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The rise and fall of Al Andalus. What happened to this powerful Muslim Caliphate?

Justin Auee - 2020


When the Moors set off to southern Spain in 710, led by general Tariq Ibn Ziyad. the Iberian Peninsula was under the reign of the Visigoths, with King Roderick at the head of command. He had - after the death of the previous King - ascended the throne, which overruled the King’s sons. In this period there were a lot of conflicts going on on the Iberian Peninsula, for example between the Visigoths and the Basques in the north. 

The Moors made clever use of this situation by launching an attack while Roderick was still battling the mountain tribe. They were an Islamic tribe from Northern-Africa. Most of these warriors had a dark skin and black veil. This greatly impressed the Europeans and the tales of these dark people are still used in different ways nowadays.


The first major confrontation was at the river Guadalete. Roderick had only just returned from the Basque country where he had beaten the Basque rebellion. When he heard that the Moorish army had set foot on his southern coast, he travelled south with a gigantic army to stop them. The sons of the former King joined the battle. However, they wanted revenge on Roderick and made an agreement with the Moors. During the battle they left the field with their armies and the Moors could easily defeat Roderick’s army. The King was murdered and Tariq’s army could proceed towards the Visigoth capital of Toledo.

The Jews had been a minority group on the Iberian Peninsula for centuries. When the Visigoths devoted themselves to Catholicism in 589, the torments and persecution of the Jews increased strongly. During the reign of King Recceswinth (622-672), Jews that had disobeyed the laws of the kingdom were either stoned to death or burned alive. When the Moorish army stood in front of the gates of Toledo, the Christians had already fled from the capital. The Jews saw the Moors as their liberators and opened the gates. Under the Moorish reign, many Jews received positions in the city council and the treatment of the Jews improved greatly. After Tariq conquered Toledo, the governor of Northern-Africa - Musa Ibn Nusair - became jealous and decided to launch an attack on the Iberian Peninsula as well. He went North, to Seville and Mérida to reunite his army with Tariq’s at Toledo. Together they conquered Salamanca. In 714, Zaragoza in northeastern Spain was conquered as well. After the conquest of Barcelona, the Moors saw their chance to cross the Pyrenees and invade France. This attempt was denied in 733 by Charles Martel at Poitiers. In 732, Al Andalus was having its heyday, having the control of almost the entire Iberian Peninsula

The Reconquista

The Reconquista is the recapture of the Iberian Peninsula by the Christian Iberian armies. In 718 the first Moorish defeat to the Christian armies became a fact when King Pelagius of Asturias (685-737) won the battle of Covadonga. Due to the Berber Revolt  against the Umayyad caliphate in the Maghreb, the Berber soldiers in Al Andalus retreated from the river Douro and returned to their homeland. The Asturian kings took control of the Douro valley and under King Alfonso II of Asturias the kingdom of León was conquered as well. This led to the transformation of the kingdom of Asturias into the kingdom of León in 925. The county of Castile originated when inhabitants of the kingdom of Cantabria - East of Asturias - set off into the Douro valley and built castles on the shore of the river to stop the Moors. The name Castile derives from the Spanish word ‘castillo’, which means:  ‘castle’. South of the Pyrenees a chain of counties developed, which we call the Hispanic Marches. Under King Sancho III of Pamplona (994-1035),  Castile, and even the powerful León were subdued. After his death the kingdom was split in 3 parts: Navarre, Aragón and Castile. The Caliphate of Córdoba had split up in numerous taifas - small, independent Muslim kingdoms - due to many rebellions and seemed to be an easy target for the mighty kingdoms of Castile and Aragón.

Muslim invasions 

In 1085, the Almoravids, a Berber tribe from nowadays Morocco, seized power in the Caliphate by conquering most of the taifas. Until 1118 the Reconquista seemed to have been stopped. However, King Alfonso I of Aragón (1073-1134) managed to get control of Zaragoza in this year, and the Reconquista continued. When Alfonso VII of Castile (1105-1175) crowned himself Emperor of Spain the power relations on the Iberian Peninsula changed yet again. The Muslim Caliphate shattered back into numerous small taifas and the Almoravids were expelled. In 1170, the Almohads - another Berber tribe - seized power in Al Andalus. King Alfonso IX of León (1171-1230) was so impressed by these warriors that he signed a non-aggression pact. Because of this he was excommunicated by the Pope and the kingdoms of Portugal and Castile invaded his kingdom. The Pope sent a delegation to create peace between Castile and León, which eventually succeeded. In 1212, the Almohads suffered a massive defeat by the united Christian armies. at the battle of Navas de Tolosa. This battle is seen as the decisive turning point in the Reconquista. 

The end of the Reconquista

After this defeat, the Almohads were expelled from Al Andalus and it split up in taifas yet again. Most of these taifas were conquered by the Christian kings without a great deal of effort. King Fernando III of Castile (1199-1252) seized power over the kingdom of León and a new, massive kingdom was born. Under his rule, the cities under Moorish control were recaptured one by one. Around 1250, Portugal in the west, and Aragón in the east, had completed their part in the Reconquista. The kingdom of Granada was the last Moorish kingdom to be conquered by Castile. This kingdom held their ground for almost 250 years more. Because of the marriage between Queen Isabel I of Castile (1451-1504) and Fernando II of Aragón (1452-1516) in 1469, Castile and Aragón became one kingdom. Now, a massive part of the Iberian Peninsula belonged to the same ruler. Eventually, Sultan Boabdil (1460-1532) handed over the keys of Granada to Isabel and Fernando in 1492. This meant the end of the Moorish rule over the Iberian Peninsula.


 
 
 
 
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