History of Granada in a nutshell

By 22nd July 2019 No Comments
    18 mins

Pomegranate of Andalucía.

The city and region that took my heart already in 2013. Going to Granada, located in the southern part of Spain, from the very beginning you can feel in the air the extraordinary history of Iberian Celts, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, Berbers and the great influence of Arab culture that has survived to this day. In your imagination you can see the history of tragic romances, fierce struggle for the city, patriotism and religion. So… be prepared, cause this is a long reading.

The beginning of Granada and its origin are a completely unsolved mystery. While looking for informations in local libraries, I had to go through the books from the general history of the whole country. The city left traces of legends and fairy tales and by that it transformed into a magical place. For those who like to get to know the city before they actually buy a ticket – this article will be an interesting read. I hope my perspective will be the first seed of a wider story in your imagination with the city that stole my heart.


The history of the Spanish population probably dates back to about 1.2 million years ago, but the already explored Granada did not begin until around 1500 B.C. near the present-day Albaicín district, where the Iberian tribes of Turdulos first settled and inhabited. These tribes were one of the most civilized tribes among the first inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula. It was them who gave the first ancient name of Granada, known as – Ihverir. Around 1000 B.C. the Phoenicians arrived and stayed there until 550 B.C. when the Carthaginians entered and gave it their own name Elibyrge. Unfortunately, around 220 B.C.E. the great Roman Imprerium took control of the city. They transformed Elibyrge into a commune and gave two names. One official Iliberis – Iberian and Florentia – Latin (the meaning of which remains a mystery to this day).

The Roman commune occupied the area of Alcazaba and Albaicin, up to La Sabika hill (Alhambra). The Romans kept their home for the next 7 centuries. Granada, back then, had no significant position on the Iberian Peninsula.


Granada in C.E. belonged to the Caliphate of Córdoba (as the neighboring cities – Elvira and Qastilla), and its capital was Córdoba. About 500 C.E. The Roman Empire began to collapse, the colony joined to the Byzantine Empire. The Visigoths taking advantage of their positive situation and reign, they took all Spanish territories, including the commune of Iliberis. They opened their main office and administration center, maintain all the Roman structures. The Visigoths were very fond of Roman customs and wished to remain in them. They announced a new law based on Roman codes. They left the way the coins were forged, the Latin language and Christianity. During these times, Granada began to take on more importance, and the commune continued for about 200 years. Probably the civil wars were so huge, that no papers have survived to say whether around 700 C.E. there were any people living in Granada. There was no sign of Iliberis anymore.

In 711 C.E., the Arabs took power over the city and gave Granada their own name Gharnata al-Yahud.

The year 711 C.E. is considered as the beginning of the city's existence.

The Moorish Kingdom, 711-1492

In 711 a very large proportion of Muslims lived in Spain, which was the land of Al-Andalus. It is known to this day that many years, until the collapse of the Caliphate and the Emirate of Cordoba, Al-Andalus was a symbol of the golden age of Islam. The official religion of Al-Andalus was Islam, but the areas inhabited by the Muslim community tolerated Christians and Jews, so they could live in harmony with each other and practice their faith. Of course, in practice, it was not as colourful as we think. People were not as tolerant of each other as the law wanted them to be. In 1031 the Emirate and Caliphate of Cordoba were divided into small, independent Muslim states called Taifami (from Arabic – a grouping/faction).

In 1010 Ilbira (Elvira-medina, a city very close to Granada) was completely destroyed, and the townspeople of this area were moved to Albaicin. Nowadays, archaeologists are studying these areas.

In 1013 Zirids, under the leadership of the Berber boss, Zawi ben Ziri (who was the leader and founder of the independent Zirids great kingdom) took over Granada. Visigoths, having no choice, needed to join the Islamic community. this way the Berbers established complete Muslim domination of the city that lasted for many years. Zawi ben Ziri proclaimed himself the Emir of Granada and ruled until 1019.

1013-1090 – Zirids
1147-1238 – Moroccan tribes
1238-1491 – Nasrid

The Nasrid kingdom

In 1237 Granada was transformed into an independent emirate of Granada under the name – the Kingdom of Nasrid thanks to the reigning ruler Muhammad I, who went to Granada because of an invitation, and luckily stayed there longer. He united the devided lands, created an emirate and named himself the first emir of Granada. He was amazed by the al-Sabika hill, and in 1232 started there the construction of Qualat al-Hamra (Alhambra). During his reign, Granada became one of the richest cities in Europe, a point of development for merchants and craftsmen.

Muhammad I believed very much in his city and was against its fall. He wanted to make other countries dependent on himself. In fact, thanks to him, al-Andalus still had a chance to exist on the map. After his death in 1273, the reign of the city was taken over by his son Muhammad II, until 1302. He was a very brave and reasonable by nature. Later on Muhammad III took power. Unfortunately, he was banished from the city, and the ruler became hisbrother Nasr. Nasr didn’t have a chance to enjoy the power for a long time, because at the time of his accession Granada was engaged in an important battle against the Kingdom of Castile. Nasr was removed from power due to excessive pro-Christian activity, and Ismail I (grandson of Muhammad II) took power as the fifth ruler of Granada. Thanks to him, the Alcazar Genil was built after 1319, where elderly women from the sultan’s house lived. The place was later transformed into a Palace. The successor to power and the sixth ruler of Granada was his son – Muhammad IV, who was killed in 1333. That year Yusuf I, one of the four sons of Mohammad IV, took control of the city. It was he who initiated the expansion of the Alhambra building, which lasted until the eighth emirate of Granada – Mohammad V. Thanks to them we owe the most important premises of the Alhambra. The Generalife gardens and pavilions were built by Ismail I (1314-1325). The construction of the Alhambra is considered to be completed in 1391. Granada was ruled by a total of 22 rulers.

Muhammad Ibn Battuta – considered the greatest Arab explorer and geographer – from 1350 often visited the areas of Granada. In his diary, he described the city as a powerful and independent kingdom, although it often fell into fights with the Kingdom of Castile. He called Granada “metropolis of Andalusia and the bride of its cities“.

Crucial things began to happen after 1480 under the reign of Abu I-Hasan Ali, and all these situations led Granada to slowly lose its strength… In 1481, the ruler ordered the invasion of the city of Zahara de la Sierra, killing and enslaving unarmed Christians. This situation brought a wave of revenge to Granada at the hands of Isabella I and Ferdinand V of the Kingdom of Castile. The most important Christian rules.

Legend has it that Abu l-Hasan Ali, the twenty-first ruler of Granada, captured the Christian woman Isabela de Solis and fell in love with her. He wanted to leave his wife Aixa. Patriotic and brave Aixa took her son Boabdil (Mohammed XII), left the city preparing her own vengeance on her husband, and pushed her son towards being the next ruler. She returned to the city and politically abolished her husband’s rule, thanks to which her son Boabdil became the ruler. Aixa is the most famous woman in the history of Granada, despite this history that is considered legendary.


At the same time, the Christians who ruled the north of Spain slowly expanded their territories. Piece by piece, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand V seized the land in revenge against the emirate of the Granada Nasrid dynasty – The last Islamic kingdom. This time was called the “Conquest of Granada” and happened within the years 1482-1492. The ten-year war was not a continuous struggle, but a series of seasonal little battles beginning in spring, with a break for the winter period.

Catholic rulers kidnapped Boabdil and demanded surrender in exchange for taking Granada. Aixa, Boabdil’s mother, wanted to keep fighting – even using children and the elderly to do protect the kingdom, despite knowing that she wasn’t be able to win. Boabdil agreed to surrender. He gave up Alhambra and emigrated with two hundred thousand of his subjects to Africa. That’s how the term Reconquista was created – meaning the conquest of the last Islamic nation and its collapse. Legend says that Boabdil, turning head to his mother, said: You weep like a woman for what you could not defend as a man. Aixa is considered as the most famous woman in the history of the Emirate of Granada.

The collapse of Islam and the entire Al-Andalus is considered to be the date of January 2, 1492.

Thanks to Isabella Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, they managed to conquer the last ruling Islamic emirate – Granada. Al-Andalus ceased to exist, and despite the solemn entry of new rulers in Muslim dress, Christianity began to reign in Granada. Until today, January 2 is celebrated as a day of liberation.

The Bourbon era

After the takeover of Granada in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella, the Alhambra began to change. The Arabic character of the building was preserved, but elements or rooms were transformed into a completely different character. The Bourbon era, which began with Isabella and Ferdinand, was known as the “Golden age”.

Religious persecution started and some people began to profess crypto-Islam and crypto-Judaism. They were called Conversos (Marrans) “New Christians.” In 1499, the Bishop of Cineros Granada gave Muslims an ultimatum. All Muslims in Granada were obliged to convert to Christianity, become slaves or be exiled. Those who have just decided to stay true to their religion have been discriminated. Nobody could speak another language, the only official one was Spanish. In 1526, this ban spread to the rest of Spain.

In 1531, after numerous Muslim revolts, religious persecution and internal fights, this led to their total expulsion from Spain in 1568. About 200,000 Jews left the country, and 50,000 remained. With the loss of most of its talented community, Granada has experienced great sorrow, bankruptcy and collapse. This depression lasted until almost the 1830s. Granada and its community have plagued the economic crisis, natural disasters as well as numerous epidemics (cholera). This caused a wave of emigration. In the period 1880–1913, over 1.5 million Spaniards emigrated to Latin America.

In about 1812, France took over the city, and in the 1920s Granada became the main Spanish focal point for art. The Catholic history and the Bourbon era ended with the abdication of Charles IV in 1808.

As a result of the tragic civil war in 1936, over 4,000 people with left-wing or liberal connections were killed (including the very famous poet, writer, composer and pianist Federico Garcia Lorca). Granada came under the rule of the repressive general, dictator Franco Bahamonde. Attention was pointed to the urban aspects, focusing on the tourist industry of the city and rebuilding Granada’s Islamic roots. After Franco’s death – after his 36 years of dictatorship – Granada experienced a rapid transformation in 1975 that renewed its vitality and life. Spain gradually moved from Frankism to democracy.


Author Paulina

I'm a writer experimenting with fear, a photographer capturing the unseen, and a daily layout artist. This website is an honest self-talk about all the fears, the runaways, the routines, the jobs, the words, the photographs and the stories I write for you and me.

More posts by Paulina
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments