Have you ever wondered about the history and origins of Spain’s most famous dance and music, flamenco? If so, make your way to Granada, Spain, to explore the unique caves of the neighborhood of Sacromonte.
Granada is a city in Andalusia, in the south of Spain, located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada. It’s best known for its Unesco World Heritage site: the palaces of the Alhambra and the magnificent gardens of the Generalife.
Sacromonte spreads out on Granada’s Valparaiso Hill, directly opposite the Alhambra. Once in Granada, make your way to the central Plaza Nueva, which is the best starting point to get to Sacromonte and Albaicin. If you feel fit, you can walk the romantic path along the River Darro, but it’s steep, uneven, and takes approximately 45 minutes to reach Sacromonte. It is easier and more comfortable to take one of several local buses, for instance, the C34. The trip is also quite impressive as the bus needs to negotiate very tight and steep bends.
The best time to visit is in spring or fall. Not only are the summer months very crowded, but they’re also very hot. As you explore Sacromonte on foot, you don’t need to pay any admission fees other than to a small museum dedicated to the Flamenco shows. More on that to come. Here are the best reasons to visit the area during your Andalusian vacation, plus tips on where to eat, shop, and stay in Sacromonte.
1. To Learn About The Roma And Their History
Sacromonte is home to the Roma, who are sometimes referred to as Gypsies. The Spanish word is Gitanos. They originated in India and Central Asia and started to settle in Granada in the 15th century after Arabs in the area had been expelled from Spain by the Catholic monarchs.
The Roma (sometimes called Romani) form a tightly knit community. About 50,000 currently live in the distinctive cave homes of Sacromonte, where they preserve their traditions and culture. Their original language, Calo, however, is in decline.
Famous Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca wrote a book about them called Romancero Gitano.
One of the most important developments of the Roma is the flamenco. Their own style of the dance is called zambra, and the dancers also sing.
Sacromonte has just one rather narrow main street, Camino del Sacromonte. That’s where most of the flamenco show venues, called tablao, are located as well as the biggest and most picturesque cave homes.
More interesting and far less touristy are the side streets and the street above, called Vereda de Enmedio. As you might have guessed, a lot of walking and climbing are involved, so make sure you wear shoes with soles that won’t slip and have a sunhat.
2. To Explore The Sacromonte Caves
The origin of Sacromonte’s cave homes is somewhat murky. Some hold that they were first dug out by the Roma; others think that they are much older, having been used by the Arabs when they ruled in Spain, after which they were taken over by the Romani. Be that as it may, they are the most distinctive feature of the neighborhood. Cool in summer and warm in winter, whitewashed inside and out, no one cave home is like the next.
First a vertical cut was made in the mountain, then expanded to an arch that serves as the door. Thereafter, the hill was excavated to form as many rooms as were necessary for the size of the family and their animals, which also lived there.
The central point of any Sacromonte cave home is the kitchen, which has a vast chimney and typically features a quite elaborate copper chimney pot. It glitters in the sun and is often the only visible feature of the cave home from the outside. All cave homes today have electricity and running water. The odd TV dish may also mar the picture today.
Many Sacromonte cave dwellers are happy to show visitors around, and you’ll be amazed by how big and luxurious some of the homes are. Owners will proudly tell you how many generations of their families have lived there and that they would never want to reside elsewhere.
3. To Visit The Unique Sacromonte Cave Museum
For a closer look and explanations of the cave dwelling history of Sacromonte, make your way to the cave museum, Museo Cuevas del Sacromonte.
It’s a bit of a climb to get there, but it’s well indicated by signposts. The museum consist of 11 restored cave houses with furniture, pottery, and artwork. For opening hours and admissions, consult the museum’s website.
4. For A Different Adventure: The Abbey Of Sacromonte
Not all is caves in Sacromonte! Near the summit of the hill stands the imposing 17th-century Abbey of Sacromonte. It consists of the abbey itself as well as two colleges. Relics of Saint Caecilius are kept in the church. The abbey is also the proud owner of an extensive library that is closed to the public. Next you will see the Holy Caves, which are in fact ancient catacombs that contain several chapels.
What makes the climb worthwhile, in addition to visiting the historical building, is an unparalleled view over the city of Granada, her four rivers, and the Alhambra.
5. To Catch Flamenco And Zambra Rhythms
A feature of Roma culture is the passionate dance of flamenco, which you can see and hear everywhere in the South of Spain, especially in Seville. But the Roma have developed an even more passionate version of the dance called zambra. The dancers are barefoot, and they sing and accompany one another with hand castanets in addition to the guitar music.
These performances take place nightly in venues called tablao. Don’t expect much comfort or luxury in these establishments; you’ll sit on wooden chairs at tiny tables. It will be closely packed, and you should expect to sip the house red. One of the most popular ones is Venta el Gallo. This tablao is different because it also has a roof terrace and a kitchen, so you can eat there.
Pro Tip: To hear and see the real thing, go to Sacromonte in the morning and just listen. The dancers and singers will be practicing. Follow the sound and peek round the door; most won’t mind at all.
Where And What To Eat In Sacromonte
Apart from Venta El Gallo, which is only open in the evenings, there are several other places to eat. Right in the heart of Sacromonte, you’ll find Casa Juanillo. It’s family run and serves excellent Spanish cuisine. They are all flamenco dancers themselves, and you can buy tickets for the Venta el Gallo show at the restaurant.
If you are an adventurous eater, you might try Sacromonte’s signature dish: tortilla sacromonte. It’s a big omelet that, apart from the usual ingredients, is made with diced sheep or bull testicles!
If you don’t want a sit-down meal, El Picoteo Casa Torcuato is for you. Apart from that, there are plenty of bars and cafes along the way where you can have a drink and a few tapas, the typical Spanish snack.
Where To Shop In Sacromonte
There are quite a few souvenir shops and stalls around, so you might want to look for blue and white ceramics or copper pieces. Otherwise, it’s best to shop in Granada.
The Best Places To Stay In Sacromonte
Whilst in a cave mood, why not stay in a cave hotel? The only one in Sacromonte is Cuevas del Cohetero. Not easy to find because it’s hidden behind lush greenery and a wooden door, once you are inside, you are in another world. The simple exterior hides a small luxury hotel. The rooms are hewn out of the mountain, but you’ll find all the amenities you can think of.
Otherwise, there are plenty of hotels for every budget in Granada, and you can make Sacromonte a day trip.
Once you have set foot in Sacromonte, your image of Spain will be a different one. The zambra dancers, whether you watch them in one of the tablaos or are lucky enough to catch them during a morning practice in their homes, will stick in your mind forever.