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Alhambra, Granada     Around Granada     The Great Mosque of Cordoba     Carmona     Seville


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972-3 Marble capital made for Caliph al-Hakim II's Royal Palace at Madinat al-Zahra near Córdoba.  Illustration from the outstanding exhibition "Islamic Art and Patronage - Treasures from Kuwait" catalogue  (above).




1000s Spanish Islamic carved ivory box used for e.g. musk, camphor and ambergris.  Illustration from the outstanding exhibition "Islamic Art and Patronage - Treasures from Kuwait" catalogue (above).




Roman Emperor Trajan (53 - 98 - 117 (64)) was born in Italica in Spain, the first Emperor to come from outside Italy (bust in the Prado Museum, Madrid)




Like his predecessor Trajan, Roman Emperor Hadrian (76 - 117 - 138 (62)) was also born in Italica in Spain (bust in the Prado Museum, Madrid)







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 thousand Visigoths 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 San Isidoro.




Muslim Spain    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 Asturias is 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 Emir Abd 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 of Cordoba.




The Baghdad based Abbasid Caliph pays the 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 Great 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 buildings.  Today 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 destroying the 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 Santiago in 1236 after he recaptured Cordoba.  Fernando was a great-grandson of Eleanor of Aquitaine through his mother Berenguela and her mother Queen Leonora, one of the Plantagenet Kids.




Rodrigo 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 Cistercian) 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.




Moorish Toledo falls to the forces of the Reconquista led by King Alfonso 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 "La Reconquista" - 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 Spanish Borgia Pope Alessandro VI (1431 - 1492 - 1503 (72)).  The 781 year Muslim presence in Spain is over.  Later in the year Columbus sets sail from Huelva and Lorenzo de' Medici dies in Florence - it is "the end of the Middle Ages".







Los Reyes Cathólicos

Fernando II, King of Aragon 1479 - 1516

Isabella, Queen of Castile 1474 - 1504

Painting in the Convent of the Augustinian Nuns, Avila


The maps shown below are taken from the excellent book "The Ornament of the World" by Maria Rosa Menocal.  The map on the left  in the book obviously stretches further east !


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For those seeking full immersion in date-data, this interesting Wikipedia page may provide a complete cure:


"Timeline of the Muslim presence in the Iberian peninsula"




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