Simon Doubleday


The kingdom of Granada had arisen, like a phoenix, from the ruins of the former Almohad empire. The population of its capital city had swelled after the Almohads’ defeat at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212) and the Christian capture of Córdoba (1236) and Seville (1248). Muhammad I (r. 1238-73) gained Castilian recognition of his kingdom in return for a large annual tribute and the peaceful surrender of Jaén.

Muhammad I’s relations with Alfonso X were complex: the Castilian king claims to have seen him “as a vassal and friend in whom we trusted” in the years before the mudéjar rebellion of 1264, in which Muhammad appears to have been closely involved. But the king of Granada can never have had much trust in Alfonso, as the Castilians pushed ever closer towards his capital city, capturing such strongholds as Cádiz and al-Qanatir (rechristened Puerto de Santa María).

Remarkably, the kingdom survived for another quarter of a millennium, before Ferdinand and Isabella accepted its surrender in 1492. Under the Nasrid dynasty, the palace of the Alhambra—with its iconic Patio de los Leones—was brought to full fruition. The fourteenth-century hunting paintings in its Hall of Justice, replete with courtly and Arthurian motifs, reveal how cultural exchange across political and religious frontiers would long continue.