Street message

Walking in Granada is not only about distance (and hills), it’s always a journey through time. I have written previously of walks through the centuries that a single road can provide, and my latest walk, up a road called Barranco del Abogado (Ravine of the lawyer) was no different.

Like many roads in Granada, its beginning predates memory. It runs from what one might call the former “backside” of the hilltop of the Alhambra along a stream-carved ravine to the bottom where the stream empties into the Genil river. The descending water created a cascade of fertile land, and so early records describe the road as a pathway of tiered orchards of citrus fruit and olives that supplied the fortress city at the top.

Given its role as a supply line to the Alhambra, it is ironic, then, that the oldest specific traveler mentioned on the road was Boabdil, the last king of Moorish Granada, who used it to leave the Alhambra as he surrendered to the conquering Catholics, supposedly adding his tears to the waters while descending both physically and politically.

 Boabdil leaves Granada in 1492. Photograph: UniversalImagesGroup/Getty Images

Today, scaling the barranco is not an easy feat. The entire street is only about 2 kilometers, but it ascends in that short distance about 140 meters, or about the same as a 45-story building.

The hike will definitely take one’s breath away, but not just for the effort, but for the feeling of passing through three stages of life here.

The bottom is the most integrated with the current city. In a city known for Bohemian lifestyles, however, the street demands you take note that it belongs to any greater civic entity only by accident of geography. The homeowners decorate the outside of their houses with little flourishes of quirkiness. Somehow, the casas of the lower barranco say we will be a part of Granada, but on our terms.

As one scales higher, the casas become simpler, older, and less decorated. They are mainly functional, even while some of their neighbors do not quite meet even that basic standard. 

The ravine is a bit more pronounced here, and one can see the descendants of the original orchard trees still offering assistance for people living here. It’s a quiet life, no doubt a result of lesser economics and the steepness that demands some limitation of frivolity.

The top of the barranco is perhaps the most interesting, like stepping back five hundred years. After the expulsion of the Moors, the area fell into disuse. The area remained fertile, however, and so it attracted the dispossessed from Granada and other parts of Andalusia. “Gypsie” is a term Americans avoid, but it is one still commonly used in Spain to describe those on the edge of society, and so the barranco became a Gypsie camp. Lacking the resources to build full casas, the gypsies followed the common tradition of the area (indeed one that archaeology identifies as a million years old in Spain) of carving caves into the soft rock and making a home of it.

Today, cave homes remain at the top, still proving to work as residences for the least fortunate home owners. Some innovations have been devised, such as plastering walls or installing a door at the front, but they still sit atop the barranco, often next to earlier models of unknown age and looking down upon the generations of housing that followed, like a great grandparent looking at the younger ones playing at their feet.

For all it’s ageless history, the name of the street, Barranco del Abogado, is relatively recent. Being always just outside or just within the city limits of Granada, it at one point served an ominous purpose.

During the dark years of the Civil War and subsequent bringing of “order” to the country, the road connected the police interrogation and detention center (from which many did not leave alive) with the city cemetery at the top of the hill.

Purportedly, a lawyer who resisted and openly opposed the fascist regime in its early days was found in the ravine, his legal career and life terminated early.

 For me, roads such as this are like unique art pieces. Essays, music, painting… these are usually expressions of a single mind, put together in a relatively short time and with a single message for the world.

A road, however, is a huge art piece put together by a community over the centuries. No one person’s vision or message is intended, but a collective sentiment can emerge.

Whether it was the inspiration of the road or the exhaustion of the climb, I found a message while walking the Barranco del Abogado:

Life is filled with loss, even suffering. From Boabdil’s realization that the seven-hundred-year reign of the Moors was ending as he descended, to the anonymous cries of people being tortured and killed for opposing fascism, we cannot always escape the pain life brings.

And yet, life goes on.

The orchards no longer supply the citizens of the Alhambra, but others now live on the hill who eat the fruit. We cannot know the names of those disappeared along the road by the fascists, and yet a new generation lives there now, long after the fall  of the regime, and they will learn about the past in order to resist its renewal. 

Life, even positive movement forward, cannot be stopped. It can be detained, diverted, even dirtied for a bit, but sooner or later, like the water that cannot resist the gravitational pull to the Genil river, we will get back on track and about the business of community. We rebuild, and most often will build better.

But right after my nap, cause that was a pretty steep hill!

3 thoughts on “Street message”

  1. I liked how you connected the alternative parts of Granada and the best street art, mostly by El niño de las pinturas, the city’s most famous graffiti writer

  2. The word Gypsy does have negative connotations for most of the world…except for those who self identify as Gypsies and truly are considered to be part of this unique ethnic group.

    I looked up the origins of the word Gypsy, and was not surprised to see it comes from the word ‘gyp’, which of course means to cheat or steal. I was surprised to learn that they originated in northern India and emigrated to Europe in the 1400’s, where, at least in the UK, they are protected against discrimination because they are an ethnic group under the 2010 Equality Act.

    Apparently the official language of Gypsies is Romany, something else I never knew. In Granada, most of those I’ve come across speak Spanish (I think?) and try to give us a small leafy twig and then ask for money in return, as if it’s some magical twig. There is nothing special about these twigs, of course. Recently, while sitting at a local cafe, my husband and I witnessed a Gypsy walk up to an outdoor potted tree and pick a bunch of leaves so she could refill her supply!

    Thank you for the history lesson on the Barranco Del Abogado. We have taken that steep road up to the top and never really thought about how it got it’s name. It should be called La Subida Imposible!


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