One of the great ironies of my life is that alongside my great desire to cuddle furry creatures comes a series of vicious allergic reactions. When I’m home, a daily cocktail of Zyrtec and Benadryl staves off the worst of my symptoms, leaving me free to galivant alongside my household’s two cats and dog—here in Spain, though, I am left vulnerable to the whims of my overactive immune system.
Which is a shame, really, because, during my time here, I’ve discovered that Granada is home to a rather eclectic assortment of feline inhabitants that, unfortunately for my over-worked histamines, I simply cannot stay away from. Despite their fickle nature and rather sharp claws, I must admit: the cats of Granada have my heart.
The first rule of finding a cat in Granada is that you don’t: these creatures prefer things to be on their own terms. You will not find them; they will find you. Despite their elusiveness, however, I’ve found that they tend to congregate in groups of twos or three, particularly in the Albayzin, the old Muslim quarters of the city. On particularly sunny days, they can also be spotted lounging on the warm bricks of the Alhambra—but be wary, come too close and you will be rewarded with a swat.
But what I really love about the cats de Granada is their history: like everything else in the city, these creatures possess a story steeped in the rich history of Al-Andalus. For centuries after the Christian conquest of the city, questions abounded around the mysterious origins of the cats of the Albayzin. Some believed the cats were simply a lingering aftereffect of centuries of Muslim rule: cats were, after all, the Prophet Muhammad’s pet of choice. But others had more supernatural explanations:
It is said that over 500 years ago, when the Grenadian Nasrid dynasty still ruled the city, there once lived an old alchemist. As the Christian threat loomed ever closer to the city, the supporters of Boabdil (the last Muslim king of Granada) sought out the wizened alchemist to ensure that they would have an eternal home in their beloved city. In exchange, the alchemist made all those who wanted to stay swear that they could never leave the borders of the Albayzin. When the Catholic monarchs finally took the city in 1492, Boabdil and his followers were exiled, while others remained in the city—albeit under forced conversion. But, between these two groups, there remained missing a wide swath of the population that had, seemingly, disappeared overnight.
Nobody knows what happened to this group, but it is said that when the Christian conquerors passed through the ancient walls of the Albayzin, they were confronted by the distrustful gaze of dozens of cats that slinked over the roofs and in the nearby streets. At first, they assumed these cats were simply innocuous inhabitants of the city. As time passed, however, the rumors changed as the number of cats and their knowledge of the streets—almost as if they had built them themselves—hinted at another possible explanation. This is how the old residents of the Albayzin began to whisper that the alchemist’s trick was not to make those Muslims disappear, nor to turn them into sad spirits that would wander the streets for eternity, as was commonly thought. Instead, to protect them from the forced conversions and abuses of the Christian conquerors, the sorcerer allowed them to roam the streets in peace just as they had for almost 500 years—albeit on 4 feet, instead of 2.
Today, I like to think that the cats of Granada continue to protect the Albayzin and Alhambra from unwanted intruders. And, though I can neither confirm nor deny the legend, I will note that, to this day, I have never seen a cat anywhere near the cathedral or the many Catholic churches that dot the city.
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Hola! My name is Caroline (she/her), and I am a rising junior at Bowdoin College studying History and Economics with a minor in Mathematics. Beyond the classroom, I’m a Wordle enthusiast and love spending time outside (though I am a notoriously slow walker). Another fact about me--I love the em-dash. Looking forward to sharing a sliver of my life here in Granada!