I have a new addition to my morning ritual. As I have my coffee, enjoying that my being seven hours ahead of the US means my morning solitude will not be molested, I take time to research historical places that caught my interest the day before. It has become a treasured morning dip into the past; before I take up my book-writing on media literacy and the challenges of the modern digital age, I immerse myself in the past and take a slow mental stroll with 2,000 years of Granadinos.
I have no fear of running out of places and people to share the morning with, but I do have a favorite. It’s a street, no more than 200 meters long, called Cuesta Molinos, or the “hill (road) of the mills.”
Most people, as I do almost every day, use it as a cut-through between the grand, tree-lined park avenue along the Genil river and the busy commercial streets heading to the city center. With its steep incline, one is more occupied with navigating the coarse cobblestones rising up before you so as not to stumble, as your thighs push you up the equivalent of 6 stories, than to pause and reflect on the scenery, but, indeed, I now think this may be the most Granadian of all streets.
No one is sure how old the street is, but it is believed to pre-date the Moors coming to Granada in the 8th century. Given its slope, from down the mountain that would later support the mighty Alhambra, to the gentle Genil river, the road’s name seems to date back eight hundred years, to the time of the Nasrid Emirate of Granada, for all the millers who used the descending waters to turn their millstones. The trade continued there well into the 19th century, and one can still see, as a modern tribute, old millstones embedded in the walls.
Halfway up the street, a fountain stands tall and silent like the watchman of the cuesta. Purportedly dating to the 15th century, it was one of hundreds installed throughout the cosmopolitan capital city of the Kingdom of Granada as part of one of the most advanced public water systems in the world, for the benefit of both local residents and travelers to the pomegranate jewel of Andalusia. The fountain was given a more classical look after the city fell in the Reconquista to the soon-to-be world’s first superpower, Catholic Spain, who wanted their brand on water itself.
Next to the fountain is a long house with a picture of a stately 19th century man affixed to the side. The house, itself nearly a thousand years old, was the late 19th century home of the pictured gentleman, Ángel Ganivet. Ganivet was a leading Spanish diplomat, philosopher, and writer, but committed suicide in 1898 due to a combination of personal troubles, physical ailments, and depression from Spain’s loss of its last overseas colonies in the war with the up-and-coming United States.
He is considered one of the first of what came to be called El Generación de 1898, artists and writers who explored and voiced Spain’s struggle to define itself as it came to realize it was no longer a major power in world affairs.
No more than one hundred meters up from Ganivet’s home, as if looking down at its own roots, is the ghostly shell of the dark historical result of Spain’s identity crisis born in 1898. Pining for days of past power and glory, with a generation lost in the aftermath of the Great War of 1914-18, Spain fell into political anarchy and civil war, finally succumbing to the promises of the Falangists and their leader, Francisco Franco, to restore order and glory by means of a ruthless fascist government.
An oppressive regime that disallowed criticism for forty years, the government set up detention centers for retention, interrogation, and outright torture of dissidents. One of those, used by the Falangists for Granadinos thought non-compliant with their morals or means, was near the top steps of Cuesta Molino.
After the Franco regime fell in 1975, the site similarly fell into ruin, the buildings abandoned to quietly crumble away as people chose to willfully forget the whispered terrors that place invoked. Today a community garden, one can only see the remaining outside walls as a reminder, the castle watchtower on the gates a seemingly whimsical reference to medieval times, rather than a remnant of the imprisoning keep that was used to hold people’s bodies and minds hostage by their fellow countrymen.
I think I enjoy the very top of Cuesta Molino most of all. There, one finds an unassuming plaza, surrounded by a mixture of graffiti-covered, occupied and abandoned small apartments.
It was near here that Joe Strummer, the legendary founder of the British punk band The Clash, and one of the most successful and popular musicians and songwriters of the 1970s and early 80s, took residence after he walked away from the music business at his own height. Playing with a local band and using his time in Granada to delve into his love of Granadino writer Federico García Lorca, the little plaza at the top was renamed Joe Strummer plaza after his death.
The Cuesta Molinos has seen so many cultures pass over it, build next to it, and then be washed away like the waters that first drew people to the slope. Perhaps, taken as a whole, that is what Cuesta Molinos best stands for, that all great powers can rise up the hill to look down on others, but their command will be temporary; sooner or later, no matter how much power they have or how hard they try to hold on to it, they will be carried off by irresistible streams with only remnants of their existence left to be silent markers.
From Joe Strummer plaza today, one can look down to survey all the flotsam left by nearly two millennia of Ozymandiases, looking towards the Genil river where the lone and level waters stretch far away.