Al-Andalus is the name the Muslims gave to the conquered land in the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages between 711 and 1492, when they were eventually defeated by the Catholic Kings. In the period of maximum splendor of the Caliphate of Córdoba, the Muslims dominated all of the Iberian peninsula, with the exception of an area situated on the Cantabrian coast.

Taking advantage of the fragility of the Visigoth monarchy in Hispania, in the year 711 Muslim troops under the Berber General Tariq landed in Gibraltar. The Visigoth King Don Rodrigo tried to stop the invasion but he was defeated at the battle of Guadalete. This defeat brought about the disintegration of the Visigoth Kingdom of Toledo and its easy conquest in only five years.

The Muslim armies advanced towards the north until they were stopped in 732 by the French armies of Carlos Martel in the French city of Poitiers, forcing them to retreat to the Iberian peninsula.

Hispania became a province of the Islamic Empire, known as Al- Andalus, with the capital in Córdoba. In the year 756, Abderramán I proclaimed himself Emir, becoming politically independent from the rest of the Muslim Empire. Almost two centuries later, in the year 929, the maximum splendor of the period of the Caliphate of Córdoba arrived. In this period, Abderramán II was proclaimed Caliph, which meant the definitive breakdown of relations with the Caliphate of Bagdad and his proclamation as the “prince of the believers”. The years of the government of Abderramán III and of his son Al- Hakam II made up the period of major splendor of Al-Andalus; indeed it might be said that Córdoba was the cultural capital of the world.

The appearance of the leader Almanzor was a landmark in the history of the Caliphate, as he was a warlord so managed to have more power and prestige than the Caliph himself. At the head of his troops, his victorious campaigns took him to Catalonia in the east and Santiago de Compostela in the north, from where he took the bells of its famous cathedral.

In the year 1002, after the death of Almanzor, the Caliphate of Córdoba became embroiled in a period of great instabilty that resulted in the division of Al-Andalus into a series of small kingdoms known as “Taifa kingdoms”; there were specifically 27 kingdoms, among which Toledo, Zaragoza, Valencia and Sevilla stood out and some kingdoms became economically and culturally prosperous. In order to guarantee their independence, they paid tributes to the Christian kingdoms.

In the year 1085, after the fall of the Taifa of Toledo kingdom, several taifas asked for help from the  Almorávides, a tribe from the north of Africa that eventually settled in the Iberian peninsula, incorporating Al-Andalus into their Empire and slowing the advance of Christianity.

However,  the internal divisions favoured a new Christian upswing at the start of the XII century, which led the kingdoms to ask for help again, this time from the Berber dynasty of the Almohades, who having landed in the peninsula in 1145, unified the Taifas and managed to slow the Christian reconquest again.

In the year 1212, the decisive battle of Navas de Tolosa (these days in the province of Jaén) proved a turning point in the Christian reconquest of the peninsula. The kingdoms of Castilla, Navarra and Aragon, led by King Alfonso VIII of Castilla and counting on the support of the military orders of Santiago, Calatrava and the Knights Templar, defeated the troops of the Almohade leader, known by the nickname of Miramamolin.

The reconquest had started in Asturias in the VIII century, when Don Pelayo, a Goth nobleman, won the first victory against Islam in Covadonga in 722. Pelayo founded the Astur Kingdom, which expanded into Galicia and Cantabria. Years later his son-in-law and successor Alfonso I united the Christians who lived in the Duero valley and therefore consolidated the Christian dominance in the north west region of the peninsula. Later this kingdom became the Kingdom of León after the conquest of this city. From this kingdom emerged the counties of Portugal and Castilla, both of which later became kingdoms.

Further to the east the kingdoms of Pamplona (later Navarra), Aragón and the county of Barcelona were created, which would form part of the Aragonese crown in the XII century.

The Crown of Aragón directed its conquest towards the east, while the Kingdom of Castilla did the same towards the south. The great achievements of the Aragonese Crown were the conquest of the Kingdom of Mallorca by Jaime I in 1229, followed by the conquest of the Kingdom of Valencia in 1245. The Kingdom of Castilla León, definitively unified under the figure of Fernando III, “The Saint”, occupied what is now Extremadura and the area of Córdoba around 1236.

With the union of the Kingdoms of Castilla and Aragón, thanks to the marriage between Isabel and Fernando, the reconquest was completed through the surrender of the Nazari Kingdom of Granada to the Christian troops. On the 2nd of January 1492, with the surrender of the keys to the city by the Sultan Boabdil to Fernando The Catholic, the Reconquest was finalized and with it the presence of Muslim power in the Iberian Peninsula that had lasted for more than 700 years.


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