Arco/Puerta de Elvira in Granada
The region surrounding what today is Granada has been populated since at least 5500 BC and experienced Roman and Visigothic influences. The most ancient ruins found in the city belongs to an Iberian oppidum called Ilturir, in the region known as Bastetania. This oppidum eventually changed its name to Iliberri, and after the Roman conquest of Iberia, to Municipium Florentinum Iliberitanum.
Founding and early history
The Umayyad conquest of Hispania, starting in AD 711, brought large parts of the Iberian Peninsula under Moorish control and established Al-Andalus. Granada's historical name in the Arabic language was غرناطة (Ġarnāṭah). The word Gárnata (or Karnatah) possibly means "hill of strangers". Because the city was situated on a low plain and, as a result, difficult to protect from attacks, the ruler decided to transfer his residence to the higher situated area of Gárnata. In a short time this town was transformed into one of the most important cities of Al-Andalus.
In the early 11th century, after the collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate, the Berber Zawi ben Ziri established an independent kingdom for himself, the Taifa of Granada. By good fortune his memoirs have survived — the only ones for the Spanish "Middle Ages" — and they allow us to know this brief period in considerable detail. The Zirid Taifa of Granada was a Jewish state in all but name; the Muslim ruler was a powerless figurehead. It is the only time between Biblical times and the twentieth century that a Jewish ruler commanded an army. It was also the center of Jewish culture and scholarship.
Early Arabic writers repeatedly called it "Garnata al-Yahud" (Granada of the Jews).... Granada was in the eleventh century the center of Sephardic civilization at its peak, and from 1027 until 1066 Granada was a powerful Jewish state. Jews did not hold the foreigner (dhimmi) status typical of Islamic rule. Samuel ibn Nagrilla, recognized by Sephardic Jews everywhere as the quasi-political ha-Nagid ('The Prince'), was king in all but name. As vizier he made policy and—much more unusual—led the army.... It is said that Samuel’s strengthening and fortification of Granada was what permitted it, later, to survive as the last Islamic state in the Iberian peninsula.
All of the greatest figures of eleventh-century Hispano-Jewish culture are associated with Granada. Moses Ibn Ezra was from Granada; on his invitation Judah ha-Levi spent several years there as his guest. Ibn Gabirol’s patrons and hosts were the Jewish viziers of Granada, Samuel ha-Nagid and his son Joseph.
When Joseph took over after his father's death, he proved to lack his father's diplomacy, bringing on the 1066 Granada massacre, which ended the Golden Age of Jewish Culture in Spain.
By the end of the 11th century, the city had spread across the Darro to reach the hill of the future Alhambra, and included the Albaicín neighborhood (now a World Heritage site). The Almoravids ruled Granada from 1090 and the Almohad dynasty from 1166.
Nasrid dynasty—Emirate of Granada
In 1228, with the departure of the Almohad prince Idris al-Ma'mun, who left Iberia to take the Almohad leadership, the ambitious Ibn al-Ahmar established the last and longest reigning Muslim dynasty in the Iberian peninsula, the Nasrids. With the Reconquista in full swing after the conquest of Córdoba in 1236, the Nasrids aligned themselves with Fernando III of Castile, officially becoming the Emirate of Granada in 1238. According to some historians, Granada was a tributary state to the Kingdom of Castile since that year. It provided connections with Muslim and Arab trade centers, particularly for gold from sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb, and exported silk and dried fruits produced in the area. The Nasrids also supplied troops from the Emirate and mercenaries from North Africa for service to Castile.
Ibn Battuta, a famous traveller and an authentic historian, visited the Kingdom of Granada in 1350. He described it as a powerful and self-sufficient kingdom in its own right, although frequently embroiled in skirmishes with the Kingdom of Castile. In his journal, Ibn Battuta called Granada the “metropolis of Andalusia and the bride of its cities.”
During the Moor rule, Granada was a city with adherents to many religions and ethnicities (Arabs, Berbers, Christians and Jews) who lived in separate quarters.
Reconquista and the 16th century
The Capitulation of Granada
by F. Padilla: Muhammad XII before Ferdinand and Isabella (circa 1882).
On January 2, 1492, the last Muslim ruler in Iberia, Emir Muhammad XII, known as Boabdil to the Spanish, surrendered complete control of the Emirate of Granada to Fernando V and Isabella I, Los Reyes Católicos ("the Catholic Monarchs"), after the last battle of the Granada War.
The 1492 surrender of the Islamic Emirate of Granada to the Catholic Monarchs is one of the most significant events in Granada's history as it marks the completion of the Reconquista of Al-Andalus. The terms of the surrender, expressed in the Alhambra Decree treaty, explicitly allowed the city's Muslim inhabitants to continue unmolested in the practice of their faith and customs, known as Mudéjar. By 1499, however, Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros grew frustrated with the slow pace of the efforts of Granada’s first Archbishop,
Fernando de Talavera, to convert non-Christians to Christianity and undertook a program of forced Christian baptisms, creating the Converso (convert) class for Muslims and Jews. Cisneros's new tactics, which were a direct violation of the terms of the treaty, provoked an armed Muslim revolt centered in the rural Alpujarras region southwest of the city.
Responding to the rebellion of 1501, the Castilian Crown rescinded the Alhambra Decree treaty, and mandated that Granada's Muslims must convert or emigrate. Under the 1492 Alhambra Decree, Spain's Jewish population, unlike the Muslims, had already been forced to convert under threat of expulsion or even execution, becoming Marranos (meaning "pigs" in Spanish), or Catholics of Jewish descent. Many of the elite Muslim class subsequently emigrated to North Africa. The majority of the Granada's Mudéjar Muslims stayed to convert, however, becoming Moriscos, or Catholics of Moorish descent ("Moor" being equivalent to Muslim). Both populations of conversos were subject to persecution, execution, or exile, and each had cells that practiced their original religion in secrecy.
Over the course of the 16th century, Granada took on an ever more Catholic and Castilian character, as immigrants came to the city from other parts of the Iberian Peninsula. The city's mosques were converted to Christian churches or completely destroyed. New structures, such as the cathedral and the Chancillería, or Royal Court of Appeals, transformed the urban landscape. After the 1492 Alhambra decree, which resulted in the majority of Granada's Jewish population being expelled, the Jewish quarter (ghetto) was demolished to make way for new Catholic and Castilian institutions and uses.
The fall of Granada has a significant place among the important events that mark the latter half of the Spanish 15th century. It completed the so-called Reconquista (or Christian reconquest) of the almost 800-year-long Islamic rule in the Iberian Peninsula. Spain, now without any major internal territorial conflict, embarked on a great phase of exploration and colonization around the globe. In the same year the sailing expedition of Christopher Columbus resulted in what is usually claimed to be the first European sighting of the New World, although Leif Ericson is often regarded as the first European to land in the New World, 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The resources of the Americas enriched the crown and the country, allowing Isabella I and Ferrando II to consolidate their rule as Catholic Monarchs of the united kingdoms. Subsequent conquests, and the Spanish colonization of the Americas by the maritime expeditions they commissioned, created the vast Spanish Empire: for a time the largest in the world.