Cordoba Caliphate

Cordoba Caliphate

Caliphate of CórdobaMuslim state that existed in Spain from January 16, 929, when ʿAbd al-Raḥmān III assumed the supreme title of caliph, to 1031, when the puppet ruler Hishām III was deposed by his viziers and the caliphate disintegrated into the so-called kingdoms of the taifa. During this century there were 12 caliphs, all except the first two of whom were puppets and most of whom died by violence.

ʿAbd al-Raḥmān III was followed by the studious al-Ḥakam II (961–976), who gathered a library of 400,000 catalogued volumes, founded 27 free schools in Córdoba, and attracted scholars from the east to teach in the university. His reign was succeeded by the dictatorship of Abū ʿĀmir al-Manṣūr (Almanzor), a courtier who achieved power through the favour of the Basque-born sultana Subh during the minority of her son Hishām II.

Al-Manṣūr’s rule (978–1002) marked a period of brilliant military successes abroad and increasing unrest at home. With his mercenary army he won a series of spectacular victories against the Christians, capturing Zamora (981), Barcelona (985), and Coimbra (987). In 997 he razed Santiago de Compostela and returned with the bells of the city’s cathedral to serve as braziers in the mosque of Córdoba. Popular opposition to al-Manṣūr’s successors degenerated into partisan warfare between the Cordobans, the Berbers, and the slave officials of the royal household, sometimes with Castilian intervention. All sides used the caliphs as pawns in the competition for control of the state. The last caliph was imprisoned with his family in a vault attached to the great mosque and reportedly reacted to the news of his deposition by begging for a crust of bread.

The collapse of the caliphate shortly after attaining its military zenith was partly due to the weakening of Umayyad authority by al-Manṣūr’s dictatorship but mostly due to continuous hostilities between Arabs, Berbers, slave officials, Jews, native Spanish converts to Islam, and Arabized Christians (Mozarabs). Under the caliphate, Muslim Spain was the most populous and prosperous country in Europe. Increased irrigation produced an agricultural surplus which, with manufactured luxury goods (such as Cordoban leather, Valencian pottery, and Damascus steel arms and woven silk from Toledo), was exported mainly eastward.

Abd al-Rahman III, First Caliph of Al-Andalus

It required a powerful personality to maintain and assert the integrity of al-Andalus: it came in the figure of Abd al-Rahman III (ruled 912-961), the most dominant of all the Umayyad rulers of al-Andalus. Under him, and his son al-Hakam II, and the vizier al-Mansur (de facto ruler under Hisham II), al-Andalus reached the pinnacle of its power, with its influence extending beyond the Pyrenees and well into North Africa.

Abd al-Rahman succeeded his grandfather, Abdullah ibn Muhammad, as emir at the age of 23, his father having been murdered at Ibn Muhammad’s orders as a result of palace intrigue. (Abd al-Rahman would in turn himself order one of his sons beheaded in his presence; such were the vagaries and severity of palace politics.)

Despite being the greatest Umayyad ruler of al-Andalus, Abd al-Rahman III’s immediate pedigree was almost as much Christian as it was Moorish, since both he and his father were sons of Christian princesses from Navarra

This, in fact, made Abd al-Rahman distant cousin to some Christian princes, e.g. Sancho el Craso, king of León, who even went to Córdoba to seek the help of Abd al-Rahman in 958 after having been deposed! And physically Abd al-Rahman didn’t fit the Moorish mould: he had fair skin, blue eyes and reddish hair, which he used to dye black in order to look more Arabic. He was also a fluent speaker of the early Spanish spoken in those days.

Abd al-Rahman III’s greatest success was to impose his presence on al-Andalus and unite it as it had never been before. By sheer force of personality he reined in dissidents, placed trusted men in control of restless areas and directed his country’s energies against his enemies.

In North Africa a new threat surfaced in the form of the Fatimids, a Muslim state whose leaders claimed to be direct descendants of the Prophet through his daughter Fátima. Having established their capital on the North African coast (in modern Tunisia) in 910, they posed a challenge to Umayyad (i.e. Córdoba’s) influence in the Maghreb (North West Africa).

In reply, Abd al-Rahman strengthened his navy, and set up or reinforced naval bases along the Mediterranean coast of al-Andalus. He also established outposts in the Maghreb and cultivated friendship with the Berber tribes of the region. The Fatimid threat remained until they transferred their capital to Egypt, and founded Cairo in 969/70. Quite possibly in response to the Fatimid challenge, Abd al-Rahman III declared himself “Caliph,” i.e. successor to Muhammad, in 929, a move that confirmed at the same time what had been the de facto independence of Córdoba from the Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad for almost 200 years.

At the same time that he attended to the Fatimid challenge, Abd al-Rahman occupied himself with suppressing rebellion within al-Andalus. In the south, he inherited the insurgence of Ibn Hafsun, an apostate who rallied support from other dissidents and claimed control over a large area of western Andalusia from his mountain stronghold, Bobastro, deep in the Sierra de Ronda.

Ibn Hafsun died undefeated in 917 and the revolt was continued by his sons until their defeat in 927. Abd al-Rahman got a measure of personal, if belated revenge, by having Ibn Hafsun’s remains exhumed and strung up in Córdoba between the bodies of his sons.

The chronicler Ibn Hayyan (born in Córdoba in 978) later described the scene with some relish: “Al-Nasir (the throne name of Abd al-Rahman) ordered his vile corpse to be brought out of its burial place, and his filthy and impure limbs to be carried to … the Gate in Córdoba, and hung up there on the highest of tall stakes … between the stakes of his two sons who had been crucified there before him….” (Melville & Ubaydli 35).

Al-Andalus. Here called Caliphate of Cordoba, i.e. post 929.
The situation in the north was somewhat different in that Abd al-Rahman was faced both with continuing incursions by various Christian kingdoms and with dubious loyalty from Muslim governors along the border.

A policy of raids (razzias) against Christians sometimes found Abd al-Rahman facing rebel Muslims who had allied themselves with his enemies, e.g. the joint forces of the kingdoms of León and Navarra in the battle of Simancas in 939 (in which Abd al-Rahman not only suffered a heavy defeat but also lost a precious copy of the Qur’an belonging to him; it was also the last battle that he personally headed).

Nevertheless, the defeat at Simancas was a temporary setback, and raids into Christian lands continued, but now headed by his generals. Expeditions of this kind were not unusual under his predecessors, but under Abd al-Rahman they acquired greater significance since by the 10th century the Christians had made considerable territorial gains, especially towards the west where they had repopulated a large part of the Duero valley.

And yet the Moorish raids were just that, raids rather than attempts at conquest. Religion was not a major factor in these razzias, although there were indications of religious overtones in, e. g., the comments of Abd al-Rahman’s historian that his lord was a “warrior in a holy cause” (Fletcher 58), or in the common perception in the Muslim world that Spain was “the land of the jihad” (Fletcher 61).

The Muslim raids served several functions, not the least of which were the rewards of plunder, by means of which state treasury could be replenished. In addition, the ransom of captives was always a lucrative business, and northern women were highly prized for the harems.

The raids could also serve to punish Christian leaders (e.g. García, King of Navarre) for breaking agreements, at the same time that they provided military experience for Berbers and other newcomers to the army (e.g. mercenaries, volunteers, slaves).

Finally, the regular appearance of loyal soldiers crossing border areas was a salutary reminder of Abd al-Rahman’s presence and power, and provided a useful check on the activities of ambitious local governors.

Cordoba Emirate

Cordoba Emirate

Cordoba Emirate

756-929

 The ascent of Abd al-Rahman

Al-Andalus was no longer an emirate depending on Damascus. The situation changed with the establishment of a new state politically independent in 756 by Abd al-Rahman al-Dakhil, an arab leader that claim to be an Umayyad prince who had succeeded in escaping from the slaughter of his family by the Abbasids. 

The dynasty of the Andalusian Umayyads (756–1031) marked the growth and perfection of the Arabic civilization in Iberia. Its history may be divided into two major periods—that of the independent emirate (756–929) and that of the caliphate (929–1031)—and may be interpreted as revolving around three persons of like name—Abd al-Rahman I (756–788), Abd al-Rahman II (822–852), Abd al-Rahman III (912–961)—and the all-powerful hajib (chief minister) Abu Amir al-Mansur (976–1002).

Confronted by the intrigues of the Abbasids, by the jealousy of the earlier Muslim settlers, who opposed his appointments, and by the uncertain situation on the Frankish frontier, he nevertheless succeeded in establishing himself in Cordoba, setting up an Umayyad administration, and introducing the elements of Syrian culture into Al-Andalus. Supported by his standing mercenary army, he temporarily repressed the rivalries of the Arab aristocracy.

In 763 he defended his territories against an invasion organized by al-Mansur the caliph of Baghdad. After defeating the Abbasids force, Abd al-Rahman executed its leaders and sent their preserved heads to Baghdad as a gesture of defiance. The Abbasidswere subsequently unable to effectively intervene in Iberia and never succeeded in recovering northwest Africa.

Abd al-Rahman introduced internal reforms to Al-Andalus, which included the formation of a council of state, the reorganization of the judiciary under a senior qadi (judge), and the division of Spain into six military provinces. His embellishment of Cordoba included the construction of a spectacular mosque, schools, and hospitals, and he was noted for his clemencytoward Spain’s Christian population.

 

The Frankish annexation of Narbonne and of the hitherto independent duchy of Aquitaine further weakened the Pyrenean frontier, and, when a dissident governor of Zaragoza appealed to the Franks, their king, Charlemagne, invaded Spain, only to find the gates of Zaragoza shut against him. He was defeated by a combination of Basques Basques and Muslims as he retreated through the Pyrenees at Roncesvalles (778).

After this failure, Charlemagne realized that he could not win Spanish support for his designs without the favour of the Spanish church. He intervened in the adoptionist controversy in order to discredit the metropolitan of Toledo and to separate the church of the small independent kingdom of Asturias. He succeeded in undermining the authority of Toledo, and the creation of the kingdom of Toulouse enabled his frontiersmen to conquer Barcelona (801), which was placed under a Gothic governor.

The imperialism of the Franks soon led to a revival of localist sentiment, however, and, after Charlemagne’s death in 814, the Basques and other Pyrenean peoples broke away from Frankish rule. In the Asturias, the peace with the Muslims had ended as the authority of Toledo was rejected, and armies from Córdoba advancing up the Ebro began to raid Álava and Castile. The young Alfonso II withstood these attacks for 10 years, until a succession crisis in the emirate of Córdoba gave him some respite.

 Abd al-Rahman I’s successors, Hisham I (788–796) and al-Ḥakam I (796–822), encountered severe internal dissidence among the Arab nobility. A rebellion in Toledo was put down savagely, and the internal warfare caused the emir to increase the numbers of Slav and Berber mercenaries and to impose new taxes to pay for them.

ʿAbd al-Raḥmān II inaugurated an era of political, administrative, and cultural regeneration for Muslim Spain, beginning a sharp “Orientalization” or, more precisely, an “Iraqization.” ʿAbd al-Raḥmān’s most severe problems sprang from his restless vassals in the Ebro valley, especially the convert Banū Qāsī family and the Mozarabs. Incited by the extremist chiefs Alvarus and Eulogius (the latter being canonized after his death), the Mozarabs sought to strengthen their Christian faith through the aura of martyrdom and began to publicly revile the Prophet Muhammad, an action punishable by death from 850 onward, according to Mozarabic sources. The emir sought to persuade the blasphemous to retract, but, failing in his attempts, he imposed the death penalty. The “vogue” of seeking martyrdom was a reaction of the conservative Mozarabic party against the growing “Arabization” of their coreligionists. The conflict ended in 859–860, and, despite official tact, this provocation by the Christians led to the execution of 53 people and was finally disavowed by the ecclesiastical authorities.

In foreign policy, Abd al-Rahman II conducted intensive diplomatic activity, exchanging ambassadors with the Byzantine Empire and with the Frankish king Charles II (the Bald) and maintaining friendly relations with the sovereigns of Tāhart, who lent military support to Muslim Spain. He confronted the constantly growing incursions of the Vikings (Norsemen), whom he defeated in the vicinity of Sevilla. Furthermore, he established permanent defenses against the Viking invaders by creating two naval bases, one facing the Atlantic at Sevilla and another on the Mediterranean shore at Pechina near Almería.

His successors Muḥammad I (852–886), al-Mundhir (886–888), and ʿAbd Allāh (888–912) were confronted with a new problem, which threatened to do away with the power of the Umayyads—the muwallads. Having become more and more conscious of their power, they rose in revolt in the north of the peninsula, led by the powerful Banū Qāsī clan, and in the south (879), led by ʿUmar ibn Ḥafṣūn. The struggle against them was long and tragic; Ibn Ḥafṣūn, well protected in Bobastro and in the Málaga mountains, was the leader of muwallad and even Mozarabic discontent in the south of Al-Andalus, but his defeat in 891 at Poley, near Córdoba, forced him to retreat and hide in the mountains. ʿAbd Allāh, however, was unable to subdue the numerous rebels and thus left a weak state for his grandson, the great ʿAbd al-Raḥmān III, who from 912 was able to restore order. He subdued all of Al-Andalus, from Jaén (Jayyān) to Zaragoza (Saraqusṭah), from Mérida (Māridah) to Sevilla (Ishbīliyah), and the Levant. He even challenged Ibn Ḥafṣūn successfully—especially after the latter’s political error of reverting to the Christianity of his Spanish ancestors, a move that caused the desertion of numerous muwallads who regarded themselves as good Muslims. When Ibn Ḥafṣūn died in 917, his sons were forced to capitulate, and in 928 ʿAbd al-Raḥmān III captured the theretofore impregnable fortress of Bobastro.

The ascent of Abd al-Rahman assured the survival of Muslim power in the Iberian Peninsula. Confronted by the intrigues of the Abbasids, by the jealousy of the earlier Muslim settlers, who opposed his appointments, and by the uncertain situation on the Frankish frontier, he nevertheless succeeded in establishing himself in Cordoba, setting up an Umayyad administration, and introducing the elements of Syrian culture into Al-Andalus. Supported by his standing mercenary army, he temporarily repressed the rivalries of the Arab aristocracy.

In 763 he defended his territories against an invasion organized by al-Mansur the ʿAbbāsid caliph of Baghdad.After defeating the Abbasids force, Abd al-Rahman executed its leaders and sent their preserved heads to Baghdad as a gesture of defiance. The Abbasidswere subsequently unable to effectively intervene in Spain and never succeeded in recovering northwest Africa.

Abd al-Rahman introduced internal reforms to Al-Andalus, which included the formation of a council of state, the reorganization of the judiciary under a senior qadi (judge), and the division of Spain into six military provinces. His embellishment of Córdoba included the construction of a spectacular mosque, schools, and hospitals, and he was noted for his clemencytoward Spain’s Christian population. The Frankish annexation of Narbonne and of the hitherto independent duchy of Aquitaine further weakened the Pyrenean frontier, and, when a dissident governor of Zaragoza appealed to the Franks, their king, Charlemagne, invaded Spain, only to find the gates of Zaragoza shut against him. He was defeated by a combination of Basques Basques and Muslims as he retreated through the Pyrenees at Roncesvalles (778).

After this failure, Charlemagne realized that he could not win Spanish support for his designs without the favour of the Spanish church. He intervened in the adoptionist controversy in order to discredit the metropolitan of Toledo and to separate the church of the small independent kingdom of Asturias. He succeeded in undermining the authority of Toledo, and the creation of the kingdom of Toulouse enabled his frontiersmen to conquer Barcelona (801), which was placed under a Gothic governor. The imperialism of the Franks soon led to a revival of localist sentiment, however, and, after Charlemagne’s death in 814, the Basques and other Pyrenean peoples broke away from Frankish rule. In the Asturias, the peace with the Muslims had ended as the authority of Toledo was rejected, and armies from Córdoba advancing up the Ebro began to raid Álava and Castile. The young Alfonso II withstood these attacks for 10 years, until a succession crisis in the emirate of Córdoba gave him some respite.

ʿAbd al-Raḥmān had designated his second son, Hishām I (788–796), to follow him, but this was challenged by his elder son, Sulaiman, governor of Toledo. The standoff was resolved when Sulaiman accepted a pension in Africa. Hisham was succeeded by his young son al-Ḥakam I (796–822), but again the succession was disputed. The rebellion of Toledo, savagely repressed by the murder of many of the Gothic inhabitants, obliged the emir to engage large numbers of professional soldiers, often Slavs or Berbers, and to levy new taxation to support them. When the population of Córdoba rebelled, the uprising was put down with great bloodshed, and the suburb of Secunda was razed.

Under ʿAbd al-Raḥmān II (822–852), the urban rebellions were stilled, as the Muslim garrisons protected themselves in inner fortresses. Frankish pressure, after the fall of Barcelona and Tarragona, was relaxed, and the Muslims left the northeast to the mawālī Banū Qāsī family, whose influence was for a time so great that they were called the “Third Kings of Spain.” The court of Córdoba, now prosperous, cultivated Arabic literature and the refinements of Eastern life. The tranquility of Al-Andalus was shaken in 844 when the Norsemen sailed down the Atlantic seaboard and forced their way into the Guadalquivir, raiding Sevilla.

>In the north, Alfonso II’s small Asturian kingdom had allied itself with its Basque neighbours and repopulated the frontier of Castile. It occupied the new capital of Oviedo and attracted the bishops of Galicia, where the discovery of the supposed tomb of St. James at Padrón had turned the nearby town of Santiago de Compostela into a significant Christian religious centre.

In the south, the Christians of Córdoba, now obliged to use Arabic or be excluded from the business of the state, again became restless. When ʿAbd al-Raḥmān II was succeeded by his son Mohammed I (852–886), some of these Mozarabs (Spanish Christians who retained their faith but adopted the Arabic language) protested by seeking out martyrdom. This movement, led by Eulogius (died 859), ultimately collapsed, and many Christians subequently converted to Islam. Finding themselves still discriminated against, they joined the great rebellion of the crypto-Christian chief ʿUmar ibn Ḥafṣūn, which raged from 880 until 928. ʿUmar’s rebellion grew under a pair of weak emirs—al-Mundhir (886–888) and ʿAbd Allāh (888–912)—and for a moment ʿUmar threatened Córdoba itself.

Umar’s contemporary, Alfonso III (866–910), king of Asturias, supported the cult of St. James at Santiago de Compostela in an effort to energize his Christian kingdom. He authorized Vimara Peres to set up the county of Portugal, and claimed that his goal was the restoration of the Visigothic monarchy in Spain. Alfonso styled himself as emperor, but his aspirations were quashed when he was deposed by his sons, and his dream of a reborn Visigothic kingdom died with ʿUmar. Instead, the new ruler of Córdoba, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān III (912–961), outplayed the Christians with a shrewd combination of diplomacy and aggression.

Ummayad Dependent Emirate

Ummayad Dependent Emirate

A Dependent Emirate

711-756

 

In the second half of the 7th century CE, Byzantine strongholds in North Africa gave way before the Arab advance. Carthage fell in 698. In 705 al-Walid I, the sixth caliph of the Umayyad, the first great Muslim dynasty centred in Damascus, appointed Musa ibn Nusayr governor in the west; Musa annexed all of North Africa as far as Tangier and made progress in the difficult task of propagating Islam among the Imazighen.

The Christian ruler of Ceuta, Count Julian (variously identified by the Arab chroniclers as a Byzantine, a native Berber, or a Visigoth), eventually reached an agreement with Musa to launch a joint invasion of the Iberian Peninsula.

The invasion of Spain was the result both of a Muslim readiness to invade and of a call for assistance by one of the Visigothic factions, the “Witizans.” Having become dispossessed after the death of King Witiza in 710, they appealed to Musa for support against the usurper Roderick.

In April or May of 711 Musa sent an Berber army headed by Tariq ibn Ziyad across the passage whose modern name, the Strait of Gibraltar, derives from Jabal al-Ṭāriq; in July they were able to defeat Roderick in a decisive battle.

Instead of returning to Africa, Tariq marched north and conquered Ṭulayṭulah (Toledo), the Visigothic capital, where he spent the winter of 711.

In the following year Musa himself led an Arab army to the peninsula and conquered Māridah (Merida) after a long siege. He reached Ṭāriq in Toledo in the summer of 713. From there he advanced northeast, taking Saraqusṭah (Zaragoza ) and invading the country up to the northern mountains; he then moved from west to east, forcing the population to submit or flee. Both Musa and Tariq were recalled to Syria by the caliph; by 718 then most of the Iberian Peninsula was under Muslim control.

The rapid success of the Islamic forces can be explained by the fact that Hispano-Visigoth society had not yet succeeded in achieving a compact and homogeneous integration. The Jews, harassed by the legal ordinances of Toledo, were particularly hostile toward the Christian government.

Moreover, the Muslim conquest brought advantages to many elements of society: the burden of taxes was generally less onerous than it had been in the last years of the Visigoth epoch; serfs who converted to Islam (mawali or muladí) advanced into the category of freedmen and enrolled among the dependents of some conquering noble; and Jews, who were no longer persecuted, were placed on an equal footing with the Hispano-Romans and Goths who still remained within the Christian fold.

Diverse society

Thus, in the first half of the 8th century, a new society developed in Muslim Spain. The Arabs were the ruling element; a distinction was made between baladiyyun (Arabs who had entered Spain in 712 under Musa) and Syrians (who arrived in 740 under Balj ibn Bishr). Below them in status were the Berbers, who made up the majority of the invading troops, whose numbers and influence continued to grow over the course of centuries because of their steady influx from Africa. Then came the native population who had converted to Islam, the musālimah, and their descendants, the muwallads; many of them were also mawali or even themselves of berber lineage. This group formed the majority of the population because during the first three centuries social and economic motives induced a considerable number of natives to convert to Islam. Christians and Jews who kept their religion came next in the social hierarchy, but their numbers decreased in the course of time. Finally, there was a small group of saqalibah—slaves captived from the northern peninsula and other European countries—and black captives or mercenaries.

The period between 711 and 756 is called the dependent emirate because Muslim Spain, or Al-Andalus, was dependent on the Umayyad caliph in Damascus. These years were marked by continuous hostilities between the different Arab factions and between the various social groups. Nonetheless, Muslim expansion beyond the Pyrenees continued until 732, when the Franks, under Charles Martel, defeated the Muslims, led by the emir Abd al-Rahman al.Ghafiqui, near Tours. This battle marked the beginning of the gradual Muslim retreat. A major Berber uprising against the Arabs in North Africa had powerful repercussions in Muslim Spain; it caused the depopulation of the northwestern peninsula, occupied at that time mainly by Imazighen, and brought the Syrian army of Balj to Al-Andalus, which introduced a new motive for discord. 

This situation changed with the establishment of an independent emirate in 756 by Abd al-Rahman al-Dakhil, an Umayyad prince who, having succeeded in escaping from the slaughter of his family by the Abbasids and in gaining power in Al-Andalus, became independent of them politically. The dynasty of the Andalusian Umayyads (756–1031) marked the growth and perfection of the Arabic civilization in Spain. Its history may be divided into two major periods—that of the independent emirate (756–929) and that of the caliphate (929–1031)—and may be interpreted as revolving around three persons of like name—Abd al-Rahman I (756–788), Abd al-Rahman II (822–852), Abd al-Rahman III (912–961)—and the all-powerful hajib (chief minister) Abu Amir al-Mansur (976–1002).

Almohad Empire

Almohad Empire

The Almoravid Empire

1150-1212

In 1125 the Almohads, a new Berber dynasty began a rebellion in the Atlas Mountains of  Africa and after 22 years of fighting emerged victorious. Marrakech fell in 1147, and thereafter Almoravid leaders survived only for a time in Spain and the Balearic Isles.  By 1150, the Almohads had taken Morocco as well as Seville, Córdoba, Badajoz, and Almería in the Iberian Peninsula. The Almohads made Seville their capital in al-Andalus, while retaining Marrakesh as their center of power in North Africa.

This political and religious movement had an architect: Muhammad Ibn Tumart. He was born in a village in the African Atlas around 1082. In his youth he traveled for more than ten years through the main cities of the time, obtaining a remarkable formation in philosophy and religion. With this knowledge, a deep reforming zeal was born in Ibn Tumart and he soon began to preach his ideas and to combat the practices that he understood as contrary to Islam. He had no easy beginning, for he was rejected in many places where he preached his reformist ideas. But far from surrendering, Ibn Tumart initiated a rebellion from Tinmal, which would become the spiritual capital of the Almohad empire. Around 1121, Ibn Tumart began to be taken by a growing group such as the mahdi, “the envoy”, the leader guided by divine inspiration. He was promoted to the rank of military and religious leader, although the divine inspiration seems to have lasted him for a short time. He died in battle in 1130.

Ibn Tumart was succeeded by Abd al-Mumin. In 1145 he crossed the Strait of Gibraltar with his army and took control of Tarifa and Algeciras. Two years later, he took Seville and Marrakech, ending the Almoravid era and initiating the Almohad rule, which would soon extend to the rest of the empire. As for al-Andalus, the peninsular population welcomed the arrival of the Almohad to get rid of the fiscal and military oppression of the Almoravids. At the death of al-Mumin in 1172, the Almohads dominated the entire southern half of Toledo of the Iberian Peninsula.

Al-Mumin’s successors continued to increase Almohads power in al-Andalus, with a peak moment in 1195, when they defeated the Castilians at the Battle of Alarcos. After this victory, the Almohads lived their era of greatest splendour. The development of philosophy and sciences had exponents such as Ibn Tufail and Averroes. The impulse of art could be felt in the Andalusian capital: in Seville the aljama mosque and minaret was erected that, after the Christian conquest, would end up reformed in cathedral and the bell tower of the Giralda. But the golden age could not last long. Various threats loomed over the Almohads.

In North Africa raids were going on against the Almohads. In 1198 they agreed a ten-year truce with Castile. The intention was to prepare a large army to face the Christians. But the northern peninsular kingdoms had the same time to prepare, and they did better, spurred by the defeat at Alarcos. The fall of the Almohads was not delayed after the truce: In July 1212 a joint army of Leon, Castile, Navarre and Aragon advanced south from Toledo and faced the Almohads at Las Navas de Tolosa. The Almohads suffered such a defeat that their power in Spain was practically annihilated. Al-Andalus once again fractured into tribute-paying principalities, vulnerable to the depredations of christians kingdoms. These principalities, except for Nasrid-ruled Granada soon lost their sovereignty

Almoravid empire

Almoravid empire

The Almoravid Empire

1062-1125

From the arabic word al-Murābiṭūn meaning “those dwelling in frontier garrisons”, was a newly emerged Islamic power in North Africa, a confederation of Berber tribes—Lamtūnah, Gudālah, Massūfah—, conquered Morocco and founded Marrakesh as its capital in 1062.  

Led by Yusuf ibn Tashfin, who assumed the title of amir al-muslimin “commander of the Muslims” but still paid homage to the ʿAbbāsid caliph in Baghdad,  the Almoravids entered al Al-Andalus -Muslim Iberian Peninsula- after the fall of Toledo in 1085 in response to the Taifas leaders pleas for help in repelling the christian kingdoms armies of the northern regions. Almoravids assumed control of al-Andalus in 1090, while maintaining their primary seat of government in Marrakesh. In this way, they came to rule parts of todays Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, and Spain and controlled important ports as well as trans-Saharan trade.

Repudiating the lack of piety and what they considered to be the decadence of the Taifa’s kings, and following the conservative Malikiyya school of Islamic law, the Almoravids disdained as well the opulent arts of the andalusians. Although they began by sponsoring austere programs of architectural decoration, their later monuments and textile manufactory in Almería indicate that the Almoravids eventually succumbed to the luxury culture of al-Andalus.

The whole of Muslim Spain, however, except Valencia, independent under Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar El Cid, eventually came under Almoravid rule. In the reign of Ali ibn Yusuf (1106–42) the union between Spain and Africa was consolidated , and Andalusian civilization took root: administrative machinery was Spanish in pattern, writers and artists crossed the straits, and the great monuments built by ʿAlī in the Maghrib were models of pure Andalusian art. But the Almoravids were but a Berber minority at the head of the Spanish-Arab empire, and, while they tried to hold Spain with Berber troops and the Maghrib with a strong Christian guard, they could not restrain the tide of Christian reconquest that began with the fall of Saragossa in 1118.

Art of the Almoravid period is most noted for its sobriety and puritanism after the ornamental excesses of the Umayyads. It was only in the minor, decorative arts of weaving and ivory carving that the Almoravids used ornamentation as an end in itself. Desert dwellers, military ascetics from the Sahara, the Almoravids shunned the lavish decoration that had characterized the late Umayyad architectural style and built on a practical rather than a monumental scale. Even in the secular sphere, piety and asceticism forbade the building of splendid palaces and monuments. The main architectural motif of the period was the horseshoe arch, which in later times was elaborated and used extensively by the Almohads and the Naṣrids. Minarets, usually placed at the corner of the mihrab, were square and only sparsely decorated. The most famous work to survive from the Almoravid age is the Great Mosque at Tlemcen, Algeria. Built in 1082, it was restored in 1136 but not in true Almoravid style. The mihrab is unusually ornate, surrounded by multilobed arches decorated with arabesques.

 

Overthrown by the Almohads

In 1125 the Almohads began a rebellion in the Atlas Mountains and after 22 years of fighting emerged victorious. Marrakech fell in 1147, and thereafter Almoravid leaders survived only for a time in Spain and the Balearic Isles.     The Almohads (1150–1269), a new Berber dynasty from North Africa. By 1150, the Almohads had taken Morocco as well as Seville, Córdoba, Badajoz, and Almería in the Iberian Peninsula. The Almohads made Seville their capital in al-Andalus, while retaining Marrakesh as their center of power in North Africa. Following the Almohad defeat by the combined armies of Aragon and Castile at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, a turning point in the peninsula’s history, al-Andalus once again fractured into tribute-paying principalities, vulnerable to the depredations of christians kingdoms. These principalities, except for Nasrid-ruled Granada soon lost their sovereignty.

Granada, the last kingdom Al-Andalus

Granada, the last kingdom Al-Andalus

A Dependent Emirate

711-756

 

Centuries of history and the legacies of different cultures have transformed the urban layout of the city of Granada. The events that took place from the late 10th and early 11th  centuries onwards led to a series of dramatic changes in which the region’s capital was moved from Madinat Ilbira to the hill of the Hishn Gharnata, which became the official seat of the Zirid Kingdom founded by Zawi ben Zirí around the year 1013.

The consolidation of the kingdom in subsequent decades with the conquest of the neighbouring coras (territories) and the additional resources obtained by the new irrigation networks enabled the Zirid dynasty to consider building a city with a new layout. It could be argued that Granada only became genuinely urban in the Zirid period, a hypothesis borne out by archaeological excavations and the analysis of surviving structures.

From this point onwards the city began to grow beyond its walls, a process that extended especially in the 14th Century, so creating what would become 15th Century Granada, of which we will be studying the perimeter, city walls and enclosures. This insight into life in Granada in the last years of the Nasrid Dynasty, who turned a blind eye on the events that signalled the end of a flourishing culture, will allow us to better understand what went on within the walls of Madinat Gharnata. A knowledge of some of the buildings (of which unfortunately few traces remain) that witnessed the amazing events of those final years is also an important part of this visit.

Neither should we forget the last years of war, a medium through which to study the leading participants, above all the three Sultans Muley Hacén, el Zagal and Muhammad XII “Boabdil”, about whom doubts still exist today as to whether their actions could have changed the destiny of their lost Kingdom. A tragic end to what had been a brilliant lineage, who in spite of their political ups-and-downs were responsible for the creation of the unforgettable Kingdom of Granada.

The Alhambra, Nasrid palaces

Nasrid Dynasty Al-Ahmar, founder of the Nasrid dynasty, installed himself in the Antigua Alcazaba del Albaicín, drawing attention to the ruins on the hill of the Alhambra. He then decided to initiate its reconstruction and install his court in it, beginning the construction of the Alhambra that we know today.

The Alhambra was a palace, citadel and fortress, residence of the Nasrid sultans and senior officials, court servants and elite soldiers, reaching its full splendor in the second half of the 14th century, coinciding with the sultanate of Yusuf I (1333-1354) and the second reign of Muhammad V (1362-1391).

Granada, capital of the Nasrid kingdom, gradually received Islamic populations due to the advance of the Christian conquest. The city grew, adapting, creating new quarters and expanding its walls practically until being conquered at the end of the 15th century.

Discover the Alhambra Palaces