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Al-Andalus, from the conquest to the Reconquista

This map is part of a series of 8 animated maps showing the history of Middle Ages.

In 711, at the request of Visigothic lords, an army composed mainly of recently Islamised Berber warriors crossed the strait between North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. Their leader, al-Tariq, gave his name to the strait: Jebel al-Tariq, the mountain of Tariq, from which derives our Gibraltar.

Taking advantage of divisions that were tearing the Visigoth Kingdom apart, the Muslim troops advanced very quickly. Toledo, the kingdom’s capital, was taken in 712 and within five years the Iberian Peninsula was almost completely subjugated.

From then on, the conquerors minted coins in Arabic which referred to the region as Al-Andalus.

In a mountainous region to the northwest of the peninsula, however, Christian nobles formed the small independent kingdom of Asturias. In the decades that followed, the Asturians resisted attempts at conquest, repeatedly raided the Muslim territories and gradually extended their control as far as Galicia.

At the same time, in the northeast, the Frankish ruler Charlemagne organised a military march around Barcelona.

The various Christian territories evolved over time and gradually took the form of autonomous kingdoms. The Christian kingdoms of Aragon, Leon-Castile and Navarre were often in conflict with each other and this discord made it easy for the powerful Caliphate of Cordoba to dominate the peninsula: all the Christian sovereigns were paying/paid tribute to it in the late tenth century.

But in the following century, this caliphate broke up into several small independent kingdoms, called taifa. The Christian kings were thus able to regain the initiative and slowly conquer the north of the peninsula. Toledo was taken in 1085.

To legitimise their endeavours, the Christians presented these successes as a reconquest of formerly Christian lands, in reference to the old kingdom of the Visigoths.

In response, the Muslim kings of the taifa, aware of the threat posed by the Christians, appealed to the Almoravids, a powerful Berber dynasty from North Africa. The Almoravids integrated a large part of the Iberian Peninsula into their empire.

The Christian conquest was significantly checked, despite progress on the west coast which led to the founding of the Kingdom of Portugal.

At the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Christian kingdoms formed an alliance and won a decisive victory in the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa.

This success enabled them to make rapid progress in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, so that by 1280 Granada was the only Muslim kingdom left. It survived for two centuries, until 2 January 1492, when the city was taken by the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile.

The term Reconquista, coined much later in the 19th century, is commonly used to refer to this long period in Spanish history.