The Spanish Reconquista

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Podcast Transcript

After the rise of Islam in the 7th century, it spread rapidly, conquering lands in Asia, Africa, and Europe.

In Europe, it established a foothold on the Iberian Peninsula. 


For almost 800 years, Europeans sought to expel the invaders. It took the better part of a millennium, but they finally achieved their goal.

Learn more about the Spanish Reconquista and one of the longest military campaigns in history on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.


This episode is sponsored by the Tourist Office of Spain.

While anytime is a great time to visit Spain, in 2023, Spain will be honoring the 50th anniversary of the death of the great artist Pablo Picasso.

While exhibits of the life and works of Pablo Picasso will take place in 33 countries, the biggest celebrations will be taking place in his home country of Spain. 

There will be several events and exhibitions in his hometown of Malaga. 

The capital of Madrid will have eight different exhibitions, including one at the Museo Reina Sofía, where his most famous painting, Guernica, is on display. 

Barcelona will have three exhibitions, including one at the Barcelona Picasso Museum. 

There will also be an exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Museum of Fine Arts in A Coruña. 

If you are interested in visiting any of the Picasso 2023 events in Spain, just visit Spain.info, or click on the link in the show notes. Once again, that is Spain.info.

https://www.spain.info/picasso-2023/en/

It is hard to express just how successful Islam was in its first century. 

Formally established in the year 610, over the next century, Arabs exploded out of the Arabian Peninsula into the Levant, North Africa, and Central Asia. 

On April 30, 711, General Tariq ibn-Ziyad of the Umayyad Caliphate crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and entered the Iberian Peninsula. 

Crossing into Europe didn’t stop the momentum of the Umayyad Caliphate. It would be another 21 years until the Battle of Tours, well in the territory of France, when their advance was halted. 

Just because their advance was halted didn’t mean that they were going away. 

They settled in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula. A region that became known as Al-Andalus.  Europeans called these people Moors, which was a catch-all term for all Muslims from North Africa. The word is derived from the Roman province of Mauritania.

I’ve previously done an entire episode on Al-Andalus, but suffice it to say that this part of Southern Spain and Portugal was profoundly influenced by Islamic culture for centuries.  You can still see the Islamic architecture of the region.

However, this episode isn’t about that. 

This is about the response to Islamic conquest of the region. 

The Reconquestia, or the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, was not a single battle or even a single war. It was a lenghtly process which took centuries and began almost immediately after the Moorish conquest began. 

The beginnings of the Reocnquestia started in 718 at the Battle of Covadonga in Northern Spain, in what is today the region of Austurias. 

Prior to the Moorish invasion, the peninsula had been occupied by a European group known as the Visigoths who had swooped in during the vacuum created by the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. 

It was in Covadonga where the Visigoths managed to finally achieve a victory on the battlefield. 

It wasn’t a resounding victory, but it was a victory. It was more of a hold than a stop of the Moorish advance. 

In 732, the Franks won at the at the Battle of Tours, which rightfully was one of the most important battles in history. However, it too was not an end. It took another 25 years to push the Moors back behind the Pyreneese. 

Normally when you talk about a war between two parties, the war will usually resolve itself in months or years. On occasions, wars might even extend into decades like the 80 Years War or the 100 Years War. 

However, the Reconquesita was a process that too centuries. In fact, it took the better part of a melinnum. 

In 750, the Umayyad Caliphate collapsed which was replaced by the Abbasid Caliphate, which furthered fractured over the next two hundred years. By the year 929, under the leadership of Abd ar-Rahman III, the Muslim lands of the Iberian Peninsula became the Caliphate of Cordoba, named after its capital city.

The Caliphate of Cordoba controlled about 80% of the Iberian Peninsula. Everything save for the region around the Pyrenees and the Atlantic coast.

While the Reconquista is traditionally given its start as the Battle of Covadonga, these first battles were really just a fight for survival. No one was thinking of taking back the entire Iberian Peninsula at that point. 

However, by the 10th and 11th centuries, the idea of taking back the land and the term Reconquista was starting to be tossed around. 

The first big success was by King Alfonso VI of Léon and Castile in 1085 when he took back the city of Toledo, which had been the capital of Spain before the Moorish invasion.

This success was helped by the fact that Cordoba Caliphate was suffering from civil wars. However, the Christians were a patchwork collection of infighting kingdoms.  

Soon after the capture of Toledo, Pope Urban II took up the cause of Reconquestia, or as it was alternately called, the Iberian Crusade.

The Iberian Crusade was overshadowed by the Crusade in the Holy Land, but it was given equal status, at least in the eyes of the church. Sometime in the early 12th century, the spiritual rewards promised for military service in the Iberian Peninsula were equivalent to that for serving in the Holy Land.

The biggest difference between the Spanish crusade and the Holy Land Crusade, was that Spain it was about direct territorial conquest and settlement. Despite there being Crusader kingdoms, there was no real attempt to settle these lands. 

So, the Iberian Crusade wasn’t really, or at least solely, a religious conflict. 

The Knights Hospitaller and Knights Templar also operated in Spain as well as the Holy Land, so in a way you could think of Spanish Crusade as being a second theater of a larger war.

One person of note from this period who achieved a level fame and was probably one of the only people from this period who is known today was the knight by the name of El Cid. 

El Cid was born Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar. He was a knight for hire who fought against both Christian and Muslims. However, he achieved his fame by liberating the city of Valencia


He was given the honoriffic al-Sid by the Moors which became El Cid in Spanish, which roughly translates to “The Lord”.

His claim to fame was being immortalized in a poem after his death titled , El Cantar de mio Cid, or The Song of My Cid. He was painted as the ideal knight, sort of a Spanish version of Lancelot, except El Cid was real.

A series of popes backed the Spanish Crusade, but a lack of Spanish unity resulted in no real progress. At Battle of Alarcos in 1195 the Christian kingdoms suffered a major defeat.. 

Each Christian King was more concered about their own personal fifedom than they were about the big picture. Christian kings often established alliences with Moorish rulers.

The tide started to turn in the 13th century.  The Christian kings engaged in a series of victories which started the process of permanently taking land from the caliphate. 

The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 was a huge turning point where three Spanish Kings from Castile, Navarre, and Aragon, worked together to defeat the Caliphate.

Cordoba was retaken in 1236, Valencia in 1238, and Seville in 1248. 

By the mid-13th century, the entirety of the Moorish possessions in Spain consisted of territory along the Mediterranean coast, known as the Emirate of Grenada.

The emirate of Grenada wound up being a rather stable institution. It managed to survive because it paid a tribute to the Christian Kings, and because the Moors had lost the vast majority of their land, there wasn’t a pressing need anymore to take the last remaining bit. 

The Emirate of Grenada is probably best known today for creating one of the most iconic structures in Spain, The Alhambra. 

The Alhambra was the palace for the emirs of Grenada ,and it is one of the best-preserved Islamic palaces in the world. 

After more than two centuries, the end of the Emirate of Grenada began with the 1469 marriage of Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Aragon, and Isabella, the heiress to the throne of Castille. 

Ferdinand and Isabella created the modern Spanish state and unified the kingdoms. 

At the same time, the son of the Emire, Abu Abd Allah, made a grab for power from his father. This resulted in a civil war.

Abu Abd Allah was actually captured by the Spanish, where he was forced to accept punishing terms and to make continued war on his father, with Spanish support. 

However, Abu Abd Allah eventually lost the support of Ferdinand and Isabella who turned on him. 

Malaga fell in 1487, and Baza fell in 1489. That just left the capital of Grenada which was put under siege. 

Grenada had tried to get help from other Muslim forces in Egypt and North Africa, but there was nothing they could do. By this time Grenada had lost all access to the sea, and the Muslims in Spain just weren’t a power any more that anyone would rush to the aid of. 

They began a siege on April 1491 which ended on January 2, 1492. The date which officially ended islamic control over any part of the Iberian Peninsula. 

The Reconquestia was complete. 

If the year 1492 and the names Ferdinand and Isabella ring a bell, it probably has to do with Columbua. However, for centuries it was the capture of Grenada which was the important event in this year, not the European discovery of the New World.

From the time General Tariq ibn-Ziyad set foot on the European continent until the fall of Grenada took 781 years. 

The entire length of the Reconquestia, if you start with the Battle of Covadonga, was 774 years. One of the longest military campaigns in history, if you want to consider it as such. 

Both the Moorish Conquest and the subsequent Reconquestia left an indelible mark on Spain. 

It can be seen in the Alhambara, the mosque/cathederal of cordoba, and countless other castles and buildings around the country. 

….and the entire process only took a bit under eight centuries.


The Executive Producer of Everything Everywhere Daily is Charles Daniel.

The associate producers are Thor Thomsen and Peter Bennett.

I want to thank everyone, including the show’s producers, who support the show over at Patreon.  If you’d like to support the show just head on over to Patreon.com, which is currently the only place where you can get show merchandise.

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