Fall of Granada

The fall of Granada marked the military conquest of Muslim Spain by the Christian forces of Spanish King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I, who retook Granada after nearly 800 years of settlement by the Moors.

Summary of Event

Since the early eighth century, the Christians of northern Spain had attempted to repel North African Moorish invaders and settlers from Iberian soil. By the early thirteenth century, their military efforts had been crowned with general success, but one area of Andalusia, Granada, held out. Islam;Spain
Moors, Spain
Granada, fall of (1492)
Abū al-Ḥasan ՙAlī
Ferdinand II (king of Spain)
Isabella I (queen of Spain)
Abū al-Ḥasan ՙAlī
Ponce de León, Rodrigo
Muḥammad al-Zaghall

Moorish chiefs surrender the keys of a town seized by the Spanish to King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I, prior to the 1492 fall of Granada.

(Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.)

For more than two centuries, the fertile and fair kingdom of Granada, some 200 miles long and 70 miles wide, remained a bastion of Moorish occupation. The mudejars (Muslims) were skilled artisans and workers but could not hope to enter into the more prestigious professions in Christian Christianity;Spain Spain. Since 1469, when the joint rule of Ferdinand II and Isabella I commenced, a concept of Castilian caste was evolved that discriminated against the Moors as well as the Jews.

Yet the joint rulers of Aragon and Castile generally interacted cordially with the Muslim emirate, sporadic incidents notwithstanding. Christian and Muslim kingdoms enjoyed a sort of workable convivencia (coexistence). Once Christian Spain had adopted the Jewish belief of the identity of the state and a single religion, the traditional coexistence was no longer possible. Although it would take a decade of their life to accomplish it, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile (married since 1469 and joint rulers of Aragon-Castile), determined upon the final Reconquista Reconquista (reconquest) of Granada.

Slow but relentless Christian advance menaced Málaga and, in 1481, Christian troops on the outskirts of Loja seemed to knock at the gates of Granada. Panicked easily, Granada’s emir, Abū al-Ḥasan ՙAlī, rashly struck against the castle of Zahara near Ronda. Although the so-called Catholic Monarchs were not adequately prepared militarily at this time and had limited financial resources, they were not likely to put up with the loss of Zahara. Catholic troops launched a furious and persistent counterattack against the fortress, reoccupying it in 1482, thanks to the valor of Rodrigo Ponce de León, marquis of Cádiz. Thereafter, Christian Spain began to make concerted plans for the overthrow of the emirate. The pope declared a crusade, and Jewish bankers and businesspeople supplied funds.

Ferdinand and Isabella decided to change their strategy. They aimed to strip the Moorish kingdom down to its core city, Granada, by first removing the key defensive positions of Almería and Málaga. The monarchs had also built up a powerful army, complete with supply lines, cavalry and infantry, the most impressive artillery yet collected in Western Europe, and a skilled corps of engineers. This corps of “sappers,” as they were called, was to be of decisive importance in the coming campaigns. On one occasion they literally leveled an obstructing mountain, a feat that left the chroniclers in scriptural ecstasy.

In 1484, equipped with this splendid new army financed chiefly through Isabella’s remarkable persistence and powers of persuasion, Ferdinand began the siege of the important town of Ronda. His artillery battered Ronda’s defenses down, so that Christian victory came on May 15, 1485. The news of the victory electrified Christian Spain. Ferdinand took the town of Loja and then moved on to the great city of Málaga. The city put up such fierce resistance that after months of fighting only the suburbs had been taken. The attack stalled, and the Christian forces were in despair. Ferdinand finally sent for the queen as an omen of good fortune. Isabella’s presence outside Málaga worked a miracle in inspiring confidence, and the troops threw themselves into the attack with renewed zeal and determination. At the end, the city capitulated, and its Moorish population was enslaved.

Thus the western portion of Granada had been reduced and only the eastern part remained to be taken. In May of 1489, Ferdinand opened the eastern front by attacking the mountain city of Baza, a campaign described as “the real Calvary of the Spaniards.” Nothing went right; the terrain was admirably suited to Moorish guerrilla tactics, the early harsh winter brought despair, roads were washed away, a pestilence broke out, and the Muslims continued fierce sorties. Again, Isabella decided to join her troops, and her presence was again magical. Besides inspiring emotion and enthusiasm, she carried out miracles in organizing supplies. She had roads rebuilt, barracks relocated, and the forces replenished with fresh recruits. After a long and courageous defense the citizens of Baza accepted generous terms from Ferdinand. Málaga’s governor, Muḥammad al-Zaghall, who had made his headquarters at Almería, realized the futility of further resistance and sued for peace.

The way to Granada now lay open. Ten years of planning were about to come to fruition. In the spring of 1491, the Spaniards encamped outside the walls and towers of Granada, its Alhambra (the emir’s palace) set like a glistening crown on a high hill. The city was crowded with desperate refugees, its supplies were limited, and its leadership was tottering. Abū al-Ḥasan ՙAlī had lost part of his power in 1482, when his son Boabdil staged a partially successful coup. The emirship remained uncertain until 1486, when Boabdil became the unquestioned emir, albeit an emir under siege by Ferdinand. Ferdinand expected the emir to surrender Granada to him. When he refused to do so, a long and costly siege of the city was begun. The siege lasted from April of 1491 to January of 1492.

Finally, Boabdil, the last emir of Granada, consented on October 28, 1491, to surrender the city within sixty days. When news of his treachery reached his nobles and generals, his plight became so desperate that on January 1, 1492, he sent an anguished message to Ferdinand and Isabella offering them the city immediately. The following dawn, the king and queen, followed by the royal choir of Toledo, the archbishop primate of Spain, and the whole Christian host, among others, marched slowly toward the Moorish city. Boabdil, together with his few remaining retainers, descended from the Alhambra and advanced toward the waiting Christians.

With royal dignity seldom displayed during his reign, Boabdil handed the keys of the Alhambra to Ferdinand and kissed his sleeve. Ferdinand in turn gave the keys to Isabella, who held them for a moment, and then passed them on to the Alhambra’s new governor, the count of Tendilla. Boabdil turned slowly away, mounted his horse, and rode off to the mountains. A small detachment of Christians raised the standards over the Alhambra. On the tall Torre de la Vela, the Christian force slowly hoisted the silver cross, which had been kept so long in readiness for the day. Among the hardened Christian soldiers came the cry “Granada! Granada! Granada for Don Ferdinand and Doña Isabel!” The royal choir broke into Te Deum.


Granada’s fall was regarded by contemporary Christians as the most distinguished event in the history of Spain and by the Muslims as one of the most terrible catastrophes to befall Islam. Ferdinand’s triumphant message to Rome that the kingdom of Granada, after 780 years of occupation by the infidels, had been finally won “to the glory of God, the exaltation of our Holy Catholic Faith,” was acclaimed throughout Europe and brought from the grateful Pope Alexander VI in 1494 the sobriquet of Los Reyes Católicos (the Catholic Monarchs) for the joint rulers of Spain.

Further Reading

  • Dickie, James. “Granada: A Case Study of Arab Urbanism in Muslim Spain.” In The Legacy of Muslim Spain, edited by Salma K. Jayyusi. Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1992. A delightful study of the city and its Islamic people and their culture in the fifteenth century.
  • Hale, Edwyn Andalus. Spain Under the Muslims. London: Robert Hale, 1958. A sound summary of the Arab role in Spanish history.
  • Harvey, L. P. “The Mudejars.” In The Legacy of Muslim Spain, edited by Salma K. Jayyusi. Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1992. Discusses the juridical status of the mudejars of the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon and the provinces of Valencia and Navarre in Spain.
  • Irving, Washington. The Conquest of Granada. London: Co-Operative Publication Society, 1829. A picturesque narrative of the fall of Granada that earned the author the praise of his contemporaries. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called the book a masterpiece of literature.
  • Kamen, Henry. Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. Surveys the roles played by Ferdinand and Isabella in the fashioning of Spain’s global empire. Includes photographic plates, illustrations, maps, bibliographic references, index.
  • Kamen, Henry. Spain, 1469-1714: A Society of Conflict. 2d ed. Reprint. New York: Longman, 1996. An intelligently written, scholarly, and readable account of the making of the nation state of Spain. The short section titled “The Conquest of Granada” is a marvel of scholarly compression.
  • Merriman, Roger B. The Rise of the Spanish Empire in the Old World and in the New. 4 vols. Reprint. New York: Cooper Square, 1962. Although first published in 1918 and thus quite dated, volume 2, entitled “The Catholic Kings,” still constitutes a useful guide to the history of the joint rulers of Aragon and Castile.
  • Nicolle, David. Granada, 1492: The Twilight of Moorish Spain. London: Osprey, 1998. Well-illustrated study of the military campaigns from 1481 to 1491 that led to the conquest of Granada. Includes sketches of leaders and descriptions of opposing armies.
  • Prescott, W. H. The Art of War in Spain: The Conquest of Granada, 1481-1492. Edited by Albert D. McJoynt. London: Greenhill Press, 1995. Classic account of the campaigns that led to Boabdil’s defeat and Spain’s decisive victory.
  • Read, Jan. The Moors in Spain and Portugal. London: Faber & Faber, 1974. Written from the perspective of the Moors and emphasizing the all-around history of Muslim Spain, this eminently readable book provides an excellent account of the conquest of Granada in chapters 23 and 24.

Oct. 19, 1469: Marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella

1492: Jews Are Expelled from Spain