Down a deserted stairwell in a steep tangle of stone streets, I stumbled upon the best street art in Granada.
Literally, I stumbled. The precarious passageway of unleveled rocks made walking an ankle-twisting, sole-bending venture. The vacant lots, abandoned mattresses and wafting bits of urban debris didn´t make the footpath a particularly picturesque one either. But I didn´t care; it was what covered the cement walls and old stone wells that fascinated me. Color-swarmed, vibrant and thoroughly hidden, I´d discovered the best street art in Granada.
This isn´t a difficult feat. The ancient city of intricatly carved Islamic monuments, mammoth cathedrals and labyrinthic streets is, in its modern-day incarnation, also a college town. Chicken-scratch tags and idealistic political statments irreverently adorn any paintable surface; Granada writers have a particular penchant for anarchy symbols, replacing ¨a¨s with the symbol at every opportunity. A crayon box of every imaginable color, the city is swarmed in adolescent scribblings that somehow add to the o ld-world ambiance; they seem to fit.
I decided to take a morning walk through Albaicín to the city´s center. My couchsurfing host, a thin Spanish girl in a black raincoat, had a quiet apartment in the Sierra mountains, a simple tiled space that´s view from the balcony was like a prayer. The building was just outside the old city wall, a half-crumbled mass that arched down the spine of the steep terrain. Just on the other side was the city´s old Muslim quarter, cascading down the hillside towards the city center. Crumbling buildings mixed in with modest modern architecture, lining the zig-zag of cobbled streets with walls tall enough to block the wind and let in only a bit of the morning sun.
The layout of the streets is utterly random and unintuitive, so I gave myself a couple hours to wander the mile downhill. Small plazas punctuated the skinny streets, most of which were closed off to anything by foot traffic. It was a functioning neighborhood that gave a gentle nod toward the map-clutching, steep-grade-panting tourists that trcikled through: a couple stores sold postcards in addition to fruits and food staples, an internet cafe´s doors were locked for Ramadan. People bustled about their business—old men smoked and the women gathered in an arm-crossed group at a plaza´s market—and us tourists smiled pleasantly at each other in passing.
I maplessly meandered my way to an impressive mirador directly across from the Alhambra, where people posed for photos and looked out over the vast city view. A slight grumble in my stomach inspired me to move towards the city center. Directionless, I decided to just make my way downhill until I hit a promising-looking street.
The streets I wandered got starker, more litter-filled than people-filled. Abandoned buildings and dirt lots suggested that restoration efforts weren´t the trend in this forgotten corner, perched on a precipice between well-visible, touristed neighborhoods. A steep stone footpath lightning-bolted its way down the hillside; I followed it.
I passed one of the old, gated-up wells that fill the Albaicín neighborhood. This one was covered in slightly different bread of tags, filled with crude characters and comical creatures. Turning a sharp corner, a mural-filled walls of air-brushed portraits and abstract colors stretched out in front of me. A stencil of George Bush with a blood-red clown nose appeared next to a telling tag: Albaicín Crew.
I walked up and down a bit, taking pictures and smiling at the refreshingly creative vibrancy. In one litter-strewn, forgotten footpath, tucked into the secret flesh of the city, I´d found the jugular of Granada´s street art scene.