On this day, 531 years ago, the last Muslim dynasty in Spain surrendered to Christian forces, thereby ending Muslim rule on the Iberian Peninsula.
The Spread of Muslim Rule to Iberia
Islam entered the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal) in 711.
And within a few years, most of the region was under Muslim control (al-Andalus). The Umayyad caliphate ruled al-Andalus with over five million Muslims and a capital, Cordoba, known for its culture and learning that attracted students from around the Muslim world and Europe.
However, the caliphate broke up into small states called ‘taifas’ in the 11th century, making them vulnerable to invasion by the Christian kingdoms of the north. This led to the ‘Reconquista’ over the next 200 years.
Waning Muslim Power
The demise of Islamic rule in Spain was due to both aggression from Christian states and divisions among Muslim rulers.
The invasion of Muslim Andalus by the Christian kingdoms, the so-called ‘Reconquista’, commenced in earnest in the early 11th century. Major Muslim cities such as Cordoba, Seville, and Toledo were conquered between the 11th and 13th centuries by Christian kingdoms, starting with Toledo in 1085.
The Muslims fought back against the Christian ‘Reconquista’ with the help of the Murābiṭūn and Muwaḥḥidūn movements from North Africa. They managed to win some major victories under the famous Murābiṭūn leader, Yusuf bin Tāshfīn, but internal divisions and rebellions weakened Muslim unity. By 1240, only Granada remained as a Muslim kingdom in the south.
The Emirate of Granada was able to avoid being conquered in the early 13th century by signing a treaty with the Kingdom of Castile – one of the most powerful Christian kingdoms in Spain. The Nasrid dynasty, led by Yusuf al-Aḥmar, founded the Emirate with Granada as its capital.
Prior to this, the Nasrids were relatively insignificant until the fall of the Muwaḥḥidūn in 1229, when local rulers established smaller kingdoms known as taifas. Granada – by seeking protection of the more powerful Christian kingdom of Castile – became the most successful of these.
Under the terms of the treaty, Granada became a vassal state of Castile, paying an annual tribute in exchange for not being invaded. Despite being weaker militarily and surrounded by Christian territories, Granada was able to maintain its independence for over 250 years due to its mountainous location in the Sierra Nevada, which provided a natural defensive barrier against invading armies.
The Emirate of Granada was invaded by the Kingdom of Spain in 1482, leading to a ten-year war in which the Christian Spaniards gradually captured Muslim strongholds.
The conflict was characterised by the use of more effective artillery by the Christians and internal conflict and civil war among the Nasrids, a Muslim dynasty ruling Granada. These internal conflicts, including a civil war instigated by Muhammad – the sultan’s son – weakened the Nasrids’ resistance.
Despite its mountainous location in the Sierra Nevada providing a natural defensive barrier, Granada gradually lost territory to the united Christian armies. By 1490, Muhammad only controlled the city of Granada.
When he sought aid from other Muslim kingdoms, he received only minimal support from the Ottoman navy. He was forced to sign a treaty relinquishing control of the city to the Christians in November 1491, and on January 2nd, 1492, the Spanish army officially took possession of the last Muslim state in al-Andalus.
Aftermath of the Fall of Andalus
The fall of the Kingdom of Granada in 1492 had devastating consequences for its non-Christian inhabitants.
Initially tolerated, all of Granada’s Muslims were required to convert to Christianity, become slaves, or be exiled in 1526, with the prohibition later spreading to the rest of Spain.
Similarly, between 1492 and 1501, the Jews of Andalusia were forced to convert to Christianity or be exiled. ‘Conversos’, or converted Muslims and Jews, were accused of secretly practicing Islam or Judaism and were severely persecuted. The remaining Muslims in the Crown of Castile were ordered to convert to Christianity or leave, and the ‘Moriscos’, or converted Muslims, were seen as a potential threat.
The Moriscos’ perceived threat was exacerbated by a rebellion in the Alpujarras region in 1568-1570. As a result, between 1609 and 1614, all Muslim converts were expelled from Spain.