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Monday, January 2, 2012

History Monday: On This Day in 1492

Perhaps you thought only one event happened in 1492, but on January 2 of that year a different part of history was playing out, making Columbus's voyage financially possible.


Today is the 520th anniversary of the capitulation or surrender of the great city of Granada by the last Muslim king, Boabdil, to the Catholic Monarchs, Fernando and Isabel. Unlike what is depicted in this famous and romanticized painting by Padilla, the Muslim leader met with the Christian commanders in secret, in the dead of night inside the Alhambra palace, in order to avoid the immediate rebellion of his subjects, who in general, still preferred death to surrender. Under the circumstances, Boabdil made a reasonable decision in order to preserve his family and his own life, and has been reviled for it ever since. In another probably romanticized anecdote from history, as the king rode away from his breathtakingly beautiful city, a tear came to his eye. His mother reportedly told him to "Weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man."


The Christian monarchs of the kingdoms of Iberia had been trying, with varying levels of earnestness, to eject the Muslims from the peninsula for nearly 780 years. The surrender of Granada was the last step in the unification of what is now Spain under Fernando and Isabel, who'd started out as the king of Aragón and the queen of Castile respectively. But the cultural revolution (some might say "apocalypse") was far from over. With the relatively small Muslim population now theoretically under control, Isabel could turn her religious zeal against the Jews, whom she expelled from her kingdom by royal edict later in 1492. The new geographical unity helped make the following century all about Spain, all over the world. With the expensive "reconquest" of the Iberian peninsula complete, Fernando and Isabel could finally devote funds to other projects, such as granting the wishes of that loony Genoan sailor-scholar who wanted so badly to be Admiral of the Ocean Sea on Spain's behalf.