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The cornered Caliphate
19 December 2020 @ 05:00

The battles of Pinus Puente and Teba were a huge psychological setback for the Caliphate of Granada. The age of splendour was gone forever, and it was now very clear that the Christians were intent on driving the Moors out of Iberia for good; it was just a matter of time.

The Marinids in Morocco had lost all their lands in Iberia, and their port of Algeciras, which had been occupied by Berbers for 628 years had been sold to the Granadans. Gibraltar, just across the bay, was occupied by the Christians, as was Tarifa. They also controlled much of the land around the two ports. It was obvious that taking isolated Algeciras was the next item on the Christian’s agenda. 

Just as so many times in the past, the Granadans turned to Morocco in their time of need. Muhammed IV, Emir of Granada, asked the Marinid emir Abu al-Hasan 'Ali to help him take back Gibraltar and perhaps claw back some of the land that he had lost to the infidels.

In late 1332 Abu al-Hasan ordered his navy to secure the bay of Algeciras and the waters around Gibraltar. The following spring, he sent an invasion force of 5,000 troops who laid siege to Gibraltar. Within two months, the town had surrendered, and the Granadans helped the Berber troops to expel the Christians from the surrounding area, so that the two ports were once again within the Caliphate of Granada. This made it feasible to plan bigger campaigns against the Christians. However, in the ever changing political climate of the Caliphate of Granada, the reigning emir, Muhammad IV was assassinated in 1333, and his 15 year-old brother, Yusuf, became emir under the regency of his grandmother, Fatima. She and her ministers negotiated a four-year peace treaty with Castile, Aragon and the Marinids. In the brief breathing space that the treaty supplied, the family of the dead emir expelled the Banu Abi al-Ula family, the killers of the old emir and their hired Marinid mercenaries, the Volunteers of the Faith. When the dust had settled in the caliphate, the young emir and his advisors agreed closer ties and alliances with the Marinids, knowing that the next onslaught from the Christians could be fatal for Granada.   

Abu Hasan slowly gathered his forces, notably his navy, to stage an invasion on a scale not seen since the Marinid raids of 60 years earlier. By the end of 1340, he had assembled a fleet in the harbour at Ceuta. Sixty galleys, along with 250 other kinds of boat were tied up or anchored in readiness for the invasion. They landed troops at Gibraltar, but the admiral of the Castilian navy, Alfonso Jofre de Tenorio, who had surrendered Gibraltar in 1333, challenged the Marinid fleet commanded by Muhammad ibn Ali al-Azafi. The resulting naval battle on 8 April resulted in the encirclement and capture of 28 of the Castilian galleys and the death of its admiral. The Castilian navy was scattered, and only 16 of its galleys reached friendly ports. With control of the straits established, Abu Hasan began ferrying troops and supplies to Iberia, and by late September, with the aid of the Granadan emir, had encircled Tarifa. Believing, that the Castilian fleet’s losses would take the best part of two years to make up, the Moroccan emir stood down many of the front-line ships that he had used and returned those which he had borrowed for the invasion. He left only 12 ships to guard the bay of Gibraltar.

During the build-up to the invasion, King Alfonso XI had begun increasing the size of his fleet by ordering the building of 27 new ships in the dockyards of Seville. The half-ready ships were hastily completed and sent downriver. These joined the Portuguese ships loaned by King Afonso, and with the addition of 15 hired Genoese galleys, he had enough ships by October to close the straits to the Moroccans. Abu Hasan and Granada lost their supply of food and replacement troops for any further incursions into Christendom. On 10 October, the Moroccan emir made a desperate concerted attack on Rate Castle at Tarifa, which was repulsed with great loss of life on both sides. On the same day, an Atlantic storm wrecked 12 of the Castilian galleys and drove them ashore. The naval battle for the straits was becoming expensive in ships and lives.

On land, King Alfonso left Seville at the head of a column of troops intent on relieving the siege of Tarifa. On 15 October the King of Portugal joined them, and they stopped at the Rio Guadalete to wait for further Castilian and Portuguese forces to join them. Ten days later, the combined army, now 20,000-strong, crossed the frontier into the Caliphate. As soon as he received news of the approaching Christians, Abu Hasan abandoned the siege and re-grouped his forces on a hill outside Tarifa on the shoreline, whilst the Granadan emir, Yusuf I, took up position on an adjacent hill. The Christians arrived on 29 October and faced the Moors across a half-kilometre wide valley crossed by two streams, El Salado and La Jara.

During the first night after their arrival, King Alfonso ordered 4,000 foot-soldiers and 1,000 cavalry to march through the night, bypass the camps of the Moors, and reinforce the garrison at Tarifa. They were sighted by a 3,000 strong detachment of Moorish light cavalry, who for some reason offered only slight resistance. More significantly for the coming battle, the commander of the cavalry told Abu Hasan that no Christians had reached Tarifa. 

In a dawn meeting with his lords and advisors, King Alfonso decided that he would lead the army of Castile and attack the forces of Abu Hasan, whilst the Portuguese, reinforced by 3,000 Castilians of the orders of Alcántara and Calatrava, would engage Yusuf I. Two thousand inexperienced troops were left to guard the Christian camp. The Castilian vanguard, led by two brothers from the Lara family successfully crossed the Jara, but met stiff opposition from the Moors at the El Salado. The king’s two sons, Fernando and Fadrique, led a group of 800 knights to a small bridge and drove through the defending Moors to take it. Their father then reinforced them with 1,500 more knights, and the Christians surged across the gulley.

 The battle of Rio Salado.

In the centre ground, Juan Núñez de Lara broke the enemy line, crossed the stream and began climbing the slope to where Abu Hassan had set up his command centre. At this point, the reinforced garrison of Tarifa appeared at the rear of the Marinid lines and drove in a wedge of troops that split Abu’s forces in two. Half fled to Algeciras and the other half joined the main body of Moors in the valley below. With half his forces pursuing the retreating Moors or looting Abu’s camp, King Alfonso found himself in the thick of the main battle and dangerously exposed. Abu Hasan called his troops to rally and attack the centre, and King Alfonso drew his own sword and was about to fight hand-to-hand with the surging Moors when the Archbishop of Toledo, Gil Álvarez Carrillo de Albornoz, grabbed the reins of his  horse and stopped him. Luckily, Castilian troops surrounded the king and pushed the Moors back. When the troops who had been looting Abu’s camp realised that their king was in danger they returned to the battle and attacked the Moors from behind. Finding that they were now surrounded, Abu Hassan’s forces broke and fled to Algeciras. Only the Granadans were still in position, but when the Portuguese, reinforced by the Castilians, fought their way across the Saldo and attacked them they also fled. From first contact to the final rout had taken just three hours.

The Christian pursuit of the Moors was relentless and little mercy was shown. Abu’s camp was destroyed and looted and many of his wives were killed along with the nobles who had fought with the emir. Both emirs escaped and took refuge in Gibraltar, Abu crossed the straits in a galley that same night and Yusuf returned to Granada.

This was the last Marinid invasion of Iberia, and in1344 the Christians took the fortress of Algeciras after a siege that lasted 2 years. When the city fell, Alfonso XI signed a peace treaty with Yusuf, but constantly broke it by attacking the borders of the Caliphate. He only captured a handful of isolated castles on the border, but he did make a determined effort to take Gibraltar, again in violation of the treaty he had signed. The siege held for a year before the Black Death swept through Iberia and King Alfonso died from the plague. Yusuf granted free passage to the Christian troops as they withdrew carrying the body of their king.

Even though his reign was marred by constant Christian attacks and internal insurrection Ysuf I was responsible for encouraging literature, architecture, medicine, and the law, and he oversaw the construction of the Madrasa Yusufiyya inside the city of Granada, as well as the Tower of Justice and various additions to the Comares Palace of the Alhambra. Many great cultural figures served in his court, and historians consider this to be the golden era of the Caliphate of Granada. Ysuf I was assassinated by a madman while praying in the Great Mosque of Granada, on the day of Eid al-Fitr, 19 October 1354.

Castile also suffered its own royal convulsions until Queen Isabel of Castile and Prince Ferdinand of Aragon stabilised a newly united España when they married at the Palacio de los Vivero in Valladolid on the 19 October 1469. They inherited a bankrupt country, but just to the south of the united Christian kingdoms lay the rich farmlands of the Islamic Caliphate of Granada, and they began a new campaign against the Moors. Muhammad XII of al-Andaluz was his full title, but Emir Boabdil as, he was known in the palace, gathered his troops once more to fight in what had been for him a ten-year war of attrition. It was not really his war; the war against the Moors had begun centuries before. Boabdil was just unlucky to have to bear the shame of surrendering the last of the Muslim lands to the Christians. In 1492, the last Emir of Granada handed Queen Isabel the keys to the city, and the whole of España, including Sardinia, Sicily and the Balearic islands came under Christian rule.

The surrender of Granada

Accompanying the King and Queen when they entered Granada was a man who had been courting favour with them, and had been invited to share in their triumph. Christopher Columbus had sought the finance from all the kingdoms for a voyage across the Atlantic, where he was convinced he would find the Asian continent and lucrative trade. Isabel was dubious, but Ferdinand persuaded her to give him the money and ships that he needed.

Just ten weeks after the fall of Granada, Isabel issued the Alhambra decree. It seems to have been all Isabel’s idea, and the theory is that her confessor had changed from the tolerant Hernado de Talavara, to the fanatical Francisco Jiménez de Cisternos. España was about to enter its most awful era; the Inquisition and the Conqistadoras of America.

We have come full circle. This is where I started earlier in the year at the beginning of lockdown. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing these blogs, and I hope that you have enjoyed reading them. I know that my blog and website has been shamelessly copied and reproduced elswhere, but they say that imitation is a form of flattery.  Remember that you saw it here first. I would like to thank my 27,000 visitors for supporting me, but I am stopping for Christmas now. 

I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and let’s all hope for a better New Year in 2021.


Like 2


pet2633 said:
19 December 2020 @ 10:53

These blogs have been a fascinating read and I have thoroughly enjoyed them. Thank you and have a merry Christmas.

animate said:
20 December 2020 @ 19:59

Thank you pet2633. It's been a pleasure.

anthomo16 said:
26 December 2020 @ 10:23

I have read and loved every one of your historical blogs.I am sad now that they are at an end. Enjoy your Christmas

Kelly. said:
26 December 2020 @ 11:20

Well written and very well received .

dunworkin said:
26 December 2020 @ 12:15

Thank you for your historical blogs, which I have enjoyed immensely

animate said:
26 December 2020 @ 13:09

A very big thank you to all who have read my blog here. It has been an education for me, too. I have realised that if we don't look back and see the mistakes of those before us, then we condemn ourselves to make the same mistakes as they did.
Anyway, I won't preach and I won't dwell on war. Thank you again for your encouraging comments, and I hope that we all get rid of this evil virus and step into the freedom and sunshine that we deserve.

pjck said:
26 December 2020 @ 13:32

Great work!
It should be published as a book - some people still prefer that option.

It would be good to add up some maps here.

Merry Christmas!

Tess said:
27 December 2020 @ 17:20

Thank you so much Marinero I too am sad that your enthralling stories have stopped for a very well deserved rest.

Liz Magunnigal said:
29 December 2020 @ 11:06

Love your blogs. I am studying Spanish language and early history, which I started during lockdown, by zoom lectures from Strathclyde University, so this has been a brilliant supplement.
Thank you and hope you will return in 2021 with more brilliant blogs.
Prósperos años.

animate said:
29 December 2020 @ 20:19

Thank you, Tess.
I appreciate your feedback. I actually had to discard more than I posted. 2000 words is about the maximum for a weekly blog, but it is the little personal details that bring history to life, and I wish that I could have put more of that in the blogs. Anyway, happy New Year, and I will see you again in 2021.

animate said:
29 December 2020 @ 20:31

Thank you Liz, we are kindred spirits, I think.
I retired to Spain thinking that I would sit in the sun and drink sangria. I soon became very bored and began to explore. That's when I discovered that Spain's history was interwoven with England's. I am a novice who is still learning, and I hope that you will pass on your learned knowledge to me. Happy New Year, Liz.

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