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Granada is another city we'd visited before, on the same two-year-previous trip on which
we'd last visited Madrid. But while we'd spent a number of days in Madrid on that trip,
we'd only spent a few hours in Granada, visiting it as a day trip from Seville centered
around an exploration of the Alhambra, Granada's principal tourist attraction. We'd learned
on that trip that a day trip from Seville to Granada isn't very practical, as the three-hour
train trip (each way!) doesn't leave enough time to properly look around in Granada. So
this time we were going to spend a couple of nights, giving us a full day (plus a few extra
hours) in the city. While this gave us a chance to see some things we hadn't seen before,
we did also revisit the Alhambra. I'll try not to repeat too much of what I covered in
the Alhambra pages
from the first go-round, either about the Alhambra or about Granada in general.
This doesn't mean I won't add some additional history. There's always additional history.
Like starting around the middle of the 15th Century, when the Iberian Peninsula was divided
into several kingdoms, the three largest being Portugal (to the west), Castile (the largest,
occupying a big central chunk of the peninsula) and Aragon (to the east). Just to make
things confusing, the kings of Castile and Aragon were both called John II. In 1451,
Castile's John and his wife, Isabella of Portugal, welcomed a new daughter whom they also
called Isabella. Nobody was too excited about the new Isabella as far as royal succession,
as she had an older (by 26 years) half-brother named Henry (the heir presumptive), and in
1453 she acquired a new brother named Alfonso (the heir presumptive to the heir presumptive).
The picture became somewhat simpler when John died in 1454, making his eldest son King Henry
IV of Castile. But things got complicated again when Henry's wife, Joan of Portugal, gave
birth to a daughter named Joanna.
In the meantime, Aragon's John II and his wife, Juana Enríquez, had also produced offspring,
a son named Ferdinand, born in 1452. When Ferdinand and Isabella were 5 and 6 years old,
John and Henry, interested in an alliance and anxious to show off their friendship,
betrothed their children to each other. But this didn't last long, as changing circumstances
made both John and Henry more interested in forming different alliances, and Henry in
particular shopped Isabella around among various royal families in search of a suitably
strategic match. While this was going on, a group of noblemen, unhappy with Henry's rule,
backed his son Alfonso to replace him, eventually resulting in an armed conflict in 1467. To
calm things down, Henry agreed to name Alfonso as his heir, rather than his daughter Joanna.
All well and good, until Alfonso died in 1468. The nobles suspected wrongdoing and got
behind Isabella being named as the new heir. To keep things from blowing up again, Henry
agreed to this, and also promised not to marry Isabella off against her will. But Henry
couldn't help himself and looked into setting Isabella up in both Portugal and France, until
Isabella decided she'd set up her own marriage and secretly negotiated with Aragon's John II
about a marriage with Ferdinand. All the details were worked out – a dispensation from the
Pope was needed, as Isabella and Ferdinand were second cousins, and a prenuptial agreement
was drawn up specifying co-rule when either party succeeded to his or her respective throne.
At the appointed time, Isabella departed from Henry's court on the pretext of going to visit
Alfonso's tomb in Ávila, and Ferdinand sneaked across Castile disguised as a servant, and
they met in the city of Valladolid, where they were married on October 19, 1469. A few
years later, when Henry died in 1474, Ferdinand and Isabella became King and Queen of
Castile, and when John died in 1479, they also became King and Queen of Aragon.
So – nice story, but what's all this have to do with Granada? In addition to being monarchs
of a large territory, Ferdinand and Isabella were very religious. Isabella in particular
was a very devout Catholic, and is often referred to as "Isabella the Catholic" (Isabel
la Católica). So when they looked at a map and saw, to the south, the fairly large
Emirate of Granada, they saw both territory to be conquered and an area ripe for conversion
from what they felt to be a false religion. The slow-motion Reconquista of the
peninsula from the Islamic Moors who had conquered it in 710 A.D. lacked only the territory
of Granada to be complete. Granada had managed to hold out the longest through a
combination of fortified cities, defensible terrain, shrewd alliances and paying of
tribute to the appropriate places. But with Ferdinand and Isabella, luck was running out
for Granada's ruling Nasrid dynasty, and in particular for their ruler in 1482, Muhammad
XII (known to the Spaniards as Boabdil). It was in this year that Ferdinand and Isabella
recruited soldiers from several European countries and brought in the latest in weaponry
and began to systematically reconquer the Emirate. The process took ten years, during
some of which Boabdil was a prisoner of the Spaniards. But the Spaniards could not be
stopped, and in late 1491, Boabdil (who had been released by the Spaniards in 1487) was
forced to surrender to them.
1492 was an eventful year for Ferdinand, Isabella and Granada. It began with the official
turnover of Granada's capital city on the 2nd of January and the departure of its Moorish
leaders and followers to northern Africa. The Treaty of Granada was implemented, which
promised humane treatment of the Muslims who remained (and this was in fact what
transpired – for awhile). Ferdinand and Isabella found the palaces of the Alhambra to
their liking, and took up residence for a time. And it was during this time that
Ferdinand and Isabella, possibly feeling magnanimous after their victory, granted a favor
to a Genoan sailor who had been pestering them since 1486 with a crazy idea about
reaching the Indies by sailing west instead of east. Royal advisors had advised the king
and queen that the sailor, named Columbus, had grossly underestimated the distance, and
was doomed to perish from starvation, thirst, scurvy, or all three. And of course they
were right, but fortunately for Columbus, there was a surprise continent in the way.
Nevertheless, the king and queen, after some Alhambra discussions, granted the necessary
funding, and the voyage proceeded later in the year (not sure if anything came of it).
And finally, on March 31 Ferdinand and Isabella (mainly Isabella, probably at the urging
of the recently arrived cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros from Toledo) issued
something called the Alhambra Decree, which commanded all Jews in Castile and Aragon and
their territorial possessions to either convert to Christianity or leave. Cisneros also
began mistreating Muslims who refused to convert, and when this eventually led to a
revolt, the revolt was used as a pretext to apply the same treatment to the Muslims that
had been applied to the Jews (i.e. so much for the Treaty of Granada). The Spanish
Inquisition, which had been established by Ferdinand and Isabella earlier to investigate
insincere conversions of Jews to Christianity, became an enforcement mechanism, later
extended to other forms of heresy. And the rest is history (well, really, all of this
Back in the present day, we found ourselves in Madrid, with a desire to get to Granada.
To accomplish this, we boarded a train at the Atocha station which took us southward for
four hours. On the way we had a good look at the Spanish countryside, which had some
interesting terrain and occasional small towns filled with what looked like
densely-packed, whitewashed houses. Some of the towns had castles perched on adjacent
On arrival in Granada, we caught a taxi from the station to our hotel, the
Hotel Monjas del Carmen,
not far from the Plaza Isabel la Católica.
Hotel Monjas del Carmen (night photo)
After checking in and resting a little, we headed in the direction of the cathedral, where
the old town could be found. We found a passageway that ran alongside the cathedral and
took it, noting some of the interesting businesses, buildings and decorations.
The passageway emptied into an open area called the Plaza de Bib-Rambla, where we found shops
After getting some lunch, we looked around the area, interested in seeing what there was to see in and around the cathedral.
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