BY: TED BARNABY
In the hills above Granada, Spain, lives a bright community of cave-dwelling free spirits occupying the tall white rock of Sacromonte. Their homes are a mix of rustic, simple beauty, and claustrophobia. Windows are often scarce in these homes, so hanging light fixtures line the ceiling. Still, it’s tough to deny such a direct connection to nature—your home literally becoming one with the earth.
The community originates back to the collapse of the Moorish empire in the 1500s, when gypsies came and carved their homes into the slanted earth. Now, Sacromonte is still a beautiful neighbourhood, but has since become a hot tourist spot due to the ascending rock-carved homes and flamenco shows. Still, hidden aback the prominent Sacromonte housing district resides this colourful community of nomads, gypsies and hippies, about 30 or 40 strong. Their cave homes are modest, but very functional with electricity, running water and sometimes, even television. Many use sustainable energy resources, like solar panels that sit atop their doorways.
Like any community, there is a wide array of people—some squatting, or illegal residents of the country, and of course there’s a drug culture. Others are extremely committed to simple and accountable living, carrying the heritage of a rich and beautiful culture. Some residents even own horses and ponies. Many travellers drop in for a month or two at a time, soaking up (what I can only imagine to be) the peaceful cave-dwelling lifestyle of southern Spain.
These residents of this Sacromonte community generally share the ambition of sustainability, ecological management and cultural protection. However there has long been a divide in the mentality within these sorts of grassroots communities. Many value the secrecy of their society, while others are intent on spreading the message in hope of developing a stronger community, and attracting committed members. Some will self-identify as nomads, hippies or gypsies—the terms taking on a complimentary tone for many, especially in the west—and others will cast aside these labels in disgust. And although I attach a positive connotation to them, the oppositional viewpoint is understandable—good things seldom come from creating labels. The locals in Granada also carry a polarized view, and many are apprehensive of the settlement.
It’s difficult to know how to approach this breed of society. Is the community better off left to the blank back pages of the history books, or is awareness necessary to healthy growth? Will recognition beget migration, or tourism?
I suppose with the best views in the city—and an encroaching tidal-wave of cameras, cargo-shorts and Hawaiian tees forming tight canals through the aged buildings—these communities reasonably keep a close watch for rising tide.
Here is a view from one of the caves
Sorina from Romania prepares dinner
A colorful gypsy cave home
Tania from Spain and her dog Wanda help plant a garden
Luis is from the Canary Islands
Anais from Germany is just passing through
The best views of Granada & Alhambra Palace
The view from inside a cave
Irit moved from New York City into a gypsy cave
This cave has a solar panel above the door
Ella is one of many cave gypsies from Senegal
Some of the gypsies own horses and ponies
Iwan from Romania studied film in college
Music is a large part of this community
They have built a community garden for everyone to enjoy
Saved the best for last: overflowing outdoor community toilet!
Photo credits to Matthew Karsten