The People of Gibraltar
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 15 – Abu al-hasan 


During the 4th Siege Alfonso XI had camped on the narrow isthmus to the north of the Rock waiting for a suitable moment to attack the town. He was there when he received the unwelcome news of the arrival of Mohammad IV. The Christians were running out of firewood, food and options.

The isthmus – The Rock on the right and in the centre, the proposed line of fortification – La Línea de la Contravalacíon - which were eventually completed in 1737 - and demolished in 1810
(1730 -Prospero de Verboom)

Alfonso apparently was all for abandoning the siege, but before giving the order to move he held a meeting with his councillors. Somewhat surprisingly they advised him to stay. He should, they suggested, build a ditch across the isthmus and retire behind it. He took their advice and immediately found himself trapped between a Rock and a hard place - or in this case a rather soft and narrow strip of water.
Crónica de Alfonso XI - Capitulo CXXVI
. . . y estaban allí estos reales de los moros en tal manera que no podía salir por su real de los moros ni avian lugar donde pudiesen aver leña y avian della muy gran mengua para cozer el pa y adobar las otras viandas y el dia que los moros allí llegaron el Rey Do Alfonso uvo su consejo con los q eran allí con el y preguntoles si fuera bien de ir de allí a pelear con los moros donde tienen el real puesto o si esperarían si viniesen al campo, 
y en aquel día aconsejaron le todos q mandase a hacer una cava en el arsenal desde una costanera de la mar hasta la otra y que pues el viniera allí por ganar aquella villa por la tomar que estuviese quedo en su real y que si los moros a ellos viniesen que pusiesen algunos que guardasen contra la villa y todos los otros que tuviesen hachas puestas tras aquella cava q cierto era que citado ellos allí q los moros no llegarían allí a pelear con ellos, y que si llegassen avrian la pelea a su gran peoria.
It was more than enough for Alfonso to accept a four-year truce offered by Malik - with his father's approval of course.
Chronica de Alfonso XI - Capitulo CXXIX. . . y sobre esto torno el caballero al rey su señor y dijole . . . que tuviesen tregua y paz entre este Rey don Alfonso de Castilla y el Rey de Granada y el infante Abomelique q se llamaba Rey . . . y las treguas y la paz que obtuviesen q fuese hasta quatro años
George Hills - Rock of Contention - 1974 P 65
 It was Abd’l Malik and Mohammed who made the first step towards a settlement . . . Mohammed offered a four-year truce during which he would pay a tribute to the King provided he was allowed to purchase oil and cattle in Castilian territory.
As part of the siege-ending celebrations, Alonso entertained the rather naive 18-year-old Mohammed IV and showered him with expensive clothes and other gifts.
Crónica de Alfonso XI - Capitulo CXXIX
Y el Rey de Granada comio con el Rey de Castilla ambos a dos a una mesa. Y estando allí muchas gentes de Christianos y de moros ambos estos reyes estuvieron gran pieza en uno. Y después que hubieran comido el Rey de Granada dio al Rey de Castilla sus hoyas las más noble que el avia y podía aver . . .
Shortly afterwards the young king was assassinated by his own nobles because of his association both with the Christians and with the Moroccan Marinids was perceived as heretical. According to a 17th century Arab Historian:
Al-Makkarí - History of the Mohammedan Dynasties - 1620s - Vol 2 (P 355)
Soon after the Christians had raised the siege of Gibraltar, the Sultan Mohammed was assassinated by some African officers to whom he had rendered himself obnoxious 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.
According to Ibn al-jattib – as quoted in the Memorial Histórico Español: Colección de documentos, opúsculos y antigüedades, escrito por la Real Academia, the ambush took place near Guada Sefayin which may refer to the River Palmones. The first blow was struck by a slave called Zeyyan.

And just for fun here is a third version.
Crónica de Alfonso XI - Capitulo CXXX
y luego que aviendo voluntad de matar aquel su Rey, dixeronque porque comio con el Rey de Castilla y también porque trayia vestidos sus paños que eran Christianos. Y esto hablaron con algunos de aquellos que entendieron que los avia de ayudar, y vinieron a la tienda do estaba allí llegaron sacaron sus espadas y mataronlo . . .

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


And that was the end of the fourth siege and the beginning of another important progression in the affairs of the Gibraltar. Abu-l-hasan had returned Gebal-Tarik to Islam and he was going to do his damnedest to make sure it would remain that way for ever.

There must have been a sense of pleasure and relief at his relatively easy victory and perhaps one of surprise by his minions when one of the first things he did was order his son Abu Malik to remove a massive ten hundredweight bell from Gibraltar and have it sent it to Fez. There it was reshaped as a lamp and was hung in front of the gate called Bab al-Kutubiyin in the Mosque of al-Quarawiyin. You can read all about this in H.T. Norris's - Ibn Battutah Andalusian Journey – 1959 P188

The bell was once supposed to have an epigram printed on it which read as follows;
Al-Andalus – The Art of Islamic Spain – Metropolitan Museum of Art – P279
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 once hung 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
George Palao - Our Forgotten past - 1977 P13
It has been possible to trace this large bell to a square in Kaewan in Tunisia where today it is used in an inverted position as a large flower pot.
The bell-lamp out of the way, 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 proper springboard for any attack or counter-attack against the Christians. For this he needed not just a fortified town and its attendant military garrison, but a resident population to keep the place well supplied with provisions and other home comforts.

Accordingly, large numbers of men and munitions 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.

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.
Leopoldo Lopez Balbás – Gibraltar, Llave y Guarda P182
Para el desarrolle de estos planes, Abu-1-Hasan, el más activo constructor de la dinastía marini, mandó levantar muchas fortificaciones en las comarcas marítimas, que sirvieran de lugares de “ribat” - rebato - reuniendo a los arquitectos y gentes prácticas en construcción para que los realizasen según sus planes y deseos.
Ibn Marzuq - El Musnad - Viguera Molins - 1977 (Sáez)
Between 1334 and 1348 he also ordered watchtowers and strongholds to be built all along the littoral . . .
It is hard to say how many if 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 I suspect that there are several still standing.

It is hard not to speculate that the origins of the well-known 'hacho' watchtower which stood for centuries on the top of the Rock might not be found within 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 be no object as he then ordered the repairs to the many buildings damaged and destroyed by their own and by Alfonso's siege engines.
Al-Makkarí - History of the Mohammedan Dynasties - 1620s - Vol 2 - P355
. . . Abu-l-hasan . . . began to give his attention to repairing its buildings and increasing its fortifications, spending immense amounts of money in building houses and magazines, as well as a Jámi or principal mosque, and erecting new walls, towers, and even a citadel.
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 invader taking the south by surprise, climbing the rock and taking a position along the area above the Castle leaving a vulnerable town within reach of enemy weapons, 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 among 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 known as the Tower of Homage.

Town of Gibraltar being besieged by Spanish forces (Probably a copy of the letter E taken from a 14th century illuminated manuscript)

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 which had several gateways, the most important being the gate of Granada Gate, ( 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 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.

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.
Al Makkarí - Vol 2 - Translated by Pascual de Gayangos - P355
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.
The wall was supposed to extending from the arsenal to a '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 the following:
H.T. Norris - Ibn Battutah Andalusian Journey – 1959 P188
A place of doubtful locality, perhaps in the vicinity of present-day Scud Hill in central-south Gibraltar
Yet another well-known structure which might have been built 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
Alonso Hernández del Portillo - Historia de Gibraltar - 1625
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.

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. Indeed, for Malik was not just the man at the chalk face carrying out his father's instructions from Fez, he also styled himself King of Gibraltar - although he obviously didn't think all that much of the Rock as place to live in as he set up his headquarters in Algeciras.
Ignacio Lopez de Ayala - Translated by James Bell - History of Gibraltar - 1845 P74
Abdul Malic now styled himself King of Gibraltar, and retired to Algeciras.
In 1348, Abu Inan Faris succeeded his father and inherited Gibraltar. 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.

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 a which went further 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.
Ibn Juzayy – Commenting in the Rihla
 . . .his concern for the affairs of Jabal (Gibraltar) 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.

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

As regards Alcantara, he cut to the chase and simply offered a couple of extended quotes from Ibn Battuta and J.C. Murphy. As regards the first, it was none other than Abu Inan Faris himself who 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.

A consequence of this semi-autobiographical account -often referred to as the Rihla - is that Juzayy took it upon himself to fill in the gaps within Ibn Battuta's descriptions by borrowed these from a twelfth century traveller named Ibn Jubayr - as well as in the case of Gibraltar from his own personal experiences. A curiosity that I can live with.

More difficult to deal with are the many partial and abridged versions of the story, as well as sundry differing translations and interpretations. as Battuta’s account of his travels – usually referred to as the “Rihla” – is often quoted differently by different authors within their descriptions and comments on Gibraltar. All of which make it heavy going for the uninitiated like myself

The following is therefore a complete quote from my choice of the various versions I have come across and which I have used as a source for this article.
Ibn Battuta’s Travels . . . 1325-1354 - Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb - 1929 - P311
The first town I saw in the Andalusian country was the Mountain of Victory. I met there the excellent preacher Abu Zakariya’ Yahya b. al-Siraj of Runda [Ronda], and the qadi ‘Isa al-Barbari, with whom I stayed. With him I made the circuit of the mountain and saw the wonderful works constructed by our master Abu’l-Hasan, God be pleased with him, the preparations he had made and the military equipment, and what our master (Abu Inan), God strengthen him, had added further. I would have liked to be one of those serving there till the end of my life.
Ibn Juzayy adds;
The Mountain of conquest is the citadel of Islam, an obstruction stuck in the throats of the idolaters. From it began the great conquest and at it disembarked Tarik Ibn Ziyad, the freedman of Musa Ibn Nusayr, when he crossed. 
Its name was linked with his and it was called Jabal Tarik. It is called also the Mount of Conquest because the conquest began there. The remains of the wall built by Tarik and his army are still in existence; they are known as the Wall of the Arabs, and I myself have seen them during my stay at the time of the Siege of Algeciras (may God restore it!)
Gibraltar was recaptured by our late master Abu'l Hassan who recovered it from the hands of the Christians after they had possessed it for over twenty years. He sent his son, the noble prince Abu Malik, to besiege it, aiding him with large sums of money and powerful armies . . . It was taken after a six month's siege in the year 733 (1333 A.D.)
At that time, it was not in its present state. Our late master, Abu'l Hassan built in it the huge keep at the top of the fortress, before that it was a small tower, which was laid in ruins by the stones from the catapults 13 and he built a new one in its place. He built the arsenal there too (for there was no arsenal in the place before) as well as the great wall which surround the red mound, starting from the arsenal and extending to the tile yard.
(Abu Inan Faris)
Later on, our master, the Commander of the faithful, Abu Inan (May God strengthen him) again took in hand its fortifications and embellishments and strengthened the walls of the extremity of the mount, which is the most formidable and useful of its walls. He also sent thither, large quantities of munitions, foodstuffs and provisions of all kinds, and thereby acquainted himself of his duty to God Most High with singleness of purpose and sincere devotion.
(Model of the Rock)
His concern for the affairs of the Jebel reached such lengths that he gave orders for the construction of a model of it 14, on which he had represented models of its walls, towers, citadel, gates, arsenal, mosques, munition-stores and corn-granaries, together with the shape of the Gebel itself and the adjacent red mound. 
This model was executed in the palace precincts15; it was a marvellous liking and a piece of fine craftsmanship. Anyone who has seen the jebel and then sees this copy will recognise its merits. This was due solely to his eagerness (may God strengthen him) to learn how matters stood there, and his anxiety to strengthen its defences and equipment.
May God most high grant victory to Islam in the Western Peninsula16 at his hands and bring to pass his hope of conquering the lands of the infidels and breaking the strength of the adorers of the cross. To resume the narrative . . . I went out of Gibraltar to the town of Ronda . . .
Finally let me admit that I find it hard to separate Abu Inan from his father as regards which of the two built what and where. It seems likely that Abu Inan - for all his affection for the place - simply extended and improved upon his father's work - in particular the line wall that extended towards the south.

In other words, 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 perhaps partially using the original blueprint set out by Abd al-Mu'min a couple of centuries earlier - was the Marinid Sultan of Fez and ruler of Morocco, Abu Al'Hasan 'Ali ibn 'Othman - aka Abu-l-hasan.


The Moorish Baths
The Medieval Archaeology group of the Gibraltar Museum has recently detected vestiges of the Almohads on the red sands of the Moorish Baths without finding any traces of a building. Whatever constructions have been found, date from between the 14th and the 16th century - the Marinid and Nasrid periods.

My own feeling is that it is unlikely that the 12th century Almohad emir Abd al-Mu’min would have built a bath in the Bomb House Lane area which lie much too far to the south of the Castle and town – Madinat-al-Fath – which he is supposed to have built on the northern area of the Rock. On the other hand, Abu-l-hasan or his son Abu Inan Farris who retook Gibraltar in the early 14th century seem much mor likely candidates.


I can’t comment on “palaces” – as far as I know no vestiges have ever been unearthed in town. The mosque, however, was almost certainly built in the early 14th century probably by Abu al-hasan or his son Abu Inan Farris. During the 15th century it would become a Catholic church, later the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned.


I suspect Alcantara is referring to the Nun’s Well. If so then all I can add is that everybody and his brother has some sort of a theory not just as to who built it but what they built it for. Alcantara returns to this on another page and I will comment at greater length when I get to it.


I will deal with this in my next Chapter as does Alcantara on the next three pages of his booklet.

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