little bar down a back avenue near the University of Granada, I had pinchitos (an Arabian-influenced dish of pork or lamb) with a cerveza con limon. The mixture of spices was near perfection and I enjoy the quality over quantity attitude of tapas. So much Spanish cuisine is infused with varieties of great tasting pork, but I have also learned that this is in part because serving meals with pork made it easier to segregate Jewish and Muslim individuals during the Inquisition. Across the ocean, these sorts of historical implications wouldn’t have been so apparent. Each day I’m in Granada I’m learning that Spanish identity and culture is more nuanced than I ever expected.
Contact Raeline Valbuena at [email protected].