After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Vandals (briefly)
then the Visigoths fill the
vacuum left on the Iberian peninsular. Visigoth King Leovigildo establishes his court in
Toledo in 569, and in 589
Toledo becomes the political and religious
capital of Hispania, after the abandonment of Arianism and
conversion to Catholicism by the Visigoth king Recaredo.
The Visigoth administrations are generally shambolic and riven
with intrigue (and indeed there are only a couple of hundred
around anyway compared to a few million Hispano-Romans), and they only survive for just over a hundred
years before a competitor higher up the organizational food
chain arrives in 711. The Visigoths do,
however, leave the world the architectural legacy of the horseshoe arch
and the intellectual legacies of the encyclopaedias of
711 - c1232 - 1492 (only Nasrid Grenada from c1232)
Berber Tarik-ibn-Zeyad crosses the straits of Gibraltar (jabal
Tariq - the mountain of Tariq) into Iberia and, meeting no
effective resistance, heads north and ends up taking over the Visigoth
capital of Toledo.
A larger force of Arabs joins in and within a few years (around 719)
Arabs and Berbers are rampaging overland
through the West of France. They suffer a big defeat at
the hands of Duke Odo of Aquitaine near Toulouse in 721, but
even this does not stop their advance into central France.
Some even get as far as Burgundy (Autun
to be exact, which fell to Umayyad forces on 22 August 725).
But they eventually have the
misfortune to encounter
Charles Martel, the most competent and
ruthless of the Frankish / French commanders (and grandfather of the
Emperor Charlemagne the Great), who establishes his authority in
a series of skirmishes in the area between Tours and Poitiers in 732
(called the Battle of Poitiers if you came from Aquitaine, or
the Battle of Tours if you were a Frank, but either way it was
not the big set piece battle it is often portrayed as) and then further south, after which the Muslim
threat fades away back across the Pyrenees into Al-Andalus.
c718 - 737
Pelayo - first King of the
elected by the tribes-people of the Asturias and Visigoths who
had escaped Tariq. His victory over the Moors at Covadonga
sometime between 718 and 725 marks the beginnings of Christian
resistance to the Moorish conquerors. Alfonso I (King of the
Asturias 739 - 757 and the first of numerous Alfonsos to King
the Spanish Kingdoms) was Pelayo's son-in-law. Rebellious
frictions between Berbers and Moors in 740 enable Alfonso to
expand the frontiers of his fledgling Kingdom into Galicia and León.
Back in Damascus, the Umayyads fall victims to a palace coup by
the Abbasids, who take over the Muslim world and set up
capital in Baghdad, which they soon make into the happening
world glittering court.
Just one member of the otherwise exterminated Umayyad "royal family"
escapes to Spain, where he settles in Cordoba, proclaims himself
al-Ramin I ( ? - 756 - 788), and welds together (until he dies
anyway) the disparate Arab (Moor) and
Berber forces into the Kingdom of al-Andalus, aka the Emirate
Abbasid Caliph pays
Emperor Charlemagne to invade Spain. The Emperor's
nephew Roland unsuccessfully lays siege to Zaragoza, then sacks
the Basque town of Pamplona before retreating messily through
the Roncesvalles Pass on 15 Aug 778, where he gets taken apart
by angry Basques (not Moors as several accounts tell you) - a battle which gives rise to the famous epic
"Song of Roland" some 300 years later.
Abd al-Ramin I gets going with the first phase of the
Mosque of Cordoba, using columns, capitals and bases recycled
from the previous site occupant, the Visigoth Church of
San Vincente, and the ruins of other Visigoth and Roman
this beautiful space is one of the oldest
European places of
worship still intact.
Vikings start attacking ports down the Atlantic coast, and
eventually round the bottom of Spain and reach Seville where they are beaten up big time by the
local Muslim forces and retire, never to return.
Abd al-Ramin III (912 - 929 - 961 (49)) takes over what is by now
the glittering court of Europe and declares Cordoba a Caliphate,
naturally with his good self as Caliph. There are now 3
Caliphs in the Moslem world.
976 - 1002
Abd al-Ramin's son, Caliph Al-Hakam
II, dies in 976, and the awful Arab Al-Mansur (c938 - 1002 (64))
takes over as regent for the child Caliph Hisham II. All hell breaks loose
across the Christian north and east of the Iberian Peninsula as
Al-Mansur locks up young Hisham in the new Palace of Al-Medina
and takes to the road. During the course of some 57
military campaigns (that's about 2 a year) he destroys
(like burns to the ground), among other things, Barcelona (985),
Santiago de Compostela (997),
Leon, and numerous churches,
abbeys and monasteries. This counterproductively
(for him) leads the disparate Christian
Kingdoms to unite, and eventually his army is crushed in
1002 by a coalition of Christian forces at the Battle of Calatañazor.
Mansur, unable to resist the temptation of
monastery of San Millán de la
Cogolla whilst retreating home, is wounded and dies.
And that's basically it
for the Umayyads of Al-Andalus - the dynasty finally
dies out in 1031.
Postscript story: After the sack of
Santiago de Compostela in 997,
Al-Mansur had had relays of Christian slaves carry the
cathedral bells to the
Great Mosque of Cordoba.
Fernando III, King of León and Castile
("The Saint" 1198 - 1217 (King of Castile) - 1230 (King of
León) - 1252 (54)) had Muslim slaves carry the bells back to
in 1236 after
he recaptured Cordoba. Fernando was a great-grandson of
Eleanor of Aquitaine through his mother Berenguela and her
Queen Leonora, one of the
Díaz de Vivar (c. 1040 – 1099 (59)), aka el Cid Campeador or just el
Cid, starts off
in the Royal Court of Castile but is later exiled and goes
mercenary - generalling for both Christian and Moors until finally capturing
and ruling Valencia until his death in 1099. On the way he
generates material for the first great Spanish epic poem (El Cantar del Mio Cid (1140)), and numerous writers, poets, composers and
film producers over the next thousand years. You will hear
that officially el Cid's tomb is in
Burgos Cathedral (and indeed his and
Mrs Cid's bones were moved there in the 1920s), but make sure to see the
much earlier and more interesting (and now boneless)
sarcophagus in the Benedictine (now
Abbey of San Pedro de Gardina,
just outside Burgos.
If you want to avoid the main Camino crowds, there
is now a Camino del Cid which heads south from Burgos.
Link to Wikipedia page on el Cid.
to the forces of the
VI of León and Castile.
As the first
Crusaders take over Jerusalem, the whole of
Muslim Spain has fragmented into warlordships -
known as Taifa Kingdoms. One of the most important of
these is based on Seville (Isbilya), and it is said that the
embroidered lining of the St Isidore reliquary casket which
Seville gave to
King Ferdinand I's new monastery in León
in the mid 1000s, is made from the mantle of Isbalyan ruler al-Mutadid
(ruler 1042 - 1068).
Christian Kingdoms of the north
and east have taken advantage of this disunity to speed up the roll-back of the borders of Al-Andalus. The arrival of a new (austere Muslim)
player - the Almoravids - gets Muslim Spain back into a sort of order
for 100 years, then yet another group - the (more austere) Almohads, takes
over until the early 1200s, by which time the borders of Al-Andalus
have shrunk even further.
Alfonso Henriques breaks from Leon and Castile, proclaims the
establishment of an independent Portugal with himself as King,
and sweeps south capturing Santarem and then laying siege to and
capturing Lisbon with the help of a crusader fleet. As a
token of thanks for the victory at Santarem, the new King gives
a large amount of land and money for the establishment of a
daughter house of Saint Bernard's Cistercian Abbey of Clairvaux -
to become the magnificent Cistercian Abbey of
Santa Maria de Alcobaça.
The last Muslim group to gain power is the Nasrid family.
By this time the Arab presence is on its way to being pushed back by
the forces of the Christian Monarchs - to
the Kingdom of Granada. Seville falls in 1248, but the Nasrids manage to wheel and deal another 260 years of
co-existence, and though they are an irrelevant civilization by
comparison with the Cordoba Caliphate, they do bequeath to the world
the glory of the
Nasrid Palaces on the Alhambra in Granada.
Eventually in January 1492 the Nasrids are forced to surrender
to the recently united forces of
Ferdinand and Isabella, "Los
Reyes Cathólicos" (the
"Catholic Monarchs" - blessed as such by the
Pope Alessandro VI (1431 - 1492 - 1503 (72)). The 781 year
Muslim presence in Spain is over. Later in the
Columbus sets sail from Huelva and
Lorenzo de' Medici dies
in Florence - it is "the end of the Middle Ages".