The typical cobbled streets of Old Granada, and
indeed of Old Andalusia, have a surprisingly short history that hardly goes
back to much before the twentieth century. 150 years ago the great majority of
streets in central and “Moorish” Granada were unsurfaced. And that it how we
have to picture the streets of the Granada of the Nazarids; not as the
picturesquely paved nooks and alleyways of the romantic imagination.

The surfacing of streets with paving or cobble
stones is a relatively modern phenomenon. We know this from both written and
pictorial sources, later confirmed by photographic evidence. Chroniclers have
left us with graphic descriptions of the puddles and potholes that made winter
travel in Granada so difficult, and of the choking clouds of dust in summer. We
get the same picture from contemporary artists: an urban environment knee-deep
in mud in the winter; obliterated by dust in the summer.

Any doubt that may remain about the veracity of
this unromantic view of Old Granada will be dispelled by the photography that
began to emerge in the last third of the nineteenth century. The earliest
photographic evidence reveals an unpaved urban landscape with the exception of
one or two central streets. We see streets full of puddles and potholes, rutted
and hoof-marked. From the photographic works of José García Ayola (1863-1900),
for example, we see the forecourt of the Cathedral and Puerta Real unsurfaced.

In photographs he took between 1885 and 1890 we do
see the beginning of the paving of some of the steeper streets of the Albayzín.
Granada Hoy reporter Gabriel Pozo
suggests that this was a consequence of the Glorious Revolution of 1868 which
prompted the authorities to provide paid work for the poor with the aim of
warding off further social unrest and uprisings. Now at last we see the Cuesta
de San Cristóbal y Aljibe de Trillo with a primitive form of paving, undertaken
where erosion threatened to make the streets completely unpassable.

These early cases of surfacing were, as we said,
primitive and had little to do with the paving and cobbling that we think of as
typical today. Mud was mixed quite haphazardly with irregular-shaped and -sized
stones and pebbles. These were stamped down into the earthen road surface. Lacking
any binding element such as mortar, the earth would get washed away with the
first serious rainfalls, leaving the streets uneven and potholed.

The meticulously laid stones and pebbles of
differing colours forming graceful geometric patterns that are so typical of Andalusian squares and public spaces today were as yet unknown. The
paving was crude and uneven and bore little resemblance to the familiar sophistication
of modern Andalusian urban spaces.

Sophisticated cobbling in the Alhambra. Fifteenth century? No, twentieth.

If the steeper streets of the Albayzín were given
some primitive form of paving from the 1880s, flatter and broader streets were mostly
left unpaved. Although we do see the Carrera del Darro paved as early as 1885,
the Paseo de los Tristes, by way of contrast, was still mud surfaced till the
end of the century.

The generalised paving of the streets of Granada
did not really get underway until well into the twentieth century. Now we have
the photographs of José Martínez Rioboó (1888-1947) to bear witness to the
construction of typical cobblestone streets that gave adequate support to the modern
tramlines in Puerta Real, Reyes Católicos, San
Jerónimo and a few other major central streets.

Major streets in the Albayzín like the Carril de
la Lona, Santa Isabel la Real, or San Juan de los Reyes, on the other hand, were
not surfaced until around 1915. Meanwhile, the streets of today’s popular
tourist spots, like Plaza de San Miguel Bajo,
San Cecilio and even the Mirador de San Nicolás still looked more like
pig pens than the tourist attractions they have become.

My source for this blog is an article by Gabriel Pozo in the local daily
‘Granada Hoy’. It reminds me of a photo exhibition I once saw of panoramas of
the Albayzín. 150 years ago, the cypresses, which are
so characteristic of the Albayzín skyline today, simply did not exist. You can
see how they started to get planted towards the end of the nineteenth century
and then became more and more popular as the twentieth century progressed.

SOURCE: El empedrado ‘no histórico’ del Albayzín. Gabriel Pozo.
Granada Hoy. 07.12.2012…