“The music, it feels to many, has an Indian touch,” said our guide while we heard a troop practicing their Flamenco steps inside their caves. Of course, they will have a bit preserved from their roots in India, thought I. The hippies in Granada are the decedents of Indian nomads who made Granada in Spain their home. And their dwellings in Caves of Sacromonte are famous for two major cultural components, Flamenco and the white-washed caves.
Migration and Settlement of the Hippies or Romas
The gypsies migrated here in 15th Century through a long route while earning through their music on the way from India. Most of these Gypsies are involved in the task of preserving their art and earning by presenting the same to the tourists all over the country. If you have ever watched the famous ‘Senorita’ song from the movie Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara, then you will have the exact idea about these dancers and singers.
The Flamenco or tap dance is supposedly a modified version of Indian Classical dance. While the Muslim Sultan Alauddin Khilji patronized Kathak in India, the then Muslim rulers of Granada admired and supported Flamenco dancers in Spain. The sacred mountain or ‘Sacromonte’ was allotted to these gypsies for their temporary settlement. The soft sand of the hill makes it easier to carve dwellings. The mountain stands right in front of the Sabikah hill on which the mighty Alhambra (The Palace of Granada) stands. You need to climb through Albaycin hill to reach the gypsy caves of Sacromonte.
The cobbled streets of Albaycin that keep ascending with every turn it takes
The Jewish, Muslim and Christian Affair at Albaycin
Most tours brief you about the history and culture of Granada even if it is just a tour to Sacromonte. As you pass through the narrow winding cobbled streets of Albeycin, you will come across a number of beautiful cafes and restaurants that gives you an enchanting view of Alhambra. The most intriguing thing about this district is its unharmed amalgamation of cultures derived from Muslim, Jewish, and Christian rules. This unique attribute flashes through its houses, gardens, and architecture. There are many old mosques co-existing with monasteries where nuns sale cookies and pastries.
Houses with Moorish Architecture in the Streets of Albaycin.
‘Carmens’ and ‘Casas’
The district of Albaycin is also known for its traditional houses called ‘Carmen’. Even the people in Spain are often named ‘Carmen’. The name actually means ‘a walled villa with an orchard’. A number of poems and songs are written on the theme of ‘Carmen’ in Spanish. Some of these houses are open for the public to visit. The houses are built in Moorish style with an orchard full of orange trees and other fruits in the center. Being a hilly area, the water supply was a common issue in Albaycin. And thus, every square in this district had a well in the center. Pipes were arranged to supply water to all the surrounding houses that typically bloomed with fragrant flowers and sweet fruits. Currently, most of these pipes are broken and the water supply is thus stopped.
Most of the wells are now converted into little fountains in each square at Albaycin. The wells were earlier connected to every house through the pipe system. The ‘Carmen’ or the High walled Garden homes thus could produce rich fruits. It is said that the small orchard owners of Granada earned a huge amount just by selling the fruits of their orchards.
Squares of Albaycin on a lazy afternoon
The Christian houses have adapted to call itself ‘Casa’ which is more of a Jewish or Christian as it is of a Latin origin word meaning a ‘cottage’ or ‘hut’. Apart from this, you may also come across many ‘hammams’ or Arabic bath. The Ziri Wall built in the 11th Century still has its ruins in between Albaycin and Sacromonte. Apparently, one can only enter Sacromonte after crossing this wall. The wall has many towers and gates along it and the most famous one is the Arc of Weight. This is the same place where the goods were weighed upon its import and export. Across this gate was a huge market that has gradually disappeared in the pace of time. A number of churches and palace are also flanked around in this district.
Sacromonte and its Gypsies
Across the Ziri wall lies another world in Granada. The cute white houses that you would see along the hilly paths are actually the deep huge holes in the mountain. The well-earning families have developed it as livable huts for themselves. Most of the people living here currently are the gypsies of African and Egyptian origin. Many of these caves are also occupied by the poor or by university students who can’t afford to stay in the main city area. Majorly, the houses here have illegal electricity and water connections. It is actually a ‘Free Colony’ where residents don’t have to pay taxes or other bills. And thus, they are also deprived of the basic facilities.
A Cave street with the backdrop of the Ziri Wall
A small Cave house decorated with Moorish design plates and other artifacts
Anyone can camp or enjoy a short stay in Sacromonte. However, you must be ready to face the consequences as a foreigner. Though most residents are nowadays educated enough, others are famous thieves living in this area.
The Gypsie Caves in Granada
The caves are spread along the rocky wall of the hill and new caves can always be found with new settlement in this area. The caves are dark but are beautifully decorated from within. Most of them have a tiny little garden outside their caves. Not to mention the flabbergasting views all these caves get in the evenings.
The caves occupied by the Flamenco artists start buzzing up by evening and the glory reaches its zenith by night when thousands of tourists gather up to appreciate this cherished art. Most performances start after 9 pm. Sometimes, the performances are combined with food and drinks. This is only because these cute little caves are converted into restaurants by the locals.
The newly carved caves in the interiors of Sacromonte
Tip: You can officially rent these white-washed caves on their official website.
Our group on the way to St Nicholas Plaza, the highest point on Sacromonte
Walking through the fresh white blossoms of spring
The Famous Places to Watch Flamenco in Gypsie Caves of Sacromonte, Granada
Among the many ‘Best Places for Flamenco Shows in Granada’ Are:
- Zambra Maria La Canastera: An ancestral cave adorned with copper and brass vessels and some paintings. The performance includes songs about the Sacromonte and its life.
- Los Tarantos: Dating back to 1949 in the old house of a silversmith in Albaycin.
- Venta El Gallo: It is also considered the birthplace of Zambra style of Flamenco that is typically performed in weddings.
- Cueva De LA Rocio: became famous as the Royal Spanish families and even Bill Clinton had once watched the Zambra performance in this cave that also offers a great view of Alhambra.
A slightly bigger and perhaps the only cave with such an enormously designed garden
The locals are of the view that these shows often fool the audience by not showing the real flamenco. The so-called ‘real Flamenco’ can only be witnessed by the gypsies during their wee hours’ local parties when they are completely drunk. If you are too keen to see the same, you must come here for the Easter celebrations when these artists perform in open. The singers emotionally sing the songs dedicated to the Virgin Mary while the ‘Gypsy Jesus’ is carried through the streets.
View of Alhambra on the way to St Nicholas Plaza
- There are Free Walking tours to Albaycin and Sacromonte in the mornings. (You need to pay some tip to the guide) . In case you land up in Granada in the afternoon and do not have much time, you can buy a discounted ticket for a cave tour from the Bus Station. It would cold you 10 Euros at the Bus station and 30 Euros at their office in the city center.
- The Flamenco shows costs you around 19-25 Euros.
- The Cave tour can best be taken in the evening till late at night if you are in a local’s company.
- You can also try Couchsurfing to find a local’s company or another traveler.
- Do not enter any gypsy cave without permission. It may annoy them and you would not want to be shouted at in a foreign land.
- Wear proper hiking shoes as you need to climb up the hill and down. Carry enough water.
- You can also reach the viewpoint at St Nicholas by road if you don’t have enough time for the cave tour.
The Night-scape of Granada from St. Nicholas Plaza
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