The People of Gibraltar
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 5 – Covadonga


I am surprised Alcantara bothered to mention her – as far as I can make out just about everything written about her is either contradictory or based on myth. In the picture below she is depicted as preferring death rather than subjecting herself to Abd al Aziz. 

Egilona among the Arabs

In other versions she is depicted as a clever manipulative woman who almost convinced Aziz to convert to Christianity. In other words, most of what we know about her is pure myth.


Apart from the very last sentence, most of page 10, deals with what happening elsewhere and had little to do with Gibraltar, other than of course, those warning bells mentioned by Alcantara that would continue to ring long after the Battle of Covadonga - from 718 AD to 1462 AD or 744 years in the case of Gibraltar and even longer from 718 AD to 1492 AD or 774 years in the case of the rest of the Iberian Peninsula.

Covadonga is traditionally linked to the beginning of the Reconquista – although modern Spanish historians are mostly of the opinion that the battle never took place. The last three main general histories of the Rock by Hills, Jackson and Harvey more or less ignore the event altogether. In fact, the very idea of the “Reconquista” as a united long drawn out battle to free Iberia from Islamic rule is in dispute. This is how an eminent Spanish philosopher dismissed the whole idea:
José Ortega y Gasset - Early 20th century – Spanish Philosopher
No entiendo cómo se puede llamar reconquista a una cosa que dura ocho siglos

José Ortega y Gasset

Nevertheless, the fact that Covadonga is supposed to have taken place just a few short years after Tarik put in motion the conquest of Iberia via Gibraltar – and that Alcantara thought it worth a mention - has led me to pursue the topic perhaps more than I should have.

The Berber warrior Munuza – probably a corruption of Uthman ibn Naissa - accompanied Musa as he hacked his way from Zaragoza to Lugo via Asturias. According to Arab sources they seem to have enjoyed their trip:
Al Makkarí V2
From thence Musa sent forward some of his troops, who reached the rock of Belay (Pelayo)," on the shores of the Green Sea, destroying on their way all the churches, and breaking all the bells. The Christians surrendered everywhere, and asked humbly for peace, which was granted on condition of their paying tribute.
When Muza left in 714 for Damascus, Munuza became semi-Governor of these North western section of Iberia.

Frederick George Stephens – who apparently thought his History of the Rock was suitable reading for children, quoted part of the following tract which appears in Gayangos’ translation of Al Makkarí’ who quotes Ibnu Hayyan quoting Ibnu Sa’id. Yes, a bit of a mess but It gives at least one version of what happened next. Here it is in full.
Ibnu Hayyan – 11th Century Cordoba historian and Ibnu Said
. . . a despicable barbarian, whose name was Belay (Pelayo), rose in the land of Galicia, and, having reproached his countrymen for their ignominious dependence and their cowardly flight, began to stir them up to revenge the past injuries, and to expel the Moslems from the land of their fathers. From that moment the Christians of Andalus began to resist the attacks of the Moslems on such districts as had remained in their possession, and to defend their wives and daughters; for until then they had not shown the least inclination to do either. 
The commencement of the rebellion happened thus: there remained no city, town, or village in Galicia but what was in the hands of the Moslems, with the exception of a steep mountain on which this Pelayo took refuge with a handful of men: there his followers went on dying through hunger until he saw their numbers reduced to about thirty men and ten women, having no other food for support than the honey which they gathered in the crevices of the rock . . . 
However, Pelayo and his men fortified themselves by degrees in the passes of the mountain until the Moslems were made acquainted with their preparations; but, perceiving how few they were, they heeded not the advice conveyed to them, and allowed them to gather strength, saying, ‘What are thirty barbarians, perched upon a rock? – they must inevitably die.

“Thirty barbarians perched upon a rock” (Unknown)
Would to God that the Moslems had then extinguished at once the sparkles of a fire that was destined to consume the whole dominions of Islam in those parts; for, as Ibnu Sa’id has judiciously observed, “the contempt in which the Moslems of those days held that mountain and the few wretched beings who took refuge upon it, proved in after-time the chief cause of the numerous conquests which the posterity of that same Pelayo were enabled to make in the territory of the Moslems – “conquests” . . . which have so much increased of late years, that the enemy of God has reduced many populous cities; and, that at the moment I write, the magnificent city of Cordova, the splendid capital of the Mohammedan empire of Andalus, the court of the Khalifs of the illustrious house of Umayyad, has fallen into the hands of the infidels. May God annihilate them!”

If this illustration is anything to go by Ibnu Hayyan and Ibnu Said were right - the Christians were certainly winning at this point

Al Makkarí V2
From thence Musa sent forward some of his troops, who reached the rock of Belay (Pelayo)," on the shores of the Green Sea, destroying on their way all the churches, and breaking all the bells. The Christians surrendered everywhere, and asked humbly for peace, which was granted on condition of their paying tribute.
Gayangos was another who didn’t have too much faith in the Covadonga story – here are his notes on the some of the above:
Pasqual de Gayangos
The Rock of Pelayo (is) probably ‘la Sierra de Covadonga.’ . . . Ibnu Khalddn . . . says that it was called the ‘Green Sea’ owing to the tinge of its waters. The remainder of it, towards the north, was called ‘Sea of Darkness.’ If this account is true, it would prove a strong argument against the natives of the north-western provinces of Spain, who believe their country never to have been subdued by the Moslems.


To deal with the ramifications of the Abbasid Caliphate on Islamic history and religion are way beyond my capabilities. But let me try to summarise a movement that lasted an inordinate number of years.

It was started by the descendants of Abbas ibn Abd al Muttalib, an uncle and companion of the Prophet Muhammad. The Caliphate was based in Bagdad from the mid-8th century to 1258 AD. In fact it was the Abbasids who built Bagdad in 762. In 1258 Bagdad was sacked by the Mongols and the Abbasids moved to Cairo where they were based from 1261 to 1517.

(Bagdad in 762)

Al Makkarí
Al-munekab (Almuñecar) is a sea-port belonging also to the government of Granada. It was there that ’Abdu-r-rahman first landed when he came from Africa to conquer Andalus.'
Which he did up to a point by creating his independent Umayyad emirate with its capital in Cordoba. As regards the great Mosque he is indeed the person who started the ball rolling. But he never got to see it in all its glory as it took until the early 10th century – or more than a century and a half to complete.

The Emir Abdu-r-rahman – Somebody’s idea of what he looked like
Al Makkarí Vol 1 
The great mosque of Cordova, as is well known, owes its erection to ’Abdu-r-rahman Ad-dakhel, the first sovereign of the house of Umeyyah who reigned independently over Andalus. All historians agree in saying he began the building . . . of the great mosque.
He died, however, without seeing the building completed, and bequeathed to his son and heir, Hisham, the care of the undertaking. Under this Sultan the building was, properly speaking, finished according to the original plan, but during the reign of the succeeding Sultans and Khalifs, eight in number, who ruled over Andalus.
The last of the eight Emirs ’Abdu-r-rahman III, decided to change the name of his dominions to the Caliphate of Cordoba and proclaimed himself Caliph. It lasted until 1031.

The Caliphate – Khilafat Qurtuba (c1000 AD – adjusted from Google)

Much closer to home one modern the Campo historian has offered the following concerning Islamic mosques in Al-Andalus:
Rafael Sabio González
Abd al-Rahman I . . . nombró gobernador de esta última ciudad (Algeciras) a Abd Allah ibn Jalid. Tras ello Abd al-Rahman I ordenó a ibn Jalid “construir la mezquita aljama”, y se añade “en cuyo emplazamiento había anteriormente una iglesia”. La crónica data con bastante exactitud este hecho al situarlo entre los acontecimientos acaecidos en . . . 780-781 de la era cristiana. No es necesario insistir en el interés que tiene este dato si recordamos que el mismo emir no ordenó echar los cimientos de la mezquita aljama de Córdoba hasta . . . 786), la mezquita de Algeciras se convertiría en la primera . . .en el solar peninsular.

The ruins of the Aljama mosque in Algeciras

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