Unfortunately, many travelers reach their destination without knowing anything about the city’s history. All the signs and markers and monuments can be confusing unless you have key parts of the city’s past dedicated to memory. Are you planning to visit Spain’s beautiful Granada? Here’s a crash course in their long and tumultuous existence.
First of all, the name: The Spanish word for “pomegranate” is “granada,” but there may be more to it than that. The Arabic term “Karnattah or Gharnatah” might have also been a factor in naming the city.
As some scholars say, Granada’s history can be traced much further than that of many famous cities, but its origins are cloudy at best. There is a rumor that the descendants of Noah spread to what is now Spain and became the early founders of the city. Another story says that Granada is connected to that great Greek legend Hercules. While these stories are mired in doubt, there is one fact that is probably true: Roman settlements most assuredly existed here at one time.
If you study the architecture of ancient Rome, you will notice the short, white-washed homes with columns and corrugated orange roofs. This is one of Spain’s most striking architectural features as well. The reason for this could very well be that in ancient
days, Roman troops conquered the Celtic people of the Iberian Peninsula and took over the territory. The original settlement, according to some, was known as “Elibyrge”.
In medieval times, Granada was a city unlike any other European settlement. Not only were Jews, Christians, and Muslims co-existing without major troubles (a time known as “convivencia”) but the Moors, Muslims whose ancestors hailed from North Africa, were in charge of one of Europe’s largest cultural centers. This was quite a feat, considering that most of Europe in that time was ruled by Christian kings. For centuries, the
convivencia remained throughout Spain until the Catholic ruler Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand gained the throne. After that date, there was no reconciling; the Jews and Moors had to go, or they would be converted or killed. Naturally, many chose to abandon their Spanish homes and go abroad, but the Moors flocked to Granada and refused to give up their stronghold.
After 1492, Christians attempted to pick up the pace and make Granada a more European city, but never quite succeeded. They made a church out of the old mosque and forced non-Christians to adopt a Christian lifestyle, but the pulse of the city was still more like that of Damascus or Baghdad. It was not until the 1500s or 1600s when all traces of the Muslim people were extinguished after many persecutions, relocations, and conversions to the Christian faith, but even after the Moors were long gone, Granada retained its Middle
Everywhere you travel in the city, you can see evidence of their culture. The beautiful tilework (Islam forbade artists to create certain images, and these clever men overcompensated by making their patterns more and more artistic and creative)
and beautiful archways exist throughout this Moorish paradise. The Alhambra, in particular, is a piece of the Middle East in Spain that travelers definitely should not miss while visiting Granada.
After the problems stemming from cultural warfare, Granada settled back in to a relatively peaceful state until the early 19th century, when Napoleon’s brother was given jurisdiction over the Spanish people. The troops who followed this expedition furthered the
demise of the beautiful Moorish Alhambra by destroying towers at the site. Luckily, as the modern age approached, the Alhambra and nearby Generalife gardens were restored to their medieval charm.
It is important to know Granada’s history because everywhere you go, you will be surrounded by it. In many ways, Granada is still stuck in the past and that is a very lucky thing for those who choose to visit. Interestingly enough, Granada’s Moorish culture
spawned architectural inspiration far from Spain’s borders.
In St. Augustine, Florida, a city revered for its Spanish past and attention to historical detail, there is a beautiful building known as Zorayda Castle. It is supposed to be a smaller version of part of Granada’s Alhambra complex, and on it are sprawled the Arabic
words, “Wa la ghalib illa lla,” “There is no conqueror but God.” Granada’s beauty and influence traveled from the old world to the new, and will forever echo throughout the ages.