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Guide to Granada


The origin of Granada is unclear to historians, and is the subject of much speculation. The oldest known documentation pertains to the ancient pre-Roman Iberian tribe known as the Turduli, who called the settlement Iliberis. The Turduli were one of the more advanced pre-Roman Iberian tribes. It was conquered by the Roman Empire between the second and first centuries B.C. and they made it into the regional capital. The Romans named it Florentia in Latin. The Romans occupied the modern-day neighbourhoods of Alcazaba and the Albaicín and reached the hill upon which the Alhambra now stands. During the Visigothic occupation following the collapse of the Roman Empire it is thought that Granada continued to enjoy its status as regional capital as Visigoth coins and medals have been found there. During the Visigothic reign the Iliberis district of Alcazaba came to border another district inhabited by a Jewish majority, known as Garnata. In 711 the arrival of the Berber Tariq Ibn Zeyad, an Ummayad General known in Spanish folklore as Taric el tuerto (Tariq the One-Eyed), signalled a new invasion. The Ummayads had been deposed by the Abbasid Caliphate and re-established their Caliphate in al-Andalus, conquering the Visigothic Kingdom and founding the Caliphate of Cordoba to which Granada was annexed, becoming a significant urban centre.

The Taifas

The Zirids, a Berber dynasty from Kabylie, arrived in al-Andalus as mercenaries under Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir (better known in Spanish as Almanzor), de-facto ruler of al-Andalus from 938 to 1002, having wrested power from the Caliph. Under Almanzor's rule, al-Andalus reached its peak. These Berber mercenaries served in 57 campaigns against the nothern Christian kingdoms, and won all of them. But, as tends to happen, the mercenaries ended up upsetting the established political order. Firstly, the victories prompted the quarrelling Christian kingdoms to unite in an alliance against him in 1000. Secondly, upon his death, Almanzor's ambitious half-brother, Abd al-Rahman (known in Spanish as Abderramán) used his influence to force the weak Caliph to designate him as heir to al-Andalus. The people of Cordoba were already upset with Almanzor because of his use of Berber mercenaries to protect himself. When his successor, Abderramán went on an expedition against King Alfonso V of Leon the people of Cordoba rebelled under the leadership of Muhammad II al-Mahdi, a member of the Ummayad dynasty and great grandson of the first Caliph, plunging al-Andalus into civil war. Ultimately the Caliphate of Cordoba disintegrated into rival Muslim kingdoms called taifas while the Christian kingdoms of the north found themselves newly united.


One of these taifas was the Zirid Kingdom of Granada, taken over by the Zirid mercenaries. The Zirids moved their capital from Medina Elvira (Elvira City) to Medina Garnata (Garnata City), a Jewish settlement with Roman hydraulic infrastructure at the top of the Albaicín hill which was all that remained of the ancient town of Iliberis. There they constructed a new city. The Zirid Kingdom, along with the other taifas, lasted until the Almoravids, Islamic fundamentalists from the Sahara, conquered al-Andalus and annexed it to the Almoravid Empire, which extended throughout modern day Morocco and whose capital was Marrakesh. The Almoravid Empire collapsed in less than a hundred years under the combined pressure of the Christian Kingdoms in northern Iberia and the Almohads in the Magreb, leading to a second taifas period in Iberia until the Almohads seized control of al-Andalus. The Almohads were eventually defeated by the Christians at the famous batalla de las Navas de Tolosa, paving the way for the Nasrid dynasty to found the Kingdom of Granada, which would ultimately become the last remaining Muslim Kingdom in Western Europe. The Nasrids built the now world famous Alhambra, considered today one of the maximum exponents of Islamic art and architecture in the world. The Alhambra Palace was built under the rule of Muhammad Ibn Nasr, nicknamed al-Ahmar (the Red) for his red beard which was castillianised as Alhamar. It did not, however, acquire its current appearance until the 14th century. In the 13th century Granada reached full splendour, becoming one of the most prosperous cities either in Christian Europe or the Muslim world. By the 15th century it already had 165,000 inhabitants and was then the largest city in Europe. Al-Saqundi said of Granada: "Granada is pasture for the eyes, elevation for the soul". Al-Basit remarked that "It is the meeting point for illustrious personalities, poets, scientists, artists...". The last Nasrid ruler of the Kingdom of Granada was Abu 'abd-Allah Muhammad XII, known in Spanish by the nickname Boabdil (a contraction of Abu Abdullah) or Boabdil el chico (Boabdil the Small). Granadans of the day also had another nickname for him, الزغابي (Al-Zugabi) or el Desdichado, meaning "the Unfortunate".

Surrender of Granada

In 1492 Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, los Reyes Católicos, conquered what had become the last Muslim city in Western Europe. The fall of Granada marked the end of al-Andalus and the birth of the Spanish Empire. The same year Columbus' expedition landed in America beginning the Spanish colonisation, Spain was declared to be a purely Catholic country and received official papal recognition as a bastion and defender of the Catholic faith. Spanish Jews, called sefardíes, were made to convert to Christianity or abandon the country. A few years later Spanish Muslims suffered the same fate. 100 years later another edict ordered the expulsion of all descendents of Moorish converts (Arab Christians, called moriscos), even though they were professed Catholics, leading to the emptying of their neighbourhoods. Following each expulsion Granada, which had had very large Jewish and Moorish populations, experienced severe economic depressions from which it did not recover until the 17th century. In the interim it lost its status as the largest and most prosperous city in Europe.

World famous Spanish poet Federico García Lorca was born in Fuente Vaqueros, in the province of Granada and was also executed here in 1936 by fascists from the Spanish Phalange for his affiliation with the leftist Popular Front and for being openly gay.

Modern Granada is a magnet for European university students doing their Erasmus year. Unlike most Andalusian cities, Granada's climate is relatively chilly and it can get colder in Granada than in Madrid, much further to the North. This is because Granada is located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, some 738 metres above sea level. Granada is a perfect choice if you would like to experience life in Andalusia with tolerable levels of heat in the summertime.

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