Granada has been a strategically important city since its founding in 1524.
Its positioning, on the western shoreline of Lake Nicaragua – making it accessible by boat from the Caribbean Coast, and by stagecoach from the Pacific Coast – made it so.
Granada vs León
Granada has a twin city, León, also founded in 1524.
The two cities have vied for supremacy since their infancy (a trait that continues to this day), but when León was destroyed by earthquakes in 1610, Granada became the unrivalled commercial hub for the region.
But prosperous Spanish colonial towns in Central America tended to attract the odd pirate or two.
And Granada was no different.
Attack by Henry Morgan
In 1665 Henry Morgan (the gent pictured on the Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum bottles) rowed up the San Juan River, crossed Lake Nicaragua, and sacked the city. He set fire to Granada, sank every Spanish boat in the harbour, and pocketed 500,000 sterling silver pounds.
A second attack, by Captain Gallardillo in 1670, led to the construction of the Fortress of Immaculate Conception.
The fortress was built on a narrow stretch of the San Juan River, on the far side of Lake Nicaragua, in the hopes of controlling the river and preventing further pirate raids from the Caribbean Coast.
Which worked well, until William Dampier demonstrated the weakness of this defence. He avoided the San Juan River altogether, and attacked from the Pacific Coast. The city was burnt to the ground.
In 1838 Nicaragua became a republic, but its power base was split between those age-old rivals: Granada and León. León was where the Legitimist camp (the conservative elite) dwelt, and Granada, where the Democrats (the liberal elite) resided.
Civil wars between the two parties erupted on several occasions.
The Legacy of William Walker
In 1855 the Democrats – let’s call them the Leónists – hired an American mercenary, William Walker, to fight the Legitimists (the Granada-ists).
William Walker defeated the Granada-ists.
The Leónists celebrated.
But their celebrations were premature.
William Walker had ideas of his own. He turned on the Leónists, defeated them in turn, and seized control of the country.
It took a combined military effort between Costa Rica, Honduras, and El Salvador to oust him. When his forces fled, they burnt the city to the ground.
One of his commanders left a note behind dangling from a lance. It read Aqui fue Granada (Here was Granada).
Times have changed. But the city’s importance hasn’t.
Now it is a commercial hub for tourism. And, once again, it is vying against its twin, León, for supremacy.
Practical information and how to reach Granada:
There are regular buses running between Granada and the capital, Managua. Trip time is one hour. Those wishing to travel to León will need to change in Managua. Those travelling to Ometepe will need to take to take a bus to Rivas and make their way to the ferry. More transport info here.
The City of Granada is on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status.