Some authors believe that its origins lie in the Punic city of Carteia which, after being repopulated by Augustus, was given the name Iulia Traducta.

Its name, Al-gezirah al-jadrah, comes from Arabic and means “the green island”, a reference to the small, leafy island that lies in the bay and is known as Isla Verde (Green Island) or Isla de las Palomas (Pigeon Island).

The city has always been a port of entry from Africa to the Iberian peninsula; history tells us that in 711 the Moslem chief Tarik, after defeating the Goth army led by Teodomiro, marched to meet King Rodrigo, whom he beat in the battle of La Janda, thus beginning the Moslem domination of Spain.

The city was to be an important port in the Arab world for more than six centuries; during this time the Christians tried to capture it on several occasions, and after a brief period under Christian control it was destroyed in 1369 by the King of Granada, Mohamed V, who considered it impossible to defend. It fell into Christian hands for good in 1344, when it was conquered by Alfonso XI, known as the Righteous.