Granada: Leo' s first years


The Albaicin-oldest neighborhood in Granada, once a Moorish city

Leo was undoubtedly born in Granada- an origin he admits to when writing: "and so, when people speak poorly of Africa, I say that I was born in Granada, and when I hear them criticize my home country I claim that I was raised in Africa, and not in Grenada" (Leo, p 66).

At the time of his birth Granada was either in the very last years of Muslim rule, or at the very early stages of the new Christian Kingdom. Either way, the city was undergoing tremendous political turmoil, either as a consequence of the ongoing Christian siege or of the terms of the treaty marking the end of King Boabdil's reign (last Muslim ruler in Granada).


The Alhambra- royal dwelling of Muslim caliphs, then Christian kings.

The city was nonetheless a forum of cohabitation of Christians and Muslims- an 'entente' which may explain Leo' s ability to adapt to Italy when he arrived there as an adult.

Texts dating from the late 15th century attest to the relative peace characterizing relations between the two faiths: Muslims attended Christian religious festivities. See for example Medieval Iberia, Olivia Remie Constable, Chapter 60: Muslims and Christians in Valencia, translated from Catalan by Mark Meverson- the text describes a religious procession on Corpus Christi day, and attests to the presence of many Muslims at the festivities, as well as the companionship between members of different faiths.


Queen Isabel the Catholic listening to Christopher Columbus' plan to sail to the New World.

This generally peaceful cohabitation allegedly lasted even after the Muslim defeat and the surrender of Granada on January 2nd 1492. Indeed, one of the clauses of the treaty was that Muslims were allowed to "live in their own religion" and to remain " in their houses, estates and hereditaments now and for all time and for ever" (Ibid, Chapter 61).

However, the terms of the treaty were not held, and many Muslims were forced to leave Granada, fleeing persecution. In a letter to the Ottoman ruler of the time, an emissary from Granada writes .

"Yet when we came under their treaty of Protection, the treachery towards us became apparent () [King Ferdinand] broke the compacts he had deceived us with and converted us to Christianity by force, with harshness and severity. Burning the books we had and mixing them with dung or with filth () And whosoever of us failed to go to their place of unbelief, him did the priest severely punish, Slapping him on both cheeks, confiscating his property, and imprisoning him in a wretched state" (Ibid, Chapter 63: Morisco Appeal to the Ottoman Sultan)

This appeal written in 1502 begs the Ottoman ruler to talk to the Christian rulers on behalf of the Muslims of Granada, to remind them that the Christians were "not converted from their faith, nor expelled from their homes" under Muslim rule. It further asks the sultan to negotiate the right for Granadians to emigrate to North Africa "the homeland of our dear ones".


Gibraltar- named after "Jbel Tarek" (the mountain of Tarek, Muslim general who conquered Spain in the 8th century)

Leo's family was one to emigrate to North Africa and settle in Fes. They did so most probably before the 1499 Muslim uprising in Granada and confirmation of sore relations between the different religions, as they were able to bring much of their belongings with them and maintain a high lifestyle in Fes. They must have left Spain shortly after the conquest, during the 3 year moratorium stipulated by the treaty (during these three years, Christian rulers were actually supposed to pay for the travel expenses of any Muslim wanting to cross Gibraltar and settle in North Africa) This means Leo was born sometime between 1485 and 1495. If we trust his memory and his assertion that he was 12 years old in 1500, Leo was born in 1488.

Though he remembers nothing of life in Granada, Leo strongly identifies with this kingdom as his place of birth, and seems to have looked fondly upon anyone who came from there.


A an old Morrish type house in Granada: Leo was born in such a dwelling!