The People of Gibraltar
1349 - Ibn Battuta - In the Throats of the Idolaters

Abu Inan Feris and Ibn Juzaay - Alfonso XI  and Tariq Ibn Ziyad  
Musa Ibn Nusayr and Abu'l Hassan - Abu-Amram and Ferdinand IV
Alonso Perez de Guzman 

Abou Abdallah Mohammed Ibn Abdallah Ibn Mohammed Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Mohamme Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Youssef Alaouati Attangi - known as Ibn Battuta for short, was born in 1304 in the town of Tangier. By 1368, the year he died, he had become perhaps the greatest of the great medieval writer-travellers - perhaps even the greatest of them all. 

He began his wanderlust in 1325 when he left his home town on a pilgrimage to Mecca, eventually travelling through the whole of North Africa, Egypt, Palestine and Syria and then East Africa and the Persian Gulf. There were also lengthy side trips to Turkey, Persia and Iraq, and he even made it to India, China, Ceylon and Malaysia.


An Indian harem - Frontispiece of Gibb's book

By the time he returned home in 1349 he had been away for 24 years. His mother had died of the plague a few months earlier, and his father had died years before.  Three years later he was off again. He crossed the Straits of Gibraltar to have a look at the Kingdom of Granada, the last Muslim kingdom left in Spain and which the Christians had been trying to retake for several hundred years. It was at the start of this trip that Ibn Battuta came to Gibraltar.

Shortly after returning back home from this trip, the Sultan of Morocco, Abu Inan Faris  appointed one of his court secretaries, Ibn Juzaay, to have Ibn Battuta dictate his reminiscences to him. The result was published as a travel journal with the formal title of A Gift to the Observers Concerning the Curiosities of the Cities and the Marvels Encountered in Travels. It is known for short as the Rihla.

The quotes shown below - the only ones which refer to Gibraltar, are taken from a translation by the Scottish scholar Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb. 


Ibn Battuta  ( From an old Arab print )
Tangier - I arrived at my home town of  Tangier and visited her and went to the town of Sabta 1 where I stayed for some months. While I was there I suffered from an illness for three months, but afterwards God restored me to health. 
I then proposed to take part in a Jihad and the defence of the frontier so I crossed the sea from Ceuta in a barque belonging to the people of Asilá 2  and reached the land of Andalucía - may God Almighty guard her! - where the reward of the traveller is abundant and a recompense is laid up for the settler and visitor.
Adfúnus 3 - There was after the death of the Christian tyrant Adfúnus and his ten months siege of the Jebel 4 when he thought that he would capture all that the Muslims still retain of Andalucía; but God took him where he did not reckon, and he, who of all men stood in the most mortal terror of the plaque, died of it. 
Jabal al Fath  - The first part of Andalucía that I saw was the Mount of the Conquest. 5  (see LINK) I walked round the mountain and saw the marvellous works executed on it by our master ( Abu Inán  5 a ) may God strengthen him, and I should have liked to remain as one of its defenders to the end of my days. Ibn Juzayy 6 adds ;  
Tariq Ibn Ziyad "The Mountain of conquest is the citadel of Islam, an obstruction stuck in the throats of the idolaters. From it began the great conquest 7 and at it disembarked Tariq Ibn Ziyad, 8 the freedman of Musa Ibn Nusayr, 9 when he crossed. 
Its name was linked with his and it was called Jabal Tariq. It is called also the Mount of Conquest because the conquest began there. The remains of the wall built by Tariq and his army are still in existence; they are known as the Wall of the Arabs, 10 and I myself have seen them during my stay at the time of the Siege of Algeciras ( may God restore it! ) 11  
Abu-l-hasan - Gibraltar was recaptured by our late master Abu'l Hassan ( Abu-l-hasan ) 12 who recovered it from the hands of the Christians after they had possessed it for over twenty years. 12a He sent his son, the noble prince Abu Malik, to besiege it, aiding him with large sums of money and powerful armies . . . It was taken after a six month's siege in the year 733 ( 1333 A.D. ) 
At that time it was not in its present state. Our late master, Abu'l Hassan built in it the huge keep at the top of the fortress, before that it was a small tower, which was laid in ruins by the stones from the catapults 13 and he built a new one in its place. He built the arsenal there too ( for there was no arsenal in the place before ) as well as the great wall which surround the red mound, starting from the arsenal and extending to the tileyard.13  
Abu Inán - Later on our master, the Commander of the faithful, Abu Inan (May God strengthen him) again took in hand its fortifications and embellishments and strengthened the walls of the extremity of the mount, which is the most formidable and useful of its walls. He also sent thither, large quantities of munitions, foodstuffs and provisions of all kinds, and thereby acquainted himself of his duty to God Most High with singleness of purpose and sincere devotion.  
Model of the Rock - His concern for the affairs of the Jebel reached such lengths that he gave orders for the construction of a model of it 14 , on which he had represented models of its walls, towers, citadel, gates, arsenal, mosques, munition-stores and corn-granaries, together with the shape of the Gebel itself and the adjacent red mound.  
This model was executed in the palace precincts15; it was a marvellous liking and a piece of fine craftsmanship. Anyone who has seen the jebel and then sees this copy will recognise its merits. This was due solely to his eagerness (may God strengthen him) to learn how matters stood there, and his anxiety to strengthen its defences and equipment. 
May God most high grant victory to Islam in the Western Peninsula16  at his hands and bring to pass his hope of conquering the lands of the infidels and breaking the strength of the adorers of the cross. 
To resume the narrative . . . .  I went out of Gibraltar to the town of Ronda  . . . .
Footnotes

1. Ceuta 

2. Translated as Arzila by Gibb but possibly Ashila, a town just south of Tangier.

3. Alfonso XI - The 5th siege of Gibraltar was lifted when the Christian king died of the bubonic plaque. (see LINK


Alfonso XI, of Leon and Castile   ( 1410 - Jean Foissart  )

4. Gibraltar

5. The Mount of the Conquest or Jabal al Fath was the name given to the Rock by the Almohad Caliph Abd-al Mu'min when founding the town of Gibraltar, Distinguishing iot from the Rock itself , he named it Medinat al Fath. It is interesting to note that 200 years after the event, Ibn Battuta is still using this name and not Jabal Tariq. (see LINK)

5a Abu Inan Faris - son of Abu-l-hasan who took over from him to become leader of the Merinid Dynasty. It was Abu Inan who made possible the writing of the Rihla. (see LINK

6. Ibn Juzayy was  a Moorish scholar and writer of poetry, history and law. He was from al-Andalus and is perhaps best known in the west as the man who wrote down the travels of Ibn Battuta, hopefully as dictated by him. The fact that  he quotes himself in the above passage is unusual.  

7. The start of the conquest of the Iberian peninsula by the Umayyad  Caliphate. 

8. Tariq ibn Ziyad was a Muslim general, probably a Berber and possibly a freedman of his boss, Musa Ibn Nusayr, which see below. Gabal Tariq is said to be a corruption of the Arab word for mountain and his name.  (see LINK

9. Musa Ibn Nusayr was the governor of the North African provinces of the Umayyad  Caliphate and was responsible for sending Tariq ibn Ziyad on his way to the conquest of Spain.  See above.  He is often referred to colloquially as  el 'Moro Musa' and in Gibraltar his name was often used to threaten children who were behaving badly with his imminent arrival.

10. This wall, mentioned by other Arab commentators is difficult to place especially as must modern historians are of the opinion that Tariq never tried seriously to fortify the place. Some even suggest that he hardly spent any time on the Rock at all. The British Historian has suggested he never even set foot on it. Local historian Tito Benady strongly refutes this (see LINK)

11. Possibly that undertaken in 1333 by Abu'l Hassan's general Abu-Amram or possibly by Hassan himself -  in which both Algeciras and Gibraltar were taken by the Moors after its third siege. The fourth siege led by the rather unlucky Alfonso XI failed to dislodge them. 

12. Abu-l-hasan - Berber leader of the Merinid Dynasty.  He lost the Battle of Rio Salado in 1340 which doomed any further Islamic pretensions to Spain and Portugal - but he kept Gibraltar. (see LINK

12a. Ferdinand IV of Castile captured the Rock in 1309 after its first siege and held on to it until Abu'l Hassan got it back for the Moors after the third one. The second one was a failed attempt by the Merinid forces in 1315.

13. During the 1309 first siege of Gibraltar, Don Alonso Perez de Guzman  is reputed to have built a tower above the castle somewhere in the region of el Salto del Lobo. The two siege engines he placed on it proved extremely effective in that they destroyed the castle and made life impossible for those living in the town below. It eventually forced the Moorish forces to surrender. The tower,  known as La Torre de Don Alonso no longer exists. (see LINK


'Woolf's Jump' - Salto del Lobo where la Torre de Don Alonso would have been position above the Castle ( 1874 - detail from G Muller )

13a. The 'great wall' refers to the defences built by Abu-l-hasan that ran right round the eastern sea line from edge of the northern Barcina area of the main town to an unknown tileyard situated at Europa point. 

The red mound refers to the  entire area that lie south of today's Charles V wall which in those days consisted mainly of red sand.  The foundations of the town of Gibraltar itself are also built on red sand so the  'mound' may have also included a large part of la Turba as that part of town was probably did not reach as far south as it does nowadays.  

14. No longer extant but not the only model of the Rock ever made. The most recent can be found in the Gibraltar Museum. The one below - made of oak by the Spaniards - probably dates from the middle 17th century. (see LINK


17th century model of the Rock on show in the Museo Naval de Madrid


15. The 'Palace' was probably somewhere inside the keep of the Tower of Homage. (See LINK

16. Spain