Native tribes settled in the area now known as Granada as far back as the 5th century BC. It was originally called Llbyr, a name which changed to Lliberis under the Roman domination of southern Spain in the early centuries AD. There are different theories about the origins of the name Granada. According to legend, the city was named after Hercules' daughter Granata. Some say the name comes from the Spanish word for pomegranate (a fruit which grows in abundance here). Others believe the city takes its name from the Moorish word Gharnatah, meaning "hill of strangers".
There was a large Jewish population here, even before the time of the Romans, and it was the Jews who helped the Arabs conquer the area in 711 AD. The Albaicin old quarter still bears testament to the co-existence of Jews and Arabs in medieval Granada.
Towards the end of the 9th century, various conflicts and rebellions led the Arab ruler of the time to take refuge on the hilltop where the Alhambra Palace was later constructed. He built a fortress and laid the foundations of what was to become one of the crowning jewels of Islamic architecture. The area was proclaimed a kingdom, far larger than the modern day province of Granada, with the city of Granada named the official capital in 1013.
The Christian armies continued their drive to rid southern Spain of the Moorish invaders and in1236 the great city of Cordoba, then capital of the western Islamic empire, was reconquered and its inhabitants fled to Granada. This brought new wealth to the city and a pressing need to build a bigger and better stronghold to withstand the Christians. In 1238, the Arab sultan Muhammed al Ahmar, the founder of the great Nasrid dynasty, decided to restore the old fortress and construct his official residence alongside it. Later Arab sultans and the Catholic monarchs added to the magnificent citadel-palace known as the Alhambra, a word which comes from the Arabic Calat al-hamra meaning "crimson castle". Watch the sun setting on the Alhambra today from the old quarter of Albaicin and you'll see how it acquired its name.
Al Ahmar's kingdom extended from the mountains of the Sierra Nevada all the way to Gibraltar, taking in the provinces of Almeria, Malaga and parts of Cordoba, Jaen, Seville and Cadiz. His Alhambra palace was ultimately the final stronghold of the Moors who were driven from Granada by the catholic monarchs King Ferdinand and his Queen Isabella. They laid siege to the city from the village of Santa Fe, to the west of Granada, until its peaceful capitulation on January 2nd 1492. The king and queen took up residence at Alhambra and it was here that Christopher Columbus sought their support for his voyages to the New World. And so it was that Granada became a focal point of the mighty Spanish empire which ruled a large part of the world.
Subsequent monarchs instituted a policy of repression against the Arabs, banning their language, customs and even their clothes. This led to the massive rebellion of 1568 which began in the Arab quarter of Albaicin and continued in the formidable mountains of the Alpujarras where the last Moorish rebels fought their final battles.
Napoleon's troops invaded Spain during the Peninsula War at the start of the 19th century and when they were forced to withdraw from Granada they sacked the city and attempted to blow up the Alhambra. The French revolution and the subsequent widespread dissatisfaction with the church which swept Europe at that time led to the confiscation of church property by the Spanish government and the destruction of many churches and monasteries.
The Alhambra was in a poor state of repair when the American writer and one-time ambassador to Spain Washington Irving took up residence there in 1829 and penned his famous Tales of the Alhambra. This best-selling book and the romantic movement of the 19th century, a reaction to the bleakness of the industrial revolution, contributed to a universal fascination with Granada and its exotic history. A poetic image of the city was created and later reinforced by the work of celebrated local writer Federico Garcia Lorca and composer Manuel de Falla. It's an image still held in the minds of visitors who come from all over the world to marvel at the city's ancient wonders.