Granada is the capital city of the province of Granada, in the autonomous community of Andalusia, Spain. Granada is located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, at the confluence of four rivers, the Darro, the Genil, the Monachil and the Beiro. It sits at an average elevation of 738 m (2,421 ft) above sea level, yet is only one hour by car from the Mediterranean coast, the Costa Tropical. Nearby is the Sierra Nevada Ski Station, where the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships 1996 were held.
In the 2005 national census, the population of the city of Granada proper was 236,982, and the population of the entire urban area was estimated to be 472,638, ranking as the 13th-largest urban area of Spain. About 3.3% of the population did not hold Spanish citizenship, the largest number of these people (31%; or 1% of the total population) coming from South America. Its nearest airport is Federico García Lorca Granada-Jaén Airport.
The Alhambra, a Moorish citadel and palace, is in Granada. It is the most renowned building of the Andalusian Islamic historical legacy with its many cultural attractions that make Granada a popular destination among the touristic cities of Spain. The Almohad influence on architecture is also preserved in the Granada neighborhood called the Albaicín with its fine examples of Moorish and Morisco construction. Granada is also well-known within Spain for the University of Granada which has about 80,000 students spread over five different campuses in the city. The pomegranate (in Spanish, granada) is the heraldic device of Granada.
The region surrounding what today is Granada has been populated since at least 5500 BC and experienced Roman and Visigothic influences. The most ancient ruins found in the city belongs to an Iberian oppidum called Ilturir, in the region known as Bastetania. This oppidum eventually changed its name to Iliberri, and after the Roman conquest of Iberia, to Municipium Florentinum Iliberitanum.
The Umayyad conquest of Hispania, starting in AD 711, brought large parts of the Iberian Peninsula under Moorish control and established Al-Andalus. In the early 11th century, after a civil war that ended the Caliphate, the Berber Zawi ben Ziri established an independent kingdom for himself, the Taifa of Granada, with Illiberis as its capital. Jewish people were established in another area close to Illiberis, called Gárnata or Gárnata al-Yahūd (“Granada of the Jews”). Granada’s historical name in the Arabic language was غرناطة (Ġarnāṭah).
The word Gárnata (or Karnatah) possibly means “hill of strangers”. Because the city was situated on a low plain and, as a result, difficult to protect from attacks, the ruler decided to transfer his residence to the higher situated area of Gárnata. In a short time this town was transformed into one of the most important cities of Al-Andalus. By the end of the 11th century, the city had spread across the Darro to reach the hill of the future Alhambra, and included the Albayzín neighborhood (also called “Albaicín” or “El Albaicín”, now a World Heritage site). The Almoravids ruled Granada from 1090 and the Almohad dynasty from 1166.
Nasrid dynasty – Emirate of Granada
In 1228, with the departure of the Almohad prince Idris al-Ma’mun, who left Iberia to take the Almohad leadership, the ambitious Ibn al-Ahmar established the last and longest reigning Muslim dynasty in the Iberian peninsula, the Nasrids. With the Reconquista in full swing after the conquest of Córdoba in 1236, the Nasrids aligned themselves with Fernando III of Castile, officially becoming the Emirate of Granada in 1238. According to some historians, Granada was a tributary state to the Kingdom of Castile since that year. It provided connections with Muslim and Arab trade centers, particularly for gold from sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb, and exported silk and dried fruits produced in the area. The Nasrids also supplied troops from the Emirate and mercenaries from North Africa for service to Castile.
Ibn Battuta, a famous traveler and an authentic historian, visited the Kingdom of Granada in 1350. He described it as a powerful and self-sufficient kingdom in its own right, although frequently embroiled in skirmishes with the Kingdom of Castile.
During the Moor rule, Granada was a city with adherents to many religions and ethnicities (Arabs, Berbers, Christians and Jews) who lived in separate quarters.
Reconquista and the 16th century
On January 2, 1492, the last Muslim ruler in Iberia, Emir Muhammad XII, known as Boabdil to the Spanish, surrendered complete control of the Emirate of Granada to Fernando V and Isabella I, Los Reyes Católicos (“the Catholic Monarchs”), after the last battle of the Granada War.
The 1492 surrender of the Islamic Emirate of Granada to the Catholic Monarchs is one of the most significant events in Granada’s history as it marks the completion of the Reconquista of Al-Andalus. The terms of the surrender, expressed in the Alhambra Decree treaty, explicitly allowed the city’s Muslim inhabitants to continue unmolested in the practice of their faith and customs, known as Mudéjar. By 1499, however, Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros grew frustrated with the slow pace of the efforts of Granada’s first Archbishop, Fernando de Talavera, to convert non-Christians to Christianity and undertook a program of forced Christian baptisms, creating the Converso (convert) class for Muslims and Jews. Cisneros’s new tactics, which were a direct violation of the terms of the treaty, provoked an armed Muslim revolt centered in the rural Alpujarras region southwest of the city.
Responding to the rebellion of 1501, the Castilian Crown rescinded the Alhambra Decree treaty, and mandated that Granada’s Muslims must convert or emigrate. Under the 1492 Alhambra Decree, Spain’s Jewish population, unlike the Muslims, had already been forced to convert under threat of expulsion or even execution, becoming Marranos (meaning “pigs” in Spanish), or Catholics of Jewish descent. Many of the elite Muslim class subsequently emigrated to North Africa. The majority of the Granada’s Mudéjar Muslims stayed to convert, however, becoming Moriscos, or Catholics of Moorish descent (“Moor” being equivalent to Muslim). Both populations of conversos were subject to persecution, execution, or exile, and each had cells that practiced their original religion in secrecy.
Over the course of the 16th century, Granada took on an ever more Catholic and Castilian character, as immigrants came to the city from other parts of the Iberian Peninsula. The city’s mosques were converted to Christian churches or completely destroyed. New structures, such as the cathedral and the Chancillería, or Royal Court of Appeals, transformed the urban landscape. After the 1492 Alhambra decree, which resulted in the majority of Granada’s Jewish population being expelled, the Jewish quarter (ghetto) was demolished to make way for new Catholic and Castilian institutions and uses.
The fall of Granada has a significant place among the important events that mark the latter half of the Spanish 15th century. It completed the Reconquista (or Christian reconquest) of the almost 800-year-long Islamic rule in the Iberian Peninsula. Spain, now without any major internal territorial conflict, embarked on a great phase of exploration and colonization around the globe. In the same year the sailing expedition of Christopher Columbus resulted in what is usually claimed to be the first European sighting of the New World, although Leif Ericson is often regarded as the first European to land in the New World, 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The resources of the Americas enriched the crown and the country, allowing Isabella I and Ferrando II to consolidate their rule as Catholic Monarchs of the united kingdoms. Subsequent conquests, and the Spanish colonization of the Americas by the maritime expeditions they commissioned, created the vast Spanish Empire: for a time the largest in the world.
Heritage and monuments
The greatest artistic wealth of Granada is its Spanish-Islamic art — in particular, the compound of the Alhambra and the Generalife. The Generalife is a pleasure palace with attached romantic gardens, remarkable both for its location and layout, as well as for the diversity of its flowers, plants and fountains. The Alhambra is the architectural culmination of the works of Nasrid art that were undertaken in the 13th and 14th centuries, with most of the Alhambra having been built at the time of Yusuf I and Mohammed V, between 1333 and 1354.
At present, the buildings of Granada are typically bourgeois in appearance, with much of the architecture dating from the 19th Century, together with numerous Renaissance and Baroque buildings.
The Alhambra is a Nasrid “palace city”. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984. It is certainly Granada’s most emblematic monument and one of the most visited in Spain. It consists of a defensive zone, the Alcazaba, together with others of a residential and formal state character, the Nasrid Palaces and, lastly, the palace, gardens and orchards of El Generalife.
The Alhambra occupies a small plateau on the southeastern border of the city in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada above the Assabica valley. Some of the buildings may have existed before the arrival of the Moors. The Alhambra as a whole is completely walled, bordered to the north by the valley of the Darro, to the south by the al-Sabika, and to the east of the Cuesta del Rey Chico, which in turn is separated from the Albayzín and Generalife, located in the Cerro del Sol.
In the 11th century the Castle of the Alhambra was developed as a walled town which became a military stronghold that dominated the whole city. But it was in the 13th century, with the arrival of the first monarch of the Nasrid dynasty, Mohammed I ibn Nasr (Mohammed I, 1238–1273), that the royal residence was established in the Alhambra. This marked the beginning of its heyday. The Alhambra became palace, citadel and fortress, and was the residence of the Nasrid sultans and their senior officials, including servants of the court and elite soldiers (13th–14th centuries).
In 1492 the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabela, expelled the final Moors from the city of Granada. They established permanent residency in the Alhambra, and it was here that Christopher Columbus requested royal endorsement for his westward expedition that year.
In 1527 Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor demolished part of the architectural complex to build the Palace which bears his name. Although the Catholic Monarchs had already altered some rooms of the Alhambra after the conquest of the city in 1492, Charles V wanted to construct a permanent residence befitting an emperor. Around 1537 he ordered the construction of the Peinador de la Reina, or Queen’s dressing room, where his wife Isabel lived, over the Tower of Abu l-Hayyay.
There was a pause in the ongoing maintenance of the Alhambra from the 18th century for almost a hundred years, and during the French domination substantial portions of the fortress were blown apart. The repair, restoration and conservation that continues to this day did not begin until the 19th century. The complex currently includes the Museum of the Alhambra, with objects mainly from the site of the monument itself and the Museum of Fine Arts.
The Generalife is a garden area attached to the Alhambra which became a place of recreation and rest for the Granadan Muslim kings when they wanted to flee the tedium of official life in the Palace. It occupies the slopes of the hill Cerro del Sol above the ravines of the Genil and the Darro and is visible from vantage points throughout the city. It was conceived as a rural village, consisting of landscaping, gardens and architecture. The palace and gardens were built during the reign of Muhammed III (1302–1309) and redecorated shortly after by Abu l-Walid Isma’il (1313–1324). It is of the Islamic Nasrid style, and is today one of the biggest attractions in the city of Granada. The Generalife was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984.
It is difficult to know the original appearance of the Generalife, as it has been subject to modifications and reconstructions throughout the Christian period which disfigured many of its former aspects. All buildings of the Generalife are of solid construction, and the overall decor is austere and simple. There is little variety to the Alhambra’s decorative plaster, but the aesthetic is tasteful and extremely delicate. In the last third of the 20th century, a part of the garden was destroyed to build an auditorium.
The cathedral of Granada is built over the Nasrid Great Mosque of Granada, in the center of the city. Its construction began during the Spanish Renaissance in the early 16th century, shortly after the conquest of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs, who commissioned the works to Juan Gil de Hontañón and Enrique Egas. Numerous grand buildings were built in the reign of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, so that the cathedral is contemporary to the Christian palace of the Alhambra, the University and the Real Chancillería (supreme court).
The church was conceived on the model of the Cathedral of Toledo, for what initially was a Gothic architectural project, as was customary in Spain in the early decades of the 16th century. However, Egas was relieved by the Catholic hierarchy in 1529, and the continuation of the work was assigned to Diego Siloe, who built upon the example of his predecessor, but changed the approach towards a fully Renaissance aesthetic.
The architect drew new Renaissance lines for the whole building over the Gothic foundations, with an ambulatory and five naves instead of the usual three. Over time, the bishopric continued to commission new architectural projects of importance, such as the redesign of the main façade, undertaken in 1664 by Alonso Cano (1601–1667) to introduce Baroque elements. In 1706 Francisco de Hurtado Izquierdo and later his collaborator José Bada built the current tabernacle of the cathedral.
Highlights of the church’s components include the main chapel, where may be found the praying statues of the Catholic Monarchs, which consists of a series of Corinthian columns with the entablature resting on their capitals, and the vault over all. The spaces of the walls between the columns are perforated by a series of windows. The design of the tabernacle of 1706 preserves the classic proportions of the church, with its multiple columns crossing the forms of Diego de Siloé.
The Catholic Monarchs chose the city of Granada as their burial site by a royal decree dated September 13, 1504. The Royal Chapel of Granada, built over the former terrace of the Great Mosque, ranks with other important Granadan buildings such as the Lonja and the Catedral e Iglesia del Sagrario. In it are buried the Catholic Monarchs, their daughter Joanna of Castile (Juana la Loca) and her husband Felipe I (Felipe el Hermoso). Construction of the Chapel started in 1505, directed by its designer, Enrique Egas. Built in several stages, the continuing evolution of its design joined Gothic construction and decoration with Renaissance ideals, as seen in the tombs and the 17th and 18th century Granadan art in the Chapel of Santa Cruz. Over the years the church acquired a treasury of works of art, liturgical objects and relics.
The Royal Chapel was declared a Historic Artistic Monument on May 19, 1884, taking consideration of BIC (Bien de Interés Cultural) status in the current legislation of Spanish Historical Heritage (Law 16/1985 of 25 June). The most important parts of the chapel are its main retable, grid and vault. In the Sacristy-Museum is the legacy of the Catholic Monarchs. Its art gallery is highlighted by works of the Flemish, Italian and Spanish schools.
The Albayzín (or Albaicín) is a neighborhood of Al-Andalus origin, much visited by tourists who flock to the city because of its historical associations, architecture, and landscape.
The archeological findings in the area show that it has been inhabited since ancient times. It became more relevant with the arrival of the Zirid dynasty, in 1013, when it was surrounded by defensive walls. It is one of the ancient centers of Granada, like the Alhambra, the Realejo and the Arrabal de Bib-Rambla, in the flat part of the city. Its current extension runs from the walls of the Alcazaba to the cerro of San Miguel and on the other hand, from the Puerta de Guadix to the Alcazaba.
This neighborhood had its greatest development in the Nasrid era, and therefore largely maintains the urban fabric of this period, with narrow streets arranged in an intricate network that extends from the upper area, called San Nicolás, to the river Darro and Calle Elvira, located in the Plaza Nueva. The traditional type of housing is the Carmen granadino, consisting of a free house surrounded by a high wall that separates it from the street and includes a small orchard or garden.
In the Muslim era the Albayzín was characterized as the locus of many revolts against the caliphate. At that time it was the residence of craftsmen, industrialists and aristocrats. With the Christian reconquest, it would progressively lose its splendor. The Christians built churches and settled there the Real Chancillería. During the rule of Felipe II of Spain, after the rebellion and subsequent expulsion of the Moors, the district was depopulated. In 1994 it was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. Of its architectural wealth among others include the Ziri walls of the Alcazaba Cadima, the Nasrid walls, the towers of the Alcazaba, the churches of Salvador (former main mosque), San Cristóbal, San Miguel Alto and the Real Chancillería.
The Sacromonte neighborhood is located on the Valparaíso hill, one of several hills that make up Granada. This neighborhood is known as the old neighborhood of the Romani, who settled in Granada after the conquest of the city. It is one of the most picturesque neighborhoods, full of whitewashed caves cut into the rock and used as residences. The sound of strumming guitars may still be heard there in the performance of flamenco cantes and quejíos, so that over time it has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Granada.
At the top of this hill is the Abbey of Sacromonte and the College of Sacromonte, founded in the 17th century by the then Archbishop of Granada Pedro de Castro. The Abbey of Sacromonte was built to monitor and guard the alleged relics of the evangelists of Baetica. Those are of questionable authenticity, but since their finding the area has been a religious pilgrimage destination.
The abbey complex consists of the catacombs, the abbey (17th–18th centuries), the Colegio Viejo de San Dionisio Areopagita (17th century) and the Colegio Nuevo (19th century). The interior of the church is simple and small but has numerous excellent works of art, which accentuate the size and rich carving of the Crucificado de Risueño, an object of devotion for the Romani people, who sing and dance in the procession of Holy Week. The facilities also include a museum, which houses the works acquired by the Foundation.
The Charterhouse of Granada is a monastery of cloistered monks, located in what was a farm or Muslim almunia called Aynadamar (“fountain of tears”) that had an abundance of water and fruit trees. The initiative to build the monastery in that place was begun by Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, known as El Gran Capitán. The charterhouse was founded in 1506; construction started ten years later, and continued for the following 300 years.
The Monastery suffered heavy damage during the Peninsular War and lost considerable property in 1837 as a result of the confiscations of Mendizábal. Currently, the monastery belongs to the Carthusians, reporting directly to the Archdiocese of Granada.
The street entrance to the complex is an ornate arch of Plateresque style. Through it one reaches a large courtyard, at the end which is a wide staircase leading to the entrance of the church. The church, of early 16th century style and plan, has three entrances, one for the faithful and the other two for monks and clergy. Its plan has a single nave divided into four sections, highlighting the retables of Juan Sánchez Cotán and the chancel’s glass doors, adorned with mother-of-pearl, silver, rare woods and ivory. The presbytery is covered by elliptical vaulting. The main altar, between the chancel arch and the church tabernacle, is gilded wood.
The church’s tabernacle and sancta sanctorum are considered a masterpiece of Baroque Spanish art in its blend of architecture, painting and sculpture. The dome that covers this area is decorated with frescoes by the Córdoba artist Antonio Palomino (18th century) representing the triumph of the Church Militant, faith, and religious life.
The courtyard, with galleries of arches on Doric order columns opening on it, is centered by a fountain. The Chapter House of Legos is the oldest building of the monastery (1517). It is rectangular and covered with groin vaulting.
Monasterio de San Jerónimo: monastery
San Juan de Dios Hospital
Museo de Bellas Artes de Granada
Madrasah of Granada
Districts of Granada
Realejo was the Jewish district in the time of the Nasrid Granada. The Jewish population was so important that Granada was known in Al-Andalus under the name of “Granada of the Jews” (Arabic: غرناطة اليهود Gharnāṭah al-Yahūd). It is today a district made up of many Andalusian villas, with gardens opening onto the streets, called Los Cármenes.
This district contains the Carthusian monastery of the same name: Cartuja. This is an old monastery started in a late Gothic style with Baroque exuberant interior decorations. In this district also, many buildings were created with the extension of the University of Granada.
The toponym existed at the time of the Arabs. Nowadays, Bib-Rambla is a high point for gastronomy, especially in its terraces of restaurants, open on beautiful days. The Arab bazaar (Alcaicería) is made up of several narrow streets, which start from this place and continue as far as the cathedral.
The Sacromonte neighborhood is located on the extension of the hill of Albaicín, along the Darro River. This area, which became famous by the nineteenth century for its predominantly Gitano inhabitants, is characterized by cave houses, which are dug into the hillside. The area has a reputation as a major center of flamenco song and dance, including the Zambra Gitana, Andalusian dance originating in the Middle East. The zone is a protected cultural environment under the auspices of the Centro de Interpretación del Sacromonte, a cultural center dedicated to the preservation of Gitano cultural forms.
Albayzín (also written as Albaicín), located on a hill on the right bank of the river Darro, is the ancient Moorish quarter of the city and transports the visitor to a unique world: the site of the ancient city of Elvira, so-called before the Zirid Moors renamed it Granada. It housed the artists who went up to build the palaces of Alhambra on the hill facing it. Time allowed its embellishment. Of particular note is the Plaza de San Nicolas (Plaza of St Nicholas) from where a stunning view of the Alhambra can be seen. The artist George Owen Wynne Apperley RA RI (1884–1960) owned houses on both sides of the Placeta de San Nicolás, also known as El Mirador.
This formerly blue collar but now upmarket neighborhood houses 100,000 residents of Granada, making it the largest neighborhood or ‘barrio’. Traditionally populated by Romani people, now many residents are from North and West Africa, China, and many South American countries. Every Saturday morning it hosts a large outdoor market or “mercadillo”, where many people come and sell their wares of fruits and vegetables, clothes and shoes, and other odds and ends.
Parks and gardens in Granada
The city of Granada has a significant number of parks and gardens, including:
The gardens of Alhambra and Generalife
Campo del Príncipe Gardens
Gardens of the Royal Hospital
Gardens of Paseo del Salón and of La Bomba (BIC)
Gardens of the Triumph
Gardens of Violón
Córdoba Gardens Palace
Plaza de la Trinidad
28 de Febrero Park
Almunia de Aynadamar Park
Federico García Lorca Park
Fuente Nueva University Park