In 1492 Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragorn conquered the Moorish stronghold in Granada: the Alhambra. Castile and Aragorn combined territories, effectively creating modern day Spain. This country would identify as a Catholic Kingdom for almost 500 years, but the Muslim, Jewish, and countless other influences endure today as an integral part of the culture in Granada. I did not know any of this when I arrived in Granada and experiencing the diverse combination of cultures has been as powerful as understanding the history behind it.
I arrived in Granada on January 8th, 2017. I spent the preceding four days in Madrid and Toledo, and it was less of a culture shock and more of a 9.6 culture earthquake. My senses were constantly bombarded with new people, new words, new places. It was invigorating. Before I stepped onto the plane to Madrid, I only knew that I lived in a different culture than Granada because I was taught so in school, not because I knew what makes us fundamentally similar or different. Different cultures are easy to think about in abstraction; I grew up in Northern Nevada and I knew my culture was different from southern Spain. The two places are separated by nearly 6000 miles. What I failed to realize is that culture extends far beyond what people wear every day, what they eat, or the language they speak. Culture is a living, breathing representation of history, and there has been no better place to learn this than Granada.
After my first few whirlwind days in Granada, my friends and I gathered at La Plaza de Isabel la Católica, named after the same queen who started the Catholic Kingdom in Spain, to go and walk through the Albaicìn, which is the Arabic quarter in Granada. This neighborhood is absolutely beautiful, with rich Arabic architecture and narrow cobblestone streets that wind up the mountain overlooking the rest of Granada. At the top of the Albaicìn is the highest point in Granada, and my favorite spot in the city: El Mirador de San Miguel. When I made it to the top of San Miguel for the first time, I sat on the wall overlooking the city; the Alhambra was on my left, the Albaicìn below me, and I could see the Cathedral just to the right of La Plaza de Isabel la Católica. I sat and thought. The vista before me contained a once great Muslim stronghold, its rich cultural impact, and the signs of Catholic conquest. Today, they all function in harmony and under mutual appreciation. It would be naive for me to believe that this city did not go through significant growing pains to reach where it is today, or even that it still does not experience tension, but I am beginning to understand that cultures are not different because people are fundamentally different, but because our history is different, and Granada is an example to the world that even people with different history can first live in mutual understanding, and then grow to share culture.
The world awaits…discover it.