Nicknamed 'the Great Sultan, ' in honor of its Moorish namesake across the Atlantic, Granada was founded in 1524 by Francisco Fernández de Córdoba, and is the oldest city in the New World. It was constructed as a showcase city, the first chance that the Spanish had to prove they had more to offer than bizarre religions and advanced military technology, and it still retains an almost regal beauty, each adobe masterpiece faithfully resurrected to original specifications after every trial and tribulation.
A trade center almost from its inception, Granada's position as the mistress of Lago de Nicaragua became even more important when the Spanish realized, in the 1530s, that the Río San Juan was navigable from the lake to the sea. This made Granada rich - and vulnerable. Between 1665 and 1670, pirates sacked the city three times, and that was only the worst of it.
Undaunted, Granada rebuilt and grew even richer and more powerful, a conservative cornerstone of the Central American economy. And, after independence from Spain, the city chose to challenge the colonial capital, longtime rival and liberal bastion León, for leadership of the new nation.
Tensions erupted into full-blown civil war in the 1850s, when desperate León contracted the services of American mercenary William Walker and his band of 'filibusterers.' Armed and funded by the burgeoning Confederate States of America, Walker defeated Granada, declared himself president and launched a conquest of Central America - and failed. Walker was forced into a retreat after a series of embarrassing defeats that pushed him north, from Costa Rica to Rivas, and as he fell back to his old capital city, he set it afire and left in its ashes the infamous placard: 'Here was Granada.'
Fortunately spared the worst of both the revolution and the Contra War, Granada's beauty and location are once again attracting business. A massive restoration project - some of it public, but most of it being undertaken by wealthy Nicaraguans and interested expats - is rebuilding this fine city to its original glory. It makes a welcoming entry point to Nicaragua. It also makes a very comfortable base for exploring Masaya, the Pueblos Blancos and Volcán Mombacho, or even Managua, just an hour away.