The main reason that so many people come to Granada is to experience its rich and varied history. It's easy to walk through all the different districts, past the well-preserved historic buildings, and imagine yourself living in an earlier and more exotic time. The most evocative sight is undoubtedly the Alhambra, a complex of marvelous Moorish buildings on a hill that includes a fortress, palaces and gardens, built during the city's golden age.
According to archaeological research, Stone Age people were living in Granada province as long as 400,000 years ago. These early people were attracted by the abundance of caves in which they could find shelter. Later peoples took advantage of the well-irrigated plains to cultivate food, and the natural mineral resources were used to produce weapons, cooking utensils and eventually, jewelry. You can see an interesting collection of artifacts dating from the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic eras in the Archaeological Museum.
Between the tenth and the fourth centuries BCE, citizens from a series of Mediterranean trading states, including Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Greeks, settled on the province's coastal fringe. They came to exploit the mineral deposits and the good fishing.
The first written documents available to historians are from the fifth century BCE and record a Jewish community living in what is now Granada.
By the end of the fourth century CE, the Romans had completely colonized southern Spain. After the Romans, the next wave of invaders were the Visigoths from Northern Europe, who occupied the city in the fifth century CE but made few changes to the civil, military and religious status quo.
Little is known about the Jewish community that settled here, but it must have been significant because it is mentioned often in fourth-century CE legal documents. Jewish leaders are believed to have collaborated with the Arab invaders in 711 to overthrow the Visigoth monarchy. The tower you see in San José Church and the Red Towers were built immediately after the Arabs and their Berber soldiers took control of Granada in the eighth century. The mainly Muslim Middle Eastern and North African invaders conquered almost the whole of Spain within a decade or two.
At first Granada became an important outpost of a new Western Islamic Empire, ruled by Abd ar-Rahman III, based in Cordoba. However, fighting between different ethnic and cultural Muslim factions and an ongoing Christian effort to expel the Moors created a chaotic political situation in Andalusia. Ibn al-Ahmar, of the Arab Nasrid tribe, used the situation to his advantage in 1238 to establish an independent Moorish state of Granada. Independence was maintained by paying tribute to the encroaching Christian king of Castile, Fernando III. So, as the rest of Spain started to fall into Christian hands, Granada—the last Moorish state—received the Muslim and Jewish refugees fleeing from other cities and continued to expand and prosper. In fact, the 13th and 14th centuries were the city's glory days, when commerce, art and culture flourished, and the Alhambra and the Arab University were built.
Towards the end of the 15th century, the ruling Nasrid family fought among themselves. The now united Catholic Monarchs of Castile and Aragon, having conquered the rest of Spain, besieged the city and persuaded the last Moorish ruler, Boabdil, to surrender in 1492. For the first few years of Christian rule, Muslim citizens were permitted to live according to their religion and culture. But, by 1499, Cardinal Cisneros was trying to force all Muslims to convert to Christianity. They were later banned from speaking their language, wearing their traditional clothes and practicing their customs, and were charged excessively high taxes.
During this period, the Christians also destroyed many mosques or turned them into monasteries, churches or public buildings. San Miguel Bajo Church, Santa María Church, San José Church and several others, all stand where mosques used to be. In response to this religious and cultural persecution, the Muslims held an unsuccessful rebellion in 1568 and then had to flee to find refuge in the Alpujarras, on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They lived there until they were expelled from Spain altogether, after their final defeat at the Battle of the Alpujarras, in the 17th century.
By confiscating Muslim property and taking a percentage of the riches entering Spain from the New World during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Catholic Church and the Spanish Crown became enormously rich. This was when Granada’s great cathedral, churches, monasteries and convents were built.
From the late 17th century until the present day, the city has kept a low profile. The only event that brought it international attention during the 20th century was a tragic one. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, reactionary supporters of General Franco's military uprising decided to murder thousands of innocent Republican sympathizers, including the outstanding local poet and playwright, Federico García Lorca.