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The traditional flamenco of Granada: Zambra Gitana

Without a doubt, the flamenco is the most important dance not only from all Andalusia but Granada as well. Each province in Andalusia has their own typical form of flamenco. Not everybody knows the amazing story behind the zambra gitana (The traditional flamenco of Granada). In this article, we are going to the very roots of this amazing form of art. In order to understand the roots of the flamenco in Granada we would have to look back and learn about the very core of flamenco, The Sacromonte. The name of the sacromonte (whose translation would be sacred mountain) has an uncertain origin. Some historians considered that it was called like this by the christians in the XIV century due to an old muslim cemetery.

The main characteristic of this place is its troglodyte settlement. The habitants of this area have dug up their homes inside the mountain for centuries. They have created a traditional type of andalusian house called caves. If you see them from outside, they look just like any other normal house, although you will be able to notice that their front part is under rock. The interior has been dug in a very particular way that makes them unique in the world.

The Sacromonte is one of the most known places for Flamenco in Spain. After Granada was conquered by the catholic kings, all the Moroccans were forced to abandon the walls of the city and left to the sacromonte. Once in there, they mixed with the gypsies, a nomadic tribe that had arrived to the sacromonte some years before, also moved by the conquest of the catholic kings.

From that moment on, both cultures coexisted and mixed in different ways. There was a great affinity between them due to the fact that they were all considered outcasts of society. In 1499 a new law approved by the catholic kings forced the gypsies to abandon their nomadic way of life. For this reason, and the definite ejection of the moroccans, the sacromonte became an exclusive gypsy neighborhood.

The origins of La zambra, the traditional flamenco granadino, can’t not be understood without deeply analyzing its name. Zambra comes from the arabic “zumra”, which means party. It was the traditional ritual of the moroccan weddings which was forbidden by the inquisition in the XVI century. Although it kept being celebrated underground. This tradition of the zambra was absorbed, learnt and transformed by the gypsies of the sacromonte, who at one point just considered it as their own tradition. These gypsies are the only remaining proof of this amazing traditional moroccan dance. The only ones that kept this old moroccan tradition and the ones who made it evolve to the flamenco dance that we know today.

Between the XVII and XIX centuries, when the romantic writers and poets arrived to Granada, the zambra and the flamenco were appreciated as an artistic expression in the whole world. It was this recognition that transformed the flamenco into a discipline and a musical style rather than the traditional gypsi dance. It was for this reason that some members of the “generación literaria del 27” began to worry. The flamenco had been always considered like a people’s dance and to see it become something more commercial really troubled them. They felt that all this recognition and fame was making it lose the essence and people were doing it just as a form of entertainment for tourist and travelers and a way of making money.

It was in this moment that the sacromonte caves became famous. Travelers would go to the caves to have an encounter with the most pure and unique flamenco culture. Travelers, painters and writers began to paint and describe the andalusians like colorful people all dressed in flamenco dresses who were always at the doors of the caves waiting for tourist to come inside and enjoy their flamenco shows. The first family to go outside of the cave and started to dance was the family that collected all the money, that is why they were always ready and dressed up to perform.

The Zambra is today an unique and genuine artistic expression of Granada, of the sacromonte and their gypsies and an spectacle you cannot miss while visiting the city.

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