Almoravid empire

Almoravid empire

The Almoravid Empire


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.