History of Granada

Mother Earth Travel > Spain > Granada > History

Archaelogical research carried out in Granada in 1916 revealed that the province had been inhabited since Paleolithic times. Findings dating from the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic eras are on display in the Museo Arqueológico (The Archaeological Museum).

By the 7th century BC there were already Phoenician, Carthaginian and Greek settlers inhabiting coastal areas of the province of Granada. These settlers also had contact with those living in the interior. According to documentation dating from the 5th century BC the very first people to live in Granada were Hebrew settlers. The city at that time was known as Elybirge.

Romanization of Bética, the Southern part of the Iberian Peninsula, was rapid. The process was completed in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. Under Roman rule the city was renamed Llíberis, although its exact location is uncertain. Later, it was occupied by the Visigoths, although it maintained control over civil, military and religious matters.

Little is known about the Jewish community, known as Gárnata, which settled in Granada. However, the fact that it is mentioned so frequently in the canons of the Council of Elvira, which took place in the 4th century, point to it being of considerable importance. Not only that, but the Jews were instrumental in contributing to the overthrow of the Visigoth monarchy, facilitating the entry of the Arab invaders in 711. With the arrival of the Arabs, the city changed its name again, this time to Llbira. Historical monuments dating from this period, such as the tower of the Mezquita de los Morabitos (Morabitos Mosque) in the Church of San José and the Torres Bermejas (Red Towers) are still visible today.

In 1010 internal strife between diverse ethnic and cultural factions virtually destroyed the city until in 1013, with the arrival of the Ziríes dynasty from Africa, it became an independent kingdom. The remains of the walls of the Albayzín date from this period. They were constructed on top of older fortifications known as the Alcazaba Qadima, which had been built on the hill of the Albayzín. Some of the gateways and towers which protected these walls also still survive, for example the Puerta de Monaita, the Puerta de Elvira and the Arco de las Pesas.

From 1238 onwards, with the arrival of the Nazarí Dynasty, the city experienced a period of great prosperity and exceptional brilliance. The first Nazarí monarch, King Alhamar, enjoyed good diplomatic relations with Fernando III and during his reign Granada grew beyond the limits of the hill on which the Alhambra and the Albayzín were built. The Alhambra palace itself dates from this time, as do the Palacio de la Madraza (Madraza Palace) and other public buildings.

Until 1492 Granada symbolised economic and cultural wealth, but internal struggles weakened the kingdom, allowing it to be taken by the Catholic Monarchs. Initially, Arab citizens were allowed to continue living according to their traditions. In 1499, however, Cardinal Cisneros forced all Muslims to be baptised as Christians. Later this policy was extended to the prohibition of their clothing, customs and language and the imposition of high taxes. During this period many mosques were either destroyed or converted into monasteries or other religious and public buildings. Examples of this transformation are churches such as the churches of San Miguel, Santa María, and San José. Owing to the levels of persecution they suffered, the Muslims finally rebelled and sought refuge in the Alpujarra Hills, until in the 17th century after their defeat at the Battle of the Alpujarras they were expelled from the city altogether.

Today Granada continues to expand. Modern buildings sit side by side with historic monuments, many of which have undergone extensive conservation work. It is one of Spain's most visited cities, not only because of its architectural and historical interest, but also thanks to the lively atmosphere generated by the University, its nightlife, a beach less than a hour's drive away, the ski resort in the Sierra Nevada only 35k from the centre, and the added attraction of the free tapas which are served with drinks in its many bars.