Granada (2): After the Moors


This is the sequel to  my post Granada (1). If you are looking for descriptions of Alhambra, please see Granada (1): The Paradise of the Nasrids

The Upheaval

Yes, the upheaval came in 1492, after 250 years of Nasrid supremacy. All the Moorish kingdoms of Spain had surrendered to the Catholic forces; now Granada, surrounded by the army of Ferdinand & Isabella, was the last man standing. Sultan Abu Abdallah Muhammed a.k.a. Muhammed XII (Spanish name: Boabdil) took a painful decision. Rather than risk the destruction of his beloved city, he agreed to surrender, subject to some conditions: he and his cohorts would be allowed to leave peacefully; the remarkable buildings would not be destroyed; and the Muslim population would be allowed to  continue their traditions. Boabdil presented the city’s keys to the Royal Catholic Couple (Reyes Catolicos), took one last look at Granada, and left Spain forever.¹

Christopher Columbus

The surrender ceremony was most probably (?) witnessed by someone we know well: Christopher Columbus. He had not only approached Isabella for sponsoring his “outrageous” project, but also audaciously demanded that he be given the rank of Admiral, plus 10% of profits from the expedition, plus Governorship of the discovered lands. Naturally, Isabella declined his “generous” offer. Yet, Ferdinand changed her mind: never mind if Columbus failed, but consider the payback if he succeeded!² That brilliantly calculated risk  catapulted Spain into a Superpower!

 A huge statue celebrates Isabella’s contribution at Plaza Isabel la Catolica. Ironically, everyone calls it Columbus Square: the public decides who deserves more fame! Our taxi driver spoke little English, but succinctly explained the story: “Columbus – Money! Money! Money!”


Money deals: Columbus & Isabella

Broken promises

No sooner than Boabdil was gone, the christianisation of Alhambra began. Mercifully, the brilliant buildings were not demolished. But Christian symbols were quietly inserted into Islamic-style buildings, without disturbing the old saracenic style.Look at this statue of Mother Mary on top of the Islamic calligraphy at the Gate of Justice !


Puerta de la Justicia

Then, Mosques became churches! The Almanzra Mosque near Plaza Nueva became the Santa Ana Church by 1501, and the Great Mosque inside Alhambra became the Santa Maria Church by the 17th century. In all, about 28 mosques became churches!


Church of Santa Ana: the exterior blends with  Islamic character…


… while the interior is beautifully Catholic


Santa Maria Church

They also built some wonderfully original catholic structures like the Monastery of St. Jeronimo. This was completed soon after Isabella& Ferdinand conquered Granada.


Monasterio de San Jeronimo


Decorative pathways beautifully paved with pebbles from the River Darro

But somewhere the spirit of the promise to Boabdil got lost. For a brief period,  the Muslims and Jews  were left alone; later it became mandatory to convert to Catholicism or flee.Those who chose to stay and convert (conversos) did not have it easy either, because they were constantly hounded on suspicion of secretly practicing their old faith. The Spanish Inquisition (religious persecution) was rivaled in cruelty by none, save perhaps the Portuguese Inquisition.  In other words, the pits! In about 25 years, almost every Muslim had fled; so had the Jews. Ironically, the Jews had had far more freedom and respect under the Muslims.

The first casualty of the exodus was the Gardens of Genaralife: the Muslim Engineers fled, and no one knew how to maintain the complex irrigation canals! Then, King Carlos-I tried to build a very Italian Palace inside the Alhambra for his beloved Queen Isabella.³ It had a bold design: square on the outside and circular inside. But skilled craftsmen had become scarce in Granada and Carlos’ attention was often diverted by Muslim rebellions. So, it never got completed. A pity, since the semi-finished product is itself amazing.


Carlos Palace: Squarish outside….


… and Circular inside. The cupola that was meant to cover the circle never got done!


Italian bas-reliefs

The modern age

For the next 3 centuries Granada was forgotten. Then, public interest was revived when some history-lovers rediscovered it. You would recognise one American who rekindled the romance of Granada. He wrote “Rip Van Winkle”, “The Headless Horse”, “Tales from Alhambra” and even a romanticised biography of Columbus: Washington Irving, of course! He is honoured here.

Today, nearly 10000 tourists visit the Alhambra everyday. (Remember, at its height, the Alhambra housed hardly 5000 people!). The Spanish authorities are doing a marvelous job of regulating the traffic, and presenting a balanced view of history. It is one place you must see before you die! This curious cat told me this!


With Washington Irving …                                     … and another admirer of Alhambra



1.One story is that, after the surrender, Sultan Boabdil rode to a  nearby hillock and looked back at his beloved Alhambra and let out a huge sigh. That place is called Suspiro del Moro (The Moor’s Sigh). Alfred Dehodencq’s famous 19th century painting captures this beautifully. (picture courtesy: Wikipedia)


Another story is that when he looked back, he wept uncontrollably. His mother (an iron lady!) admonished him: “Don’t weep like a woman for something you cannot defend like a man”!

2.Columbus  clearly benefited from the Spanish Inquisition. The Royal Couple was flush with funds due to moneys plundered from the Jews. Columbus used one clinching argument to access funds from Isabella: when he colonised, he would convert all natives into Catholics.  Strangely, the person who argued Columbus’ case with Ferdinand, was Finance Minister Luis de Santangel, who was either a Jew or a Converso. Not only did he plead Columbus’ case, he also lent him huge sums himself. One theory is that Columbus never had to repay the debt: Santangel’s family was persecuted during the Inquisition so, Santangel had fled. This is doubtful: Ferdinand most probably protected Santangel, because he was a trusted advisor.

3.King Carlos-I of Spain, was by some curious arithmetic, also King Carlos-V of the Holy Roman Empire. Don’t ask me why! His wife was Isabella of Lisbon (not to be confused with Columbus’ sponsor, Isabella-I of Castille). Carlos probably married her for political reasons, but theirs is often portrayed as a classic love story— She bore him 6 children. That didn’t prevent Carlos from fathering 4 illegitimate kids by 4 different women, on the side.  Apparently Alhambra does something to one’s libido!


One thought on “Granada (2): After the Moors

  1. Pingback: Granada (3): Sacromonte, Street-Music & Souvenirs | Kowie's Korner

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