In the present day, the ease of communication between the Realejo quarter and the city centre, via the calle Molinos or the cuesta del Progreso, rather belies the historical importance of this area, blurring the outlines of what was once an important centre in Moorish Granada. Indeed, since the Christian conquest and even beforehand, the Realejo has modified its architectural design to a great extent. Nothing survives of its prestigious gateways, while only the upper part of the barrio gives a hint of the ancient labyrinthine street plan so typical of Muslim cities.
Since the time when the Realejo was known as Garnata al–Yahud, a Jewish suburb of the Muslim city, the quarter’s constant modification has been most probably due to the predominance of the flatter parts of the barrio as opposed to the those streets situated on the Mauror hill, the slope that drops down from the Torres Bermejas. In this way, it is logical to suppose that the Realejo, as is the case of the Albaicín, Sacromonte and the Alhambra, started life as a Muslim centre which gradually grew from its upper slopes down towards the vega.
To enter the Realejo from above is therefore not only recommended historically, but is also the sensible option, considering the steepness of its hills and the fact that the majority of its bars are down below, around the Campo del Principe.
Beginning our route from above, therefore, the first monument that warrants our attention is the Carmen de los Mártires, constructed on a site where, according to tradition, a dungeon kept Christian captives prisoner. Once the city was conquered, it became a Carmelite convent presided over for many years by the prior San Juan de la Cruz.
The current building which has been very recently restored, has certain decorative characteristics typical of nineteenth century Oriental taste, although the carmen’s most outstanding features are its gardens in which are blended the rational symmetry of a French garden with the unexpected disorder of the Romantic English tradition. The water trickling from its fountains and pools and the magnificent views over Granada and the Realejo are, in themselves, worthy of a visit. From here, we walk down to the city centre with the Manuel de Falla Auditorium to our left, alongside is situated the Casa-Museo dedicated to the same composer who lived and worked in this very house. Finally, we reach the Alhambra Palace Hotel, complete with its splendid terraces.
At the entrance to the hotel, an alley -el Niño del Rollo- leads us towards Torres Bermejas. In the present day, this path contains two of the most interesting buildings of cultural interest in Granada: the Fundación Rodríguez Acosta and the Instituto Gómez Moreno. The art collections exhibited in both are of extraordinary value, although still more fascinating than the art, is the carmen itself built by the painter Rodríguez Acosta. A unique creation in Granada in which the supreme taste of the artist is the predominant feature. Indeed, during its construction, Acosta rejected the vulgarity of his architects’ plans, in order to carry out the work personally. The mixture of styles, the use of real elements with imitation, the originality in the treatment of vegetation and water and other landscape features make this carmen a true masterpiece, an example of the finest in advanced architecture at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Arriving now at Torres Bermejas, the way down becomes steep via slopes that outline the most splendid cármenes and the most humble of dwellings all gathered around whitewashed patios. The pattern of the streets returns us once more to the past, the apparent disorder of a Muslim medina, of a city that has grown spontaneously and organically, whose distribution and organization of space has always been dependent on personal relations or blood ties.
Descending the slope from this point, crossing the barrio of the Antequeruela one enters the Realejo, a neighbourhood that was once the city’s Jewish quarter, the Garnata al-Yahud. Indeed, that seductive way of life is still preserved in a barrio in which the closeness of its inhabitants remains, elements difficult to encounter in a 20th century city.
Having arrived at the flattest part of the upper barrio, the visitor will come across the Placeta de la Puerta del Sol, an intimate square that shelters the old washing.
Realejo’s focus point is the the Campo del Príncipe, in which the visitor can sample from a large selection of bars, and restaurants, their open-air terraces should be a most welcoming sight after such a strenuous tour.
In contrast with the Albaicín, Christian architecture appeared in the Realejo early on and incorporated a number of different styles. However, it is logical that the most significant buildings were religious, among these the convents. For example, the convent of the Comendadoras de Santiago, founded by Queen Isabel in 1501, is one of the oldest in Granada, although it has been refurbished a number of times since. Other noteworthy convents include that of Santa Catalina, San Cecilio and Santa Cruz la Real, which is now a hall of residence connected to the church of Santo Domingo; a melancholy stone construction illuminated by the serene presence of Fray Luis de Granada.
However, not all the buildings in the Realejo are religious in character, in fact this quarter was a preferred spot for civilian buildings,
the corralas, enclosed neibourgh's patios in which existed a whole world of relationships that went beyond the corral’s superficial appearance as a yard, and specially the construction of of noblemen’s houses, palaces in which the family’s ensigna and coat of arms clearly identified the facade. An example of this is the Casa de los Tiros, in which is preserved a coffered ceiling in its Cuadra Dorada, boasting an example of almost surrealistic carpentry.