The People of Gibraltar
1333 - Abu-l-hasan - Like a Halo Surrounding the Moon

Abd al Mu'min and Muhammad III - Ferdinand IV and Muhammad IV
Abu-l-hasan and Vasco Perez de Meira - Abu Inan Faris and 
Abu Malik and Alfonso XI - Abu Zacariya, Isa'l Barbari and Ibn Juzayy

14th century Gibraltar is not an easy epoch for an amateur historian.  The relationship that existed at the time between Marinid and Nasrid Moors was byzantine in its complexity, as was the almost incomprehensible medieval rivalries between the various Spanish kings and noblemen.

At the start of the century, Gibraltar still found itself under Moorish rule. The glorious days of Abd al Mu'min and his Medinat-al Fath ( see LINK ) were long gone and one could be forgiven for thinking of Gibraltar as a forgotten backwater. 

Medieval map of the Strait of Gibraltar - Babuz Zukak in Arabic - showing Ceuta, Tetuan Melilla and Algerciras - but no Gibraltar ( Unknown )

Gibraltar now belonged to Muhammad IV, the Nasrid Sultan of Granada who also happened to own Algeciras - a town across the Bay from the Rock that had become the main player in the long drawn out tussles for power in what was at the time a rather turbulent neighbourhood. 1

The Alhambra of Granada, the modest home of Mohammad IV 

In 1309 Ferdinand IV of Castile finally managed to wrench the place from the Moors ( see LINK ) He found it in a poor state and carried out a program of running repairs on its dilapidated defences. Perhaps his most well known innovation was the construction of an atarazana or dockyard in an area which would one day be known to the Spaniards as la Barcina and later to the British as the Grand Casemates.

Christian claims on the Rock would prove short lived. In fact they lasted less than a quarter of a century. In 1333 it was back in Moorish hands. Although the plan to recover the Rock was initiated by Muhammad IV - the real leading light was the Marinid ruler of Morocco, Abu Al'Hasan 'Ali ibn 'Othman whose name seems to have been spelt as either 'Hassan' or Hasan' depending on the fancy of the writer and who I will refer to from now on as as Abu-l-hasan.

A year earlier a very young Muhammad IV arrived in Fez and arranged a meeting with Abu-l-hasan in which he proposed a joint campaign to retake Gibraltar from Spain. It was, he suggested, ripe for the taking. The Spanish governor of Gibraltar, Vasco Perez de Meira was less than likely to put up much resistance. For years he had been embezzling money intended for military provisions and defence and had even gone as far as to sell the town's entire supply of wheat to his enemies. 2

According to Lopez de Ayala;
At this period, Vasco Perez de Meira, a Galician knight, was Governor; but he, more intent on laying the foundation of large entailed estates, than of the care of so important a charge, diverted to the purchase of large properties near Xerez . .  the means granted by the King for the maintenance of the garrison . . .  His covetousness led him even to sell the stores he possessed to the Moors, who gladly purchased with the premeditated intention of attacking when scarcity should prevail  . .  
Not surprisingly Muhammad's proposal was met with warm approval by the newly installed Sultan of Fez. Abu-l-hasan, it must be stressed, was not just the most powerful man in Muslim circles but was also a survivor of the first water. Under him the Marinid Maghreb would eventually extend over an area that was larger than that of the Almohad Caliphate which had preceded him. He survived a revolt of his troops, the loss of many of his supporters and a nasty shipwreck. He even managed to avoid the usual fratricidal consequences when his son, Abu Inan Faris seized power in Fez.  

He failed in his attempt to regain his throne in 1350 but managed to seek refuge in the High Atlas mountains  and died in exile 4. Admittedly, some historians do suggest he was killed in 1351 in the mountains of Hentetah. 5 There are always exceptions to the rule.

Although it offers no further clues as to his character, Abu-l-hasan's mother was Abyssinian and he himself  is reputed to have had a dark complexion. He was known as the 'Black Sultan' of Morocco. But whoever he was it is almost certain that his description as the greatest of the Marinid Sultans is almost certainly correct.

The war flag of the Marinids

Nevertheless, Abu-l-hasan would probably not have been able to take Gibraltar without some help from his ally in Granada. By the end of the 13th century, Marinid naval power was at a very low ebb after heavy losses against the Spaniards in their tussle for control over the Strait of Gibraltar. To make matters worse, much of the timber growing regions in the western Mediterranean needed for shipbuilding were in the hands of the Christians. 5a

In 1333, Hasan, accompanied by  his son Abu Malik Abd al-Walid 6 sailed across the Straits to Algeciras together with a large army and set about organising what would later come to be known as the 3rd Siege of Gibraltar. His troops soon occupied the atarazana, Ferdinand IV's pride and joy. He then encircled the place, took control of the heights immediately behind the castle that Abd al Mu'min had built two hundred odd years previously and proceeded to batter it into rubble.7

It was soon over and Gibraltar was once more a Moorish stronghold. The Christians - in the shape of Alfonso XI of Castile  - tried to recapture the place but a series of ill-conceived and poorly executed attempts meant that the assault soon petered out into an ineffective siege - the fourth suffered by Gibraltar during its long  military history and the only one that can claim the dubious honour of having its besiegers being  besieged themselves.

The reason for this absurd state of affairs rests with the attempt by the sultan of Granada  to give Abu Malik a helping hand. As many an army would over the centuries, Alfonso XI was camped on the narrow isthmus to the north of the Rock waiting for a suitable moment to attack the town. Anticipating the unwelcome arrival of Mohammad IV - who incidentally must have taken his time getting there - he decided to built a ditch across the isthmus and retired behind it. It was a not the cleverest of manoeuvres as he left himself trapped between the Rock and a hard place - or in this case a rather soft and narrow strip of water. It was more than enough for Alfonso to accept a four year truce offered by Malik - with his father's approval of course. 8

As part of the siege-ending celebrations, Alfonso entertained the rather naive 18 year old Mohammed IV and showered him with expensive clothes and other gifts. Shortly afterwards the young king was assassinated by his own nobles because of his perceived heretical association both with the Christians and with the Moroccan Marinids. According to a 17th century Arab Historian:      
As he was one day about to embark for his dominions he was assailed by a party of horsemen who lay concealed behind a projecting rock and was put to death. His mangled body, stripped of everything remained exposed on the ground, but afterwards carried to Malaga and interred in the public cemetery close to the Mun'yat or country villa of Seyd. 9
In another version, the ambush took place near Guada Sefayin which may refer to the River Palmones. The first blow was struck by a slave called Zeyyan. 10

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

One can almost feel Abu-l-hasan's sense of pleasure and relief at his relatively easy victory when one of the first things  he did was order his son Abu Malik to remove one of the great ten hundredweight bells from the main church in Gibraltar and have it sent it to Fez.  11

Its conversion into a lamp was supervised by Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Ashquar al Sinhagi and it was eventually installed in front of a gate called Bab al-Kutubiyin in the Mosque of al-Quarawiyin in  Fez in 1337. It was once supposed to have an epigram printed on it which read as follows:
Praise to God Alone. This holy bell was ordered emplaced by the lord of the muslims, defender of the faith Abu-al-Hasan 'Ali . . .  This is the bell found at Jabal al-fath (Gibraltar) God keep it, conquered by the help of God and with His aid by the Muslims Abu-al-Hasan  . . .
The complete fixture still hangs under the third cupola from the anza where it was placed all those years ago.

The great ten hundredweight bell from the main church in Gibraltar converted into a lamp and now hanging in the Mosque of al-Quarawiyin.

It was now time for Abu l-Hasan to start modernising and extending Gibraltar's defences as well as building new civilian buildings and institutions. Like their Almohad predecessors, Gibraltar's new Marinids owners intended to use it as a springboard to attack or counter-attack the Christians. For this he needed not just a fortified town and it attendant military garrison, but a resident population to keep the place supplied with provisions and other home comforts.

Accordingly large numbers of men were sent both to Gibraltar and Algeciras where they were set to work immediately. Abu-l-hasan even sent preachers to urge as many people as possible to join the holy wars. And just in case this was not enough he also offered more down to earth rewards to those who chose to come to Gibraltar to fight for Islam. 12

Among his very firsts strategic decisions was the order to construct a system of 'ribats' These were essentially forts or towers which could be used to defend the borders between Moors and Christians. Many were also meant to serve as watchtowers to give warning of any enemy attack. It is hard to say whether any of the many towers still standing on the shores of the Bay of Gibraltar and elsewhere in the Campo area were built on the ruins of these Moorish forts but their existence is confirmed by Ibn Marzuq.
Between 1334 and 1348 he also ordered watchtowers and strongholds to be built all along the litoral  . . . 13
It is hard not to speculate that the well-known 'Hacho' watchtower which stood for centuries on the top of the Rock might not have been part of the system of ribats ordered by Abu-l-hasan.

Map showing the watch tower known as el Hacho - top left - and the long southern section of the sea wall ( 1627 - Luis Bravo de Acuña )

Money seemed to have been no object as he then ordered the  repairs to the many buildings damaged and destroyed by their own and by Alfonso's siege engines. 13a He began with perhaps the most important building of the lot - the castle at the highest point of the Qasabah in Gibraltar.  As always there was a preoccupation with the possibility of an  enemy invading from the south, climbing up the rock and taking a position along the area above the Castle leaving the town vulnerable to enemy bombardment - as indeed had been the case, not just by themselves during the 3rd siege but also in the 1st when Alonso Perez de Guzman ( see LINK ) and his celebrated tower caused havoc to the defending Moors.

In place of the smaller and irreparably damaged Almohad tower built by Abd al Mu'min, Abu l-hasan  constructed an enormous keep - the strongest Moorish fortress in the whole of al-Andalus perhaps even in the rest of Spain. Arabic text refers to the tower as either al-Qahirah al-Uzma or al-Ma'tharah al-Uzma. 

The Spaniards once called it the Calahorra and it is possible that this is a corruption of al-Qal'ah al-hurrah which means 'the Independent Citadel'. It seems that this name was given to towers or fortresses that were exceptionally large and powerful and dominated their immediate surroundings. Today it is often referred to as the Tower of Homage 14 which - it seems to me - should refer to the older tower which was indeed the place in which the Moorish overlords paid their dues to Abd al-Mu'min, the man who built it. 

Town of Gibraltar being besieged by Spanish forces ( Probably a copy of a page denoting the opening letter E taken from a 15th century manuscript on the taking of Gibraltar by the Spaniards during the 9th siege)

The lower sections of the walled Qasabah would contain living quarters, administrative buildings, cisterns and gardens. Below it lay a residential district with mosques - which would later be converted into churches by the Spaniards - and other important buildings. It was enclosed within its own walls with several gateways, the most important being the Gate of Granada, ( see LINK ) the main entrance to the town from the north and from Spain. The entire district would later be known to the Spaniards as Villa Vieja.

Just below Villa Vieja lay the shipyard. Moorish sources suggest that Abu l-hasan constructed a brand new dockyard - dar as-Sina'ah - in 1333. That this arsenal was in fact a new one seems rather doubtful. The evidence is that Ferdinand IV ordered one to be built just after the first Christian occupation in 1309. One can only surmise that this was a bit of Moorish hyperbole and that in fact all he did was improve on what was already there.

Elsewhere there is mention of the construction of new magazines and the erection of new defensive walls and towers. In the area to the south of Villa Vieja and the dockyard - or Barcina as it came to be known in the next century, there was an area called the at-Turba al-Hambra or the Red Mound - later known as la Turba - he build several non-military buildings including a 'Cathedral Mosque' which was undoubtedly the origins of the present day Catholic Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned. 

From H.T.Norris  - Ibn Battuta's Andalusian Journeys

Perhaps the most quoted of his various improvements was that of the extension of the sea wall extending from the arsenal to the 'tile yard.' I have found it impossible to trace the location of this yard but another well quoted reference to the building of this wall suggests somewhere along the east end of Europa point;
The sultan Abu-l-hasan  . . applied himself further to strengthen Gibraltar, by causing a thick wall to be built at the foot of the rock, surrounding it on all sides, as the halo surrounds the crescent moon; so that the enemy could discover no prospect of success in attacking it, nor did there appear any way through which he could force an entrance. 14a
Yet another well-known structure which might have been build during this period is la Torre del Tuerto. One interpretation for the name of this tower is that it is a corruption of la Torre del Puerto
Unidos a los puertos del monte demás del de la Ciudad hay otro segurísimo y muy capaz en la Torre del Tuerto aunque otros dicen que se ha de decir la Torre del Puerto porque es guarda de este puerto, y a lo que parece no debió sé hacerse esta torre para otro efecto sino para este y para guardar jarcias de armadas. 
 . . . la Torre del Tuerto, la cual como decíamos es de fabrica más antigua que de los otros; aunque unos aposentos que están fuera de la torre y mejor parados con ella parecen Moriscos; a lo menos renovados por los moros. 15

La Torre del Tuerto (1607 - Adam Willaers - Battle of Gibraltar )

Another interpretation is that it was built as part of Abu l-hasan's construction of the southern defences and that it takes its name from his son Abu Malik who is known to have had only one good eye and was known as Abomelique el Tuerto by the Spaniards.  Malik had not just been the man at the chalk face carrying out his father's instructions from Fez, he had also styled himself King of Gibraltar - although he obviously didn't think all that much of it as place to live in as he set up his headquarters in Algeciras. 16

In 1340 Abu Malik was killed when Alfonso XI of Castile and Alfonso IV of Portugal destroyed the armies of the Nasrid ruler Abu al-hasan and the Marinid King of Granada Yusuf 1. It was a disastrous defeat. No Muslim army would ever be able to invade the Iberian Peninsula again.

1340 - The original can be found in the book - 'Chronique de Flandre' which was published in 1470. It is described as the battle in front of Gibraltar in which Abu Malik was killed - and if that is supposed to be Gibraltar in the background then things have certainly gone downhill since the 14th C. It almost certainly depicts the muslim defeat in the Battle of the Rio Salado

In 1348, Abu Inan Faris succeeded his father and inherited Gibraltar. Interestingly he commissioned the great Berber scholar and traveller, Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta, better known as Ibn Battuta, to write an account of his travels. For some reason, Ibn Battuta never actually wrote the thing himself but dictated his story to the poet Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi.

While he was in Gibraltar, Battuta met a number of leading officials, such as the orator Abu Zacariya Yahya. He was put up by the local judge - or qadi - Isa'l Barbari who seems to have acted as his tourist guide while on the Rock. 
I walked round the mountain (Gibraltar) and saw the marvellous works executed on it by Abu-l-hasan, and the armament with which he equipped it, together with the additions made by our master Abu Inan, may God strengthen him, and I would have liked to remain as one of its defenders to the end of my days. 17
Abu Inan had paid particular attention to the wall that extended all the way to the southern tip of the peninsular and ensured that it would be adequately serviced by having a ready supply of provisions including plenty of ammunition and food for the troops defending it. 18

Coin minted during the reign of Abu Inan. Quite a few of these will have been spent on Gibraltar

Curiously Abu Inan seems to have had a peculiar affection for the Rock. To him it was more than just an overseas possession of considerable strategic value. Like Abu-al-Mu'min before him he seems to have been enthralled by its shape, its unusual character and its striking position at the head of its Bay. Not altogether surprisingly he ordered his craftsmen to construct a model of the Rock so that he could feast his eyes on it when back in Fez. According to Ibn Juzayy, 
 . . . his concern for the affairs of Jabal reached such lengths that he gave orders for the construction of a model of it, on which he had represented models of its walls, towers, citadels, gates, arsenal, mosques, munition-stores and corn granaries, together with the shape of the Jabal itself and the adjacent Red Mound. The model was executed in the palace precincts; it was a marvellous likeness and a piece of fine craftsmanship. Anybody who has seen the Jabal and then this copy will recognise its merits.' 18

A 17th century Spanish model of Gibraltar. The impressive line wall fortification were notorious for being totally out of date. Very few improvements seem to have been carried out over the years since Abu-l-hasan's famous 'halo' efforts. ( Museo Naval de Madrid )

It is nevertheless extremely hard to separate Abu Inan from his father as to which of the two built what and where. Abu Inan - for all his affection for the place - probably only extended and improved upon his father's work - in particular the line wall that extended towards the south. 

But the man who created what still remains the outline of the older part of the town of Gibraltar - the Quasabah, Villa Vieja, Barcina and Turba - albeit using the original site blueprint set out by Abd-al Mu'min a couple of centuries earlier - was almost certainly the Marinid Sultan of Fez and ruler of Morocco, Abu Al'Hasan 'Ali ibn 'Othman - aka Abu-l-hasan.