The People of Gibraltar
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 3 – Tarik’s Mountain

TARIK’S INVASION (from previous page)

Perhaps Tarik’s most memorable physical characteristic - as mentioned in this page – was his black mole. Apparently soon after his arrival while he was laying waste to the hinterland:
Al Makkarí - V1- 1640
. . . an old woman from Algeciras . . . told him what follows: Thou must know, O stranger! that I had once a husband who had the knowledge of future events; and I have repeatedly heard him say . . . that a foreign general would come to this island and subject it to his arms. He described him to me as a man of prominent forehead, and . . . also that the individual . . . would have a black mole covered with hair on his left shoulder . . . When Tarik heard the old woman's reasoning, he immediately laid his shoulder bare, and the mark being found, as predicted, upon the left one, both he and his companions were filled with delight . . . 
Another story that can be dismissed as a myth perhaps?
As regards Tarik landing “at the foot of the mountain” – there is certainly considerable written evidence that he did.  Nevetheless it is an interpretation that is very open to argument, something that Alcantara himself acknowledges. The person perhaps most responsible for casting doubts as to whether Tarik did indeed ever set foot on Gibraltar at all was a 20th century British historian:
George Hills – The Rock of Contention – 1974 P23
Somewhat uncritically over several centuries, historians and other writers have accepted the belief that Tarik landed on the very shores of the mountain which bears his name – Djabal Tarik – and it is a belief which has a certain amount of written evidence to support it.
Hills then plays the Devil’s disciple and offers a few examples which statecategorically that he did:
Al Makkarí - Vol 1 
Tarik put to sail from the port of Tangiers with twelve thousand of the new converts, and landed at the foot of the mountain which afterwards took his name
Ibn-al-Juzayy – 14th Century - His own comment in the Rilha of Ibn Batutta
From it (Gibraltar) began the great conquest and at it disembarked Tarik Ibn Ziyad, the freedman of Musa Ibn Nusayr . . .
And there are many more.
Ibn Abd al-Hakem - 9th century - Interpreted by John Harris Jones
But there was a mountain called the mountain of Tarik between the two landing places, that is, between Septa and Andalus. . . So, they embarked for the landing-place, none of them being left behind: whereas the people of Andalus did not observe them . . . Tarik going along with his companions marched over a bridge of mountains to a town called Cartagena. He went in the direction of Cordoba.
Al-Haken’s comments are actually quite odd. If Tarik was intending to get to Cordoba, then he had lost his way. Cartagena is miles to the east of the direction he should have taken. If Al-Hakem was confusing Cartagena for Carteia, which seems likely, then what was that bridge of mountains he had to march over?

Incidentally, the “mountain called the mountain of Tarik” in the above quote from Ibn Abd-el-Hakam was the first time that the Arabic word Jebal-Tarik had ever appeared in any known historical work

The mountain of Tarik in Arabic script (9th century - Ibn Abd al-Hakem
Ibn Qutaybah - 9th century
. . . (Tarik) después de entrar in las llanuras, conquistó Algeciras y otros sitios, y abandonó el fuerte (hisn) que estaba en las alturas del monte. 
It is possible to interpret “las llanuras” as the white sands of the isthmus to the north of the Rock – but of course there are plenty of other places that would do. The “hisn” is mentioned also by Ibn al-Athir - 12th century, which see below.
Ibn al Qutiya – History of Islamic Spain - 10th century
When Tarik crossed over from Africa to Spain, the place he conquered was Carteia, which is under the jurisdiction of Algeciras. 
Algeciras? Port Alba or Julia Traducta perhaps?
Ajbar Machmua - 11th century
Tarik . . . fueron y vinieron con infantería y caballería, que so iba reuniendo en un monte muy fuerte, situado o la orilla del mar . . .
Ibn al-Athir - 12th century Kurdish historian, mentions the building of a “hisn” “crowning the promontory” and attributes its construction to Tarik. It was, he wrote, only for temporary use and after he had captured the area of Algeciras, he abandoned it. There are other similar references to it elsewhere:
Ibn Idhari al-Marrakusi - 14th century - Moroccan author of the History of the Magreb
When the Muslims, Arabs and Berbers crossed the straits, they disembarked on the port and tried to climb the cliffs of the Mountain. To make it easier for themselves they levelled the pathways with their battle-axes and rode over them on horseback to the top of the mountain. There they constructed a wall to defend themselves. They call it the Wall of the Arabs.
Was there such a thing as a port in Gibraltar prior to Tarik’s arrival? And where was that “Wall”

On horseback to the top of the mountain (Unknown)
Ibn Khalun - 14th century Tunisian Historian - Al Makkarí - 1620 Vol 1 P268
He says that before starting on his expedition Tarik divided his army into two corps, he himself taking the command of one, and placing the other under the immediate orders of Tarif . . .  
Tarik, with his men, landed at the foot of the rock now called Jebalu-l-fatah (the
mountain of the entrance), and which then received his name, and was called Jebal-Tarik (the mountain of Tarik); while his companion Tarif landed on the island afterwards called after him Jezirah-Tarif (the island of Tarif).
Kaldun’s version does suggest that Tarik landed at the foot of a Rock, but he certainly put his own foot in it as regards the change of name from Jebalu-l-fatah – a name that was given to it by Abd al-Mu’min about three centuries after Tarik is supposed to have landed - wherever it was that he did.
Frederick Sayer – 19th century – History of Gibraltar P6

Tarik left Africa . . . and having embarked in vessels he cast anchor close to a mountain, which received his name, and was ever since called Gebal-Tarik, the mountain of Tarik.
Samuel G. Armistead – 1927-1985
In contrast to other sources, Tarik’s invasion was not a surprise pushover against unsuspecting Christians. He encountered well-armed defenders who repulsed his initial attack forcing him to land with difficulty on a rocky shore whence he was able to outflank and defeat the Christians
In other words, he tried to land elsewhere and was then forced to turn to Gibraltar. An article in a UNESCO publication includes the following and adds fuel to the fire
Idris el Harier and Ravane M’Baye  21st century - Islam in Al-Andalus Vol 3 - P437
In april 711 Tarik's forces landed in the mountain which now bears his name - Jabal Tarik or Gibraltar. He immediately began to build a fortification known as the sur-al-Arab or wall of the Arabs, and to extend his authority over the adjoining region which was called al-Jazira al-Khadra - the green Island, or Algeciras. 
As queried before – where was this “Wall of the Arabs”? Also, it is somewhat unlikely that Algeciras would already have been so named. Those “Arabs “had only just arrived.

Wall on right is the 16th century Charles V Wall - The one on the left was known for many centuries as “The Moorish Wall” but has now been identified as having been ordered built by Phillip II of Spain also in the 16th century (1627 – Luis Bravo de Acuña)
Abu Ja’far ibn Atiyya - 12th century – Almohad Vizier and writer
(Tarik) first went to Ceuta, and, having embarked in vessels, he cast anchor close to a mountain, which received his name, and was ever since called Jebal-Tarik, ‘the mountain of Tarik.’ 
 . . . When Tarik was about to land, he found some of the Rum (Goths) posted on a commodious part of the coast where he had intended to disembark, who made some show of resistance. But Tarik, giving up that spot, sailed off from it at night and went towards another part of the coast, which he contrived to render flat by means of the oars, and by throwing over them the saddles of the horses, and in this way, he managed to affect a landing unobserved by his enemies and before they were aware of it.
Note that according to Abu Ja’far he cast anchor “close” to Gibraltar and that this business of flattening the land does not mean that they were trying to make it easier to climb the mountain - as suggested by Ibn Idhari above, but simply to make it easier to land unobserved.

Generally, I find it very hard to believe that Tarik built any walls, fortresses or “hisns” on the Rock, simply because whether he did or didn’t land there - either originally or even later - I don’t think he had enough time to be messing around building anything – particularly not on the difficult terrain of the Rock of Gibraltar. 

As regards Alcantara’s suggestion that “the landing took place and the original camp built to the south of the Rock, I can see exactly where he is coming from:
Alonso Hernández del Portillo – 17th Century - Historia de Gibraltar - 1620s 
Adelante de la otra parte de la muralla, que dije cerca la peña, está otro murillo viejo donde alcanza a batir la mar, con una puerta Morisca que sale a la mar y llamase aquel sitio el Corral de Fez, y a lo que se puede entender, debía haber allí alguna población de moros de Fez o mercaderes que les debían traer mercaderías de África a estos moros españoles.
Add to this a mosque that would one day become the Chapel of our Lady of Europa, the enigmatic structures known as the Nun’s Well and the so-called Royal Vaults and Inquisition buildings - and perhaps even an originally Islamic Torre del Tuerto - the place must have been like a mini-town.
However, my feeling is that that Tarik had nothing to do with any of these buildings. If they were indeed Islamic constructions, and some of them were almost certainly not, they would probably date from the 14th century during the era of the Marinid Caliphate of Abu-l-hassan and his son Abu Inan Faris – of which more of later.

George Palau’s Islamic Gibraltar (1970s)

Nor is there any evidence that Julian was either left in charge of Algeciras or that a small garrison was left behind in Gibraltar. Tarik could hardly afford to leave anybody behind on the Rock as he set off to conquer the rest of Al Andalus – and as regards Julian, after having advised Tarik on what to do next he may have gone back home to Ceuta. Some have him return to Spain later as Musa’s guide – but that is really another story.

Finally, it might be best to end this discussion by quoting from a distinguished local historian who was not at all pleased with the suggestion that Tarik may, after all, not have originally landed in Gibratar all those years ago:
Tito Benady - La Bibliografía del Gibraltar Musulmán – Late 20th c  P140
un autor reciente (George Hills) trató de demostrar, por razones que no están muy claras, que Tariq no desembarco en el Peñón, y por eso es interesante estudiar las fuentes que tenemos . . .
He then proceeded to give as evidence some of quotes I have outlined above


As regards Alcantara’s “fact that is still with us”, I am more or less convinced that the name of my home town is derived from the Arabic Gebel Tarik - an interpretation that has now become almost a cliché. The problem in my view is that a reasonable premise has possibly led to a false conclusion – It was almost certainly Tarik who gave his name to the Rock of Gibraltar - but from that one cannot necessarily conclude that the modern name derives from the Arabic for the “Mountain of Tarik”. It could easily be the Mountain of something else.

Pedro López de Ayala – Crónicas de los Reyes de Castilla - 14th century
É por eso ha este nombre Gibraltar, que llaman los Moros Gebeltarif, (sic) que quiere decir, el monte de la sierra de Tarif, (sic) ca cerca de aquel monte puso su real Tarif Abencied (Iben Zeyad): é otros le llaman Gebelfat,(Gebel-al-fath) que quiere decir la sierra de la abertura porque allí se comenzó a abrir la conquista que los Moros ficieron en España.
Given that the English “Gibraltar” is derived from the similarly spelt but differently pronounced Spanish word “Gibraltar” (Hibraltar) I would say it could just as easily have been derived from Gibelfat (Hibelfar) as GibelTarik.

Nor, incidentally, does it seem to me that there is any particularly strong Muslim tradition as regards the appearance of the prophet to Tarik in a dream. Personally, I think it belongs to those very similar myths that were created by Muslim and Spanish ballad singers and story tellers over the centuries some of which I have already discussed.

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