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 one of the oldest cities 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 a bizarre religion and advanced military technology. The city still retains an almost regal beauty, each thick-walled architectural masterpiece faithfully resurrected to original specifications after every trial and tribulation.
A trade center almost from its inception, Granada’s position on the Lago de Nicaragua became even more important when the Spanish realized 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.
Undaunted, Granada rebuilt and grew richer and more powerful, a conservative cornerstone of the Central American economy. After independence from Spain, the city challenged the colonial capital and longtime 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.’ 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, 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.’
The city rebuilt – again. And while its power has waned, its importance as a tourist center and quick escape from bustling Managua keeps the city of Granada vibrant.