A Brief History of Spain (5)

Tariq and his immediate successors, who together form the Umayyid dynasty, recognised the authority of the Caliph in Damascus, and ruled their territory as an Emirate, but in the ninth century Abd-ar-Rahman III renounced the authority of Damascusdeclared the establishment of a second, western Caliphate based on Córdoba, the Umayyid Caliphate, with the city of Sevilla being the major commercial port. Al-Andalus (The Land of the Vandals), and especially the cities of Córdoba and Toledo, flourished as the home of culture, science, philosophy, literature and learning in medieval Europe. The importance of Toledo was particularly great, and also provided a model of religious tolerance and cooperation. Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together on the translation of the ancient texts of classical Greece and Arab texts into Latin for dissemination across Eurpoe which was then in the throes of what we now call the Dark Ages. As an aside, it is worth noting that an Arab contribution of enormous significance was to have brought back from their trading activities in the East, the Chinese secret of paper-making. A cheap, easy-to-manufacture medium for the written word as an alternative to vellum, meant that the production of books was able to expand exponentially. It was a change as profound in its implications for the future of communication as is the fact that I can write these words on my computer, upload them onto a website, and make them available for immediate reading by anyone anywhere in the world who knows their way to my blog. I am talking, of course, only about the technology; the content is another matter! Nothing lasts forever, however, and upon the death of the Caliph al-Mansur in 1031, al-Andalus was left in a politically and militarily weakened state. The Christians of the north of Spain seized the opportunity and the Reconquest began in earnest. During the period from 1037 to 1065 a string of defensive castles were built up along the frontier (Castilla La Vieja). With their defences secured, the Christian armies then began their advance. In 1085 Toledo fell to the Christians and in 1095 El Cid had a series of major victories for the Christians around the Valencia region. In response, in 1086 the Muslim rulers appealed to the leaders of the Almoravid Dynasty of North Africa for assistance. They came to Spain, stabilised the Muslim kingdom and stemmed the advance of the Christian armies. However, they liked what they found on this side of the Mediterranean so they then took over and ruled Al-Andalus themselves. They ruled sufficiently harshly that eventually in 1147, the people called on the Almohads, the North African successors to the Almoravids, for help in ousting the Amoravids which they did, liked what they saw and took over themselves. Unfortunately, the Almohads were the Taliban of their day, and as such were perceived as a serious threat by the Christians and so once again the Reconquest resumed. In 1212 Tolosa fell, swiftly followed by Úbeda. The advance continued, Córdoba was taken in 1236 and Sevilla in 1248. This left just the rump kingdom of Granada, ruled by the Nasrids and extending from west of Málaga to Almería, its northern limit pretty much in line with the Granada to Sevilla road of today. The Nasrids survived for a couple of hundred years, paying tribute to the Christian powers and posing no threat to anyone, until following the marriage of Fernando V of Aragón and Isabela I of Castilla, the Catholic Monarchs, as they styled themselves, sought favour with Rome by ousting the Nasrids and expelling Muslims and Jews in order to proclaim a united, wholly Catholic Spain.

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