Since the 2010s Granada has embarked on an ambitious and comprehensive pedestrian revolution, which reached its peak in 2013 with the shifting of priority from private cars to pedestrians. As outcome of this courageous strategy, in 2018 Granada has become the most motor vehicle-free city in Spain.
The Museo del Camminare has tried to understand what has led to this successful story.Read More
According to a survey carried out by the travel tech company Holidu in 2018, Granada ranks first among the most motor vehicle-free cities in Spain; the same year, Vogue described it as the best Spanish city to visit on foot.1
It is an outstanding achievement for a strategy that has relied on pedestrianisation to protect the cultural heritage of the city and the people who dwell or visit it.
In Granada, as in almost all Spanish and European cities, the quality of life decreased dramatically after motor vehicles invaded the public spaces; pushed away urban uses and functions; and forced pedestrians into a limited area. Traffic accidents, air and noise pollution, fossil fuels consumption, social exclusion, waste of time and other environmental and social costs made that situation unsafe and unsustainable. To tackle these problems, Granada – as many other city administrations – has begun to pedestrianise the old part of the town since the early 2000s, with the result of turning the city centre into a more quiet environment in which travelling on foot or by bicycle has become a viable and safe alternative. This, in turn, has facilitated social relations and has made the neighbourhoods more cohesive, with the consequence that even shopkeepers embraced pedestrianisation, after they had initially opposed it fearing a decrease in sales.2 This achievement has been made possible by the participation of a wide range of associations, including neighbours’, businessmen’s and trade unions’. It is also the outcome of the implementation of a process hinging on the principle that ‘people should define the scale of reference of the road space’.3 To date, the city had 91 km of fully pedestrianised streets, which account for about 21 percent of the city's total street mileage. Together with pavements, free road spaces for pedestrians, and roads in which pedestrians have priority they account for more than 450 hectares of road space.4
Both Granada's souls – the Islamic Arabian and the Christian Spanish – have concurred to the successful implementation of the pedestrianisation process. Actually, pedestrianisation has become the key link between two main sections of the city that radically differ for their history and aspect: the hillside Albayzín and Sacromonte with their Medina-like structure, and, at their foot, the flat part of Granada that developed after the Christian conquest of the city in 1492.
The Albayzín district has a carless nature by its own. Originally a separate urban entity, it encompasses the area around the Plaza Larga, downhill to the Real de la Cartuja and Puerta de Elvira, facing the Alhambra fortress and the Generalife garden. [Below, left to right: Granada in the 16th century, by Francisco Valero; Calle Calderería Vieja; Barranco de Tello]
It maintains the character of the settlement which the Arabs developed here in the 8th century following the Phoenicians, who had built a fortress on this hill around 500 BC, and then the Romans in the 3rd century BC-4the century AD. At the time of Granada’s surrender to the Christians in 1492, it had 26 mosques and about 60,000 inhabitants. The German scholar and traveller Hieronymus Münzer visited the Albayzín immediately after the Christian conquest and tells about the very narrow streets with the small Moorish houses.5 The mosques were then turned into churches and the houses reallocated to Christians until all Muslims were expelled from Granada between 1609 and 1614. As a consequence, the local population dramatically dropped to around 5,000 in 1620.6 Most of the current aspect of the city originates from the 17th century, as the sloped nature of the Albayzín saved it from the changes that affected Granada during the 19th century for the sake of modernisation. [Below, left to right: Calle Pañera; Cuesta del Realejo; Placeta Cruz Verde]
In spite of the poverty that prevailed in the quarter for centuries, the Albayzín maintained its fascination and charm. The world-renowned Spanish poet Federico García Lorca was enchanted by its ‘beautifully romantic and distinguished’ character, by its silent streets, the houses with beautiful portals, the people of ancient spirit.7 In 1994, UNESCO named the Albayzín district a World Heritage Site for its great cultural significance as the ‘best-preserved illustration of a Hispano-Muslim city in the South of Spain’.8 [Below, left to right: Plaza María Santísima de l'Aurora; Placeta Carvajales; Placeta del Rosal]
Promoting pedestrianisation by freeing the streets from moving and parked motor vehicles has been particularly successful in the historic Centro district, located in the flat part of the city at the foot of the Albayzín. The Centro was particularly affected in the 19th century by the ensanche, the urban expansion phenomenon that entailed the reorganisation of the city centre along a grid pattern of streets. At that time, the course of the river Darro was closed over (1884), most of the city walls was torn down, and the Gran Vía de Colón was opened. [Below, left to right: Plaza Nueva; Calle Mesones; Calle Candiota]
Nowadays the district is a key shopping and tourist destination, featuring iconic buildings and places such as the Cathedral of Incarnation and the Bib-Rambla Square. With a few exceptions, the whole Centro area between the Gran Vía de Colón Calle Obispo on the northeast; Calle Hurtado-Calle Tablas on the northwest; Calle Casillas de Prats-Calle Solarillo de Gracia on the southwest; and Calle Recogidas on the southeast has been successfully turned into a totally car-free zone. [Below, left to right: Calle Obispo Hurtado; Calle Puentezuelas; Calle Alhóndiga]
Pedestrianisation has thus restored and respected the leisure and commercial activities that have been historically present around Bir-Rambla Square, which was given to the people ‘to stroll and trade’ as early as the beginning of the 16th century. [Below, left to right: Plaza Bib-Rambla; Calle Alcaicería; Plaza Romanilla]9
In 2019, Granada has 91 km of fully pedestrianised streets, while the urban areas with restricted circulation of motor-vehicles totally account to 136 ha, of which 43.7 ha in Realejo; 78.3 ha in Albayzín and Sacromonte; and 9 ha in Centro, as shown in the map below from the city's Department of Mobility.10
This outstanding achievement has been made possible through the Urban Sustainable Mobility Plan (USMP) that Granada adopted in 2013, the first Spanish city together with San Sebastián to rely on this type of policy tool and, consequently, to meet the precondition set by the national Sustainable Economic Law (2011) for benefitting from state public transport subsidies.
At the core of the Plan is the focus on pedestrianisation as a way to improve people’s quality of life and security on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to protect the city’s historical, cultural, and natural heritage. In addition to the promotion of public spaces, the plan relies on ‘functional areas’ as a means of endowing residential areas of all the key functions, consequently reducing the need to use private cars. This aim is complemented by the development of an adequate and environment-friendly network of public transport, to be integrated by and in coordination with the strengthening of the walking and cycling network.
In the broader context of the plan’s revolutionary approach to the urban mobility, pedestrianisation plays a pivotal role, with the purposes of reducing air and noise pollution, facilitating social relationships, and generally improving people’s health and quality of life. While the pedestrian network linking the city centre with the peripheral neighbourhoods is on the way, the increase of car-free areas since the early 2000s has put the city at the forefront of the pedestrianisation process in Spain and Europe. In Granada, this policy is consistent with the behaviour of its dwellers. According to a survey that the municipality carried out in 2012-13, 65.5 percent of the dwellers’ sample chose walking as the preferred means of urban transportation.11 It is worth noting that 91.3 percent of the questionnaire respondents expressed their favour for the creation of a pedestrian network in the city.12 The survey also highlighted that more than a half of the sample of 10,674 urban journeys was carried out on foot in the central part of the city (Centro, Ronda, Fuente Nueva-Doctores), while 79 percent of them had a duration of 20 minutes or less.13 The survey also emphasised how walking is an efficient means of transportation in a dense urban environment and, on the basis of the above-mentioned data, it came to the conclusion that – given the history, the characteristics of the population and the distances – ‘Granada is a pedestrian city’.14
This led the city administration to enshrine the principle that the urban activities of the people need more support than motorised mobility.15
Priorities were consequently rearranged according to a scale that ranked pedestrians at the top, followed – in descending order – by public transport, cyclists, commercial vehicles, two-wheel motor vehicles, and finally private cars.16 Granada has thus successfully managed to reverse the previous proportion of about 70 percent of the urban roads for motor vehicles and 30 percent for pedestrians. The aims for the future are the creation of pedestrian routes linking the city centre with the peripheral neighbourhoods, and between the peripheral neighbourhoods. This will allow the people to walk in the whole metropolitan area through a hierarchised and continuous street network.17 The expansion of the network of 37 kilometres of bicycle routes created by 2013 is also planned.
The map published by the Museo del Camminare suggests an itinerary in the Albayzín and Centro district through almost exclusively pedestrianised streets.
Cover image: Colourful pomegranate bollards, Plaza San Agustin, Granada (detail), © Eve Andersson, 2011.
All other photos: © Museo del Camminare
1. Marín, Verónica, ‘Y la mejor ciudad de España para visitar a pie es…’, Vogue España, 25 June 2018, URL: https://www.vogue.es/living/articulos/mejor-ciudad-espana-visitar-a-pie/35523
2. Plan de Movilidad Urbana Sostenible. Información, Análisis y Diagnosis, Granada, Ayuntamiento de Granada - Delegacíon de Proteccíon Ciudadana y Movilidad, 2013, p. 166.
3. Ibid., p. 169.
4. Ibid., p. 176.
5. Münzer, Jerónimo, ‘Viaje por España y Portugal en los años 1494 y 1495’, Boletín de la Real Academia de la Historia, LXXXIV, 1924, p. 95.
6. Cortés Peña, Antonio L., Vincent, Bernard, Historia de Granada, Granada, Don Quijote, 1986, III, p. 39.
7. García Lorca, Federico, ‘Albayzín’, El Defensor de Granada, 4 June 1931.
8. UNESCO, Alhambra, Generalife, and Granada, URL: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/314
9. Martinez Justicia, María José, La plaza pública como elemento urbanístico. Seis ejemplos en la ciudad de Granada, Granada, Virtual, 1996, p. 108.
10. Centro de Gestión Integral de Movilidad, 2019, URL: http://www.movilidadgranada.com/zon_accesos.php?idioma=en
11. Plan de Movilidad Urbana Sostenible, op. cit., p. 54.
12. Ibid., p. 61.
13. Ibid., pp. 106, 112.
14. Ibid., p. 165.
16. Ibid., p. 201.
17. Ibid., p. 177.
© Museo del Camminare 2019, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0