The People of Gibraltar
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 11 – Abd al-Mu’min Revisited


His son, Abu Ya’qub, inherited not just Gibraltar but much of his father’s fanatical religious beliefs.


There are an increasing number of people who are beginning to question Ibn Sahib al-Sala’s account of what actually happened in 1160 – and his is undoubtedly the source that most historians from the 17th century onward turn to. There are two main arguments:

For a start al-Sala was the Secretary of the Treasury under Abu Ya‘qub Yusuf when he had inherited the Almohad Caliphate the during the mid-12th century. According to the French historian: Pierre Guichard, Al-Sala wrote a detailed history of the Almohads from 1159 to 1174. It would be odd indeed if Salas’ account had not been an unashamedly pro-Almohad about anything undertaken by his boss’s father, Abd Al Mu’Min.

There is also the question of timing. Madinat al Fath was just an idea when al-Mu’min wrote that much quoted letter to his minions across the Straits in December 1159 – and the post in those days took even longer than the Christmas mail does nowadays. So much so that according to the following quote from official Almohad letters:
Évariste Lévi-Provençal - Trente-Sept Lettre Officielles Almohades - 1941
Work on planning Madinat-al-Fath . . . was begun on the 19th of May . . . 
Tito Benady
On the 1st of December 1160 Abd al-Mu'min visited Gebal-al-Fath, to find out how the work was progressing. It must have been more or less finished as he liked what he saw and stayed on for a couple of months.

Tito Benady

That makes it much less than a year to build a major mosque with a minbar to rival that of the Koutobia Mosque in Marrakesh, palaces and residencies for the Caliph his family and friends and the principle dignitaries of the court, all within the defensive walls of its Qasabah with a fortress and its monumental entrance to the city, an aqueduct and a windmill at the top of the Rock . . . unbelievable – or at any rate as dubious as his son’s efforts which I discuss below.

And finally, to misquote two US presidential election catch-phrases – “where’s the beef – It’s the archaeology, stupid”. Precious little archaeological work has ever been seriously attempted on the Rock – it is just too difficult and disruptive to do so meaningfully. Nevertheless, what little has been done has not uncovered anything that might back up either al-Mu’min’s vision of a wonderful Madinat-al-Fath or Ibn Sahib al-Sala’s possibly exaggerated description of it.


Alcantara’s quote from José Antonio Conde is unhelpful. In his Historia de la Dominación de los Arabes en España, Conde comes up with the following story that runs more or less as follows.

Once upon a time an obscure Islamic warlord had told his sons to hand over all their lands in Iberia to Josef Abu Jacub (Abu Ya’qub) on the grounds that they could not cope with a war against the Christians and harassment by African Almohads. The sons complied:
José Antonio Conde - Historia de la Dominación de los Árabes en España - 1820
. . . y pusieron en manos de Abu Jacub todos sus estados, y la fortuna le dio de grado lo que no esperaba ya conseguir por fuerza: dio (a los príncipes) nuevos títulos y estados, y casó con una hermana de dichos . . . Y entonces edificó una ciudad en Gebal Fetah por ocupar sus cien mil soldados.
In other words, according to Conde he didn’t simply enlarge a town in “Gebal-Fatah” but actually built a brand-new city in Gibraltar in order to accommodate his 100 000 soldiers. This important bit of history appears nowhere else in Islamic or Christian medieval literature – and be assured that to build anything at all on the Rock that might accommodate such a large number of people would not just have put to shame his father’s well documented efforts but would almost certainly have been impossible to achieve.

The big problem here is Conde. He was one of the first Spanish to translate and record – as the title of his three-volume work claim – the history of the Muslim Spain. He certainly encouraged others to take up the subject and for quite a few years his work was a useful resource.

Two engravings from Conde’s Historia de la Dominación de los Árabes en España – Top The Battle of Guadalete – Bottom The Death of Almanzor (1844 edition)

But are problems – firstly he is very inconsistent in his spelling of Islamic names – although I can’t say I blame him much for this. Secondly, he rarely if ever identifies his sources – and thirdly his work is peppered with mistakes. Pascual de Gayangos, a fellow Spaniard who admired and followed him, had this to say about him.
Pasqual de Gayangos – Notes Al Makkarí Vol 1
Then came Don José Antonio Conde, to whom literary Europe is indebted for the only complete history of the Spanish Moslems drawn entirely from Arabian sources, an author whose name cannot be mentioned otherwise than respectfully by those who, like me, follow in his steps . . .
And then, proceeds to systematically rip him apart:

But popular as his work may have been, and may still be, with a certain class of readers, there can be no doubt that it is far from fulfilling the expectations of the scholar . . . Disparaging as this judgment may appear . . . it is, nevertheless, in some manner justified by the uncouth arrangement of the materials, the entire want of critical or explanatory notes, the unaccountable neglect to cite authorities, the numerous repetitions, blunders, and contradictions.

I am certain that Alcantara must have had his doubts when he decided to include this because if you believe what Conde wrote about Abu Ya’qub and his new Gibraltar, then - as they say – you would believe anything.

Nevertheless, the evidence is that he did visit Gibraltar – which is not at all surprising. The place probably already had facilities in place to garrison a fair number of troops if somewhat fewer than 100 000 and – perhaps more importantly – he owned Gibraltar
Al Makkarí Vol 2
 . . . he himself (Abu Ya’qub – Abd al-Mu’min’s son) crossed the sea from Ceuta in 1182 AD He landed at Jebalu-l-fatah, and thence proceeded to Seville, where he was met by forces of Andalus.


The 1212 Battle of Navas de Tolosa – A decisive victory for combined Christian forces against the Amohades (Francisco de Paula Van Halen - Museo del Prado)

From the 11th to the mid-14th century, the Christian frontier with Islam slowly but relentlessly moved southward and the activity of the various waring nations on both sides of the Straits of Gibraltar converged on Algeciras and Tarifa on the Spanish shores and Ceuta and Tangier on those of Barbary. As expressed by the following author:
Ross E. Dunn - The Adventures of ibn Battuta – 2012 P16
These ports were the entrepôts of trade between continents, the embarkation points for warriors on crusade, and the bases for galleys which patrolled the channel. In the later thirteenth and fourteenth century they were the objects of incessant military rivalry among the kings of the region. Algeciras, for example, was ceded by Granada to the Marinids in 1275, returned to Granada in 1294, taken again by Morocco in 1333, and finally seized by Castile in 1344.
The events listed by Alcantara on the effects of la Reconquista on learning and great works are impressive.

The Mosque of Seville completed in 1199

The Cathedral of Burgos begun in 1221

The Alhambra begun in 1273
Gerald of Gerona is I think a slip of the pen in that suspect Alcantara is referring to Gerard of Cremona. His translation of the 'Algebra' of al-Khwarizmi by itself makes him worthy of inclusion.

Gerrard of Cremona - 1114-87 - on the right


Alcantara hardly mentions Gibraltar during this period perhaps because it was really just considered as being owned by whoever happened to be in Algeciras. That would all change in 1309 - which he deals with more fully in his next page – as I will in my next chapter,

To read the booklet without any interruptions from me - click on the link below:

711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar - J.J. Alcantara

To read the rest of my commentary click on the appropriate link below:

711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 1 - The Visigoths and Islam
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 2 - Tarik and Gibraltar
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 3 - Tarik’s Mountain
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 4 - Tarik Invades
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 5 - Covadonga
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 6 - Vikings and Almoravids
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 7 - Yusuf Ibn Tashfin
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 8 - Abd al-Mu’min
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 9 - Madinat-al-Fath
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 10 - Moorish Wall, Aqueduct and Town
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 11 - Abd al-Mu’min Revisited
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 12 - The First Siege
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 13 - Christian Gibraltar and the Second Siege
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 14 - La Giralda and the Third Siege
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 15 - Abu al-hasan
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 16 - The Tower of Homage
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 17 - The Line Wall and the Shrine
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 18 - The Mosque, St Mary the Crowned and Rio Salado
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 19 - Siege of Algeciras and Ibn Battuta
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 20 - Southern Defences and Moorish Baths
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 21 - The Nuns’ Well
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 22 - The Gatehouse
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 23 - The 6th and 7th Sieges
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 24 - The 8th Siege – Castilian Gibraltar