By Coralie Neuville
“The Sacromonte neighborhood vibrates to the point of undoing and melting all the senses”
Andalusia is a Mediterranean land that fascinates with its traditions and lifestyle. Heir to different cultures, it is in the art of Flamenco that it is possible to see today all the influences that have shaped this southern region of Spain over the centuries. In the collective imagination, Flamenco is a dance accompanied by song, a guitar and flashes of red that accentuate the passion of the dancer. However, it is impossible to summarize this expression of the body in a mere few words, so complex and varied is the art of Flamenco, just as its native region, Andalusia.
In Granada, Flamenco has a name – la Zambra – which leads us up the hillside of Sacromonte. Overlooking the Alhambra, this neighborhood, marginalized for many centuries, has become one of the essential destinations for lovers of Flamenco, since it is here that the gypsy dance la Zambra was born. To understand the Zambra, you have to go back to a date that marked a turning point in Spain and had repercussions for the whole of the Mediterranean basin and beyond. This date is 1492, the date of the Taking of Granada from the Nasrids, an Arab dynasty to whom we owe many architectural treasures, the most famous and majestic of which is the Alhambra.
Conquered in January 1492 by the Catholic Monarchs, Granada was immediately transformed under new laws. The Muslim and Jewish inhabitants were expelled and had to find refuge outside the city walls. Many decided to move to Arab territories on the other side of the Mediterranean. Others, convinced that this banishment was only temporary, took refuge in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and on the hillside of Sacromonte. Located right next to the Albayzín – the Moorish quarter within the walls of the city now in the hands of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon – Sacromonte became the refuge of the undesired.
In addition to Muslims and Jews, this neighborhood welcomed the Romani subgroup identifying as Calé, and popularly known as Gitanos, or Gypsies, after the proclamation of a law condemning nomadism and forcing them to settle. Living in miserable conditions and rejected by the new society of Granada, these three communities tried to accommodate each other as best they could. It was during this period that the famous caves were dug out from the hillside, some of which are still inhabited today, while others now host nightly Flamenco shows.
This coexistence of peoples gave birth to a mixture of artistic expressions including the Zambra, which came down to us despite the Spanish Inquisition. Indeed, already marginalized, a critical point came for the community under the reign of Philip II, who prohibited public displays or celebrations thought in any way alien or decadent. Under the fire of the Inquisition and the Spanish Crown, the festivities of other religions and cultures than Catholicism were accordingly prohibited.
This therefore had the effect of forcing artistic expressions such as the Zambra to go underground. Only after the abolition of the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in 1834, and particularly with the arrival of romantic travelers in Granada at the end of the 19th century, was the Zambra rediscovered.
Read the full article in Issue 25