Nasrids: 13th to 15th centuries
On the northern borders of present-day Granada province numerous battles for property and land took place from the beginning of the 13th century as Christian armies fought to wrest control of the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors. But it was the battle at Las Navas de Tolosa that became one of the turning points in the Christian reconquista. Alfonso VIII and his troops had sneaked through the Despeñaperros Pass in the rugged Sierra Morena and taken the Moors by surprise. The Almohads suffered fatalities of some 100,000 men, the Christians 2,000 only. This marked the end of the Almohad era and left the way clear for the next, and longest lasting, Muslim dynasty in Al-Andalús – the Nasrids.
Al-Ahmar ibn Nasr, founder of the Nasrid dynasty, was appointed governor of his native town of Arjona in 1231, extending his power soon after from Jaén to Guadix. But by now the Christian reconquista (reconquest) was in full swing and, when Córdoba was conquered in 1236, the Nasrids aligned themselves with Fernando III of Castile and ruled as a vassal state for the next 250 years. Trade links with the rest of the Muslim world were strengthened. This was especially so with the gold trade with sub-Saharan regions in Africa, and the Nasrids were also providers of mercenary troops for Castile. But they are principally renowned for the elegance and splendour of their architecture, including the complex network in Granada, unique in Europe, of fountains, wells and baths to supply the numerous, large hammans, or public baths, which formed an integral part of their culture.
During the Nasrid dynasty their rulers’ centre of power was the city of Granada. Their style was very decorative. They covered walls and floors with a profusion of beautifully designed ceramic tiles, used stucco or creatively carved plaster, and painted artistic decorations on many surfaces. Their usual ornamental motifs were geometric, or took the form of plant life, and they also included writings from the Koran. Although the Nasrids continued to follow models of architecture of their predecessors the Almohads, they brought in the innovative use of marble in many of their more important buildings.
The pièce de resistance of Granada is the Alhambra, considered the epitome of Nasrid architecture. Originally a complete government city built for the Moorish rulers, it had mosques and mansions, schools and army barracks, as well as large areas of formal gardens such as the incomparable Generalife. The Alcazaba, or fortress, and the Nasrid palaces, where Arabic inscriptions feature prominently and decorative ceramics abound, remain almost intact nearly 700 years later as testimony to their constructive artistry. Numerous Moorish buildings in Granada were however destroyed or built over during the subsequent Christian era, but those that remain comprise the most complete group of Muslim housing architecture in Europe.
What is the Nasrid's greatest legacy?
Next page: Jews in Spain