Dozens of white stone plazas surrounding fountains adorned in cherubs and crosses. Snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains framing winding rivers. Medieval brick cathedrals complete with original bells. This is the daily norm in this southeast province of Spain. Having lived in Granada for seven months, I fear I’m growing too accustomed to my European life. I refuse to let the magic of this opportunity fade away just because I’ve explored this corner of Spain inside and out—from the huge Federico García Lorca park to the 14th century palace of the Alhambra in the hills above. While breath-taking and deeply interesting, I’ve seen these incredible sites many times now.
A friend of mine believes that one way to avoid complacency is to put a new value on the little things. To simply look up more often. I am constantly keeping an eye on my footing to avoid twisting my ankle on a raised cobblestone or to bypass a pile of dog poop. While this habit keeps my bones intact and my shoes feces-free, it causes me to miss out on what hangs overhead; the ornate moldings and rustic balconies of buildings that are older than my country.
This technique worked for a while, but my SD card can only hold so many similarly angled photos of buildings and rooftops. So I took it a step further, or rather, a step down—to eye level. Granada boasts some of the most unique graffiti I have ever seen. After living in the Los Angeles area and San Francisco, even after hunting for walls donned in Banksy’s art in London, I can safely say that no other city’s street art makes me stop like Granada’s.
In the Basque Country and Catalonia, graffiti is a form of political commentary. Tagged walls tell passersby that, “Catalonia is not Spain,” or that ETA (the armed Basque nationalist and separatist organization) runs the northern land. But in Granada, the subject is more varied. In a single climb up the winding alleys of the Albayzín or a short walk through the apartment buildings on the Río Geníl, the art ranges from social discourse to pure aesthetics.
Graffiti content is an easy way to understand the age and soul of a city. And this city’s most active citizens are young and very passionate. The walls are coated with spray-painted flowers, faces of Salvador Dalí, grey swans, psychedelic eyeballs, questions of God, mothers cradling their children, cries for peace, and stick figures. The perplexing part of graffiti art in Granada is the abundance. It seems I find a new mural every week.
So why, of all cities, is Granada overflowing with graffiti art? This small province is neither the capital of Andalucía nor particularly urban. The most popular theory is that the tagging is the work of the Romani people, or more politically incorrect, the gypsies or gitanos. Spain, particularly the southern region, has been a home to these people who migrated from the Indian subcontinent or through Africa hundreds of years ago. Their culture is rich in art, such as the famous style of dance known as Flamenco. It is not surprising then that a modern take on an ancient culture’s art would manifest in street art.
The longer I live here, the better this city seems to fit me. Anyone can come and marvel at the Alhambra or the enormous Cathedral on Gran Vía, but the heart of Granada is best suited for open-minded travelers. This little city is for people who can appreciate its vocal and creative youth and the beautiful walls they express with.
And who doesn’t want to look at a huge, pretty turquoise koi fish on the way to the grocery store?