Category Archives: Spanish History

History of Spain. 16th-Century Overview.
Monarchs: Ferdinand/ Fernando (b1452-d1516; ruled as Ferdinand II of Aragon 1479-1516 and V of Castile 1474-1504), Isabella/Isabel (b1451-d1504, Queen of Castile 1474-1504); Charles/Carlos I (b1500-d1558; ruled Spain 1516-56, took title of Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire 1519-56); Philip/Felipe II (b1527-d1598; ruled 1556-98).

Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs.
In the 15th century, there were five kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula: Castile, the Crown of Aragón (which included Catalonia, Valencia, the kingdom of Naples, Sardinia and Sicily), Navarre, Portugal and the Muslim kingdom/emirate of Granada. By early in the 16th century they had been reduced to two: Castile/Aragón and Portugal.

Portugal had been an independent kingdom since the 12th century; Castile and the Crown of Aragón were united in the late 15th century through the marriage of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragón, and tiny Navarre was swallowed by Aragón in 1513.  Insofar as Castile and Aragón were concerned, Castile was more densely populated and more powerful than its neighbour, and it was Castile that took the initiative in subsequent political developments both in and beyond the peninsula.

The marriage between Isabel and Ferdinand took place in 1469; she was 18 and he was 17. Isabel succeeded to the throne of Castile in 1474, and Ferdinand to that of Aragón in 1479. Although Castile was the major partner, each kingdom making up the Crown of Aragón –Aragón, Catalonia, Valencia and lesser realms in the Mediterranean– retained its own laws (fueros), its own parliament (cortes, corts in Catalan), its own language, coinage and customs.

Granada, being the last Muslim kingdom/emirate of the once powerful al-Andalus, was an anomaly, and an early target for Isabella and Ferdinand who saw its conquest as a necessary step for consolidating their political power and for religious uniformity in the peninsula.

By January 1492, Granada was in their hands.  The terms of surrender were generous and included freedom of religion. Religious conformity, however, was still the overall objective of the Christians. Already on March 31, 1492, Ferdinand and Isabel signed an edict giving Jews four months to accept baptism or go into exile; by 1501 the Muslims faced the same choice.

Christianity was now the common bond that held Spaniards together. Nevertheless, the religious conformity of baptized Jews (Conversos) and converted Muslims (Moriscos) was frequently tested and there was widespread suspicion that their conversion was not genuine.

Only the Muslims of Aragón escaped the
forcible baptisms of 1501, but they too were
obliged to convert in 1525 owing to civil
conflicts in Aragón.

This was not a new phenomenon; the 15th century had seen an explosion of Jews accepting baptism.  Many were sincere in their new faith, many others continued to practice their Judaic faith in secret. It was to investigate the suspicion of heresy amongst Conversos that the infamous Inquisition was introduced into Castile in 1478.

Long dormant in Aragón, the Inquisition was established in Castile at the request of Ferdinand and Isabel. What distinguished the Castilian Inquisition was that although it was an ecclesiastical institution, control over appointments to it and over its finances was granted to the Crown, a secular body. This meant that its function overlapped both political and religious spheres, and its impact on Spanish society was felt for centuries as its power quickly extended beyond Castile into all areas of the country.

At the beginning of the 16th century, there was a general feeling of pride and self confidence in the political and religious accomplishments of the Catholic Monarchs.

This pride extended also to other fields. For example, new universities were founded, reflecting the fresh air of humanism from Italy. Queen Isabel encouraged the study of Latin, which opened up new avenues of thought. There was pride in the achievements of the Castilian language as evidenced in the publication of the first Spanish grammar book and Spanish-Latin dictionary (both in 1492) and in collections of popular poetry.

Further impetus to the general air of confidence was given by two far-reaching events: the fortuitous “discovery” of America (Las Indias) by Christopher Columbus in 1492, and the accession in 1516 to the Spanish throne of the powerful Hapsburg family of central Europe. With the discovery of Las Indias and the acquisition of vast new lands, Spain embarked on its transatlantic imperial adventures. 

With the accession of the Hapsburg Charles (Carlos) to the Spanish throne, Spain suddenly acquired large swathes of land in central and northern Europe (Austria, the Netherlands, Burgundy and chunks of Germany).  These were heady times, the beginning of the so-called Golden Age, both politically and culturally. From the modest marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand in 1469, then, there grew within about 55 years an imperial power –more properly called monarquía española— whose possessions encompassed large areas in Europe and America, and even stretched across the Pacific (under Spanish auspices, the first voyage around the world was completed in 1522).

Internationally, too, Spain was making its mark in Europe, with Ferdinand being particularly active in this field. Spain’s main rival was France, and much of Ferdinand’s efforts went into political alliances to contain French ambitions on Spanish territory (along the Pyrenees and in Italy).

Marriage was one expedient way of creating alliances. Probably the best known in the English-speaking world is the marriage of Catherine** (of Aragón) to Henry VIII of England, but for the future of Spain the most significant of the several arranged marriages was that of Ferdinand and Isabel`s youngest daughter, Juana, to the son of the Hapsburg emperor, Maximilian I. It was their son, Charles, who established the Hapsburg dynasty in Spain.

**Actually, Catherine was first betrothed to
Arthur, Prince of Wales and Henry’s older
brother.  It was only after Arthur’s death
that Catherine married Henry.

Charles I/V (1500-1558; ruled Spain 1516-56, Holy Roman Emperor 1519-58).
Charles was born in Flanders and arrived in Spain in September 1517.

Charles I/V’s European and North African possessions. Blue is Castile, orange is Aragon, purple shows Charles’s inheritance from Burgundy and green his Hapsburg inheritance.

He was the grandson of Ferdinand and Isabel, and the first king jointly of both Castile and Aragón (hence Charles I).  A period of uncomfortable adjustment followed as Charles established himself, and Spaniards grudgingly accustomed themselves to a youthful monarch who spoke no Spanish and surrounded himself with Flemish advisors.

Three years after Charles’s arrival, Spanish resentment at Flemish control erupted in the year long Revolt of the Comuneros (members of a popular communal movement). It didn’t help that Charles also requested money in pursuit of the office of Holy Roman Emperor (HRE). 

Spaniards feared that their country’s welfare would be subordinated to Charles’s obligations to defend the interests of the Catholic Church beyond Spain’s borders, and to some degree their fears were justified.  Charles did become HRE (as Charles V) in 1519, and his priorities did extend beyond Spain. Indeed, of the 40 years that Charles ruled, he spent only 16 in Spain; in the last 13 years of his reign he didn’t set foot in the country at all.

Nevertheless, there were compensations. There was considerable prestige attached to their king’s title of HRE, and Spaniards quickly realised that their country was the most powerful in Europe and no European nation could make decisions without taking into consideration Spain’s reaction.

In addition, Charles won Spaniards over by identifying them increasingly with the mission of defending Catholicism. His struggle with the threat of heretical Protestants in Northern Europe and with Ottoman (Turkish) activities in the Mediterranean touched a common chord and recalled the crusading spirit of the Reconquista, which was still relatively fresh in the collective Spanish memory. 

But not all of Charles’s enemies were Protestants or Muslims. Catholic France, led by the youthful Francis I, was traditionally hostile to Aragón and challenged Charles’s claims to the duchy of Burgundy and the strategically placed duchy of Milan in northern Italy. In addition, Francis had a personal grudge against Charles, who had out-manoeuvred him for the title of HRE in 1519.

The costs of defending imperial and Catholic interests were enormous. How did Charles pay for all these wars?  There was a limit to what he could extract from his possessions in taxes, and even the wealth of The Indies –although very promising— was insufficient.

The only solution was to borrow money against the future gold and silver coming from The Indies. However, Spain had lost a large part of its own banking expertise and resources with the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, so the borrowed money came mainly from established bankers in Germany and Genoa (Italy). The implications of this for Spain’s economy were profound since it effectively mortgaged Spain’s economic future to foreigners.

Charles’s constant travels and military commitment eventually took their toll.  In 1556, he abdicated in favour of his son, Philip, and retired to the isolated monastery of Yuste, in Extremadura.  He still retained the title of Holy Roman Emperor and continued to fire letters of advice to his son, but the end was close for the exhausted and gout-ridden former monarch.  He died in September 1558.

Philip II (1527-1598; ruled 1556-98).
Philip was everything his father was not. Charles was a warrior king, Philip was a bureaucrat par excellence. Charles was decisive, Philip dithered agonisingly over state matters. Charles travelled tirelessly, Philip scarcely travelled beyond Castile once he succeeded to the throne (he left Spain only to claim the throne of Portugal in 1580-82). Charles was multilingual, Philip spoke only Castilian (he understood French, Portuguese and Italian). Charles had no fixed capital, Philip established Madrid as his permanent capital in 1561.

Their different personalities reflect in many ways the spirit of the country.  Under Charles, Spain looked outwards, confident of its destiny. Under Philip, Spain closed in upon itself. Internally, the Inquisition continued its relentless pursuit of heresy, abetted now by the zeal imparted by the Catholic reforms (known as the Counter Reformation) to counter the spread of Protestantism.  Externally, Spain appeared defensive, reacting to events, seemingly unable to keep its enemies at bay and struggling to keep its territories intact.  As early as 1559, the Venetian ambassador to Spain observed that Philip’s objective was “not to wage war so that he can add to his kingdoms, but to wage peace so that he can keep the lands he has” (Kamen 129).

Spain did lose lands when Charles died (1558), and the title of HRE and the German territories attached to that title passed –by agreement- to Charles’s younger brother, Ferdinand in 1558.  But this was the least of Philip’s troubles in these early days. The financial burden of empire weighed heavily and in 1557 Philip was forced to suspend payment to bankers, in effect declaring the country bankrupt. He did so again in 1575 and 1596; the glitter of imperial power evidently hid serious economic problems.

In addition, there were grave political concerns.  The Muslim Ottoman (Turkish) Empire was a major threat in the Mediterranean. Although the Turks suffered a humiliating naval defeat in the Gulf of Lepanto (Greece) in 1571, they soon regrouped, conquered Tunis in 1574 and most of Morocco (from the Portuguese) in 1576.  In northern Europe, Protestant discontent led to a revolt in the Netherlands in 1566 and a constant state of hostilities thereafter.

The World Soccer cup final in South Africa
between Spain and Holland (July 2010)
provoked some interesting comments
recalling their historical relationship,
ranging from the colours of the Dutch
soccer outfit to allusions in the Dutch
national anthem to their rebellions against
Spanish forces in the 16th century. See,
for example

In the Alpujarras region of Granada in the south of Spain, frustrated Moriscos (Moorish converts to Catholicism) started a bloody two-year rebellion in 1568.  Later, in 1591, Philip was forced to send troops to Zaragoza (Aragón) to quell a rebellion and silence general agitation in the kingdom over Aragonese fears of Castilian restrictions on their fueros (local legal privileges).

So, with bankruptcies and internal rebellions … why was Spain still considered the most powerful country of Europe? Well, Spanish presence was very visible everywhere, and Spain possessed more land in Europe than any other country, and of course it owned vast overseas territories. 

The 1571 naval victory in Lepanto was a major boost, even if it didn’t eliminate Muslim activity in the Mediterranean. Fortunately for Philip, in the late 1570s the attention of the Ottoman Sultan, Murad III, was directed away from the Mediterranean to a situation of anarchy on the eastern edge of his empire. For both leaders, a truce –which was agreed upon in 1577 and formally signed in 1580– was in their best interest. 1580 was a good year for Spain: it extended its empire even more when the death of Sebastian I of Portugal in Morocco in 1578 allowed Philip to press his claims to the Portuguese throne.  Backed by money and his armies, Philip eventually overcame opposition and was grudgingly recognised king by the Portuguese in 1580.

Like Castile and Aragón, Portugal
retained its own institutions etc.,
and its empire remained separate
from the Spanish empire.

With the added title came Portuguese overseas territories: in South America, Africa and the Far East. Clearly, the sun did not set on Philip’s empire!

With all the Iberian Peninsula finally united under one ruler, and a truce signed with the Ottoman Sultan, the omens seemed good for Philip. At about this time a new method of refining metal in The Indies produced a sharp increase in the silver reaching Spain in the late 1570s. 

Freed now from pressing financial constraints and from direct threat in the Mediterranean, Philip was able to undertake a number of initiatives against his enemies in Europe in the 1580s and early 1590s. Here he was faced by a constant state of war against the Dutch who were aided by both the English and the French.  At the same time, English ships under Sir Francis Drake were disrupting to the Spanish fleet in the Atlantic and attacking Spanish naval ports in the West Indies and in Spain itself (e.g. Vigo in 1585 and Cádiz in 1587). 

By the time Drake had “singed the King of Spain’s beard” in an audacious attack on Cádiz, preparations were under way for the “Invincible” Armada. The defeat of the Armada in 1588 was deeply and widely felt in the country, but Spain’s power was not yet broken. Its army was still feared, and its fleet was quickly rebuilt with better ships. Indeed, two further Armadas were dispatched to England, in 1596 and 1597, but both were driven back by storms.

Still, the costs of the Armadas, the ongoing wars in the Netherlands and intervention in the religious wars in France were exacting an unbearable cost on Spain’s finances. On the high seas English and Dutch ships were more active than ever in harassing Spanish galleons and attacking ports in the Caribbean. Meanwhile, Mexico and Peru had developed their economies and no longer required basic goods (e.g. cloth, grain, oil, wine) that had previously come from Spain. 

The boom period of the 1580s was over.  There was less silver, the Spanish economy was stagnating and agriculture decaying, and people emigrating to the towns which were ill equipped to absorb them.  The bankruptcy of 1596 was a consequence of overstretched resources, but fate had one more nasty card to play: a devastating plague that extended from 1596 to 1602, and which killed around 600.000 in Castile alone.

Philip II died in September 1598 in the Escorial, an immense, granite palace-monastery-mausoleum he had built north of Madrid.

In considerable pain, incontinent and surrounded by numerous religious relics, Philip’s death seems a fitting metaphor for his exhausted country at the end of the 16th century. With a new king and the birth of a new century, there might be hope for a resurgence of vitality, but it didn’t happen. That is another story!

El Escorial

Carr, Matthew  Blood and Faith: The Purging of Muslim Spain 2009

Elliott, J.H    Imperial Spain 1469-1716  London 1963
Kamen, Henry        Spain 1469-1714: A Society in Conflict  London 1983
“         “        Golden Age Spain Atlantic Highlands NJ.  1988
Parker, Geoffrey    Philip II  London 1988
Reston, James Jr Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition and the Defeat of the Moors 2006
Map: By Original by Lucio silla, modification by Paul2 – Modification of Europa02.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Image of El Escorial: By Turismo Madrid Consorcio Turístico Uploaded by Ecemaml, CC BY 2.0,

The Almohads: Background.
After the dramatic and violent collapse of the caliphate of Cordoba (1031)al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) fragmented into several small independent statelets known as the kingdoms of taifa

Politically weak and constantly at odds with each other, the taifa kings were unable to prevent Christian advances from the north notwithstanding the various alliances made with their Christian neighbours and the protection offered them by the latter.

Following the conquest of the taifa of Toledo by Alfonso VI, king of Castile-León, in 1085, and fearing further loss to the Christians, the leaders of the taifas of Seville, Badajoz and Granada appealed for help from a newly formed, fundamentalist dynasty in the Maghreb (North West Africa): the Almoravids.

The Almoravids, however, dismayed by the pleasure-loving life styles of their co-religionists in al-Andalus, took over the taifas and subjugated them to rule from their capital, Marrakesh. Dissatisfaction with their new rulers lead to uprisings in various parts of al-Andalus, and weakened Muslim ability to resist Christian forays into their lands, as far south even as Córdoba and the port of Almeria. 

But the most telling setback for the Almoravids occurred in the west, in 1139, at the hands of Afonso, prince of the “county” of Portugal. Afonso’s victory over the Almoravids laid the foundation for the birth of a new monarchy, Portugal, in 1143. By now, al-Andalus had again collapsed into independent statelets, and again there was an appeal made to the Maghreb for help, this time from an even more fundamentalist dynasty which had replaced the Almoravids: the Almohads.

Al-Andalus: The Almohads 1145-1212
Was history repeating itself? In a way, yes, because at the beginning of the 12th century a new religious revival took root in the Maghreb to challenge weakening Almoravid rule.

And members of this fundamentalist movement, known as Almohads, or Unitarians, were invited to al-Andalus for roughly the same reasons the Almoravids had been invited: to oppose Christian advances and to counter the pleasure-loving life style to which the Almoravids had  succumbed.

Almohad empire ca 1200.

The Almohads arrived in 1145 and set in motion once more a process of reunification of what remained of al-Andalus, although there was strong opposition from the Valencia and Murcia areas, where one individual succeeded in carving out a kingdom for himself from about 1149 until his death in 1172.  His name was Muhammad ibn Sa’d, better known by his Christian name of El Rey Lobo (King Wolf).

Lobo hated the Almohads more than he hated the Christians, and although a Muslim he wasted no opportunity to ally himself with any Christian ruler, often paying tributes, as the rulers of the kingdoms of taifa had done. He spoke both Arabic and the Spanish of the time, wore Christian clothes, often used Christian soldiers alongside his Muslim troops, and even encouraged Christians to settle in the lands he controlled.

Given the opposition they found in al-Andalus, the Almohads elevated Seville to the status of co-capital with Marrakesh. This fulfilled two functions: 1) it placed decision makers closer to the action, and 2) it averted Andalusi fears that al-Andalus would again be just a province ruled from Morocco,

Like their predecessors, the Almohads disapproved of the life-style of the Andalusis, and following a stricter and more orthodox interpretation of the Qur’an, they were more militant in rejecting material pleasures. They were also more jihadist and far more intolerant of Christians and Jews, and demanded conversion to Islam as the price for remaining in al-Andalus. Predictably many Christians and Jews abandoned al-Andalus for the Christian kingdoms to the north.

Christian Reaction to the Almohads
The high point of Almohad dominance came in 1195 with the resounding defeat of Alfonso VIII of Castile at Alarcos (about mid-way between Madrid and Granada). Sweet as victory was for the Almohads, the defeat hardened Alfonso’s resolve to rid Spain of them.

But there was a major obstacle: Castile alone was not strong enough to defeat the Almohads, but territorial disputes, mutual suspicion and hostilities between the five kingdoms that made up Christian Iberia at the time (Castile, León, Navarre, Portugal and Aragón) constantly undermined any notion of Christian unity.

This was particularly the case between Castile, León and Navarre. Indeed, following the Battle of Alarcos, the kings of León and Navarre exploited Castile’s misfortune, attacking Castilian lands to avenge themselves of perceived affronts suffered at the hands of their more powerful neighbour! Even personal slights could cause defection. There is a well-documented case of a leading Castilian noble, Pedro Fernández de Castro, who fought for the Almohads in the battle of Alarcos following a quarrel with Alfonso VIII.

Where, then, could Alfonso VIII look for support? Like his predecessor, Alfonso VI (who had appealed for help from the French against the Almoravids), Alfonso looked beyond the Pyrenees. Here the main moving force was the aged pope, Celestine III. In 1197 Celestine issued a call for a crusade in Spain, a call that was reiterated by his successor, Innocent III in 1206.  Celestine also threatened Christian leaders with excommunication and pressured them to mend fences (one result of such pressure was the marriage of the Leonese king –Alfonso IX– to the Castilian princess, Berenguela in 1197).

Papal eagerness in declaring a crusade in Spain was spurred by the recent loss, in 1187, of Jerusalem to the Muslim forces of Saladin, and the failure of the Third and Fourth Crusades (1189-2; 1202-04) to recover the city. Defeat at one end of the Mediterranean had to be compensated by victory at the other end.

Religious Orders.
The increasing crusading spirit in the Christian kingdoms of Spain during the 12th century changed the nature of the Reconquista, which had been hitherto primarily a political power struggle with little ideological content.

A significant indicator of the change from political to ideological warfare is the appearance of military religious orders. These monks of war were not only knights, they had also taken the monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. With no political axe to grind initially and a mission to defend Christianity against Islam, they were viewed as the ideal embodiment of the crusading spirit.

The most famous Christian military order was that of the Knights Templar (founded in Jerusalem around 1119), whose main mission was to fight to defend the Holy City. The Templars also received endowments in Spain, especially in Aragón, but they were soon replaced in importance by the proliferation of religious brotherhoods in Spain. Of these confraternities, the most important were the Orders of Calatrava (founded in 1158), Alcántara (1165) and Santiago (1170).

There is no basis to the commonly held belief that the Order of Santiago was created to protect the pilgrim route to the city of Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia. There had been no Moorish raids on the route for over 150 years. The Order was actually founded in Cáceres (Extremadura) and was so called because a group of knights established a brotherhood there which received a donation from the archbishop of Santiago as well as a standard of the saint. The archbishop was also made an honorary member of the Order. Interestingly, the Order’s motto reads: Rubet ensis sanguine Arabum: “The sword runs red with the blood of the Arab.” I.e. Like the other Orders, that of Santiago was created to fight in defence of the Church, but not specifically to protect the pilgrim road to Santiago.

These religious knights played a fundamental role in resisting the onslaughts of the Almohads and defending the frontier for Christendom.  As a result, they were rewarded with lands and castles, especially in Castile and Extremadura.  These rewards were a source of immense wealth that eventually translated into economic and political power as the crusading zeal gradually faded and al-Andalus contracted dramatically in the 13th century.

Las Navas de Tolosa (1212) and its Consequences.
In response to the papal call for a crusade, soldiers came from France, Italy, Aragón and Navarre to help the Castilians. The kings of Portugal and León were embroiled in a dispute and did not officially participate, although many of their subjects did answer the crusading call.

History records a great victory for the Christians, although significantly most of the French contingent withdrew before the battle, ostensibly because of the extreme heat! A more likely cause, however, is that it became evident that the Spanish leaders –in skirmishes en route– discouraged the slaughter of the enemy.

For the French, such toleration was disgraceful, but long term contact with the Moors gave the Spanish Christians a different perspective. (For an excellent description of preparations for the campaign, the location, and the battle itself, see O’Shea pages 212-27.)

Almohad al-Andalus just before the Battle of the Navas de Tolosa 1212.

Having obtained a foothold south of a major geographical barrier, the Sierra Morena, the Christians now faced no immediate major natural obstacle to their advance. Ahead of them was the extensive Guadalquivir valley. Al-Andalus was suddenly exposed and Christian morale was high.

Within 40 years the political-religious face of the peninsula changed completely, although not without resistance. Castile-León, united once and for all in 1230 in the figure of Ferdinand III, took Córdoba in June 1236. The city fell after a brief siege, and the Great Mosque was immediately “cleansed” and mass held in it, with the king in attendance. Shortly after, the bells that al-Mansur had removed from Santiago de Compostela in 997 and converted into lanterns for the mosque were returned north with all due ceremony.

Valencia fell to the Aragonese in 1238, and the Algarve to the Portuguese in the 1240s (Portugal has remained essentially unchanged from this time). In 1243 Murcia was taken by the Castilians, and five years later, Ferdinand III entered triumphantly into Seville.

Only the kingdom of Granada now remained, but that remained in Muslim hands for almost 250 more years. The final irony in this stage of the Reconquest, but not surprising given shifting alliances, is that Ferdinand III was helped in his conquest of both Córdoba and Seville by … Muslim troops from Granada! Once again, a matter of politics trumping religion.

Dodds, Jerrilynn, Menocal Maria Rosa, Balbale Abigail K  The Arts of Intimacy: Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Making of Castilian Literature  New Haven, London 2008.
Fletcher, Richards  Moorish Spain  London 1992
Hindley, Geoffrey  The Crusades: Islam and Christianity in the Struggle for World Supremacy  London 2003
Lomax, Derek The Reconquest of Spain  London & New York 1978
Lowney, Chris A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain Oxford 2006
O’Shea, Stephen  Sea of Faith: Islam and Christianity in the Medieval Mediterranean World  Vancouver, Toronto 2006
Smith, Colin  Christians and Moors in Spain, II, 1195-1614  Warminster, England 1989.

The “Taifa” Kingdoms 1031-1086.
The Umayyad dynasty, which controlled the fortunes of al-Andalus from 756, came to an end with the fall of Córdoba in 1031. Its demise was precipitated by the vizier, al-Mansur, who usurped power from 978 to 1002, reducing thereby the role of the Umayyad caliph, Hisham II, to that of figurehead.

At his death, al-Mansur was succeeded by his sons Abd al-Malik (1002-1008), and Abd al-Rahman or Sanchuelo (1008-1009); like their father, both restricted Hisham to a figurehead role. Sanchuelo’s assassination in 1009 unleashed a period of political instability as warring rivals for the caliphal title embroiled al-Andalus in two decades of civil war.

Following the demise of Córdoba in 1031, al-Andalus collapsed into a fragmented heap, out of which numerous mini states –known as the kingdoms of taifa (“party” or “faction”)– emerged. The dismemberment of al-Andalus was later described poignantly by an Andalusi poet as “the breaking of the necklace and the scattering of its pearls” (Fletcher, Cid27).

Exactly how many taifas emerged is difficult to determine. Some scholars put the number as high as 50 at first; others place the number in the 30s.  Where there is general agreement is that the taifas were forged by local strongmen who took power into their own hands.

Some of these new “kings” or emirs belonged to existing family dynasties whose allegiance to Córdoba was already suspect, especially in those areas furthest from Córdoba.

Others were Berber mercenaries (or descendants of Berber mercenaries) and still others rose from locally prominent figures, civil, military or even descendants of slaves, taking power by dint of their own personalities. The discord arising from the disunity, however, could only lead to instability. These small states were fragile creations, constantly pressured both by internal rivalries and by external challenges from more powerful neighbours.

The result was that gradually the more powerful taifas swallowed up the smaller ones, until we have left some half dozen of consequence, grouped around large cities: Zaragoza, Valencia, Toledo, Badajoz, Seville and Granada.

With time, Seville became the most important taifa, and Córdoba now scarcely features in the list! As political units, however, the taifa kings carried little weight: they had neither the prestige of a caliphal title nor could they lay claim to any connection with the Ummayad dynasty.

Al-Andalus in 1035, showing main taifa kingdoms. These were further reduced, leaving some half dozen major taifas: Zaragoza, Valencia, Toledo, Badajoz, Seville and Granada.

There is no need to follow the convoluted internal world of these taifa kingdoms. What is clear is that as small independent units, their ability to influence matters beyond their frontiers became negligible. The fall of Córdoba then not only meant that al-Andalus was unable to interfere in the politics of the Christian kingdoms to the north or undertake raids (razzias) at will (as Abd al-Rahman III and al-Mansur had done in the 10th century), it also signalled a loss of influence in the Mediterranean and, particularly, in the Maghreb.

Indeed, as separate political entities, the taifa kingdoms struggled to survive.  And since survival was as much a political question as it was religious, the taifa kings often allied themselves with the Christian kingdoms of northern Spain against fellow Muslims if rivalry from the latter made it necessary.

The nature of the alliances with the Christian kingdoms, however, was not that of equals. It was based, rather, on annual payments (called parias) whereby the stronger Christians kings promised aid in return for a generous tribute.

It was in effect a humiliating compromise, but it satisfied the parties concerned: the Christian kings got gold which they could farm out as they saw fit, and the taifa kings could claim protection if threatened. But underneath the diplomatic niceties, what was taking place was a large scale protection racket.

One of the best at it was Fernando I, king of León and Castile from 1035 to 1065, who ended up receiving tributes from Zaragoza, Toledo and Badajoz (and occasionally also from Seville and Valencia!). His son, Alfonso VI, was also a good exponent of the art of extortion, as were Sancho IV of Navarre and the counts of Barcelona. How Abd al-Rahman III or al-Mansur must have turned in their graves at the humiliating reversals of fortune in so short a time!

Political instability was not limited to al-Andalus. Following the death of Ferdinand I in 1065, his kingdom was divided between his three sons, a decision which precipitated outbreaks of hostilities as the three sought control of León and Castile.  One anomaly arising out of this was that two of them, Alfonso (later Alfonso VI) and his younger brother, García, ended up exiled in the courts of taifa rulers, Alfonso in Toledo and Garcia in Seville. They were both treated royally by their Muslim hosts.

Naturally, not all Muslims were satisfied with paying of parias, and voices were heard to protest. One was that of the poet, theologian and philospher Ibn Hazm (994-1064), an Umayyad supporter who had witnessed and been horrified by the destruction of Córdoba. Shortly before his death, he declaimed against the shame of collaboration:
By God, I swear that if the tyrants [i.e taifa rulers] were to learn that they could attain their ends more easily by adopting the religion of the Cross, they would certainly hasten to profess it! Indeed, we see that they ask the Christians for help and allow them to take away Muslim men, women and children as captives to their lands. Frequently they protect them in their attacks against the most inviolable lands, and ally themselves with them in order to gain security  (Fletcher Moorish Spain 109).

Ibn Hazm’s preoccupation centred on the shame of submission; Muslim religious leaders focussed on the corruption of court life and on the imposition of taxes by the emirs on their  own subjects, contrary to Islamic law.

No serious change in the situation occurred, however, until 1085 when Alfonso (by now back from exile and king of León/Castile as Alfonso VI), dissatisfied with the internal instability of the taifa of Toledo, took over the kingdom.

The fall of Toledo had a galvanising effect on the rest of the taifas. The vulnerability of their situation stared them in the face and so, led by the ruler of Seville, al-Mu’tamid, they turned for protection to their fellow Muslims in the Maghreb. It was not an easy decision, however, because a newly established and militant fundamentalist regime, the Almoravids, had taken power in the Maghreb and the taifa rulers knew about their fanaticism.

For the taifa kings, then, it was a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils; in making up his mind, al-Mu’tamid is reported to have said that he preferred to be camel driver in Morocco than a swineherd in Castile (he did end up in Morocco, a captive rather than camel driver!). With the advent of the Almoravids, a new chapter was about to begin in al-Andalus.

Taifa Culture.
Despite the political fragmentation of al-Andalus, the taifa states provided surprisingly favourable conditions for a wide array of cultural and intellectual pursuits.

During the pre-eminence of Córdoba, much of the artistic and intellectual activity had centred on the capital. With the fragmentation of al-Andalus, however, the creative spirit now extended to the capitals of the taifa kingdoms.

The explanation for this is to be found in the rivalry amongst taifa rulers as they vied to outdo each other in emulating the greatness of Córdoba. Politically impotent, the kings sought self-aggrandisement through patronage of the arts and sciences, and attracted poets, artists, artisans and scholars to their courts with promises of profits and prestige.

The flowering of the arts took many forms, from ivory carvings, ceramics, textiles, glass and metalwork  to exquisite poetry and splendid architecture.  Of these, lyric poetry –always a feature of Arabic culture– was especially cultivated. Indeed, many of the taifa leaders were themselves poets (al-Mu’tamid of Seville comes to mind), but equally important poets became effective tools in a literary battle between the taifa kings, as well as useful and prestigious mouthpieces to eulogise the leaders themselves.  The panegyric tradition was a long and cherished one in Arabic culture and its propaganda value widely recognised: it legitimised the role of the leader and upheld his authority at the same time that it proclaimed the artistry of the poet (and the better the poet the greater prestige of the king, and the greater the poet’s reward!). But the pen of poetic praise could also be armed with satire and directed at the enemy; it could also ease and oil the wheels of diplomacy.

Poetic competitions, often in the form of riddles on given topics, sharpened the wits of the participants and landed them prestigious positions at the same time that it whetted the appetite of a cultured elite well versed in the intricacies of poetic compositions. Perhaps no better indicator of the significance of poetry and poets is the observation that the major part of the budgets of the taifa states was spent on poetry.

Given the rivalry between various taifas, it is not surprising that the rulers also sought to impress with the construction of palaces, and the building, enlargement or strengthening of fortresses (strong fortresses were also vital in view of the precarious political situation of the taifa kingdoms).

Very little remains now of the taifa palaces; the best preserved and most beautiful example is the much restored Aljafería of Zaragoza. Begun under Ahmad ibn Sulayman al-Muqtadir in the second half of the 11th century, the palace is a complex combination of Umayyad inspired arches (the horseshoe and polylobed arches are reminiscent of the Great Mosque of Córdoba).

Zaragoza.Patio in the Aljafería.
Zaragoza: Aljafería. These arches are reminiscent of the multilobed arches of the maqsura in the Great Mosque of Córdoba.

Al-Muqtadir considered himself something of a poet, astronomer and mathematician, and attracted like-minded scholars to his court in the Aljafería, which soon became a centre of intellectual activity.

Barrucand, Marianne & Bednorz, Achim  Moorish Architecture in Andalusia  Cologne 1992
Dodds, Jerrilynn, Menocal, Maria R & Balbale, A K The Arts of Intimacy: Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Making of Castilian Culture  New Haven, London 2008
Fletcher, Richard  The Quest for the Cid London 1989
Fletcher, Richard Moorish Spain London 1992 (paperback 1994)
Lomax, Derek   The Reconquest of Spain London 1978
MacKay, A Spain in the Middle Ages: From Frontier to Empire, 1000-1500 London 1977
Vernet, Joan & Masats, Ramon  Al-Andalus: El Islam en España  Barcelona 1987
Map is from

The Arrival of the Almoravids: Background causes.
The collapse and fragmentation of the caliphate of Córdoba in 1031 resulted in the appearance of numerous small emirates known as the kingdoms of taifa.

Politically weak, and regularly at odds with each other, the taifa kingdoms also faced constant pressure from their stronger Christian neighbours to the north.  To counter threats of attack, they formed alliances wherever they could, including with various Christian kingdoms, to which they paid large tributes (parias) for protection.

The situation, however, was unsustainable in the long term, and in 1085 the taifa of Toledo fell to Alfonso VI (ruled 1065-1109), ruler of the most powerful Christian kingdom, Castile-León. The conquest was significant. For the Christians it fulfilled a long held dream to win back the ancient Christian capital of the Visigoths; for the Moors it was a wake-up call, and a crushing reminder of how vulnerable they were. And for both sides, the geographical location of Toledo in the very centre of the Iberian Peninsula made the city strategically very important.

The reaction of the taifa leaders of Seville, Badajoz and Granada was to call on fellow Muslims from the Maghreb for help. However, it was not an easy choice, because Muslim leaders in al-Andalus were well aware that a new, fundamentalist and aggressive dynasty, the Almoravids, had taken control of the Maghreb. And al-Mu’tamid, the ruler of Seville and the one who issued the appeal to the Almoravids, knew something about their fanatical asceticism, having helped them conquer the coastal town of Ceuta (on the African side of the Straits of Gibraltar) in 1083. 

The dilemma in which the rival taifa leaders found themselves in is neatly encapsulated in the celebrated remark al-Mu’tamid’s is reported to have said: “Better to be a camel driver among the Almoravids  than a swineherd in Castile.

The Almoravids.
Inspired by the religious teachings of Muslim revivalists, the Almoravids**, a Berber tribe from the Western Sahara, quickly crossed the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and by the early 1060s had established themselves in their newly founded capital, Marrakesh.

** From al-Murabitun, people from the “ribat,” a military, religious community. Not all agree with this etymology, however.

Fundamentalists who took the words of the Qur’an literally, the Almoravids preached uncompromising jihad, both in the sense of self-reform and imposing religious reform through war, as they spread northwards. Within 25 years they had conquered all of Morocco and reached the shores of the Mediterranean.

Almoravid empire about 1120. At that time Valencia (arrow pointing north east from Cordoba) was in Almoravid hands. It had been conquered by El Cid in 1094; in 1102 it was recaptured by the Almoravids.

The Almoravids in Spain.
Al-Mu’tamid’s appeal in 1086 came at a timely moment of expansionism, but the Almoravid leader, Yusuf bin Tashufin, was finally persuaded only when Andalusi theologians got into the act, and the taifa leaders agreed to pay his expenses and provide him with soldiers from their own armies.

Under the leadership of Yusuf, the Almoravids defeated the army of Alfonso VI at Zallaqa (Sagrajas), just north east of Badajoz, in 1086. The Christian threat seemed to have been answered, and Yusuf returned to Morocco after the battle.

But Christian ravaging of the taifas continued, especially in the east, and another appeal was made to Yusuf in 1090. This time, however, Yusuf came not to help the taifa rulers but to conquer their kingdoms and convert al-Andalus into a part of the Almoravid empire. 

The reaction of the taifa leaders was to reverse alliances: they now sought a help from none other than Alfonso VI (a perfectly normal recourse given the regular switching of alliances they were already accustomed to)!  Alfonso, however, was in no position to help, and both al-Mu’tamid and the Abd Allah of Granada ended up in exile in Morocco.

One by one the taifa kingdoms fell to the Almoravids, ending with the conquest of Zaragoza in 1110.  Almoravid control of the taifa of Zaragoza was short lived, however; in 1118 it was conquered by Alfonso the “Fighter,” king of Aragón and was never to return to Muslim hands.

The Almoravids also failed to win back Toledo, a major objective in their move northwards. However, they did get some compensation in reclaiming Valencia** in 1102, eight years after it had been taken by Castile’s most famous son, Rodrigo de Vivar, better known as El Cid.

**Valencia remained in Muslim hands
until it was finally reconquered in 1238).

Islamic Spain was once again a unified, as it had been in the 10th century under Abd ar-Rahman III and al-Mansur. But there were significant differences: al-Andalus was no longer the dominant force as it had been in the 10th century, raiding Christian lands at will, nor was it as large as it had been during that period.  Above all, and it was no longer independent; it was in effect a colony ruled from Marrakesh.

Yusuf and his descendants had little time for the Muslims of al-Andalus, who –despite political uncertainties— enjoyed a pleasure-loving and culturally sophisticated life, highlighted by sumptuous palaces (e.g. the Aljafería of Zaragoza) and by the poetry cultivated in their courts.

For their part, most Andalusis objected to the heavy handed puritanism of the Almoravids, even to the point of rising up against them from time to time. Only the Andalusi religious leaders welcomed Almoravid intervention.  To the Almoravids, Muslim Spain had lost its religious commitment; to the Andalusis their austere conquerors were little more than uncouth, desert barbarians

The Almoravids also disapproved strongly the subservience of their co-religionists to Christians, and particularly opposed the payment of tributes (parias) to non-Muslims, which was prohibited by Islamic law (the Shari’ah), and were appalled at the positions of authority enjoyed by Christians and Jews in Andalusi society. Attitudes hardened, hostility increased and persecution became widespread, obliging many Christian and Jews to emigrate to the Christian north.

Christian Reaction to the Almoravids.
In the Christian kingdoms of northern Spain, anti-Islamic feelings increased in the face of Almoravid aggression and intolerance; they were exacerbated, too, by the disappearance of the lucrative parias, which were cut off when the Almoravids took over the taifas.

The impact of the loss of tributes was felt even beyond the Pyrenees: the abbey of Cluny, in France, e.g. had received a generous yearly sum equivalent to 120 ounces of gold which flowed from al-Andalus via Castile-León.

Buttressing the anti-Islamic sentiment, too, was a new kind of undertaking launched in Clermont, France, by Pope Urban II in 1095: a call to Christians to undertake an “armed pilgrimage” to the Holy Land to take back Jerusalem, held by Muslims since 638.

The age of the Crusades was just taking off, and France was at the head.  In Spain, the crusading spirit was generally muted but the loss of parias, the jihadist spirit of the Almoravids and the defeat of Alfonso VI’s armies at Zallaqa (Sagrajas) underlined the dangers posed by the Almoravids. Alfonso VI responded to Almoravid aggression by appealing to the French for military aid. 

Another Alfonso, Alfonso I of Aragón (ruled 1104-34), did likewise and French knights and monks crossed the Pyrenees spurred by promises of remission of sins and enticed by dreams of booty. Some had already fought in the Middle East and, after the capture of Jerusalem by the Christians in 1099, transferred their crusading zeal to help rid Spain of the “infidels” or “pagans” or “heathens,” as the Muslims were called.

The Spanish Christian kingdoms had close relationship with the Abbey of Cluny, one of the most powerful forces behind the crusades: e.g. 1) one of Alfonso VI’s wives was the niece of the Abbot of Cluny; 2) the first archbishop of the reconquered Toledo (1085) was Bernard, a monk from Cluny; 3) Bernard was accompanied by numerous like-minded clergy who took charge of many dioceses in Castile; 4) the Cluniacs were instrumental in propagating the cult of St James and in establishing the pilgrim route along the north of Spain; and 5) Pope Urban who preached the First Crusade in 1095 was a French noble and originally a monk at Cluny.

The intervention of the French was instrumental in sparking the crusading spirit in Spain, and gave impetus to the always latent idea amongst the Christians of reconquering the land lost to the Moors. Hence the gradual but steady reconquista by the Christian kingdoms, until by the end of the 11th century, they had expanded as far south as Toledo.

But the crusading zeal in Spain was also tempered by a complex relationship with the Moors, developed over centuries. Both sides had lived alongside, often uneasily but at times in relative harmony. Religion may have divided them, but religion was more often trumped by politics and self-preservation.

At different times, Christians and Moorish leaders sought each other’s help against their co-religionists, and mercenaries from each side were commonplace.  (The best know example is the Cid, legendary “Spanish” national hero –or more accurately Castilian hero. He was in reality a mercenary.).

It was this kind of accommodation with the Moors that confounded the French, who often expressed dismay at what they considered the generosity with which the Christians treated the Moors.  The unknown author of the Poem of the Cid captures something of this: the Cid and his men are more interested in the spoils of conquest; Bishop Jerome –significantly from Cluny—is an enthusiastic crusader come specifically to kill the Moors.

Almoravid control of al-Andalus did not last long. There are several contributing factors that explain its rapid demise: 1) Almoravid control of al-Andalus was always precarious, and their fanaticism did little to endear them to the more pleasure-loving Andalusi society; 2)  the Andalusis were appalled at the use of Christian mercenaries to help the Almoravids control al-Andalus; 3) there was strong opposition by the Andalusis to the taxes imposed on them in order to pay for the mercenaries; 4) mountain Berbers brought in to help reinforce control were viewed as no more than barbarian looters; 5) the Andalusis resented being ruled from Marrakesh; 6) Almoravid leadership became ineffective as the elite gave itself up to the pleasure loving life of al-Andalus; 7) the death of the Almoravid leader in Marrakesh in 1143 resulted in a loss of direction and a reversion to tribal rivalries; and finally, 8) the emergence of a rival dynasty in Morocco, the Almohads, challenged and eventually put an end to Almoravid rule.

By around 1145, al-Andalus was again disunited and drifting into fractious statelets (taifas). Faced with Muslim disunity, Christian forces were able to advance well into the south, even taking Córdoba (temporarily) in 1146 and reaching Almería by the following year. To the west, an Almoravid army was soundly beaten in 1139 by young prince Afonso** of the county of Portugal.

 **A few years later, Afonso assumed the title
of king of Portugal, and in 1143 he was recognised
as such by Alfonso VII of Castile-León.)

The future of al-Andalus was distinctly cloudy, but another invasion by yet a more fundamentalist dynasty, the Almohads, gave it renewed vigour.

Barracund, Marianne & Bednorz, Achim Moorish Architecture in Andalusia  Cologne 1992
Dodds, Jerrilynn, Menocal Maria Rosa, Balbale Abigail K  The Arts of Intimacy: Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Making of Castilian Literature  New Haven, London 2008.
Fletcher, Richards  Moorish Spain  London 1992
Lomax, Derek  La Reconquista Barcelona 1984
Lowney, Chris A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain  Oxford 2006
Menocal, María Rosa The Ornament of the World Boston, New York, London 2002
Map from

Abd al-Rahman III and Córdoba.

During the 10th century, al-Andalus enjoyed enormous political and cultural clout, especially under Abd al-Rahman III (ruled 912-961), his son al-Hakam II (r 961-976), and the vizier al-Mansur, effective ruler during most of the reign of Abd al-Rahman’s grandson, Hisham II (r 976-1009).

The capital, Córdoba, was a centre of learning and the largest city in Europe, attracting visitors from far and wide. It dazzled with its civilised air and multicultural activity, with Muslims, Jews, and Mozarabs (Christians living in al-Andalus) mingling at all levels.

Córdoba’s most famous attraction, the Great Mosque from the air. A Christian cathedral rises from the middle of the mosque.
One of the favourite “photo ops” in Cordoba. The Calleja de las flores with a view of the Renaissance belfry that replaced the minaret in the 16th century.

Diplomats and emissaries came from far and wide: Constantinople, the Holy Roman Empire, the Maghreb (North West Africa) and also from the fledgling Christian kingdoms north of al-Andalus wanting to make peace with Abd al-Rahman. Visitors brought with them expensive and exotic gifts: gold and silver, silk, firs, rare wood, horses, slaves, rugs, tapestries to enrich already wealthy rulers.

Madinat al-Zahra.
Abd al-Rahman III’s stature, the bustling souks, the paved streets, public lighting, gardens and fountains and luxurious villas along the banks of the Guadalquivir impressed visiting dignitaries to Córdoba.  And to top it all there was the Great Mosque which, although not the finished product we see today, was already an impressive structure.

Around 936, Abd al-Rahman commissioned another building, a magnificent, fortified palace complex and mini city just 6 kilometres west of the city. It now lies largely in ruins, but in its day it was as remarkable as the Great Mosque, if chronicle descriptions are anything to go by. Covering 115 hectares (284 acres), Madinat al-Zahra, as the complex is called, was not an idle whim of Abd al-Rahman. It was built as the new centre of government with all the lavish opulence befitting the most powerful state in Europe.

At the same time, it was a statement of Abd al-Rahman’s personal authority and a powerful declaration of his greatness. Madinat al-Zahra was (in much the same way as Abd al-Rahman’s self-declared title of “caliph,” which he took in 929), a challenge to the rival Abbasid caliphate in the Middle East, whose royal palaces in Baghdad and Samarra were widely admired.  Madinat al-Zahra was not completed until around 976, during the reign of al-Hakam II (ruled 961-976).

The complex was built hierarchically in three tiers on an arid hillside of the Sierra de Córdoba, looking over the Guadalquivir valley. The upper tier housed the caliph’s residence, the middle contained the lavish reception halls, offices and the homes of government officials, as well as orchards, gardens and ponds, an aviary and a menagerie.

On the lower terrace we find the mosque, markets, baths and the houses of the common people and the army. Here, too, there were gardens. It is hard to imagine the sumptuous greenery and extensive ponds now, because the land is so dry. But the life blood of the whole complex was a long system of underground pipes and aqueducts that carried water 16 kilometres (10 miles) from the hills to the north.

According to Arabic historians, some 10.000 men with 2.600 mules and 400 camels were required to cart marble and jasper and other costly materials to the site. These included over 4.000 columns (about four times as many as used in the Great Mosque), many brought from Carthage and other ancient cities. Guests and envoys were guided from the outer area of the palace along paths carpeted with costly rugs and coverings.

Medina al-Zahara: Salón rico.

The Salón Rico (Rich Hall), where they were received by the caliph –dressed in a simple white robe– was constructed of the finest tinted marble. The horseshoe arches of this room retain the alternating red and white masonry curvature of the Great Mosque that became a hallmark of the Umayyad style.

In the middle of the Salón Rico was a large bowl filled with mercury. When the caliph wanted to impress, he would have the base of the bowl rocked and so dazzle his guests with the reflections of the sunbeams as they ricocheted from the surface of the mercury around the room.

The excavated ruins give a glimpse of the magnificence of Madinat al-Zahra. Our imagination must feed on those samples of arabesque patterns and floral and arboreal motifs** delicately carved on the wall surfaces and capitals in the Salón Rico, and on the descriptions provided by visiting dignitaries.

**In many ways, the decorations in Madinat al-Zahra
anticipate the intricate arabesques of the Alhambra
in Granada.

When Abd al-Rahman died in 961, the still incomplete but magnificent palace must have conveyed an air of power and permanence. And yet perhaps nothing in Spain better captures the vagaries of destiny or the fragility of fame than the fate of this complex.

By 1010, i.e. within 35 years of completion, it lay in ruins, plundered and destroyed during the civil wars that led to the disintegration of the Umayyad caliphate. After being cannibalised for its stones and columns (used, for example, in the building of the monastery of San Jerónimo nearby), Madinat al-Zahra lay buried and forgotten until the mid-19th century. But it was only in the 20th century that excavations began, and an enormous amount remains to be done among the rubble.

Multicultural Contribution.
As a centre of learning and diplomatic activity, Córdoba was in constant contact with distant countries, both Muslim and non-Muslim. Here its multicultural make-up served it well. 

It had lively Christian and Jewish communities, and Abd al-Rahman III and al-Hakam II made use of members of both groups to further diplomatic aims.  For example, a Christian cleric named Recemund not only enjoyed a career as civil servant under Abd al-Rahman, he also went on a year-long diplomatic mission on behalf of the caliph to the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I. In return he received the bishopric of Elvira (Granada), an elevation which he appears to have earned through his bargaining power than through religious zeal. There is no doubt that he was a Christian, but there is no evidence also that he ever exercised his bishopric role, since he remained in Córdoba. In addition, he later traveled again on a diplomatic mission, this time to Constantinople. As a Christian cleric it would be natural for him to speak Latin, and his continued presence in the caliph’s court also meant that he was fluent in Arabic.

A more intriguing figure is Hasdai ibn Shaprut (915-970). Perhaps no individual better captures the multicultural aspect of life in Córdoba or the important role of the Jews in al-Andalus at this time than Hasdai, personal physician to the caliph, adviser, diplomat, scholar, benefactor and patron.

Hasdai ibn Shaprut was born in Córdoba in 915 to a wealthy Jewish family. In addition to Hebrew, he also studied Latin and was fluent in Arabic and the Spanish of the time.

When still a young man he attracted the attention of the caliph with his knowledge of medicine, particularly the properties of poisons and their antidotes (poisoning was a favourite method of assassination!). He soon gained the confidence of Abd al-Rahman III and worked his way up the ranks to become the caliph’s personal physician (and in that capacity cured the king of León, Sancho el Craso (Sancho the Fat), of obesity in 957!).

As personal physician to the ruler, Hasdai found himself in a powerful position. Gradually he began to undertake tasks of a sensitive diplomatic nature on behalf of the caliph. As a Jew, he could be called upon to act discreetly** between Muslims and Christians, especially when political alliances between the two groups took precedence over religious concerns.

**Hasdai’s prudence is attested to by a Christian abbot,
who praised his Jewish contemporary as “none more
wise was ever seen or heard of…
” (Smith 63).

A case in point is when Hasdai served as intermediary between Abd al-Rahman III and the Christian emperor of Byzantium in the late 940s against a common enemy, the Caliph of Baghdad. His talents as negotiator and translator were called upon also to mediate with Christian courts, in León, Burgundy and the German empire

One of the benefits of travel and of his high profile was that Hasdai ibn Shaprut was able to establish and maintain close contact with fellow Jews over a wide area. Records indicate that he took a keen interest in the welfare of Jewish communities as far as Central Asia, and that he actively participated in attempting to alleviate suffering or discrimination wherever possible.

As his fame grew he received requests for assistance, which he always tried to give. Elected leader (nasi) of the Jewish community in Córdoba by Abd al-Rahman, Hasdai also played a major role in encouraging cultural expression among the Jews of al-Andalus. He became a patron of scholars and founded a school in Córdoba. When a major Talmudic academy was closed in Baghdad, Hasdai purchased the library and had it transferred to Córdoba.

As a result the Jews of al-Andalus became far less dependent on the rabbinic schools of Baghdad for their guidance, and developed a sense of their own autonomy. One of the results of this is that scholars from the Middle East and North Africa, attracted by the fame of Córdoba, flocked to the city, ushering in what has been called a cultural golden era in Sephardic history.

Barrucand, Marainne & Bednorz, Achim  Moorish Architecture in Andalusia  Cologne 1992
Christys, Ann   Christians in Al-Andalus 711-1000  Richmond, Surrey 2002
Fletcher, Richard  Moorish Spain London 1992 (paperback 1994)
Fletcher, Richard The Quest for El Cid  London 1989
Gerber, Jane S  The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience  New York 1994
Hitchcock, Richard Mozarabs in Medieval and Early Modern Spain: Identities and Influence Aldershot, England 2008
Melville, Charles & Ubaydli, Ahmad Christians and Moors in Spain, Vol. III Arabic Sources Warminster, England 1992
Smith, Colin Christians and Moors in Spain, Vol. I Arts & Phillips Ltd: Warminster: England 1988

Image of mosque from the air: By Toni Castillo Quero – Flickr: [1], CC BY-SA 2.0,
Image of Salón Rico, Madinat al-Zahra:

Muhammad ibn Abu ‘Amir: Al-Mansur (b. ca 938-d 1002).
During the 10th century, al-Andalus reached the pinnacle of its power, with its influence stretching from the Pyrenees well into North Africa. When the powerful caliph, Abd al-Rahman III, died in 961 the Umayyad dynasty seemed more entrenched than ever, but amazingly within 70 years the caliphate was in ruins.

But at least it did not go out without a kind of bang, the fireworks being provided in the last years of the century by the powerful vizier, Muhammad ibn Abu ‘Amir, de facto ruler during most of the reign of Abd al-Rahman’s weak grandson, Hisham II (ruled 976-1009, 1010-1013).

Abu ‘Amir, better known by his honorific title, al-Mansur (meaning “the Victorious.” Almanzor in Spanish) was a noble of Arab background from near Algeciras. He manoeuvred his way into power when befriended by Hisham’s mother, a Christian captive from Navarre (who allegedly became his lover as well).

Al-Mansur is best remembered for the numerous, devastating raids (razzias) –some 57 in all– directed against the Christian north. He swept across Christian lands, from Barcelona (985) to Coimbra (987); he attacked León and Zamora (988), and numerous smaller places.

The high point was the raid on Santiago de Compostela (Galicia) in 997, in which the town was razed, the church destroyed and its bells taken to Córdoba –on the backs of prisoners-of-war– to be used as lamps in the Great Mosque. All that remained apparently was the tomb of Santiago (St James**) which, we are told, was spared because it was a holy place, and because al-Mansur was impressed by the courage of an old priest who refused to abandon it.

** St James –son of Zebedee and apostle to Christ, and historically Spain’s national saint–, is said to have been buried in Santiago de Compostela.  During the Middle Ages Santiago became an important pilgrimage destination, surpassed only by Jerusalem and Rome.  Nowadays, the Route of Santiago (Camino de Santiago), stretching from southern France along the north of Spain, has become very popular with both pilgrims and others.

Himself a devout Muslim, al-Mansur always carried a copy of the Qur’an with him, and his raids against the Christian north were conceived as holy war, something that had not hitherto played a significant role in Umayyad policy.

These endless campaigns against the Christians served as a constant demonstration of the greatness of Islam and undoubtedly appealed to the religious leaders in Córdoba; they also helped unite the disparate Muslim population.

In order to improve the efficiency of his forces for the razzias, al-Mansur reorganised his armies in 991, and eliminated regiments made up of tribal groups. He also recruited mercenaries, especially Berbers from the Maghreb –and even Christian soldiers– to provide the manpower that the raids required.

Nevertheless, we should be cautious about assuming that these raids were inspired solely by religious zeal. They were also a practical source of booty and served as an important incentive, especially to the mercenaries, with promises of wealth, slaves, livestock etc. 

Significantly there was no attempt to establish Muslim garrisons or to recruit converts following the raids, which would be clearer signals of an ideological purpose. The fact that in many instances churches and monasteries were the victims of the expeditions probably has less to do with religion than it does with the riches they contained; the Church very simply was probably the wealthiest institution around.

In addition, al-Mansur had high overheads to cover, not only his enlarged army, but also the costs incurred by an extensive addition to the Great Mosque of Córdoba and a large palace complex he had built to the east of Córdoba.

In many ways, the actions of al-Mansur were a challenge to the Umayyad caliphate and an attempt to establish his own personality on Córdoba: he was more pious than the caliph (ostensibly the successor to the Prophet, Muhammad), he burned secular books from al-Hakam’s magnificent libraries, and he undertook more razzias than Abd al-Rahman III. 

And in adding to the Great Mosque and building his own palace complex, al-Mansur signalled his power and authority in much the same way the palace of Madinat al-Zahra conveyed the greatness of Abd al-Rahman III. The eight-aisled extension at the east end of the Mosque is remarkably restrained, but it underlines al-Mansur’s piety, especially when compared to the luxurious addition of al-Hakam II (ruled 961-76).

As for the palace, whose name –Madinat al-Zahira— implicitly challenges that of Abd al-Rahman III’s Madinat al-Zahra, it has never been found. All we know is that it was built somewhere on the other side of Córdoba from Madinat al-Zahra!

Nevertheless, al-Mansur was not above coming to terms with his Christian enemies if it served his personal ambitions.  Having usurped power from the Umayyads, he sought to legitimize his dynastic aims through marriage to royalty, in this case with a Christian princess. 

In 992, he married the daughter of the king of Navarre, who bore him a son pointedly named Abd al-Rahman, but equally or better known as Sanjul or Sanchuelo (after his maternal grandfafther, Sancho, king of Pamplona).

Al-Mansur’s death in 1002 when returning from a successful expedition in the Rioja area effectively marks the end of Córdoba. His older son, Abd al-Malik, succeeded to the same authority but died in 1008, possible assassinated. Sanchuelo turned out to be a disaster, and lasted only a year before being murdered in 1009.

Calatanazor. View from castle. Scene of one of al-Mansur’s many victories.

The effete Hisham II (r 976-1009, 1010-1013; he apparently wore a veil and applied makeup) was quickly deposed and there began a political free for all that ended with the ignominious expulsion of the last of the Umayyads, Hisham III, from Córdoba in 1031. What became of him is not known.

The political infighting of the early years of the 11th century highlights the powerful personalities of Abd al-Rahman III and al-Mansur. But we could turn this around and argue that those same personalities covered a tendency, already evident in the 9th century and perhaps inherent in any political body that covers a large geographic area with limited access to communication: a drift towards local autonomy, expressed very often in rebellions or separate alliances.

In fact when al-Mansur took over the reins of power, he enacted a kind of rebellion, not against central authority (which he simply usurped) but against the Umayyad dynasty. Al-Hakam II and Hisham II reigned but did not rule; authority was clearly in the hands of al-Mansur.

By successfully seizing power, however, al-Mansur seriously undermined Umayyad prestige and weakened its claim to the loyalty of its subjects, especially when no Umayyad claimant could assert himself after al-Mansur’s death. It isn’t difficult to understand the chaotic political conditions when we realise that between 1008 and 1031 six Umayyads and three rival family members briefly occupied the throne.

Fall of Córdoba.
Two developments typify the dizzy and chaotic fall of Córdoba at this period. First the urgent visits of two competing Umayyads to Christian courts in search of support for their respective claims after Hisham II had been deposed. One, Sulayman, obtained the help of the Count of Castile (Sancho García), the other, Muhammad II, was supported by two Catalan counts (of Barcelona and Urgel).

Both Sulayman and Muhammad met violent deaths after brief periods as caliphs. Sulayman was deposed and executed in 1016. Muhammad fled Córdoba dressed as a woman before being assassinated.

Sulayman and Muhammad’s journeys to solicit help from Christian rulers point to an ominous development for the future of al-Andalus: namely the intervention of Christian kingdoms as power brokers in Muslim politics. The days when al-Mansur was the scourge of Northern Spain were scarcely over and already the balance was swinging clearly in favour of the Christians, reversing thereby the situation of the 10th century.

The second detail that illustrates the chaos of the early 11th century is the destruction of the two palace complexes, the one by Abd al-Rahman III, the other by al-Mansur. Symbols of the authority of the two rulers, the demolished palaces are metaphors of the ineptitude of the Umayyad line as internal political feuds turned into a ferocious orgy of destruction. But not only were the two palaces demolished, Córdoba itself underwent a two and a half year siege by Berber soldiers and thousands of citizens were massacred.

Bereft of strong leadership and a sense of direction, the caliphate of Córdoba collapsed dramatically and fizzled out when the last of the Umayyads, Hisham III, was expelled in 1031.

Out of the debris rose numerous mini states —known as taifa kingdoms– grouped around the most important urban centres. Although many would have their moments, none would shine with the intensity of Umayyad Córdoba, not even Seville which gradually assumed greatest influence.

Collins, Roger Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity Basingstone, Hampshire 2nd ed 1995
Constable, Olivia R Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim and Jewish Sources Philadelphia 1997
Dodds, Jerrilynn, Menocal, Maria R & Balbale, A K The Arts of Intimacy: Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Making of Castilian Culture  New Haven, London 2008
Fletcher, Richard  Moorish Spain London 1992 (paperback 1994)
Lomax, Derek    The Reconquest of Spain London 1978
MacKay, A Spain in the Middle Ages: From Frontier to Empire, 1000-1500 London 1977

10th Century Al-Andalus: Abd al-Rahman III (b. 889-d 961)

Rulers:  Abdullah ibn Muhammad (ruled 888-912), Abd al-Rahman III (emir from 912-929, self-appointed caliph from 929-61),  al-Hakam II (r 961-976), Hisham II (r 976-1008,  restored 1010-1012), Muhammad II (r 1008-1009), Sulayman II (r1009-1010,  restored 1012-1016),  Abd al-Rahman IV (r 1017).

Following the arrival of Muslim forces in 711, the Iberian Peninsula underwent radical changes with political power passing from the Visigoths into the hands of the newcomers.

Although theoretically beholden to the caliphs of the Middle East, al-Andalus –as Muslim controlled Iberia was called–, in fact forged its own destiny, especially following the arrival of the Umayyad prince, Abd al-Rahman I, from the Middle East in 756. Having settled on Córdoba as his capital, Abd al-Rahman methodically imposed his vision on the rest of al-Andalus.

Still, internal rivalries were a constant and political stability in the following years depended heavily on the personality and cunning of the incumbent emirs. By the end of the 9th century, al-Andalus was in danger of being fragmented by a weak central authority and challenges coming from all directions: rebellious Muwallads (Christians converted to Islam) within al-Andalus itself, a more forceful Christian presence in the north and a new Muslim dynasty in North Africa.

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 III (b. 889-d. 961)
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.

Collins, Roger Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity Basingstone, Hampshire 2nd ed 1995
Constable, Olivia R Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim and Jewish Sources Philadelphia 1997
Fletcher, Richard  Moorish Spain London 1992 (paperback 1994)
Gilmour, David  Cities of Spain London 1992
Lomax, Derek    The Reconquest of Spain  London 1978
Melville, Charles & Ubaydli, Ahmad Christians and Moors in Spain, Vol. III Arabic Sources Warminster, England 1992

Al-Andalus: 9th Century.

Emirs: Al-Hakam I (r 796-822), Abd al-Rahman II (r 822-852), Muhammad I (r 852-886), Al-Mundhir (r 886-888), Abd-Allah (r 888-912) 

Between the dramatic changes of the 8th century and the splendour of the 10th, the 9th century might best be described as combining turbulence with periods of prosperity.

Territorially, al-Andalus still controlled most of the Iberian Peninsula, although the emerging Christian kingdoms of the North West were gradually inching their way south. Already, by the second half of the 8th century a broad buffer zone, a kind of no man’s land, existed along the Duero river valley, subject to raids from both Christians and Moors.

Perhaps the course of events would have been different had the Moors secured frontier garrisons further north, but their principal defensive positions ran in a line roughly from Badajoz, Mérida, Toledo, Medinaceli to Zaragoza.*

*Lesser garrisons or outposts ran roughly
from Coimbra (Portugal), Salmanca,
Sepúlveda, Tudela, Huesca.

This was to give Christians from Asturias and Galicia ample room to manoeuvre southwards, and gradually populate the buffer zone.

Although the map is entitled “Spain in 910,” it reflects quite accurately the extension of both al- Andalus (Emirate of Córdoba and Independent Moorish States on the map) and the early Christian kingdoms in the late 9th century.

Within al-Andalus the conflicts and feuds of the 8th century persisted. There were tensions between Arabs and Muwallads (i.e. Christians who had converted to Islam), and between both of these groups and the Berbers throughout the 9th century.

As early as 806 al-Hakam I (r.796-822) is documented to have ordered the beheading of 5.000 of Toledo’s leaders in reprisal for a rebellion. Later he put down a revolt in Córdoba itself, crucifying some 300 of the instigators upside down, and demolishing their quarter across the river. The remaining families, some 8.000 individuals, were packed off to Fez (in Morocco), where they settled in an area still known as Fes el Andalous.

Not for nothing did al-Hakam earn the title of “Butcher of al-Andalus.” Obsessed with passing on his emirate intact to his descendants, al-Hakam justified his brutal measures to his son, claiming that “Like the tailor who uses his needle to sew together pieces of cloth, so I used my sword to unite my divided provinces… I leave you, my son, a pacified domain; it is a bed on which you can sleep untroubled, for I have taken care that no rebel will disturb your slumber” (Williams 52).

Events show that the son, Abd al-Rahman II (822-852), wasn’t able to sleep entirely untroubled, although consensus is that his reign was by and large peaceful and productive. He directed a military campaign against the Asturians in 842, put down a rebellion in Zaragoza the following year and beat off an attack by the Vikings in 844 (they sailed up the Guadalquivir to Seville and looted the area).

Abd al-Rahman II’s main interests, however, were books and concubines, and Córdoba under him developed an indulgent and relatively relaxed life style. An amateur astronomer and scientist, as well as an accomplished poet, Abd al-Rahman II encouraged learned men from all over the Muslim world to his court.

The most accomplished undoubtedly was Ali ibn Nafi, better known as Ziryab, a famous musician and singer at the court of the Caliph of Baghdad, whose skills also extended to astronomy and geography. Ziryab took with him the latest in musical innovations from the east, and is said to have added a fifth string to the four-string lute, thereby expanding significantly the instrument’s potential.

But it is as arbiter of taste that Ziryab is best remembered. Fastidious about his hygiene, he advocated short hair cuts, clean finger nails, and the use of an underarm deodorant and toothpaste. He was also a keen chess player and something of a gourmet.

Long before the West knew what a menu was, he scorned the serving of food en masse, and insisted on separate courses, first soup, then hors d’oeuvres, followed by fish, meat and desserts of fruit, nuts or compote. And out went heavy gold or silver goblets for drink, to be replaced by delicate glassware. To ensure this, he saw to it that a glass factory was established in Córdoba, the fame of which soon spread far and wide.

For a refined taste such as Ziryab’s, clothes clearly required attention. He advocated different fashions according to the seasons: light silk robes and bright colours for the spring, white for the summer and quilted gowns or furs for the winters.

Abd al-Rahman’s successor, Muhammad I (one of 45 sons and 42 daughters, so Arab chronicles tell us!), did not enjoy such a peaceful reign (852-886). He started off by inheriting a problem that sprung up during the last two years of his father’s rule: a rash of Christians (Mozarabs i.e. Christians living in al-Andalus who had assimilated Arab customs and habits) who were feverishly bent on martyrdom.

It started when leading Christians in Córdoba expressed concern with the loss of Christian identity in their community.  They remarked that many Mozarabs were more versed in Arabic than Latin, wore Muslim clothes, ate Muslim food and read Muslim poetry. 

A lengthy quote from Paul Alvarus a Christian scholar of those times, gives some idea of the concerns of the Mozarab leaders: Our Christian men, with their elegant airs and fluent speech, are showy in their dress, and are famed for the learning of the gentiles (heathens here, i.e. Muslims); intoxicated with Arab eloquence they greedily devour and zealously discuss the books of the Chaldeans (i.e. Muslims), and make them known by praising them with every flourish of rhetoric, knowing nothing of the beauty of the Church’s literature and looking down with contempt on the streams of the Church that flow forth from Paradise; alas! The Christians are so ignorant of their own law, the Latins pay so little attention to their own language, that in the whole Christian flock there is hardly one man in a thousand who can write a letter to inquire after a friend’s health intelligibly, while you may find a countless rabble of all kinds of them who can learnedly roll out the grandiloquent periods of the Chaldean tongue. They can even make better poems, every line ending with the same letter, which display high flights of beauty and more skill in handling metre than the gentiles themselves possess (Watt & Cachia 47). 

Given the relatively generous degree of tolerance by the Muslims, the Christians had to work quite hard at upsetting the Muslim hierarchy. The key was to insult Muhammad or Islam and declare them false, for which the punishment was death.

Even so, the Muslims appeared to have tried to reason with the blasphemers if the case of a certain Isaac is anything to go by. When the cadí or judge suggested to him that his behaviour was prompted by drunkenness or a momentary derangement, Isaac haughtily rejected the opening offered and welcomed a violent death. He got it, hanging upside down on the gallows. Several dozens are calculated to have died in this eccentric search for martyrdom between 850 and 859, when finally the Church, fearing that the Muslims would lose patience and impose forced conversion, discouraged the practice.

More problems for Muhammad I and his successors, Al-Mundhir and Abd-Allah, arose from the three major border garrisons, Zaragoza, Toledo and Mérida, not so much from Christians but from local Muslim leaders of Muwallad origin. One of the results of entrusting the defences of these frontier regions to powerful families was that they developed a degree of independence that threatened central authority.

Rebellions became common in the second half of the 9th century, and set a disturbing trend that was arrested during the 10th century only by the personality of two powerful figures, Abd al-Rahman III and al-Mansur. (With their deaths, however, allegiance to Córdoba quickly collapsed when the city itself was overrun by rebellious Berbers in 1031.)

Not all of the problems came from the border areas; internally too Muhammad, Al-Mundhir and Abd-Allah, faced challenges from several quarters. The main one came from a rebel Muwallad, one Umar ibn Hafsun, entrenched in the mountainous region surrounding Ronda.

A certain mystique surrounds Ibn Hafsun, part brigand with something of a Robin Hood aura in that, according to a late source, he protected the local peasants against excessive taxes and forced labour imposed by Córdoba. Ibn Hafsun started his adventurous life killing a man and escaping into the mountains. He sought protection in North Africa, returned to al-Andalus, gathered around him a rebel army of dissatisfied Muwallads and set up his headquarters in Bobastro, deep in the mountains north east of Ronda.

Obliged to surrender in 883 and join the emir’s army, he deserted (claiming discrimination), returned to the mountains and actually extended his influence along a large area of the south. He outlasted Muhammad, Al-Mundhir, and Abd-Allah, and held his position until his death in 917/8.  Quarrels amongst Ibn Hafsun’s sons allowed Abd al-Rahman III to regain control 10 years later.

A curious tale was attached to Ibn Hafsun. When Abd al-Rahman III’s forces entered his fortress at Bobastro, they found a Christian church (the remains of which still stand as an example of Mozarabic architecture). Upon removing his remains (which were to be taken to Córdoba for public “execution”), they discovered that Ibn Hafsun had been buried in the Christian tradition.

If it is true that Ibn Hafsun converted to Christianity –and it appears he did in 899, according to the 10th-century Cordoban historian Ibn Hayyan–, then he might well have been responsible for the Mozarabic church at Bobastro.

Bobastro: remains of the church cut out of rocks.

The tale of ibn Hafsun`s Christian burial also casts light on the dynamics of religious tensions, not so much of the period in which Ibn Hafsun lived, but of later times when certain claims could have significant propaganda value.

For Christians of the later Reconquista, it would be quite a coup to demonstrate that a supposed Muwallad had really been a Christian who had outwitted the best that the Moors could throw against him. Abd al-Rahman III, however, would have been much more concerned with demolishing Ibn Hafsun than wondering what future generations would make of the rebel.

A note about Bobastro: Not all scholars are satisfied that Bobastro was ibn Hafsun’s fortress; they feel that the church was carved out of rock by a small rural Christian community living in virtual mountain isolation. But the association of ibn Hafsun with Bobastro enjoys such wide currency that it will require irrefutable proof to overturn popular acceptance.

Collins, Roger  Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity 400-1000  London 1995
Collins, Roger  Spain: An Oxford Archaeological Guide  Oxford 1998

Fletcher, Richard   Moorish Spain  London 1992
Hitchcock, Richard Mozarabs in Medieval and Early Modern Spain Aldershot, Hampshire 2008
Jacobs, Michael  A Guide to Andalusia  London 1990
Lomax, Derek  The Reconquest of Spain London 1978
Monacal, Maria R  The Ornament of the World  Boston, New York, London 2002
Watt, Montgomery & Cachia, Pierre  A History of Islamic Spain Garden  City, New York 1967
Williams, Mark  The Story of Spain Fuengirola, Malaga, Spain 1990

Birth of Al-Andalus. 8th Century:

In 711, the history of the Iberian Peninsula (or Hispania or Spania as it was called then) took a radical turn.  What had previously been predominantly Christian lands ruled by Visigoths –and populated also by descendants of other Gothic tribes, Hispano-Romans, Basques, and Jews—became Muslim territory almost overnight.

Islam remained a potent force in the Iberian Peninsula for approximately the next 800 years, and the history of al-Andalus (as the Muslims called the land they controlled), makes compelling reading, especially in the light of interest in Islam nowadays.

Extremist Muslims, among them Osama bin Laden, often express the wish to see Spain return to Islam. Indeed, the Madrid bombers of March 11, 2004, partially justified their actions on the loss of al-Andalus.  And during court proceedings in the USA, Zacarias Moussaoui, the French citizen of Moroccan origin and so-called 20th hijacker in the September 11 attacks, prayed to Allah for the return of al-Andalus.

What do we know with certainty about the events surrounding the invasion and conquest of Hispania?  Little in fact.  There are plenty of Arab and Latin (i.e. Christian) texts dealing with the topic.  Unfortunately, however, most were written quite a bit –even centuries– after the events, and regularly obeyed contemporary political needs, or were intended to explain or justify events or arguments relevant to the time they were composed.

For example,  Christian texts explained the invasion as divine punishment for the treachery and depravity into which the Visigoths had sunk; on the Arab side, it was divinely sanctioned. So, a great deal of what these later texts say is slanted, contradictory and conjectural, and a lot reads more like legend than fact.

Mixing fact and fiction, the following tales are some of those that surfaced later as instances of the immorality and treachery that caused the fall of the Visigoths: a certain Count Julian, the Visigothic governor of Ceuta (on the African side of the straits of Gibraltar), sought vengeance for the alleged rape or seduction of his daughter, Florinda, in Toledo. 

The man responsible was Roderic (Rodrigo), the last king of the Visigoths. The disaffected governor invited the expansionist Muslim forces to invade his country to punish Roderic.

According to another source, however, the rapist/ seducer was not Roderic, but Witiza (r. 702-710), the king whom Roderic succeeded.  Muddying the waters even more, another version attributes the invasion and its success to the “sons of Witiza” who sought help from the Muslims in their struggle with Roderic. Ostensibly loyal to Roderic, they abandoned him during the battle with the Muslim forces, under the command of Tariq ibn Ziyad.

But what was it that prompted the invasion of 711?  We don’t really know. Was it part of a natural expansionist tendency in Islam, which had only recently swept across the north of Africa? There had been some raids across the straits of Gibraltar before 711; did these suggest that a more permanent presence would meet with little opposition? 

Perhaps it was a means of keeping the recently converted Berbers happy with booty? Or were the Moors (the all-embracing name commonly given to the newcomers) indeed invited by the disaffected “sons of Witiza?”  We don’t know. We do know that the invasion was headed by Tariq, but we don’t how many soldiers accompanied him.

Tariq and his forces are said to have landed
near Gibraltar, the etymology of which is
Jabal Tariq, the mountain of Tariq.

There was a decisive battle against Roderic, but we don’t know exactly where. It’s almost certain that Roderic was not the undisputed king of the Visigoths, since contemporary gold coins dug up in the north east of the peninsula bear the name of a King Achila, while the few bearing Roderic’s name are from the centre and south west 

The evidence of contemporary coins bearing the name of two different kings does seem to confirm, however, a state of civil war in the peninsula around 711.  And the possibility that Achila was one of Witiza’s sons (as some sources suggest) increases the chances that members of Witiza’s family sought help from across the straits of Gibraltar.

(Mozarabic) Chronicle of 754 (Mozarab: Christian living in al-Andalus)

The closest source we have that mentions the invasion is an anonymous Latin prose work known as the (Mozarabic) Chronicle of 754 (after the date of the last event recorded in it). It says that after raids that had gone on for a while, the Arab governor of North Africa –Musa ibn Nusayr– sent over an invading army under Tariq (ibn Ziyad) in 711.

In the meantime Roderic –who had rebelliously usurped the Visigothic throne in 711— was fighting a civil war with his Visigothic enemies.  At news of Tariq’s landing, Roderic gathered his followers and engaged the invaders at an unidentified spot called the “Transductine promontories” (behind Tarifa, around Medina Sidonia, along the banks of the Guadalete river have all been suggested). Roderic was killed in the ensuing battle.

Musa himself then crossed into the peninsula and moved on Toledo, destroying everything as he went. After beheading a number of noblemen, with the connivance of Oppa (Witiza’s brother), Musa continued northward as far as Zaragoza, burning, torturing and killing as he went. After this, the Moors set up their capital in Córdoba.

Recalled to Damascus by the caliph, Musa took with him captives and large quantities of booty. On his departure, he left the country under the command of his son, Abd al-Aziz, who managed, during his three years in power, to extend control over virtually all the peninsula.  Abd al-Aziz married Roderic’s widow, but was assassinated in 715 by his own men, suspicious that he planned to set up an independent kingdom in Spain.
Despite the expressions of horror at the invasion, what is perhaps surprising is that the chronicler’s attitude to the Moors is generally even handed.  Musa and one or two others are heavily criticised as “pitiless” and “deceitful”, but others are praised for bringing peace to the land. 

Perhaps this is because the chronicler does not evaluate the leaders in religious terms, but according to their contribution to political life.  Nor does he question their legitimacy as governors. The chronicler also refrains from talking about the invaders’ religion, and does not call them Muslims, or infidels or pagans; rather he refers to them in ethnic terms: Arabs (Arabes), Moors (Mauri), Saracens (Saraceni).

By 720, the chronicler adds, all the lands of the Visigoths had fallen under Muslim rule and the Moors had crossed the Pyrenees into the south of France.

The chronicler’s general sentiment is one of profound regret for the fall of Hispania which he equates with the demise of Troy, Jerusalem or Rome. He does not blame the Moors; his anger is directed at internal rivalries amongst Visigothic nobles some of whom also collaborated with the invaders.  Others, like Bishop Sindered of Toledo, shamefully fled abandoning their flock.

The earliest Arabic sources dealing with the conquest date from the second half of the 9th century. Although not the oldest, the best known account is that of Ibn Abd al-Hakam (d. 871).  In it, Count Julian, governor of Ceuta, seeks revenge on Roderic for leaving his daughter pregnant. Julian offers Tariq ships to cross the straits (of Gibraltar).  Tariq’s forces head for Cordoba, killing as they go.  Upon hearing this, Roderic marches out of Toledo and engages the Muslims in battle on the banks of an unidentified river.  Roderic and all those with him are killed.


Al-Andalus 720. It was not yet a caliphate. In 756, Córdoba was confirmed as capital. From 756 to 929, al-Andalus is more properly called an emirate. In 929, it became a self governing caliphate until its break up in 1031.

The speed with which the Moors advanced northwards was remarkable. All the peninsula, with the exception of a thin strip along the north coast (roughly modern Asturias and Cantabria) was under Moorish control by 720.

Dissension amongst the Visigoths undoubtedly made the task easier. And, unlike the Romans who had had to fight or come to terms with numerous different tribes, the Moors, once they had defeated Roderic, had eliminated a major component of Visigothic resistance. After that, they faced no sustained opposition. There was some resistance in Toledo, Mérida, Córdoba, Zaragoza– which cost their inhabitants dearly, and was probably a deterrent to others from following suit. But more productive and less demanding –since it did not require the establishment of garrisons– was a peaceful agreement between conquerors and conquered.

A widely quoted example is a treaty between a certain Theodemir, a Visigothic chief from the south east (roughly between Murcia and Alicante), and Abd al-Aziz. In return for submission, Theodemir retained his leadership and he and his subjects were free to follow their Christian practices. On their part, they were required to refrain from helping deserters or enemies, and were obliged to pay individually an annual tribute of money and goods (specific amounts of wheat, barley, unfermented grape juice, vinegar, honey and olive oil).

 The peace treaty states: “We will not set special conditions for him (Theodemir) or for his men, nor harass him nor remove him from power.  His followers will not be killed or taken prisoner, nor will they be separated from their women and children.  They will not be coerced in matters of religion, their churches will not be burned, nor will sacred objects be taken from the realm, [so long as] he (Theodemir) remains sincere and fulfills the [following] conditions… He will not give shelter to fugitives, nor to our enemies, nor encourage any protected person to fear us, nor conceal news of our enemies.”  The rest stipulates the annual tributes. From Dodds, 16.

By 721, the Moors had crossed the Pyrenees into France, where –after defeating a remnant Visigothic kingdom and establishing themselves in Narbonne—they undertook sorties throughout the south west.

Defeat at Toulouse in 721 and Poitiers in 732 or 733 were major setbacks, but not yet the end. Avignon and Arles were taken in 734, and raids along the Rhone river demonstrated the resilience of the Moors.  It wasn’t until 738 that Charles Martel (the Hammer, and conqueror at Poitiers) was able to retake Avignon and the surrounding area, and 751 before Narbonne finally fell. 

The Moors might have been able to establish themselves more permanently in the south of France, but that required more manpower. Factional dissension and Berber revolt in al-Andalus precluded that, however, and effectively put an end to further expansion.


Christys, Ann  “The Transformation  of Hispania after 711,” in Regna and Gentes: The Relationship between Late Antique and Early Medieval Peoples in the Transformation of the Roman World pp. 219-42. Eds. Goetz H, Jarnut J and Pohl W, Leiden 2003
Collins, Roger  Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity 400-1000  London 1995
Constable, Olivia R. ed.  Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim and Jewish Sources  Philadelphia 1997
Dodds, Jerrylin, Monacal Maria R, Balbale, Abigail K   The Arts of Intimacy: Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Making of Castilian Culture New Haven, London 2008
Fletcher, Richard   Moorish Spain  London 1992
Lomax, Derek The Reconquest of Spain London 1978
Smith, Colin  Christians and Moors in Spain Vol I 711-1150 Warminster, England 1988
Wolf, Kenneth B Conquerors and Chroniclers of Early Medieval Spain Liverpool 2nd ed. 1999
Map is from

Al-Andalus: 8th Century. Consolidation.

In 711 Muslim forces, following the orders of the governor of Africa, Musa ibn Nusayr, and under the command of Tariq ibn Ziyad, crossed the straits of Gibraltar and defeated the army of the Visigothic king Roderic somewhere inland from Tarifa.  In the following year, Musa himself led an army across the straits and took over command of the conquest.

Al-Andalus in 720. Correctly speaking, it was an emirate from 756 to 921, when Abd al-Rahman III declared himself caliph. Click to enlarge.

The rapid advance of the Moors (the general term for the invaders) throughout Hispania (i.e. the Iberian Peninsula) was impressive. By 720 all Hispania was under their control, with the exception of a thin strip along the north coast, roughly equivalent to modern day Asturias and Cantabria. Whether the Moors intended to stay is not clear, but undoubtedly the large fertile areas they saw were a significant factor in their decision to remain. In addition, the invasion was a useful means of channelling the energies of the recently conquered and converted Berbers of the Maghreb (North West Africa) with promise of booty, slaves and land.

Run by governors acting for the Umayyad caliph in Damascus (Syria), the peninsula’s fortunes were initially tied to the interests of and events in the Middle East. After the conquest of the peninsula, governors followed thick and fast, the first being Musa’s son, Abd al-Aziz.  Abd al-Aziz was soon decapitated in Seville in 715 and his head dispatched to Damascus.  His crime? He tried to usurp power and declare himself ruler. Other sources state that, having married Rodrigo’s widow, al-Aziz was viewed as too lenient to the Christians.  It was even rumoured that he became a Christian himself!

Whatever the case, Abd al-Aziz’s fate seems to have set the tone for the next forty years in that it was a period of political volatility and internal feuds. The instability was reflected in a rapid turnover of governors: twenty came and went, some killed in expeditions into France, others deposed or assassinated in the course of the feuds.

Much of the volatility arose from quarrels within the Arab military minority –the guiding force behind the invasion—and dissatisfaction amongst the Berbers, who made up the majority of the invaders. The Arabs brought with them tribal quarrels inherited from the Middle East while the Berbers felt themselves treated as second-class citizens by the Arabs. The Berber grievances were not without cause. When land was confiscated from those who had opposed the invading armies, the Arabs amassed the best property, e.g. along the Guadalquivir, Guadiana and Ebro river valleys, and the fertile coastal areas. The Berbers had to make do with the rest, mainly mountainous areas around Granada, the hostile Duero valley and damp Galicia in the north west, and the Pyrenees in the north east. A Berber rebellion in 740 –on the heels of another a year earlier in the Maghreb, where Berbers had been subjected to a land tax by Arab authorities– was the fruit of their frustration, and resulted in a civil war. At this moment, the history of al-Andalus  (i.e. Muslim Spain) witnessed an important event, the arrival of a young individual whose imprint was going to be felt in Spanish history for generations. His name was Abd al-Rahman. But to understand the circumstances of his arrival, we have to take a side trip to the Middle East, where Islam was experiencing a major crisis.

Upheavals in the Muslim community started immediately after Muhammad died suddenly in 632 AD without designating an heir. Out of the ensuing feuds over who should be caliph (i.e. successor to Muhammad), members of the Umayyad clan eventually took control and established their dynastic capital in Damascus in 661. The matter was far from settled, however, and by 750, a rival dynasty, the Abbasids (who claimed descent from the Prophet via his daughter Fátima and his murdered son-in-law Ali), succeeded in overthrowing the Umayyads and shortly after removed the caliphate to Baghdad. The whole process was a bloody affair and the Umayyad royal family decimated in the purge. Only one member, 20-year old Abd al-Rahman, escaped. He made his way across North Africa, eventually arriving in Spain in 756. Quickly he gathered support from among the pro-Umayyad factions there, and within a few months had deposed the governor of al-Andalus, entrenched himself in Córdoba and declared himself emir. The Umayyads may have lost everything in the Middle East, but under Abd al-Rahman, a new Umayyad dynasty was born in Spain that would largely set its own political agenda independent of the Caliphate of Baghdad.

Abd al-Rahman I (ruled al-Andalus 756-788).
Abd al-Rahman ruled for thirty two years, spending much of the time putting down revolts within his realm and consolidating his power. When he arrived in 756, Muslim control had already contracted from the heady days of the invasion, especially in the north west, thanks to Christian resistance. As early as 718 (or 722), rebels from the mountains of Asturias defeated a Moorish army**, initiating what later became known as the “Reconquista.”

**In fact, the battle may have been no more
than a skirmish, but soon took on legendary
proportions as the birth of the Reconquista.

From then on, frequent sorties by Christians from the security of their mountain hideouts, and Berber discontent with their lot resulted in a withdrawal of Moorish garrisons from Galicia and the Duero valley by 750. The Moors eventually created more permanent garrisons in an arc running roughly from Badajoz, Mérida, and Toledo to Zaragoza.  Between the northern borders controlled by these towns and the emerging Christian kingdoms to the north, there existed a large and very fluid no-man’s land, constantly crisscrossed by raiding parties from both sides. During the volatile period following the conquest, the Moorish leaders of these regions were left largely to their own devices, and enjoyed considerable autonomy.

The map on the upper left gives a good idea of the extent of al-Andalus by 750. The no-man’s land ran on both sides of the border line between Asturias and al-Andalus.

Abd al-Rahman’s determination to impose his rule was constantly challenged by these local rulers, and also by Abbasid support from Baghdad (e.g. in 763, 777). Gradually, however, Abd al-Rahman put down revolts one by one, and when the occasion merited it was not above coming to terms with Christian opposition.  Unlike his predecessors, however, Abd al-Rahman was dealing from a position of strength and his demands were substantially greater than those made, for example, by Abd al-Aziz of Theodemir of Murcia in the early days of the invasion. In 759, for Instance, the following peace treaty was reached: This is a truce document of the great king Abd al-Rahman on behalf of the Patriarchs, monks, notables and Spanish (Andalusian) Christians of Qashtala (Castile?), and those from other regions who adhere to them.  A document granting security and peace: he has attested in person that his covenant will not be revoked so long as they pay ten thousand ounces of gold, ten thousand pounds of silver, ten thousand of the best horses and likewise of mules, one thousand coats of mail and likewise of spears, every year for five years.  Written in the city of Cordova on 3 Safar (5 June 759) (Smith III #77 p 23). Such demands undoubtedly went a long way to subsidise Abd al-Rahman’s campaigns for control of al-Andalus.

By the early 770s, Abd al-Rahman controlled all but the Ebro valley. From Zaragoza down to Barcelona, the Muslim rulers turned –in 778– to a surprising source for military support: the Christian king of the Franks, Charlemagne. Possibly tempted by the opportunity to expand his empire southwards, Charlemagne responded by crossing the Pyrenees.  He himself led one army through the western Pyrenees, another crossed at the eastern end.  Both armies met at Zaragoza, only to find that the Moorish leaders had undergone a change of heart, and instead of cooperation, the Franks faced resistance. The course of history might have changed considerably had Charlemagne decided to lay siege to Zaragoza, but as it happens rebellion in Saxony (northern Germany) forced him back to France.

The return trip was a disaster for Charlemagne: his rearguard was decimated by Basque marauders as it crossed through the pass of Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees. The episode was later converted into a majestic battle against Muslim forces in the famous French epic, the Chanson de Roland.

The main beneficiary of Charlemagne’s return to France was Abd al-Rahman. He captured Zaragoza in 779, and quickly extended his control over the rest of the Ebro valley. With this victory, Abd al-Rahman became the first emir of all al-Andalus, although his authority was still sometimes tested (e.g. an Abbasid challenge in 781).

No better indicator of Abd al-Rahman`s sense of achievement and security than his decision in 785 to build a mosque in Córdoba. It was no ordinary mosque, but a Friday mosque (i.e. where the whole community prays together on Friday)s. It was a large and striking house of worship befitting both his illustrious heritage and his authority in al-Andalus. It was at the same time a challenge to his Abbasid enemies in the Middle East and a definitive declaration of independence from Baghdad. Abd al-Rahman, however, did not go so far as to adopt the title of “caliph” (i.e. successor to Muhammad). As “emir” he was the temporal ruler of the Muslims, but by building a large Friday Mosque he was to all intents and purposes divorcing al-Andalus from Baghdad’s spiritual leadership (to underline the break, at the Friday prayers, the Abbasid caliph’s name was not evoked, as was normally the case). At the same time, the Great Mosque was a powerful statement to the still considerable Christian community (Mozarabs) living in Cordoba that Islam was there to stay (a message undoubtedly underlined by the solid walls of the mosque that give it a military flavour).

As an exile from his homeland of Syria and last survivor of his family, Abd al-Rahman’s decision to build the Great Mosque may also have been prompted by memories of his birthplace, and home to the Umayyad dynasty, the city of Damascus. Córdoba`s mosque was no imitation of the Great Mosque of Damascus, but its construction and purpose suggested a yearning to recapture something of the lost glory of the Umayyads. Even the qibla wall (that always directs the faithful towards Mecca when praying) in this instance faces Damascus, so that whenever Abd al-Rahman knelt in prayer, he would symbolically at least be paying homage to his Umayyad heritage.

The Great Mosque was a religious monument, but another building was a more personal and nostalgic reminder of Abd al-Rahman’s Syrian past. It was the beautiful palace of Rusafa, the name of which suggests that it was modeled on his grandfather’s palace in Rusafa, Syria. Built on the hillside overlooking the city (where the state-run hotel, Parador de la Arruzafa, now enjoys the panoramic view), the palace was surrounded by a beautiful garden.  Here Abd al-Rahman spent most of his last years tending his plants and especially his palm trees, planted so it is believed by the emir himself. A short poem, written by Abd al-Rahman is a poignant summary of his nostalgia:
A palm tree stands in the middle of Rusafa,/ Born in the West, far from the land of palms./ I said to it: How like me you are, far away and in exile,/ In long separation from family and friends./ You have sprung from the soil in which you are a stranger;/ And I, like you, am far from home. (Monacal 61).

Abd al-Rahman died in Cordoba in 788, passing the reins of power to his designated heir, a younger son, Hisham, who ruled for 8 years. A man noted for his piety and learning, who visited the sick and who dressed simply, Hisham also had a tough streak that enabled him to put down a rebellion by his older brothers, and also lead forays into disputed territory against Christians.

Hisham’s death in 796 effectively closes a tumultuous century, which saw not just another invasion but the implantation of an alien language, religion and culture on an already rich and varied heritage.

Collins, Roger  Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity 400-1000  London 1995
Constable, Olivia R. ed.  Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim and Jewish Sources  Philadelphia 1997
Fletcher, Richard   Moorish Spain  London 1992
Lomax, Derek   The Reconquest of Spain London 1978
Monacal, Maria R   The Ornament of the World  Boston 2002
Smith, Colin  Christians and Moors in Spain Vol III Arab Sources 711-1501 Warminster, England 1992
First map is from:
Second map from: