The People of Gibraltar
2020 - Once upon a time in Islamic Gibraltar - Part 44

Anonymous - El Jabar an Marsa Yabal Tarik (c1670)
The following is an explanatory reference from the University of Seville whose archives hold the original manuscript:

El primer título está tomado de una ficha que hay en el manuscrito. El segundo está tomado del texto en español. Texto en árabe y español. Parece tratarse de la crónica de unos viajeros musulmanes por España en tiempos de Carlos II.

Notes: El Jabar an Marsa Yabal Tarek (c1670)

The original manuscript is in Arabic - which is incomprehensible to me - with a rather scribbled handwritten translation in Spanish which I have also found hard to transcribe. The manuscript does indeed seem to be a chronicle of several Arab visitors to Spain during the reign of Charles II - in other words some time during the late 17th century. The travellers’ first stop is Gibraltar and it is the author’s comments translated by some unknown translator into Spanish that I have tried my best to transcribe into English. 

But it is not really about Gibraltar. It simply records a journey from Ceuta to Andalucía in which various places such as Cádiz, Sanlúcar, Marchena, Sevilla, Ronda, Utrera and Jerez de la Frontera are visited. However . . . the travellers’ first stop is Gibraltar and it is the author’s comments on it that I have tried my best to transcribe into English. 

News from the Port of Gibraltar

This mountain is called the mountain of victory because it was through here that Tariq (may God have mercy on him) came to the coast of Andalucía. It was Musa who sent him together with several divisions on the orders of Prince Al-Walid (Al-Walid I) the son of Abd al Malik. Musa was Walid’s Regional Governor in Africa and Tariq was Musa’s Governor in Tangier.

Al-Walid I (Unknown)

“Prince Al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik” eventually became the 6th Umayyad Caliph (705-715). He is referred to elsewhere by me as Al-Walid I. 
“Abd al Malik” was Al-Walid’s father the 5th Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan ibn al-Hakam (685- 705)
The “Gibraltar” that occurs in the title is used throughout the manuscript to name the port rather than the Rock itself. This is invariably called the “mountain of victory” – Gebel al Fath (Jabal al-Fath) a name given to it in the middle of the 12th century by the founder of the town itself, Abd al-Mu'min, Emir of theAlmohads. He also renamed the town Madinat al-Fath. 
El Jabar” continues:

It so happened that a considerable correspondence had taken place between Musa and Julian a leader on the opposite coast of Spain who offered to allow passage to Musa’s men to the Isla Verde. Musa in turn wrote to Walid telling him of this offer. Walid’s reply was that he should be careful before sending Tariq. 

Because of this Musa sent Tarif to Spain who returned after a successful conquest with booty and captives . . . A new war against the Berbers had taken place before this but they had eventually been convinced to adopt the religion of Mohammed. It was after this war that many Berber prisoners were persuaded to take part in the eventual conquest of the non-believing Spaniards.

Notes: “La Isla Verde” was a small island once found in front of the town today known as Algeciras. Its name is taken from the Arabic for “Green Island” or Al-Yazirat Al-Hadra. The author does not distinguish between the island and the nearby mainland town of Algeciras because both were known by the same name.

Partial map of the Bay showing Gibraltar with the Isla Verde on the opposite coastline and Algeciras just beyond it (1802 - Ambroise Tardieu - Detail)

When (Tarif) came back unscathed Julian asked Musa to return to Andalusia. Musa in turn asked Walid, for permission to proceed. The Caliph ordered him not to expose the Muslims to any danger which in turn prompted Musa to answer him as follows: 

“Oh, Prince of the believers . . . I will send my serf Tariq with Berber troops and if things work out the profit will be ours whereas if he fails it will really have nothing to do with us Muslims – in other words we have nothing to lose.”

It was after preparations had been ordered for the passage across the straits to the coast of Spain that Julian arrived in Ceuta. He had left his daughter behind in the palace of the King Don Rodrigo (Roderick). Musa was elsewhere in Africa but Julian visited him and explained how matters stood in Spain as well as his friendship towards him and willingness to supply troops.

 Notes: Roderick was the last of the Christian Visigothic Kings of Iberia. 

Meanwhile Musa turned his attentions to Tariq and his Berber soldiers. Tariq had set off from Ceuta and had disembarked near the mountain on a small island that lay close to the town in front. It is a very small island in that it is only one mile in latitude and one mile in longitude. One of its limits or terminals is a big river that descends from the mountains of Ronda and its environs. There are many tall mountains that face the lands of the Berbers . . .  This small island gives its name to the nearby coast.  

Notes: According to the travellers Tariq seems to have landed on la Isla Verde on the opposite side of the Bay rather than on Gibraltar. 

And because of the name of this small island the coast is called island rather than the lands on the opposite side. It is an island because of its continuity towards Turkey and other lands of the infidels such as Flanders, Italy and Germany. At the moment the place (la Isla Verde) is uninhabited and there are no buildings on it.

Notes: An odd bit of reasoning, but nevertheless I suspect this is the one of the oldest records available of anybody noticing the oddity of calling Algeciras an island.  Al Yazirat Al Hadra is “island Green” in Arabic. Algeciras is derived from Al Yazirat. 

A description of Gibraltar
The port of Gibraltar is big and standing over it is an excellently built inaccessible fortress.It is full of arms and canons and it is where the guards and sentries sleep at night. There are walls along the harbour and the lower reaches of the town. They extend from the castle for a mile along the coastline until they reach the area of the town where people disembark.  

The town is of average size and the majority of the inhabitants are soldiers and are housed according to their rank. There are no great merchants or really important inhabitants as there are in larger cities. The other side of the Rock faces Ceuta which supplies the inhabitants with goods as it is the closest place on the opposite coast of Africa. There are many guards on this side of the coast as the opposite side is the land of the Berbers which is considered a threat or so one learns from its history and chronicles.

Some of these confirm that nobody ever crossed over the sea from Barbary to the opposite coast in Spain until well before (after?) our Mozarab kings (may God have mercy on them). They did so from across those places opposite the mountain of victory and Tarifa. 

Notes: The inhabitants at the time had misgivings about having the military personnel living amongst them in town. The civic authorities solved the problem by giving them quarter outside the Town walls.

Tarif and Tarifa
The reason that Tarifa is so named is because of Musa, son of Nasr (God have mercy on him) and prefect in Africa on behalf of Walid, son of Abd al Malik and Tariq, Musa’s prefect in Tangier and the convert Julian of the Isla Verde. Musa had written to Walid who had agreed to his suggestions under the following conditions – he was not to expose Muslims to any danger in such a vigorous, dangerous and fearsome territory. Musa wrote back that there was nothing in these lands or its shores that might impede his proposal. Once again, he insinuated that it would be possible to carry out his plan with just a few divisions. 

Musa chose a Berber (his name was Tarif and his nickname Abazarabia) (Tarif ibn Malik Abu Zar) and to take with him one hundred horsemen and four hundred men. They eventually crossed over and disembarked on the coast of Andalucía at a place known nowadays as the Island of Tarifa which has taken its name because of Tarif’s landing.

On our own land just opposite the mountain of victory lies Mount Belionese also known as Mount Musa. It is called Belionese because of an ancient city of which even today there are vestiges of monuments and trees that confirm its existence. It lies to the west of Ceuta . . . 

Notes: “Beliones” is the name of a coastal town near “Mount Musa” (Jabal Musa) and west of Ceuta.
The rest of this section is a confused and confusing paragraph which I have been unable to decipher. 

Jabal Musa from Gibraltar (1853 - Lady Patrick)

The author then writes of an attempted trip to Ceuta but the weather forced a return to Gibraltar.

. . . . We spent the night (in the Bay of Gibraltar) on board as the ship balanced itself towards the right and we were rolled about and beaten like beasts by the rough seas. Our fear lasted until dawn when the Captain ordered the ship to enter the port. It was in an area protected from the winds and waves a veritable shelter of the sea 2 and we anchored below the castle and in the shadow of the mountain of victory. We were there eight days waiting for an east wind to ease our passage to Cadiz which was our destination. . . . 

Notes:  Despite the author’s previous comments about the size of the port, in those days Gibraltar had no real harbour. Ships were forced to anchor in the middle of the Bay, a considerable distance from shore and at the mercy of the elements. 
There was a reasonably protected area on the north western section of the Bay close to the neck of the isthmus just north of the Old Mole. 
The “castle” is the Moorish Castle.
Winds were a notorious problem in the days of sail as only specific wind conditions made it possible to leave the Bay and continue to the desired destination.

View from above the Moorish Castle - Ships anchored in the Bay waiting for a favourable wind   (1868 )

Of historic value and a curious document in that it offers a 17th century Islamic perspective of Gibraltar – albeit a limited one. The rather repetitive historical notes which seem reasonably in line with older versions are interesting in that they seem to show that despite the loss of Gibraltar to Castile more than two centuries previously, the place still held considerable interest to people from Barbary.

Perhaps the most interesting point is the continuous use of the name “the mountain of victory” – Jabal al Fath rather than Jabal Tariq or Gibraltar to identify the Rock. It suggests that the modern inclination to call it Gibraltar is of more recent Spanish origin rather than Moorish.