Granada’s history reads like an excellent thriller, with complicated plots, conspiracies, hedonism and tricky love-affairs. Granada began life as an Iberian settlement in the Albayzín district. Muslim forces took over from the Visigoths in 711, with the aid of the Jewish community around the foot of the Alhambra hill in what was called Garnata al Jahud, from which the name Granada derives; granada also happens to be Spanish for pomegranate, the fruit on the city’s coat of arms.
After the fall of Córdoba (1236) and Seville (1248), Muslims sought refuge in Granada, where Mohammed ibn Yusuf ibn Nasr had set up an independent emirate. Stretching from the Strait of Gibraltar to east of Almería, this ‘Nasrid’ emirate became the final remnant of Al-Andalus, ruled from the increasingly lavish Alhambra palace for 250 years. Granada became one of the richest cities in medieval Europe, flourishing with its swollen population of traders and artisans. Two centuries of artistic and scientific splendour peaked under emirs Yusuf I and Mohammed V in the 14th century.
It all went pear-shaped as the 15th century wore on: the economy stagnated and violent rivalry developed over the succession. One faction supported the emir, Abu al-Hasan, and his harem favourite Zoraya. The other faction backed Boabdil, Abu al-Hasan’s son by his wife Aixa. In 1482 Boabdil rebelled, setting off a confused civil war. The Christian armies invading the emirate took advantage, besieging towns and devastating the countryside, and in 1491 they finally laid siege to Granada. After eight months, Boabdil agreed to surrender the city in return for the Alpujarras valleys and 30, 000 gold coins, plus political and religious freedom for his subjects. On 2 January 1492 the conquering Catholic Monarchs, Isabel and Fernando, entered Granada ceremonially in Muslim dress. They set up court in the Alhambra for several years.
Religious persecution soon ensued. Jews were expelled from Spain, and persecution of Muslims led to revolts across the former emirate and their eventual expulsion from Spain in the 17th century. Lacking these talented elements of its populace, Granada sank into a deep decline from which it only began to emerge with the interest drummed up by the Romantic movement from the 1830s on. This set the stage for the restoration of Granada’s Islamic heritage and the arrival of tourism.
Another black period occurred when the Nationalists took over Granada at the start of the civil war, and an estimated 4000 granadinos (Granadans) with left or liberal connections were killed, among them Federico García Lorca, Granada’s most famous writer. Granada has a reputation for political conservatism.