The History of Granada: A Tale of Cultures, Conquests & Coexistence

Discover the history of Granada

Nestled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains in southern Spain, Granada boasts a rich and varied history that has captivated visitors for centuries. A melting pot of cultures, Granada has been home to Iberians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and Christians, each leaving their unique imprint on the city’s landscape and traditions.

The following timeline is a quick dive into Granada’s enchanting past, tracing its origins, cultural exchanges, and the events that have shaped this gem of Andalucía.

Early Origins and Roman Influence

The area now known as Granada has been inhabited since prehistoric times, with the Iberian people among the first to settle in the region. The Iberians were skilled artisans, with remnants of their pottery and sculptures offering a glimpse into their rich cultural heritage.

The Romans arrived in the 2nd century BCE, founding the city of Illiberris, which would later become part of the Roman province of Hispania. The Romans left a lasting legacy in Granada, including the construction of roads, bridges, and the introduction of Latin. The remains of Roman villas and baths can still be found in the region today.

Visigothic Rule and the Emergence of Islam

Following the decline of the Western Roman Empire, the Visigoths, a Germanic tribe, established their rule over the Iberian Peninsula in the 5th century CE. Granada was a Visigothic stronghold, and the city was gradually Christianized under their rule. However, the Visigothic Kingdom was relatively short-lived, as the Iberian Peninsula became the target of Muslim expansion in the early 8th century.

In 711 CE, the Muslim Umayyad general Tariq ibn Ziyad led a Berber army across the Strait of Gibraltar, marking the beginning of the Islamic conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom. Over the next decade, the Muslim forces would gradually conquer most of the Iberian Peninsula, which became known as Al-Andalus.

The Founding of the Emirate of Granada and the Alhambra

Granada’s transformation into a thriving Muslim centre began in the 11th century when it became the capital of the Taifa of Granada, an independent Muslim-ruled principality. The city’s strategic location near the Sierra Nevada mountains and fertile valleys made it a prime location for trade and agriculture. The Taifa of Granada was relatively short-lived, as it was absorbed into the Almoravid Empire, a Berber Muslim dynasty that ruled over much of North Africa and Al-Andalus.

Granada regained its independence in 1238 under the Nasrid dynasty, which established the Emirate of Granada. The Nasrids were responsible for the construction of the city’s most iconic landmark: the Alhambra. This magnificent palace and fortress complex was built between the 13th and 14th centuries and is a testament to the architectural and artistic prowess of the Nasrid era.

The Alhambra is an extraordinary fusion of Islamic and Christian influences, with its intricate geometric patterns, horseshoe arches, and ornate plasterwork. The palace’s gardens, known as the Generalife, are a lush paradise of fountains, courtyards, and fragrant flowers. The Alhambra’s beauty and grandeur are emblematic of Granada’s golden age under the Nasrids, who maintained a policy of religious tolerance that allowed for a flourishing of art, science, and philosophy.

The Reconquista and the Fall of Granada

Despite its prosperity and cultural achievements, the Emirate of Granada faced significant external pressure during the 15th century. The Reconquista, a series of military campaigns led by the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, aimed to reclaim the Iberian Peninsula from Muslim rule. Gradually, the Reconquista reduced the territory controlled by the Nasrids, leaving Granada as the last remaining Muslim stronghold in Spain.

In 1469, the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile united the two most powerful Christian kingdoms, strengthening their resolve to complete the Reconquista. In 1491, they laid siege to Granada, cutting off its supplies and isolating the city. On January 2, 1492, the last Nasrid ruler, Muhammad XII, also known as Boabdil, surrendered Granada to the Catholic Monarchs, marking the end of over 700 years of Muslim rule in Al-Andalus.

The Alhambra Decree and the Expulsion of the Jews

The fall of Granada was a turning point in Spanish history, as it marked the beginning of a new era of religious intolerance.

Just months after the city’s surrender, the Catholic Monarchs issued the Alhambra Decree, which ordered the expulsion of all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity.

This marked a tragic end to the thriving Jewish community in Granada, which had coexisted with Muslims and Christians for centuries.

The Moriscos: Forced Conversion and Expulsion

The Catholic Monarchs’ policy of religious intolerance also extended to Granada’s Muslim population.

Initially, the terms of surrender granted Muslims the right to practice their religion freely. However, this promise was soon broken, and Muslims were forced to choose between conversion to Christianity or exile.

Those who converted, known as Moriscos, faced continued persecution and suspicion.

In 1609, King Philip III ordered the expulsion of all Moriscos from Spain, striking a blow to Granada’s diverse cultural landscape.

Granada in the Modern Era

Throughout the subsequent centuries, Granada experienced periods of decline and growth.

During the Spanish War of Independence in the early 19th century, the city faced significant upheaval as it was occupied by French forces. The 19th and 20th centuries saw a resurgence of interest in Granada’s rich history, with the Alhambra becoming a symbol of Spain’s cultural heritage.

Girl gazing at the Alhambra from San Nicolas viewpoint.

Today, Granada is a vibrant city that attracts millions of tourists each year, drawn to its stunning architecture, lively tapas culture, and the legacy of its storied past.

The Alhambra, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stands as a testament to Granada’s unique blend of cultures and the remarkable achievements of the Nasrid dynasty.

Hashish in Granada: A Historical Context

Granada’s history is also intertwined with the use of hashish, a psychoactive substance derived from the cannabis plant.

During the Nasrid period, when Al-Andalus was at its height, the region was known for cultivating cannabis, which was primarily grown for its fibers used in textiles.

However, the people of Granada were also familiar with the psychoactive properties of cannabis and used it for medicinal and recreational purposes. The term “assassin,” which is believed to have originated from the Arabic word “hashashin,” refers to the legendary Nizari Ismaili sect that consumed hashish as part of their rituals.

While there is no direct link between the Nizari Ismaili and Granada, the use of hashish in the region does reflect the cultural exchanges that took place throughout the Mediterranean during the medieval period.

Even after the Reconquista and the expulsion of Muslims from Spain, the tradition of cannabis cultivation persisted in Granada, as the plant’s fibers continued to be used for making rope and textiles.

Today, the association between Granada and hashish endures, with the city maintaining a reputation for its high-quality cannabis products and a thriving cannabis culture.

What to do in Granada

Book your tickets for the Alhambra

Where to stay in Granada

Find your hotel in Granada

With a huge range of places to stay, great prices and free cancellation options on loads of rooms, your next trip to Granada is closer than you think.

The history of Granada is a captivating tale of cultural exchange, conquest, and coexistence. From its early origins as an Iberian settlement to its rise as a centre of Islamic art and science under the Nasrids, Granada has been shaped by the various peoples who have called it home.

The city’s tumultuous past, marked by the Reconquista and the subsequent era of religious intolerance, serves as a sobering reminder of the fragility of cultural diversity.

Today, Granada stands as a testament to the resilience of its people and the enduring allure of its rich historical tapestry.

Main image: View of the old Granada city skyline | Allard

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