A closeup of the Palace of Charles V set within the old walls of the Alhambra

Here we are arriving in Granada. Naturally the key thing to see is the Alhambra, but Granada can not be simply equated to a single historic monument no matter how important and prestigious. Modern Granada is both a city and the capital of an autonomous community in Andalusia, which means that it has quite a degree of legislative and executive autonomy. The below map gives you a first view of city with a population of around a quarter of a million. There is clearly a mix of the old with the Alhambra and some well preserved Moorish constructions alongside a quite modern city centre and all surrounded by constantly expanding (until recently that is) residential zones started in the 19th century.

Granada almost certainly existed before the arrival of the Greeks in the 5th century BC. Under Roman rule the city, called “Illiberis” was minting its own coins, and even after the arrival of the Visigoths it maintained its importance as an administrative centre and military stronghold.

The Moors arrived in Spain in 711 and by 713 they had conquered the city. The Moors maintained much of the Roman legacy. They had the original Roman infrastructure repaired and extended, using it for irrigation while introducing new agricultural practices and novel crops such as citrus fruit and apricots. Even at that time the Jewish people had established a community on the edge of the city, calling it "Gárnata" or "Gárnata al-yahud" ('Granada of the Jews'). They actually helped the Moors take the city, although due to civil conflicts within the Caliphate of Córdoba the city was destroyed in 1010. In the subsequent reconstruction, the suburb of Gharnáta was incorporated in the city, and the modern name in fact derives from this. By the end of the 11th century, the city had spread across the river Darro to reach the hill of the future of the Alhambra, and included the oldest Moorish quarter Albayzín (also known as Albaicín or El Albaicín).

In 1228 Mohammad ibn al-’Ahmar established the longest lasting Muslim dynasty on the Iberian peninsula - the Nasrids. With the reconquista and the taking of Córdoba in 1236, the Nasrids aligned themselves with Ferdinand III of Castile, officially becoming a tributary state in 1238. The city continued to be a thriving Muslim and Arab trade center, and the Nasrids also supplied troops for Castile in their campaigns in North Africa. The Alhambra is considered by many to be the high-point of Nasrid art, with most of the palace-city being built between 1333 and 1354.

In 1492 the Islamic Emirate of Granada surrendered to the Catholic Monarchs and completed the reconquista of Al-Andalus. The terms of the surrender, the Alhambra Decree treaty, explicitly allowed the city's Muslim inhabitants, known as Mudéjar, to continue unmolested in their faith and customs. This calm did not last long, conversion to Christianity was slow and Granada’s Muslims (and Jews) were forced to convert or be expelled-executed.

The above panorama shows the Alhambra today, but during 11th C the Alhambra started out as a military stronghold. It was in the 13th C with the emergence of the Nasrid dynasty that it would become a royal palace, citadel and fortress.

With the arrival of the Catholic Monarchs, and in particular Charles V, some parts of the Alhambra were demolished to find space for a new palace. During the 18th C there was little effort made to preserve the Alhambra, and only in 19th C did people begin to repair, restore and protect the site.

The other pages on this site go into much more detail about the history of the Alhambra, the palaces within its walls and the Generalife. A good starting point is the official Granada tourism site.



This guide to visiting the Alhambra