The People of Gibraltar
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 7 - Yusuf Ibn Tashfin


Apart from the first sentence on page 12, the rest is the inevitable encroachment of other people’s history into that of Gibraltar covering events that occurred on both sides of the Straits from 1068 to 1086. In other words, nothing much seems to have happened on the Rock for 18 years – worse than that – nothing much seems to have been recorded by anybody about the Medieval history of Gibraltar from the day Tarik left it in 711 to – as suggested by Alcantara - the establishment of a fort and look-outs in 1068.

If Alcantara’s dates are correct then I make that nearly three centuries of nothing much at all of historical interest took place on the Rock.

Alcantara possibly used George Hills as a source for the opening sentence  but I think Hills may have got it wrong. The original source was surely a Dutch Arabist who agreed that Al-Mu’tadid was at that time worried about a possible Almoravid invasion. But there is a subtle difference between his translation and Alcantara’s interpretation:
Reinhart Dozy (Mid 19th century)
. . . write instantly to the Governor of Algeciras (and) order him to strengthen the fortifications of Gibraltar . . .

Reinhart Dozy

The problem is that Dozy’s use of the word “strengthen” suggests that there must have been at least some of these fortifications there already. If so, who built them, where were they and what were they like? Hills is of the opinion that no town had ever been built on the Rock prior to 1160, which most people agree is the date of the founding of the town of Gibraltar - Madinat al-Fath. His given source is another modern Historian.
H.T. Norris (1961)A study of the documentary evidence available strongly favours the view that there was no town in Gibraltar. The dearth of evidence when contrasted with detailed descriptions (e.g. Al-Isidri) of Algeciras or even the ruined Carteya is extremely significant.
Of course, theoretically the presence of fortifications does not necessarily imply the presence of a town there as well – but it seems unlikely that this might have been so.


(Late 19th century - Alfredo Roque Gameiro)

The rampaging of Alfonso VI is old news . . .
Pasqual de Gayangos
Alfonso VI, the conqueror of Toledo, reigned from A.D. 1065 to 1109.
Abnu-l-abbar (1199 -1260) - Gayangos notes – Al Makkarí VI
Alfonso VI. . . in I072 of our era, united on his head the crowns of Castile and Leon; the same king who, some years afterwards assisted Al-Mamun in his wars against Al-mu’tamed, and who, after the death of the former Sultan, snatched from his son Yahya the city of Toledo in 1085.
. . . as is Al-Mu’tamid’s appeal for help against the Christian King:
Al Makkarí - Vol 2
. . . the ambassadors found Yusuf Ibn Tashefin at Ceuta, and, having delivered to him the credentials (of Al-mu’tamid), proceeded to describe to him the state of Andalus, and the constant fear in which the Moslems were of Alfonso (VI)’s power
Yusuf Ibn Tashefin had no sooner heard the report of the ambassadors than he gave immediate orders for the crossing of his army, which came (to Ceuta). Yusuf crossed the Strait . . . landed at Jeziratu-l-Khadhra (Algeciras) and (joined Al-mu’tamed in Seville).
Yusuf ibn Tashfin was indeed a disaster for Alfonso. Alcantara’s Christian losses are taken from Conde. Understandable he refrains from giving us Conde’s next few lines which make those losses considerably – and unbelievably - higher than his 24 000:
Conde – Historia de los Arabes (1840)
 . . . y también escribe Abu Meruán que se halló en esta batalla, que contándose las cabezas por curiosidad . . . se contaron hasta veinte y cuatro mil cabezas; pero Abdel Halim refiere, cosa que parece increíble, que el rey Juzef (Yusuf ibn Tashfin) envió de aquellas cabezas diez mil a Sevilla, diez mil a Córdoba, diez mil a Valencia y otras tantas a Zaragoza y Murcia, y que envió a África cuarenta mil cabezas . . .
Si, absolutamente incredible. After the battle, Alfonso VI famously returned to Toledo:
Al Himyarí (15th century) - Quoted by Al Makarí Vol 2)
As it was, when he arrived at his city (Toledo) and began to inquire about his friends and courtiers and the brave warriors of his army, and was told that every one of them was either slain or a captive in the hands of the Moslems - when he perceived that wherever he went there was nothing but wailings and lamentations, he fell suddenly into a dejected state of mind, and neither ate nor drank, until he actually died of sorrow and disappointment. He left no male children, and was succeeded by a daughter who shut herself up in Toledo. . . 
Our victory was complete: we took and plundered his camp, and put to the sword the whole of his men, his most renowned warriors and stoutest champions; the slaughter being so great that the Moslems are now piling up the heads of the slain, and raising towers from which to proclaim the hours of public prayer. . . For many years after the field of battle was so covered with the carcasses of the slain, that it was impossible to walk through it without treading on the withered bones of some infidel.

Alfonso VI of Castile and Le
Pasqual de Gayangos
Alfonso VI lived for nearly ten years after his defeat at Zalaca. He was succeeded by his daughter Urraca, who was some time after besieged in Toledo by ’Ali, the son and successor of Yusuf Ibn Tashefin. Al-Makkarí has neglected to give us the precise date of the battle of Zalaca, which, according to all accounts, was fought in . . . 1086.
In general terms it was one up for the Almoravids but not as dreadful for the Christian advance as Muslim chroniclers would have us believe. Yusuf’s own losses, for example, made it impossible for him to follow up his triumph by capturing Toledo.

As regards Juzef, Yussuf, Yusuf, I have found the last spelling the one to be the most commonly used. It is the one I have hopefully used throughout,


Apart from the fact that Yusuf ibn Tashfin owned the place for a while, I don’t think Gibraltar was ever of any significance to him, other than offering a beautiful backdrop to the view across the Bay whenever he visited Algeciras which I suspect he found not just more comfortable but much easier to use as a port.

As regards his son’s governorship of Gibraltar I have as yet been unable to trace Alcantara’s source. But it does raise a question – was there actually anything as yet to govern on the Rock? My guess is that as Governor of Algeciras, Gibraltar simply came with the territory so to speak.


This was a time when dynastic changes were the order of the day. The Umayyads - in the form of Tarik and Musa - had conquered almost the entire Iberian Peninsula – never mind Gibraltar. Abu Bakr, founder of the Almoravid dynasty with a little help from Yusuf ibn Tashfin - and later his son Ali - reconquered lost ground or consolidated Islamic gains in Iberia.

Abu Bakr, first sole commander of the Almoravids – Yussuf ibn Tashfin was his cousin
(1413 - Mecia de Viladestes Catalan Chart)

It was now the turn of the Almohads. The dynasty was founded by Muhammad ibn Tumart who was also its first Caliph. He was followed in 1149 A.D. by Abd al-Mu’min the man who in 1160 founded Madinat-al-Fath, the town of Gibraltar, in 1160. His son Abu Ya‘qub Yusuf was the next Almohad Caliph from 1163 to 1184 and his successor from 1184 to 1199 was Abu Yusuf Ya’kub – aka al-Mansur the Conqueror .

This could easily have been ibn Tumart convincing Berber tribesmen to accept his Almohad religious point of view (Kentake Page website)

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