Granada, an Islamic History of a Spanish City

It is not widely known that Granada was one of the Muslim cities of Spain. Ornately decorated palaces, foreboding fortresses towering over the cities ramshackle, cobbled streets are what Granada is known for. Heavily influenced by Morocco’s past culture and political support, Granada’s culture is one of European combined with Arab architecture. Houses are covered in detailed Moorish patterns of plasteresqueKnown as Gharnāṭa in Arabic, it was controlled by the Moorish Nasrid dynasty until the 15th century. It was the last of the Muslim dynasties in Spain until the kingdom fell to Ferdinand II and Isabella I. The Muslim and Morisco communities were alienated by the Christian community, some fleeing to different parts of southern Spain.


The traditional medieval Arab quarter of the city is known as Albaicin. Turning down one of the small roads off of the main square, you make your way up a small street of cobbled steps, packed with markets stalls with people admiring all kinds of things from Moroccan lamps to leather purses. During the Christian conquest in the 9th century, people were forced into the outskirts of the Alhambra fortress. Houses are crammed into the hills and cobbled narrow medieval streets.

Alcaicida markets

Home of the Great Bazaar of Granada, the Alcaicida markets used to be stalls selling silks, spices and all kind of goods.


Built in the 14th century, it was an Arabic market. Merchants lived there and it was also used as a warehouse.

Carbon entrance, Granada

The Alhambra


Overlooking the old Moorish quarter of the city is the Alhambra. The Moorish fortress in Granada towers above the city and was built by the Nasrid dynasty. However, parts of the fortress were destroyed during the 16th century. The Alhambra is made up of the Nasrid Palaces,  the Alcabaza and the Alhambra.


The Nasrid Palaces were where the royal family made their home. The name of the Sultan’s throne room is Salón de los Embajadores. It comes from the legend of the last sultan of Granada, Boabdil who invited the Abencerraje chiefs to dine, where he killed them all except one, a bit like this scene in Game of Thrones…

Red wedding GOT
Red Wedding (

The Alcabaza is the oldest part of the fortress. The military would patrol from the watchtower, looking out over the city and mountains for enemy The Gate of Justice (Puerta Judiciaria) was used as a court of justice. Dark and dank underground dungeons kept prisoners and enemies locked away, whilst the soldiers stayed in barracks close by. Later on, during the French occupation, the Alcabaza retained its use as a prison.

Alcabaza remains


Following a similar model to Roman Baths, in the main room, a square space would contain a fountain surrounded by a collonaded area.


Upon entering the baths, you would hear the trickle of water from the fountain in the main room. Chatter from the different rooms echoes from wall to wall. On the first floor is an open space, where, according to some sources, the King used to look down at his naked wives, throwing an apple to the wife whom he’d chosen to spend the night with.

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