I am a garden adorned by beauty:
a glance at my loveliness must surely reveal my soul
Mountain of foam and garden of lovers
Luis de Góngora
Only sighs glide
on the waters of Granada
Federico García Lorca
The history of Granada can be dated back further than even ancient times, perhaps its founding lay at the hands of Noahs daughter or, conversely, the daughter of Hercules named Granata
History, invariably an aesthetic option, assures us that in Granada there once stood important Iberian and Roman settlements, a customary fact in almost all southern cities of the Iberian Peninsula. The city is also said to have played an important role in the Christianization of the Peninsula, not only due to the documented apparition of Cecilio, the citys patron saint, in 60 AD, but also to the celebration of the first council of the Spanish Church, held in the then-named Iliberis in the year 300.
Historical dates are crucial in a citys evolution, but in the case of Granada there exists a central focal point, a date around which Granadas before-and-after would hinge, a moment which makes sense of it all.
An Arabist recounted that on the second of January 1492 the people of Granada woke up to find that their medieval Muslim settlement had been transformed into a modern Christian city.
The medieval had already arrived late, in 1013, and as the result of a transfer of power. The protective empire of the Caliphate was now a thing of the past and the surrounding hills were safe.
For security reasons, the city was moved to the Albaicín from the nearby Sierra Elvira which now grants its name to the citys famous gateway.
The ziries, a non-Arabic North African clan, became monarchs and constructed a new city on the remains of the others that had stood there before.
Scarcely a few centuries later, having conquered Granada once again, Muhammad Ibn Yusuf Ibn Nasr, also known as Ibn al-Ahmar, forged a new dynasty in 1238 -the Nasrid. This would become the last Muslim kingdom in Western Europe, in fact the Nasrids remained in power until almost the 15th century, building the Alhambra palaces in the process.
The city continued to expand and a new wall, the alcazaba Yidida would soon join the old one, creating a fortified settlement which would never have to be defended, another of historys paradoxes.
The surrender of Granada to the Catholic Monarchs in 1492 would submerge the city into the modern world, or perhaps on the contrary it was the city itself which modernized the Monarchs. To start with, the change would affect merely the head of power; one King for another, or in this case... a Queen.
Following the surrender, conditions proved favourable and those in charge, above all the archbishop Hernando de Talavera, would try their best to govern a world which was at the same time both fascinating and disturbing. How could they harmonize that strange society with the new State created in the Peninsula?
History would soon work its tricks and Felipe II, from the Austria family, would shatter Isabels dreams once and for all, the pacific cohabitation of two worlds which, in reality, were not so dissimilar, was over. 1500 saw the first uprising in the Albaicín, this continued until the illustrious don Juan de Austria had put pay to the rebellious Moriscos in the Alpujarras and killed their king Aben Humeya or don Fernando de Válor.
The exile, expulsion and colonization of new inhabitants prepared the city for the Counter-Reformist religious explosion which would convert 17th century Granada into a permanently baroque spectacle.
It would not be until the 19th century that Granada would experience interesting transformations, where territories opened by the Disentailment became influenced by French and English taste as in the design of parks, squares and gardens. El Salón, la Bomba and other plazas are the result of this activity, although their building led to the destruction of an important part of the citys ancient design. This can be seen in the case of the Gran Vía, whose construction would sacrifice the ancient barrio of the Mezquita Mayor.
During the 20th century, Granada has continued slipping southwards, towards the vega (the citys plain), surpassing even the Camino de Rondas attempted frontier. Speculative, tasteless town-planning was to blame for the erecting of enormous blocks organized around two large parallel axes: the above mentioned Camino de Ronda and calle Pedro Antonio de Alarcón. Far removed from the citys habitual urban layout, the blocks soon filled up with new inhabitants. Thus, in a dizzying process, the student flats were born.
The scheme was devised spontaneously yet with great conviction. From flat to flat and block to block, attitudes and relations created by this very disorder would begin to flow, developing totally new customs, uses and habits which would help to shape the city we know today.
Ibn Zamrak: translation from Emilio García Gómez, Ibn Zamrak. El poeta de la Alhambra, discurso de ingreso en la Real Academia de historia, Madrid, 1943.
Federico García Lorca: Poema del cante jondo, Cátedra, Madrid, 1985.
© Herederos de Federico García Lorca.