The history of this region has affected the history of Spain

It has been the main point of entry from peoples from North Africa, the Cartheginians and was an important part of the Roman Empire

And in the 8th Century it saw the Muslim occupation which has  affected the culture and history of much of Spain



This is the story of Almeria and the Almanzora Valley, the most easterly province of Andalucia. Its location made it, for hundreds of years, the meeting point of cultures for centuries, and the front line between the Moorish Kingdom of Granada, the final bastion of Muslim Spain, and the expanding Christian lands to the north and east. The story of this region is essentially the story of Spain.

The events in this valley shaped present day Spain, and helps to explain the country and its people.



The Almanzora River flows from the sierras below Baza and feeds a vast fertile plain occupied by towns such as Seron, Tijola, Purchena, Armunia, Olula and Fines. The valley forms a meandering trough between the Sierra Filabres on the south and the Sierra de Las Estancias to the north. The river is fed from the mountain streams coming out of the Sierras and the melting winter snows, but for most of the year it has dried to a trickle by the time it reaches Cantoria 2000 feet below its source, and for the remaining 1000 feet drop before it enters the Mediterranean at Villaricos it has become a sandy expanse.


100,000 years ago this valley was home to Neanderthal tribes, then during the last Ice Age, some 20,000 years ago, early humans - the CroMagnons, came to occupy the many caves that still litter the valley. They have left behind their story in their cave paintings, showing the animals they hunted and there are remains of the flint tools they used.

Then came tribes from North Africa, mixing with the local population. They have left evidence of their lives, using earthenware to cook, keeping animals in corrals, and their fascination with certain stones which they believed had supernatural powers.


Then came the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans in search of gold, silver, mercury, copper and iron in the mountains. They set up towns along the coast, and then trekked inland over the Sierra Filabres to the ancient settlements of Armunia, Purchena and Sufli.

There are Roman mines where they obtained crystal for the windows of their palaces.


The original Iberians were dark skinned, probably from North Africa. They lived along the coast, ate fish in preference to meat, used olive oil, and preferred wine mixed with honey.

The Celts came from the north. They were mainly farmers, living in the interior. They drank fermented beer, leaving the Celtic word ‘cerveza’.




100,000 years ago this region was home to Neanderthal tribes

The oldest pieces of human bone in Europe have been found in Spain. Fragments 780,000 years old were found near Burgos and probably come from ancestors of the later Neanderthals. A piece of bone found near Granada is reckoned to be from the skull of an infant ancestor of Homo Sapiens eaten by a giant hyena over a million years ago.


During the last Ice Age, some 20,000 years ago, early humans - the Cro-Magnons, arrived in Spain from Africa and displaced the Neanderthals. They occupied the many caves that still litter the valleys. They have left behind their story in their cave paintings, showing the animals they hunted and there are remains of the flint tools they used.


Caves throughout the country tell us plenty about Spain’s earliest inhabitants. The most impressive, with sophisticated paintings of bison, stag, boar and horses, are at Altamira near Santander, and date from around 12,000 BC. An Old Stone Age culture that lasted from around 20,000 BC to the end of the last Ice Age in about 8000 BC.


The Cueva de Nerja in Andalucía is one of many sites of these Cro-Magnons, the first modern humans, who hunted mammoth, bison and reindeer. After the Ice Age new peoples, probably from North Africa, arrived, and their rock-shelter paintings of hunting and dancing survive in eastern Spain.

The Neolithic (New Stone Age) reached eastern Spain from Mesopotamia and Egypt around 6000 BC, bringing many innovations, such as the plough, crops, livestock, pottery, textiles and permanent villages


Around 3000 BC a Bronze Age culture, the Millares, was established in Andarax, Cueva, Vera, Nijar and Tabernas. This was a metalworking culture where people began to smelt and shape local copper deposits.


The same era saw the building of megalithic tombs (dolmens), constructed of large rocks, around the perimeter of the Iberian Peninsula.

The Gor Valley to the North East of Granada has the greatest concentration of ancient burial sites in Europe.

A wild and remote area, called the badlands, has 240 dolmens over 10 sites.


This was followed by the Argar Civilisation centred in Antas between 2200 and 1500 BC.

It covered a large area, 35,000 square kilometres up to the borders of Murcia, and used copper, silver and ceramics.

It was a hierarchical society controlled by an armed elite and was based on a regime of servitude and slavery. Tombs have been found where the hierarchy were buried with their swords, and the women with expensive broaches.

Then around 1500 BC the civilisation collapsed, either due to environmental changes or because of a revolt against the autocratic elite.


Now we enter the period of recorded history, when to this region came Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans, all in search of gold, silver, mercury, copper and iron in the mountains. They set up towns along the coast and then trekked inland over the Sierra Filabres to the ancient settlements of Armunia, Purchena and Sufli. They wrote of the view from the 2000 metre high peak at Bacares from where they could look back to the sea. This region was the meeting place of a many peoples and cultures.




1000 BC the Phoenician traders arrived looking for minerals such as tin, gold, silver and copper.


They were Semitic people related to the Canaanites of ancient Palestine, from the cities of Tyre and Sidon in present day Lebanon. They had gained their independence from Egypt in 1200BC and for the next 600 years they dominated the region, providing the ships and sailors that linked the trading ports all around the Mediterranean. They set up important colonies on the islands of Rhodes and Cyprus and established the city of Carthage in North Africa.


They brought the potter’s wheel, writing, coinage, the olive tree, the grapevine, the donkey and the hen. Around 700 BC iron replaced bronze as the most important metal in the lower Guadalquivir valley of western Andalucía.


When the Phoenician traders arrived in southern Iberia they found an existing trading empire based in the mystical lost city of Tarshish. The bible quotes Jonah traveling to Tarshish when he was swallowed by a whale. From all accounts it was a very wealthy nation, with a large fleet of ships that ventured into the Atlantic and traded along the coast of Africa and northern Europe. It is reported that it was rich in gold, silver and tin, and it may be no coincidence that Tarshish was established just after Plato reports that Atlantis was inundated in 1500 BC. Whatever the origins of Tarshish, we will never know, because its remains are probably buried beneath tons of mud in the Donana National Park, at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River.


There was a large farming community established at Abdera (modern day Adra)  where they cultivated cereal, maize, lettuce, beans, grapes, olives, cows, pigs, sheep, goats.


The Phoenician domination of the Mediterranean ended when first they were absorbed into the Persian Empire of Nebuchanezar II in 539 BC and then into the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great in 333 BC.

The Greeks called this area Hesperia, the land of the setting sun. They set up trading settlements at Denia, Benidorm and Alicante.






Iberians is the general name given to the inhabitants of most of the Iberian Peninsula during the millennium or so before the Romans arrived in 218 BC. From around 1000 to 500 BC, they were joined by Celts (originally from Central Europe) and other tribes who crossed the Pyrenees and settled in northern Spain.

In contrast to the dark-featured Iberians, the Celts were fair, drank beer and ate lard. Celts and Iberians who merged on the meseta (the high tableland of central Spain) became the Celtiberians. Celts and Celtiberians typically lived in sizable hill-fort towns called castros. The Celts introduced iron technology to the north about the same time as the Phoenicians brought it to the south.





The Carthaginians were the next to come to the area, this time not just to trade but to colonize. They came from the city and port of Carthage on a peninsular in the Gulf of Tunis, established by the Phoenicians centuries earlier. By 200 BC the Carthaginians dominated the coastal plain of North Africa from Morocco to Egypt, and most of Andalucia, and the islands of Sardinia, Malta, the Balearics and Sicily. Their commercial enterprises covered mining, manufacturing of furniture, pottery and jewelry and the export of fruits and wild animals from Africa to Europe.

Because of their trading domination the Carthaginians were in constant conflict with the Greek and Roman Empires, but it was Hannibal’s conquest of Iberia which sparked conflict with the Roman Empire.

Hannibal first came to Iberia when he was nine years old, with his father on an expedition to conquer the area.  When he was 26 years old he took over as commander in chief of the army and in two years he had conquered most of Iberia up to the River Ebro.

The following year he assembled his forces for an attack on Rome itself. He rested his African elephants on the banks of the Almanzora while he  recruited 30,000 mercenaries from the local population, and then set out from his base at Cartagena for epic journey. He left with 40,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry and 50 elephants but by the time he had crossed the Alps he had lost half his men and most of the elephants.


In 119 BC the Carthaginians took the town of Saguntum which the Romans claimed was their ally and they ordered the Carthaginian general, Hannibal to withdraw. He refused and war ensued.

In the years that followed this area became a battleground between the empires of Rome and Carthage. The Roman legions set up fortifications at Guadix and Villaricos before crossing the sea to present day Tunisia and their final assault on Carthage, which saw the end of Carthaginian domination of the region.


By 206 BC the Carthaginians were gone from Spain.






Then began the great Roman colonization of Iberia.

They discovered a country of small fortifies hillside towns, with houses of adobe walls and cane roofs. The Romans called this the land of the Bastetanos, and the Roman geographer Strabon wrote,


“The Bastetania women dance with their men, holding each other by the hand. The men dress in black cloaks made from wool, in which they sleep on their straw mattresses. They use urns carved from wood in which they heat their food using red hot stones. The women wear floral dresses. They use bartering instead of money. Criminals are expelled from the village and the sick are left by the roadside.”



Publius Cornelius Scipio, Africanus, began the conquest of Spain, which was to be under Roman rule for six centuries, but it took 200 years to subdue the fiercest of local tribes, Iberians, Celts and Basques.


The Basques in the north, though defeated, were never Romanised in the same way as the rest of Hispania (as the Romans called the peninsula). Legendary stands against the Romans included the eight-year revolt led by the shepherd-turned-guerrilla Virathius in the west and the centre from around 150 BC, and the siege of Numancia near Soria in 133 BC. Rome had to bring in its most illustrious generals to deal with these insubordinations.


Resistance finally ended when the Cantabrians were defeated in 19 BC.


By AD 50 most of the peninsula, particularly the south, had adopted the Roman way of life.

Latin became the official language and many locals became full Roman citizens.

Many Roman Emperors were born here, including Trojan and Hadrian.

This was the Pax Romana, a long and prosperous period of stability. Hispania became urbanised and highly organised, a very civilised part of the Roman Empire.


In the 1st century BC the Romans organised the peninsula into three provinces:-


Baetica (most of Andalucía plus southern Extremadura and southwestern Castilla-La Mancha), with its capital at Corduba (Córdoba).

There are ruins of the great Roman city of Itálica near Seville, and the impressive aqueduct in Segovia.

Baetica boasted the world’s best postal service.


Lusitania (Portugal and northern Extremadura), with its capital at Augusta Emerita (Mérida), the greatest Roman city on the peninsula, 200 kms north of Seville, with its 25,000 seat circus for chariot races, and an impressive Roman Theatre, both still mostly intact.


Tarraconensis (the rest), with its capital at Tarraco (Tarragona).


Rome gave the peninsula a road system, such as the Via Herculea (the present day RN 340), aqueducts, temples, theatres, amphitheatres, circuses, baths and the basis of its legal system and languages. The Roman era also brought many Jews, who spread throughout the Mediterranean part of the Roman Empire.


At this time the region was blanketed with a lush covering of oaks, junipers and evergreens.

The Roman Legions were not just soldiers but also builders. The Rio Tinto copper mines were expanded and 40,000 slaves toiled in the silver mines at Cartegena.


Hispania gave Rome gold, silver, grain, wine, soldiers, and the literature of Seneca, Martial, Quintilian and Lucan. Another notable export was garum, a spicy sauce derived from fish and used as a seasoning.


Half way through the Roman occupation Christianity became the official religion of Rome, but it was slow to spread throughout the empire. The Roman soldiers were very committed to their own well established Roman and Pagan Gods, and the Emperor in Rome could not afford to alienate his troops in the provinces.


One of the major religions at the time was the ancient Persian cult of Mithraism. Mithra was the Persian God of Light and Wisdom and his birthday was on 25th December, the date taken by the later Christian religion. They also believed in baptism, the rite of the communion, the use of holy water, the adoration of the shepherds at Mithra’s birth,  the immortality of the soul, the final judgment and in the resurrection, all ideas adopted by the Christians to make the new religion more acceptable as a replacement for the existing beliefs. Mithra is said to have slayed a divine bull from whose body spread all the plants and animals of the world. The tradition continues with the Spanish obsession for bull-fighting.





In the 7th century BC Baria (present day Villaricos) became an important port and centre for mining of lead and silver. It had its own money and worshipped the goddess Astarte.

In the 3rd century BC it had been aligned with Carthage against Rome, but in 209 BC it was captured by the Roman General Scipio, and under Roman rule it continued to flourish.

The Roman civilisation expanded along the coast. Murgi (El Ejido) was an important town where the citizens enjoyed the rights as full Roman citizens.


There is a 3rd century Roman mosaic at Ciavieja east of El Ejido dedicated to Bacchus, god of agriculture, wine and fiestas.

In Vergi (Berja) there are the remains of the only Roman ampitheatre in the Province.


Los Banos de Guardias Viejas was the old port for the city of Hispania Romana Murgi.

It was mentioned by Plinio the elder and was linked to the roman settlement of Abdera (Adra). It was a trading port for the export of oil, garum and wine.

A very important and valuable mineral which was exported to all parts of the Empire was lapis specularis. This is a form of gypsum with transparent properties, and there were mines in Aliquian, Sorbas and Cueva de Almanzora.


At Urci (Pechina) there was an early HispanoRomano church dedicated to San Indalecio.


However in the 5th Century AD, following the fall of the Roman Empire and the collapse of the trade in minerals there was mass depopulation along the coast and people moved inland where the land was more fertile.





The Pax Romana started to crack when two Germanic tribes, the Franks and the Alemanni, swept across the Pyrenees towards the end of the 3rd century AD, causing devastation.


When the Huns arrived in Eastern Europe from Asia a century later, further Germanic peoples moved westwards. Among these were the Suevi and Vandals, who overran the Iberian Peninsula around 410.


The Visigoths, another Germanic people, sacked Rome in 410. Within a few years, however, they had become Roman allies, being granted lands in southern Gaul (France) and fighting on the emperor’s behalf against barbarian invaders on the Iberian Peninsula. When the Visigoths were pushed out of Gaul in the 6th century by yet another Germanic people, the Franks, they settled on the Iberian Peninsula, making Toledo their capital.

The rule of the roughly 200,000 long-haired Visigoths, who had a penchant for gaudy jewellery, over the several million more-sophisticated Hispano-Romans was precarious and undermined by strife among their own nobility. The Hispano-Roman nobles still ran the fiscal system and their bishops were the senior figures in urban centres.

The ties between the Visigoth monarchy and the Hispano-Romans were strengthened in 587 when King Reccared converted to Roman Christianity from the Visigoths’ Arian version, which denied that Christ was identical to God. Culturally, the Visigoths tended to ape Roman ways. Today a few Visigothic churches can be seen in northern Spain. One, at Baños de Cerrato near Palencia, dates from 661 and is probably the oldest surviving church in the country.

At Augusta Emerita (Mérida) there is a Visigoth museum illustrating that it was an advanced civilisation.




The Muslim invasion


The fall of the Roman Empire, a product of internal strife and invasion from tribes from the east, resulted in 300 years of instability in Iberia.

First came the Vandals, originally from Jutland they entered France in 406 and reached Iberia a few years later, leaving behind a legacy of terror and instability, and the name that stuck, Vandalacia. They were immediately in conflict with the Orthodox Roman Catholics because the religion of the Vandals was Arian. This was an earlier version of Christianity which did not accept Jesus as the Son of God, and was the official religion of Rome for 20 years, before being replaced by Roman Catholicism.

With the Roman Empire in terminal decline, the Romans asked the partly Romanised Visigoths to kick the Vandals out of Iberia.  An ancient Germanic people, ermine robed and bearded, these blond tribesmen from the north pushed out the vandals, who fled to North Africa, along with many of the large Jewish population.  The 200,000 Visigoths occupied the interior of the country and set up their capital at Toledo. They ruled over the several million Hispano/Romans who lived mainly along the coast . The coarse ways of the new conquerors did not suit the more sophisticated Romanised population any better than did the earlier Vandals, and there was continual unrest, made worse by gangs of escaped Roman slaves who roamed the countryside.

The Visigoths left the running of the country in the hands of the established Catholic Church and the Roman nobility, who collected the taxes and ran the local administration.

Central control was weak and the Visigoth rule was ripe for overthrow.

In 710 the Visigoth King Witza died and Roderick, Duke of Baetica, claimed the throne. Witza’s family and the discontented Jewish population asked the Muslims in North Africa for help.

The Arabs had conquered North Africa, under the new banner of Islam. Musa had reached Morocco and gazed across the narrow straits to his next objective, Vandalacia.

Invasion had been tried several times before. In 674, after taking Tangiers, they attacked Algeciras but were defeated with the loss of 272 ships and most of the troops.

In 701 there was another failed invasion, inspired by the large Jewish population who were being persecuted by the Visigoths and had links with the Jews who had earlier fled to North Africa.

Now the internal disputes within the Visigoths gave another chance. Tarif Abu Zara, landed at a settlement which later took his name, Tarifa. Encouraged by this success  in April 711 Musa sent Tarik  with 700 Berber troops, landing at a rocky peninsular near Algeciras, given the name the Rock of Tariq (Yabel Tarik) and later to be known as Gibraltar. Within weeks Tariq had 5000 troops, mostly Berbers from Morocco, and had defeated the divided Visigoth army of Roderick, at Barbate. The local population, unhappy with Visigoth rule, welcomed the new invaders, and by October Cordoba had fallen, followed shortly after by the fall of Toledo without a fight.

In June 712 Musa arrived with an army of 18,000, mostly Arabs, and conquered Seville and Merida.  Joining Tariq at Toledo they set off north to conquer the Ebro Valley.


The Caliph Al Wahid, seeing the rapid expansion in Iberia as a threat to his power, ordered Musa and Tarik to report back to him in Damascus.

At first they ignored his orders and continued their conquest of the Ebro Valley and then headed into Asturias. The local inhabitants had fled before the Muslim army and sought refuge in the rugged mountains of Galicia.

Then in summer 714, with the whole of the Iberian peninsular at their mercy, they finally obeyed the Caliph’s orders and returned to Damascus.

Musa’s son, Abd al Aziz, continued the drive north, taking Pamplona, Gerona and Narbonne, until the Muslim advance was finally halted at Poitiers in 732. The zeal had gone from the conquest.

The Moors signed a treaty with Tudmir, the Visigoth king of Murcia, which would see Murcia remain a Christian outpost for centuries whilst paying taxes to the Emir in Cordoba.


The Muslim forces, having conquered all that seemed important, decided to ignore the refugees who were hiding in the mountains of Asturias and Galicia. They were considered no threat. Centuries later their ancestors would live to regret this judgment.






“Africa begins at the Pyrenees”  Alexandre Dumas


Muslim legend

“When Allah was creating earth each place was given 5 wishes.

Al Andalus asked for clear skies, a sea full of fish, ripe fruit, and beautiful women.

These first four wished were granted.

But the fifth wish of good government was refused, because Allah said this would have created a paradise on earth, and there could only be paradise in heaven.”


With the end of any real local resistance, the Moorish invaders set about colonizing the country.

Most of the local population renounced Christianity and happily turned to Islam. For the simple country people it was a simpler doctrine. Gone were the teachings of the Trinity, Virgin Birth, the sacrament and of priests and bishops. Instead the straight forward

 ‘There is only one God and Mohammed is his prophet’.

And there were the financial incentives. Although everyone was free to continue their own religion, Muslims paid no land taxes.

In reality life changed little for the local country people. They had been ruled by Romans in Merida, then by the Visigoths in Toledo, now by the Moors in Cordoba. And in the Almanzora Valley life went on much as before. The Muslim army never accounted for more than 50,000 men and in the vast country of several million local inhabitants they were quickly assimilated into the population. The vast majority of Al Andalus were the original population who had readily converted to Islam, but they lived in peace and harmony with those of their neighbours who had held on to their Christian beliefs.


The Moors brought changes to local agriculture, introducing oranges, lemons, peaches, apricots, figs, pomegranates, saffron, sugar cane, cotton and rice. They improved the Roman irrigation system and they brought the Arabian horse and reopened the Roman baths which the Visigoths had closed. Personal hygiene again became acceptable.

They also brought many words and customs to the region, many of which have survived the centuries.

The Valencian festival of the Fallas had its origins in the Iranian fire festival.

Many of the modern day Spanish names for fruit and vegetables are Arabic in origin, as are many place names.

The examples of Arabic words adopted into Spanish are so many it is impossible to list them all, but a few are:


Valencia (Balansiya) - and the Spanish difficulty to distinguish the spoken B and V.

azafran (za’fran)                                                          arroz (ruzz)

paella (a Persian dish of left overs)                            acequia (al saqiya)

naranja (naranj)                                                          aldea (al day a)

alcaldi (al qadi)                                                           rambla (ramla)

algodon (al qutun)                                                      Guadalquivir River (al wadi al kabir)


Although the invaders are often all called Moors they were in fact two distinct groups. The leaders were Arabs from Syria and Iraq, the Umayyad dynasty, while many of the troops were Berbers from the mountains of Morocco. From the outset there was internal conflict between groups vying for supremacy. The Arabs occupied the coastal plains while the Berbers colonised the mountainous interior. In 741 there was a Berber rebellion. Driven by hunger and drought many headed for the fertile coastal plains and many were eventually forced to return to North Africa.


After 40 years of instability the country was united under the rule of Abd ar Rahman I. Born in Damascus, he was tall, blond and had one eye. He was the sole surviving member of the Umayyad Dynasty and he had escaped to Spain in 755 when his family were murdered when the Abbasid Dynasty seized power.

The Caliph of Damascus was not pleased at what he saw as a threat to his position and in 777 he bribed the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne to invade Al Andalus and overthrow the new rulers.  The invasion was unsuccessful and the new Muslim dynasty lasted for 300 years. Abd ar Rahman was succeeded by his son Hisham, who had been born in Cordoba.


The rise of Cordoba

With all resistance overcome the Muslim invaders set about building one of the richest states in Europe, with its capital at Cordoba.  In the following 400 years Cordoba would become a centre for learning in the whole of Europe. Moorish doctors dissected corpses, used anaesthesis, used music to treat mental disorders and had specialist hospitals for leprosy. The Canon of Ibn Sina became Europe’s standard medical text book for the next 500 years. The Moors also excelled in astronomy, geography and botany as well as algebra and higher mathematics. Claimed to be the first city to boast street lighting,  Cordoba  had many libraries which attracted scholars from all over Europe, and it is here that the works of the great Greek philosophers were translated and reintroduced to Europe. The Moors were also renowned for their architecture and for their beautiful glasswork and glazed painted tiles.

Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in harmony under the new rulers.

Jews and Christians were respected as “peoples of the Book”, i.e. The Old Testament, and Islam considers Jesus to be a major prophet.

Jews held important positions in the government. Many Christians, called Mozarabes, adopted the Arabic language and culture but continued their Christian worship. Many Christians, including remaining Visigoth nobles, converted to Islam.

Arabic, Hebrew and Latin were frequently interchangeable as a means of communication.


Of course, having left the undefeated remnants of the Goths to regroup in the northern mountains, and facing the Christian forces across the Pyrenees, it was always going to be difficult for the Moors to secure the entire peninsular. The remnants of the Visigoth refugees slowly came down from the mountains and they soon controlled the northern quarter of the country, with the Duero Valley the border between the Moorish and Christian lands.

French troops soon pushed the Moors from their foothold in southern France, and they pushed the Moors from Barcelona in 801. Catalunia was soon an independent country and would remain independent from the rest of Spain for many centuries.

Many, especially Catalans, would say that it has never been part of Spain.


The 9th century saw periods of peace with the Christians to the north, interspersed by conflicts.


Pechina became the capital of the province (or Cora) of Elvira, a centre for trade particularly with the marble industry at Purchena, which was a significant fortified town on the route from Baza to Pechina, and an important frontier citadel between the Moors and the Christians in Murcia.

Pechina was becoming an independent city state, well run and secure, where it is said travelers could leave their goods in the street overnight without worry. In facts many parts of the country were becoming small independent states, or Taifas, such as Seville, Granada, Murcia and Valencia, a situation which did not find favour with the rulers in Cordoba.


The situation was soon to change.

On 15th October 912 the old Emir Abd Allah, 6th generation of the original invaders, died in Cordoba, and was succeeded by his nephew Abd ar Rahman III. The new ruler soon made his mark by declaring Al Andalus independent of Damascus, making himself the first Caliph of Cordoba. Al Andalus had finally broken its ties with North Africa after 200 years. In fact the new Caliph was more Spanish than Moor. He was somewhat chubby, fair haired and blue eyed. His mother was a concubine from the Basque country, and his grandmother came from Navarre.


He built a magnificent palace and administrative centre just outside Cordoba;

Medina Azahara which is now mostly a ruin but in process of restauration.

It is rumoured that it housed 6000 concubines.


His first aim was to bring the country under his central control, subduing the independent city states that had been set up. And this would mean exerting Muslim control as a means to this end. As at other times in history a political leader would use race and religion to centralize his control.


In 3 months he took control of 70 fortified towns, including Baza, Purchena and Guadix.

He then turned his attention to the rebellion against central control led by muladies. These were descendants of the original population who had converted to Islam, but had now reverted to the Christian faith of their grandfathers. Their leader was Ibn Hafsun who, although he retained his Muslim name, had converted to Christianity and on his death was buried with a Christian ceremony in Bobastro. Such a rejection of Islam by one of their own was seen as the ultimate crime in Cordoba, and when Bobastro was captured Ibn Hafsun’s body was dug up and taken to Cordoba to be burnt in the streets before a cheering crowd.


Now Al Andalus was totally pacified under one leader and one faith.

Principally Ar Rahman’s aim was to destroy the many independent city states that had sprung up in order to establish a strong centralized state.

The 200 years since the invasion had been a sometimes uneasy relationship between the 3 main groups:


The Mozarabes - those who had kept their Christian faith

The Muladies - the descendents of those who had converted to Islam

The Muslims - the descendents of the invaders

Plus the significant Jewish population.


Of course, these distinctions were often blurred by inter marriage, and the fact that the original Muslim invaders were all male, so even the Muslims had a significant Hispano Roman heritage.


One victim of this drive to centralization was Pechina, the capital of the province.

The capital was moved to the coast at Almeria, where Ar Rahman built a castle. The name of the new city was al Mariyya, the watchtower guarding Al Andalus from North Africa.

Pechina became a town for workers.

One of the entrances to the new city of Almeria, the Puerta Purchena, led to the ancient road across the Sierra Filabres, 60 kms as the crow flies to Purchena and Sufli and then on to Baza.


Having united Al Andalus under his control Abd ar Rahman turned his attention to the various Christian kingdoms on his northern and eastern borders.

July 916 saw the start of a 3 month campaign against the Basques in the north. The Christian forces suffered massive defeats and Navarra was sacked, but Pamplona held out.

In the spring of 924 he headed east towards Murcia and Valencia. On 10th July he crossed the Ebro. The occupants of Pamplona fled and the city was set on fire. The Muslim forces continued burning churches and monasteries across the region.

But the flow of victories was not all one way. In 932 the new Christian ruler of Leon, Ramiro II seized Madrid from the Muslim forces.


In 939 Abd ar Rahman decided to subjugate his Christian neighbours for good. He led his troops from Cordoba and headed for Toledo and the Duero valley.  He was met by the combined Basque and Castilian forces under Ramiro II. The battle lasted for days and eventually the Muslim army was defeated. On returning to Cordoba Ar Rahman executed 300 cavalry officers for cowardice.



Ar Rahman died on 15th October 961. He had succeeded in ridding the country of the petty fiefdoms and creating a united Al Andalus, independent of the Caliph in Damascus. But in so doing he had ended the friendly coexistence between Muslims, new Muslim converts and old Christians that had existed since the invasion, and had forced the Christian Kingdoms on the borders of Al Andalus to unite to resist the common enemy. He had also caused many Christians to flee north, further strengthening the Christian forces.

He was succeeded by Al Hakam, and this brought in a 15 year period of peace. Cordoba became a cultural centre, while Almeria became an important naval base.

His heir Hisham II, was young and weak, and there followed a long period of palace intrigue. And on the scene came Al Mansur.



Born in Cordoba in 940, Ibn Abu Amir, later to be called Al Mansur, was descended from Abd Al Malik, a nobleman who had accompanied Tariq when he landed at Gibraltar, and his mother was a Berber. He studied law and letters and it soon became clear that he had ambitions for power. He set about cultivating the friendship of powerful members of the administration and due to his obvious ability easily obtained promotion. It was also rumored that he was very popular with the women of the court, including one of the Caliph’s wives.


In 965, when Al Mansur was aged 25,  Al Hakam’s son Hisham was born, and 2 years later Al Mansur became attendant to Hisham.

In 972, aged 32,  he became senior magistrate, one of the most senior posts in the country.

In 976 Caliph Al Hakam died. The Prime Minister offers the post to Al Hakam’s younger brother Al Mugura, and rushed to the palace to seek approval for his plan. However an urgent meeting had been convened of senior officials and leaders of the Berber militia.

The chief vizier Al Musthafi, top administrator for Cordoba and a friend of Al Mansur, decided on the assassination of Al Mugura, and gave the task to Al Mansur.

Al Mugura was strangled at his house in front of his wives by Al Mansur’s slaves.

Hisham was installed as Caliph the following day, but because he was only 11 years old Al Mansur became Regent. Al Mansur turned the Berber militia into his personal bodyguard and in effect ran the palace.


Christian incursions in the north were causing great concern amongst the population of Cordoba, particularly because the government seemed too concerned with internal struggles to address the problem.

Al Mansur led his Berber militia on a brief but successful campaign, and returned to a heroes welcome.

It only remained now for him to get rid of the Prime Minister and assume total power. In the power struggle that followed the Prime Minister tried to forge an alliance with the powerful General Galib by offering to marry his daughter Asma. But when Al Mansur heard of this he offered to marry Asma himself. Now with the military backing of his father in law he arranged the arrest of the Prime Minister on the charge of not having sufficient funds to cover his debts.

General Galib was not content to see Al Mansur take power, and in 981 he formed an alliance with Christian forces from Leon to overthrow Al Mansur. With the failure of this attempted coup, Al Mansur was now in total effective control. The young Caliph Hisham was a virtual prisoner in the palace; no-one could gain access without Al Mansur’s permission.

Although he was not particularly religious, he put on a pretence of religious devotion for the benefit of the orthodox Muslims by always carrying a copy of the Koran, and by ordering the burning of many books considered contrary to the faith.


During his 20 years of absolute power he led 50 expeditions into Christian territory, and earned a reputation and the name “the Victorious” or “Al Mansur”.

On 5th May 985 he left Cordoba on a royal visit, visiting Baza and traveling down the valley, staying at the fortress of Purchena. It is at this time that the valley took the name Wadi Al Mansur - River of Victory, in honour of Al Mansur.



On the death of Al Mansur, as often happens when an all powerful ruler dies, there was a power vacuum. The long struggle for control led to many rebellions and a virtual civil war ensued.


“Weep for the splendour of Cordoba, for disaster has overtaken her, then bid her goodbye and let her go in peace since depart she must”


The various rulers in Cordoba were weak and ineffective, interested in wine women and poetry, and Al Andalus again split into petty Kingdoms (Taifas), the most significant being those of Seville, Granada and Almeria.



The Reconquest of the peninsula

The Christian lands in the north were a complex web ruled by kings with such names as Sancho the Fat and Wilfred the Hairy.

The kingdoms of Asturias, Leon, Navarra, Castilla and Aragon changed between rulers and sometimes united by marriage.




Integration of the kingdoms

The reign of Alfonso VI was important in the history of Spain. Firstly, he reunited Castile, Leon and Galicia into one large country, although the manner in which he did that could be described as controversial.


Alfonso VI, called The Brave, was born in Santiago de Compostela in 1040, and died in Toledo 1109. He was the fourth child of Fernando I.

On the death of Fernando I in 1065, Alfonso inherited the Kingdom of León, while the older brother Sancho II received Castilla and the youngest son García received Galicia.


The brothers were not satisfied with the inheritance and by 1071 Sancho and Alfonso had snatched Galicia from their younger brother García. In 1073 Alfonso VI assumed the effective government of Galicia and imprisoned his brother Garcia in the castle of Luna until his death in 1090.


In 1072 Sancho II attacked Alfonso and had him imprisoned in Burgos.

Through the intercession of their elder sister Urraca, Sancho released Alfonso under the condition that he should withdraw from public life and not dispute the throne. Alfonso, however, fled to the court of the king of the Taifa of Toledo Abul Hassan Yahya ibn Ismail.


Sancho took Toro and laid siege to Zamora, which was under the rule of his sister Urraca. The siege lasted for seven months until Sancho was assassinated by Bellido Dolfos, it is rumoured at the request of Alfonso.

Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, the legendary folk hero El Cid, accused Alfonso of the murder and refused to accept his inheritance of the whole kingdom.


The nobility of the kingdom meeting in Burgos confirmed Alfonso VI as undisputed ruler of the 3 kingdoms but the king had to make a declaration of innocence in relation to the murder of his brother.


The annexation by Alfonso VI of a large portion of central Spain, including Toledo (in 1085) was an enormous morale-booster through being the capital of the pre-Moorish Visigothic state.

In theory, Valencia could also be regarded as part of Alfonso's dominions - although it had been captured and was subsequently governed by El Cid.

For a while, the Christian troops also managed to control most of Murcia, based in the fortress at Aledo (near Totana) - from which they would launch raids towards Almeria and Granada. (The fortress is still standing, and presents quite an imposing picture - perched as it is on an easily defended mountain-spur).


Princess Za'ida and her son

Alfonso’s wife Constanza became ill in 1092 and died shortly later.

Alfonso had taken as a concubine Zaida, al-Mu'tamid's daughter-in-law, who gave him her only son, Sancho Alfónsez (1093).


Zaida was the daughter-in-law of the King of Seville, the wife of his eldest son, the Emir of Cordoba. Za'ida fled to Toledo after her husband had been killed by the Almoravid invaders.

Za'ida and Alfonso did eventually get married so that Sancho could inherit the throne. Unfortunately, the young prince was killed after being captured following a battle against the Moors.

Nevertheless, Princess Za'ida enjoys the honour of being the only Muslim woman in history to become a Christian queen. She was given the name "Isabel" on being baptised into the Catholic faith. She also bore Alfonso two daughters, one of whom (Elvira) became Queen of Sicily..


When Alfonso VI died the kingdom was inherited by his elder daughter Urraca, who had married Alfonso I of Aragon, thinking that the union of both kingdoms would make possible the development of a common policy that would allow solving the problem around Zaragoza and presenting a more compact front against the Almoravids.



Muslim reaction

Understandably, Alfonso's successful advance through Spain provoked an alarmed reaction from the Moors, who asked for help from Morocco. After the death of Al Mansure and the collapse of the Caliphate in Cordoba the Muslim areas had split into various independent Kingdoms (Taifas) which were not always inclined to help one another in the ongoing wars against the Christians. However, it was a completely different scenario with the Moroccan "Almoravids" in control. Alfonso managed to hold on to Toledo (with difficulty), but Valencia fell to the Muslims.


Birth of Portugal

Alfonso VI was responsible for one more important territorial change: he created the nucleus of a new country, which eventually became Portugal. He had two illegitimate daughters, and was faced with the question of what he might do with them. So he decided that the towns Braga, Oporto and Coimbra in the south of Galicia should form part of a "county", which would serve as the dowry of his daughter Teresa during her marriage to a French nobleman. Some years later, her son became King Afonso I of Portugal.


Church reformAnother significant development during Alfonso VI's reign involved religious reform. The churches in the north and northwest of Spain (particularly those in Leon, Galicia and Asturias) were not controlled by Rome; thus, their religious (and cultural) customs and practices were somewhat at odds with those prevailing elsewhere in Europe. To a large extent, this was just continuity from the Visigothic era - when there was absolutely no contact with the Papal authorities.

Alfonso VI was determined to correct that. Encouraged by his two French wives, he discontinued the Mozarabic liturgy and replaced it with the Roman one. It was a really monumental task, requiring the recopying of millions of books - all by hand, obviously. The calligraphy had to be altered too, because many letters were written quite differently in the Castilian and Mozarabic languages.

The king also insisted that new bridges should be constructed along the Camino de Santiago, and that security should be improved along the route.




In 1118 Alfonso I of Aragon conquered Zaragoza and then by marriage he united Aragon with Catalunia.

There was a crusading zeal from the Catholic Church. On 29th September 1192 Pope Celestine III Proclaimed

“It is not contrary to the Catholic faith to exterminate and persecute the Saracens


The Christian armies were becoming stronger and more united under a crusade started by Pope Innocent III.


Faced with this weakness, the Christian forces seized the opportunity to take Toledo after 400 years of Moorish occupation. The Christian troops even ventured as far south as the Almanzora Valley and attacked the castle of Purchena. The fragmented Moorish Kingdoms became weaker and weaker and were forced to accept ever more humiliating peace agreements with the marauding Christian armies.


In 1125 the King of Aragon, Alfonso, led an army from the Ebro, 500 kms down to the Almanzora, returning home with booty and with 10,000 mozarabe families to settle in the Christian lands in the north.




After 400 years of independence Al Andalus bowed to the inevitable and sought help from across the sea. And so arrived the warlike Almoravids (al-murabit = hermit), dark skinned nomads from the Sahara, related to the present day Tuaregs. Under their rule things became much more strict. Jews and Christians were persecuted, which reinforced support for the Christian forces in the north.

But the situation in North Africa was itself unstable. The Almohades (al-muwahhid = unity of God), from the Atlas Mountains, were in conflict with the Almoravids from the Sahara. Almoravid control of Al Andalus was weak.

In 1147 Almeria was captured by Christian forces from Castile and Aragon and the Almanzora Valley was isolated.

But by 1157 the Almohades had gained control in North Africa and turned their attention to Al Andalus.

Their rule was strict and unbending, and they were not easily accepted by the more easy going Muslims in Al Andalus. In 1167 the Alcaide of Purchena led a revolt, crossing the mountains and linking up with allies in Almeria.


Eventually the Almohades conquered the Almanzora Valley, leaving it under the control of the Kunya tribe of Berbers.

Despite the disintegration of control there was a steep rise in culture and learning. Purchena was the home of poets, doctors and writers.


During this whole period there were strange alliances and agreements being reached. A Muslim ruler of a city would agree to pay taxes to the Christian King, sometimes helping in military campaigns, and Christian knights would become mercenaries for Muslim rulers.





This small village 150 kms north of Granada became the site of the most significant conflict in Spain. The outcome would determine the future of the country for generations.


On 16th July 1212 the combined armies of Alfonso VIII of Castille, Sancho VI of Navarra and Pedro II of Aragon confronted the massed Almohades army of Miramamolin.

There were 250,000 Muslim troops against the 115,000 strong Christian army.

In addition Pope Innocent III had sent 70,000 mercenaries, although their value was questionable because they were prevented from pillaging the towns they captured so many deserted.


Despite being outnumbered the better organization of the Christian forces resulted in a victory which marked the beginning of the end of Moorish rule in Spain.


The nearby towns of Ubeda and Baeza were quickly taken, and Cordoba fell to the Christians in 1236.

Instead of demolishing the famous Mosque of Cordoba the Christians built a cathedral inside the massive building, and both are in perfect condition today.


After a siege lasting 16 months Seville fell to Ferdinand III in November 1248.


But Moorish dominance in a large part of Andalucia would continue for another 250 years.

Ferdinand III did a deal with the ruler of Granada, Mohammed ibn Alhamar.

“There is no victor but Allah”



Soon the three independent kingdoms of Portugal, Castilla and Leon, and Aragon/Catalunia, merged.


Castilla was the strongest and with the highest population of 8 million, its language (castillano) became the official language of Spain.

Castille was predominantly a rural area where the ownership of land was the real wealth.


The Cities had a smaller population at that time ..

Valencia and Sevilla with 100,000 each

Barcelona with 35,000

And other cities such as Cordoba, Granada and Toledo each with 20,000.


It was from Castilla came the idea of re-conquest of the whole of Iberia.

An important symbol was the banner of Santiago El Matamoro (St James the Moor slayer) and his tomb in Santiago de Compostella.

He was a mythical representation of the apostil James who it was claimed had led the Christian armies to victory against the Moors in the 9th century, although no evidence of this exists.


It was all about wealth and land. Successful knights were granted huge tracts of land in Al Andalus (the hated lati fundios).


Also came the idea of distribution of work.

Christian warriors, priests and landowners.

Muslim farmers and artisans.

Jewish traders and technicians.


“Industry is something for Jews and Moors”


This was an attitude which would survive and which would lead to future problems when Muslims and Jews were expelled centuries later.




In 955 AD Abderrahman III established the City of Almeria into a Medina.


A wall was built around the city to protect the mainly Islamic population against the frequent invasions from North Africa.

At the same time the populations of nearby Pechina, which was the previous centre of the region, moved to Almeria.

The wall had six gates, with a Mezquita Mayor in the centre, and the Alcazaba.


Pechina was then called Bayyana, and is the site of the ancient settlement of Urci.

Almeria was called Al Mariya Bayyan – the port of Pechina, which was home to the Caliphate navy.

Thus the Cora (Province) of Elvira was governed from Almeria, and extended into Murcia, Jaen, Albacete, Alicante and Cordoba.


“Cuando Almeria era Almeria, Granada era su alqueria”


"When Almeria was Almeria, Granada was its farmhouse"


In 1009, with the collapse of the Omeya Caliphate in Cordoba, Almeria became independent under various governors.

Science, poetry and literature flourished.


In 1091 the City was taken over by the new influx of more extreme Muslim sect, the Almoravides, but despite this the culture continued.

Under the governor Jayran extra fortifications were built to protect the city against pirate invasions which was affecting other coastal towns.





The middle of the 12th Century Almeria was a large industrial city with 800 silk looks, and iron and copper smelting factories.


By 1130 the Almoravides rule in the city declined and by 1145 they had been kicked out of the city. Seeing a weakened military presence a Genovese navy attacked the town in 1146 without success, but on 17th October 1147 Alfonso VII of Castille and Leon attacked the city by land and sea, aided by 63 Genovese galleys and 163 smaller ships.

The town was effectively destroyed.

The factories and houses were destroyed, many inhabitants kicked, and many taken into captivity to work in the silk factories in Catalunya nd Genoa.

Many of the intellectuals were expelled.

Although Almeria would return to Muslim control within the next 100 years the full splendour of Almeria was never to return.






By the middle of the 14th century Almeria had come under the control of the Nazari rule in Granada, and it had regained some of its original slendour and wealth.

As a gateway to the Mediterranean it became more prosperous and stable.

In 1309 it was attacked by James II of Aragon, but in the Spring of 1348 it suffered a worse attack which lasted until the winter of 1349.

The bubonic plague. It had arrived by sea on ships from Mallorca and North Africa.


Many of the population fled the city, but a local doctors and philosopher Ibn Jatima stayed to treat the sick.


He established that isolating people slowed the spread of the decease.

In his book “Logro del objectivo propuesto en la aclaracion de la enfirmedad de la peste”

he proposed that the decease was transmitted by micro organisms, something confirmed 5 centuries later by Louis Pasteur.






In 1243 Murcia came under the orbit of Castille, with a Mudejar king. And by 1245 control had spread to Lorca and Cartegena.

The Mudejares were Muslims who remained in Spain and accepted Christian rule. They were mainly based in Murcia and Valencia.


Thus the region of Los Velez and Almanzora became a precarious frontier between the Christians in the north and east, and the Muslim population under the orbit of Granada.

Vera, Cantoria, Purchena and Seron also became part of this ever moving frontier with occupation changing regularly.


In 1309 James II attacked Almeria with 300 ships and stayed for 6 months.

In 1436 troops from Murcia occupied Los Velez and parts of Almanzora, including Albox, but in 1446 Muhammed X retook the region.


There continued constant attacks across the border in both directions, to steal cattle and take slaves for future ransom.





The tourist attraction of the Alhambra Palace in Granada is often considered one of the prime examples of Muslim Spain. In reality Granada only came to prominence after the collapse of the Caliphate of Cordoba, and the architectural growth of the Alhambra Palace mostly took place while most of Spain was under Christian rule.


ALHAMBRA (al-qala hamra = castillo rojo/red castle)

Brief history

In 711 Berber troops from the Atlas mountains landed in Europe and in 4 years occupied most of Spain and southern France. In 950 Abd al-Rahman III established the independent caliphate of al-Andalus. For a long period Jews, Christians and Moors lived in peace and tolerance. Cordoba was the capital and became the greatest centre of learning and culture in Europe.

Seville was captured by the Christians in 1248, but the Moors held out in Granada until 1492 when Mohammed XI (Boabdil) surrendered to the troops of Ferdinand and Isabela (Los Reyes Catolicos). When he left the city Boabdil turned for a final look at the Alhambra at the pass now called the Sigh of the Moor (Suspiro del Moro).



The first kings of Granada (the Ziries) lived on the hill of Albaicin. The Nazarine dynasty built the Alhambra starting in 1238. The Alhambra became a Christian court in 1492 and there are signs of Christian decoration amongst the Moorish artwork.

In the 18th and 19th centuries the Alhambra became neglected, occupied by thieves and beggars. In 1870 it was made a national monument and has been restored, although much of the coloured decoration has faded.


ALCAZABA (al-qasba = fortaleza/fortress)

The original part of the Alhambra built in the 9th century and reconstructed in 1238 by Mohammad I, the founder of the Nazarine dynasty.



Started in 1526, its design was influenced by Renaissance art from Italy.




Patio del Mexuar

This is where the emir administered justice 2 days a week Notice the view over the Darro River and Albaicin.


Patio de los Arrayanes /Court of the Myrtles

A resting place for visitors. Notice the 7 arches of latticed fretwork.


Sala de la Barca/The hall of the Boat

Wooden roof is like the keel of a boat, but more likely baraka is Arabic for greeting.


Torre de Comarex y Salón de Embajadores

Comares Tower and Ambassadors Room.

The ceiling has 8000 pieces of inlaid wood and represents the heaven of the Muslims. This is where the Sultan presided over meetings of the Ambassadors from the various parts of the Kingdom.


Patio de Los Leones.

This was the family quarters. This is an example of Spanish-Arab art because the portrayal of living beings is not permitted under strict Muslim culture.

Around the Patio of Lions there are 4 rooms.


Sala de Abencerrajes

Notice the fountain where the Albencerraje nobles were beheaded. Look for the blood stains.


Sala de los Ajimeces y Mirador de Daraxa

The bedroom of the sultana.




En àrabe Yen-nat-al-arif, que significa ‘jardín del arquitecto’.


El nùcleo està formado por el patio de la Acequia por cuyo corre un canal con juego de surtidores, los testeros del patio estàn cerrados por los pabellones norte y sur que conservan elementos de la estructura general y de la rica decoraciòn de lacería. El conjunto esta rodeado de exuberantes jardines.


This was the summer garden of the Nazarine rules of Granada, linked to the Alhambra by a fortified walkway. It was constructed in the middle of the 13th century.

This leads to the Patio de la Acequia (long pond).

Coming down from the Mirador (lookout)  look for the two very old cypress trees where legend says the sultan discovered the sultana with an Abencerraje nobleman, this provoking the slaughter of the entire clan.




In 1232 a small town near Jaen proclaimed Muhammad Yusuf Nasr a sultan, and in the chaotic situation during the collapse of Muslim rule from Cordoba he extended his power to Baza and Guadix. Then in 1236 he formed an alliance with Ferdinand III of Castile to help the Christian forces take Cordoba.

A year later he entered Granada and proclaimed it the capital of a new Nasri Emirate, soon taking control of Almeria and Malaga.

By 1246 the Christian forces under Ferdinand had taken Seville, and Yusuf Nasri did a deal. In return for recognizing Ferdinand as supreme ruler and paying him taxes the Nasri Emirate would continue. It extended from Gibraltar to Vera and was defended by chains of mountains topped by watchtowers. Christian conquests in the surrounding areas caused a mass Muslim exodus to Granada, bringing a big expansion of the city.

There were good relations between Granada and Ferdinand, with Muslim troops often assisting the Christian army.

When Ferdinand died, his tomb in Seville carried the epitaph in 4 languages, Latin, Castilian, Hebrew and Arabic. He was succeeded by his son Alfonso X who called himself King of 3 religions. Hebrew and Arabic scholarship thrived at this time.

But as in the past, conflict frequently broke out despite apparent peaceful coexistence.


There were repeated attacks from Morocco, the Nasri troops siding sometimes with the Moroccans then making peace with the Christians. The Straits of Gibraltar were constantly fought over, and both Gibraltar and Tarifa, as key coastal defensive positions, constantly changed hands.


One interesting event was when the Christian ruler of Seville, Pedro the Cruel, murdered the King of Granada while he was visiting the city, in order to steal the large ruby which adorned his turban. The ruby was later given to Edward the Black Prince for assisting the Christians of Seville, and is now on the Imperial Crown in the Tower of London.


Yusuf I inspected his territories and built his palace in Granada. He visited his eastern frontier at the castle of Purchena. It is recorded as being surrounded by red walls with many gates leading to the surrounding countryside. Communication with Baza and the frontier forts to the east was by smoke by day and bonfires at night. Land along the Almanzora was divided up into small farms.

In 1340 the Cadi of Purchena and the Cadi of Cantoria returned in great glory after making the then very hazardous pilgrimage to Mecca.


But internal disputes were frequently causing conflict and weakness in the Muslim Kingdom.

In 1354 Muhammad V took the crown, to be overthrown 5 years later by his brother Ismail. He was then assassinated a few months later by his cousin Muhammad VI.

Then back came Muhammad V with the help of Moroccan and Christian troops.

The next 50 years saw peace with the Christians and brilliant artistic creations in the Alhambra palace.


But conflict was never far beneath the surface, and in 1469 an event was to occur which was to eventually see the end of the surviving Muslim kingdom. Isabella of Castille married Ferdinand of Aragon, uniting Christian Spain under a strong monarchy.

With internal dissent again weakening Muslim rule, the Christian forces prepared for the final push to end Moorish rule on the peninsular, although it would be 20 years before they were successful.


In Granada, meanwhile, internal struggles for power continued, weakening the emirate.

15th July 1482 the Abencerrajes family proclaimed Abu Abdullah (Boabdil) as Muhammed XI of Granada. This  caused further internal problems because the old emir’s brother, Boabdil’s uncle El Zagal, wanted the throne, but he was forced to take refuge in Malaga.

The following year Boabdil was captured by troops from Castile. He was released only after signing a treaty with the Christians which granted them most of the Kingdom of Granada.

Ferdinand knew this would cause internal dissent in Granada, and Boabdil was forced to break the treaty.





Ferdinand and Isabella



Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille united the two kingdoms by marriage, although they retained their own autonomy and parliaments.


Isabella was born in Avila in 1451 and died in 1504. She was the 3rd child of Juan II of Castille and Isabel of Portugal.

No-one expected that she would inherit the throne of Castille, and her accession to the throne was turbulent for the young princess.


On the death of her half brother Enrique IV the throne should have passed to her elder sister Juana. But the Court nobles disputed her parentage and proposed her brother Alfonso to succeed to the throne, but when he died Isabella became next in line.

King Enrique signed a treaty agreeing to Isabella inheriting the throne, but on condition of an acceptable marriage.

There was a big dispute as to who that would be, with eventually Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Aragon being chosen.

The wedding took place in Valladolid on 19th October 1469, when Isabella was 18 year old.

This was now against the wishes of the King who changed his mind and proposed her sister Juana as heir.


In 1474 King Enrique died and Isabella was crowned Queen of Castille in Segovia.

But the supporters of her sister Juana attempted a coup, supported by Portugal, but with the military support of Aragon the attempt was defeated on 1st March 1476.

In 1479 Ferdinand became King of Aragon, and the kingdoms of Castille and Aragon were united in marriage.


“Tanto monta, monta tanto”

It makes no difference


This was a phrase used to signify that the two Kingdoms are united in reality, with shared power between the two rulers.


Ferdinand and Isabella spent the most part of their reign on a military expedition all over Southern Spain, against the Muslim occupation.

This required a massive amount of organization, and while the military commander in the field, it was Isabella who organised the campaign and who had the enthusiastic allegiance of the troops.

Despite her campaigning she nevertheless gave birth to 5 living children, whose descendents would over the centuries dominate all the royal houses of Europe, including all the current Kings and Queens and Dukes of Europe.


Her eldest daughter Isabella married Manuel of Portugal, and on her death aged 28 the youngest sister Maria took her place.

Catalina married Arthur, the heir to the English Throne, and on his death married his younger brother Henry, who became Henry VIII and she became known in England as Katherine of Aragon.


Catalina’s older sister Juana was sent to Flanders to marry Philip the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy and heir to the Holy Roman Empire.

Having given birth to several children, including the eldest Charles, Juana fled back to Spain.

She had a reputation for being unstable, and it was rumoured that she shared this with her grandmother, who Isabella had already locked up in a castle.

That was to become Juana’s fate and given the name in history as “Juana La Loca”.


When Isabella died in 1504 Juana’s husband became Philip I of Castille before his mysterious death in 1506 while visiting Spain, it is rumoured at the hands of Ferdinand, who became regent on behalf of his imprisoned daughter Juana, de facto ruler of both Castille and Aragon which he retained until his death in 1516.


In 1516 Juana’s son Charles became Charles I of Spain and Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire.

His son Felipe II was to marry Mary I of England (the daughter of his grandmother’s younger sister).

Having failed to make his aunt pregnant and also having failed to seduce her sister Elizabeth he left England, never to return (although attempted to do so in 1588).







On 5th May 1488 the Christian army grouped at Lorca, ready for the assault on the kingdom of Granada.

They took Cuevas and on 9th June they entered Vera and Mojacar on 12th.

On 7th July 1488 King Ferdinand left Vera with 4000 cavalry and 12,000 foot.

The next day he had reached Oria, but had avoided the Moorish fortress of Purchena. He inspected the fortress of Baza, but decided that it would be impossible to take it without a larger army. On 17th July he returned to Murcia.

Ferdinand signed a treaty with the Moors in the areas he had captured, granting them their rights to their customs and local officials on condition that they pay taxes to the Christian King, but insisting on an apartheid regime.


“No Christian shall sleep with a Moor.

 No Moor shall sleep with a Christian.  On pain of death.”


On 26th July he wrote to the Pope giving a summary of the campaign so far. He had taken 20 fortresses and other settlements in the Sierra Filabres and Almanzora Valley, listing Bedar, Lubrin, Mojacar, Vera, Cuevas, Velez Blanco, Velez Rubio, Sorbas, Nijar, Huercal Overa, Zurgena, Arboleas, Albox, Cantoria, Oria, Partaloa and Fines.

They had however been stopped at Purchena and were unable to take the upper Almanzora Valley, including the towns of  Olula, Macael, Purchena, Sufli, Sierro, Armuna, Lucar and Tijola.


During the campaign he had supplied his troops by sea, the ships coming from Seville to Vera. Amongst these ships was the Santa Maria, later to be made available for Columbus’s voyage.


The campaign of 1488 had been a success, but there remained Almeria, a key sea port, and the upper reaches of the Almanzora Valley. The strongholds of Almeria and Guadix were held by El Zagal, the uncle of Boabdil, but his bitter rival for the throne of Granada.

On 26th October Ferdinand and Isabel wrote to all the Christian held areas, calling for all horsemen and noblemen to prepare to join the campaign the following summer.


Without a certificate of service in the campaign you will not be able to continue enjoying your privileges, freedoms and tax exemptions”


27th May 1489 Isabella celebrated mass at the cathedral of Jaen and set out with 13,000 cavalry and 14,000 infantry. They met fierce opposition two leagues from Baza, where they were held up for 8 days.

Baza was defended by 1000 cavalry and 15,000 infantry. The inhabitants had a reputation for being the strongest and most warlike of all the granadinos. The siege lasted 6 months .  The situation was looking very serious for the Christian forces and with her generals wanting to call off the siege Isabella decided to intervene personally. On 5th November she marched around the city with her retinue, with massed bands, trumpets and pipes. The 30,000 inhabitants of the city watched in amazement from the ramparts. The effect was to reinvigorate the Christian troops.


On 26th December 1489 the Ferdinand and Isabella entered Almeria through the Puerta Purchena.


The Moors were divided in the region.


El Zagal held Almeria and Guadix. Yahia Alnayar, brother in law of El Zagal, had been in negotiations with Ferdinand for 15 years. On 15th November money arrived from Seville and the negotiations were completed.

El Zagal signed the surrender of Almeria and Guadix and received in exchange the lands of Andarax, Lecrin and Lanjaron, plus 20,000 gold castellanos.

He gave free movement to all Christian forces.

Yahia Alnayar received baptism into the Christian faith, taking the name Pedro of Granada, keeping his family possessions and an income of 550,000 maravedies. His son became Don Alonso of Granada and later married Maria de Mendoza, the queen’s lady in waiting.


The fall of Baza opened up the Almanzora valley from the north and the final fortress of Purchena was surrounded.

On 4th December 1489 Baza feel to the Christian army, followed by the capitulation of Guadix, Purchena, Seron and Tabernas.


The Alcaide of Purchena Abrayn Abenidir went to Baza to sign the surrender.


“I am a Moor of an ancient line of Moors and am Alcaide of the town and fortress of Purchena, which has been put in my charge. I have come here before you not to sell what is not mine to sell, but we hand over to you what good fortune has made yours”


With these words he asserted his disgust for those who had accepted financial reward for surrender. He sought freedom of passage to North Africa for all who wished to join him. They were granted freedom of passage with all their goods and arms.

Those who had sought refuge in Purchena during the war were allowed to return to their homes, and the ex-alcaide’s  brother in law was made alcaide with an income of 20,000 maravedies.


Those moors who wished to remain in the Almanzora Valley were allowed to keep their customs, traditions and religions. The King signified that the Muslims would be free and would be treated justly.

Of course the King did not want to see the Mudejares leave resulting in the depopulation of the region.


Ferdinand and Isabella arrived in Purchena on 18th December and were presented with the keys of the town.

On the 19th Ferdinand left Purchena, crossing the Sierra Filabres, followed the next day by Isabella. They took the ancient and historic route through Bacares to Tabernas. The route starts at Sufli before making the ascent to Tabel and Senes, before dropping down to Tabernas.


“We started to climb the Sierra Filabres, which almost seemed to touch the sky, which we crossed with great difficulty.  We spent the night in the outdoors between snow and hail storms. Many cavalry and infantry died in the bitter cold. The wind was so furious that the horses could barely keep their feet.”


Ferdinand and Isabella met up at Tabernas before continuing to the destination of Almeria, entering the city through the Puerta Purchena.


After the hazardous journey Isabella described Almeria as ‘perpetual autumn’.



Having taken Baza, Almeria and Guadix the Christian forces turned their attention to the final Muslim stronghold, Granada.


El Zagal, uncle and rival to Boabdil, had signed a peace agreement and Ferdinand and Isabella considered the war won. On 18th January 1490 they sent a message to Boabdil saying that they would enter the city in the next 20 days. However it would take 2 years.


10th May 1490 Ferdinand left Seville with 5000 cavalry and 20,000 infantry and spent the next week engaged in his favourite sport - charging across the countryside destroying all the trees and crops that came in his path.

Boabdil took the initiative and sent his forces out from Granada, fomenting rebellion in those areas which had been taken by the Christian forces but which had a large remaining Muslim population.

The uprising was reaching Guadix and Baza until the Marquis of Villena rode to Guadix with 12,000 cavalry and many infantry and put down the rebellion.

El Zagal took 5 million maravedies to give up his lands in favour of his nephew, the now fervently Christian Fernando of Granada, and left for North Africa.

By the end of 1490 all that Boabdil controlled was the city of Granada and the surrounding.





By 1485 The Moorish Kingdom had been restricted to the southern corner of Andalucia, including Vera, Almeria, Malaga and Ronda, with the capital of Granada.


Ronda was a major Moorish town with a large Arab bathhouse.

The town is on the top of a natural rock cliff and almost impregnable, with a deep water well which feeds the town.

The water mine was a feat of engineering excavated into the forge itself. Above was an elaborate water wheel worked by Christian slaves which carried the water up to the town.


In 1485 the town was under siege by the Castillian troops under the leadership of the Marquess of Cadiz.

The water supply was protected by a massive defensive tower, but a local Muslim Yusif al Zarif betrayed the place where the Christian troops could gain access by demolishing the wall at a weak spot.

With the well pumping system destroyed the town quickly surrendered.


At the eastern end of the Muslim Kingdom the Christian armies from Lorca captured the lower part of the Almanzora valley in 1488, and in 1489 with the capture of Baza the whole of the province of Almeria fell to the Christian advance.


The final assault on the City of Granada was about to begin.

King Ferdinand wrote on 31 January 1491

 “I have mind to personally enter the city of Granada by 30th March”.

But Granada proved a harder nut to crack.


25th April the King set up camp 2 leagues from Granada at a place called Santa Fe. There they built a large encampment to set siege to Granada. The King sent to Seville for 150 stone masons and brick layers and 50 carpenters.

“I will build a new city, square and strong, to spend the winter.”

Santa Fe is sometimes described as the only truly Christian Spanish City because it has no Moorish or Jewish history.

In the meantime Ferdinand spent his time charging around the countryside destroying crops and trees for his amusement.


The building of Santa Fe sent a clear message to the rulers of Granada that the Christian army was not leaving until they had taken the city.

Granada resisted for 8 months and 8 days. During this time there were many secret negotiations.

At Santa Fe on Friday 25th November 1491 the surrender was signed. Part of the agreement was “The King and his successors are obliged for ever to allow the defeated to retain their religion and customs”.

This was a generous concession but one which would cause trouble later.

Those Muslims who wished to leave were given free passage to North Africa, many leaving from the ports of Motril and Almunecar in the next 3 years.


It was agreed that no Christian would enter any Mosque or any Muslim home without permission.

The Christians who had converted to Islam were not obliged to return to Christianity.

A number of other concessions showed that the Christians were not eager to punish the Muslims, bearing in mind that they had been born in Spain and had inter married with the original inhabitants. Plus, many Muslims were descended from original Iberians who had converted to Islam centuries earlier.

This part of Spain had been under Muslim rule for over 750 years. The peace agreement allowed ordinary people, Muslim and Christian, to continue their lives unaffected by the change of rule.


Ferdinand and Isabella entered Granada on Sunday 2 January 1492 with much pomp and ceremony. Christopher Columbus was one of the eyewitnesses, having been presented earlier to the Royal Court at Baza. Boabdil waited in the Tower of Comares, where he handed over the keys to the city.

The lands of the Almanzora, from Baza to Cuevas, and as far north as Los Velez were given to various counts and princes and army commanders in recompense for their service to the Crown.


As for Boabdil he did not leave Iberia until October 1493, 21 months after the fall of Granada. It appears he spent the time negotiating a very generous settlement and the provision of ships for his departure.

In total 6320 Muslims left Europe for North Africa, the majority settling in Fez, where Boabdil lived for a further 41 years, building a palace in imitation to his beloved Granada.


In the old Kingdom of Granada, the Muslims who remained, the vast majority, were free to continue their lives as before. But things were slowly changing. The granting of land to the Christian princes brought a gradual immigration and re-population, with the offer of free land and houses and tax concessions. Most came from other parts of Andalucia, taken by the Christians 250 years earlier,. Others came from Portugal, Castile, Aragon, Valencia and Murcia.










The hacienda embargo which affects Los Torres and El Rincon is being resolved and should not cause a problem.