The People of Gibraltar
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 9 – Madinat-al-Fath


Another more recent work on Gibraltar by local Historians Darren Fa and Clive Finlayson adopt the conventional point of view but offer no sources. They also half suggest that a good number of the elements that made up Madinat-al-Fath’s defences would have 'evolved over time to incorporate succeeding developments of both Spanish and English Engineers.' All of which leaves us in no doubt that they do not take either Hills nor Harvey too seriously.

What is certain is that Abd al-Mu'min was prepared to finance the project properly. He wanted the Rock to be fortified in such a way that it would become invulnerable. In so doing he set in motion an obsession that would continue for nearly a thousand years - the expensive renewal, modernisation and upkeep of some of the most impressive fortifications on earth by successive Muslim, Spanish and British occupiers of the Rock. 

From Abd al-Mu'min onwards, the name of Gibraltar would hardly ever be mentioned again without conjuring up visions of bastions, battlements, counterguards and line walls, and every other piece of military paraphernalia associated with a massively fortified - and fought over - city.
A couple of hundred years later a thirteenth century Moorish writer was adamant as to the military importance and glory of the Rock - at least from an Islamic point of view. His extremely blunt and aggressive style leaves one in no doubt: 
Ibn al Juzayy (The chronicler of ibn Battuta) 
The mount of conquest is the citadel of Islam, an obstruction struck in the throats of the idolaters. From it began the great conquest . . .
Unfortunately, he was not really referring to al-Mu’min’s Madinat-al-Fath, but to much later 14th century defensive improvements and developments. 

The Moorish Castle and part of the northern defences (Late-19th century – J.H. Mann)

Wherever al-Mu’min’s engineers eventually decided to build the town Islamic historians have not been slow in describing what happened next.
Ibn Sahib al-Sala - Al-Mann bil-imama - 1181 1245– From Antonio Malpica Cuello
Even the foundations for the main buildings were a work of art as they were created using arches and domed structures in order to level the ground. The principle buildings which were constructed using dressed stone and put together with lime and their general appearance was as one would expect for anybody as wealthy as those who had ordered their construction. The work was of such high quality that if those who had been responsible for the construction of the palace of Sindad had been able to see it they would have found it superior to their own.

Old Islamic depiction of the building of the palace of Khawarnaq perhaps using similar techniques to those employed in Sindad and Madinat al-Fath
Ibn Sahib al-Sala
Among the first Almohad buildings constructed in al al-Andalus were the great mosque, a palace designed for the sovereign, others destined for his children, and residencies for the principle dignitaries of the court.
According to another Islamic writer, a 15th century historian and one of the primary sources for the history of Muslim Spain Abd al-Mu'min did not actually order the building of residencies for his hangers-on:
Al Himyari
 . . Otorgó solares a los principales personajes del imperio que tomaron sus medidas para edificar residencias. . . 
It seems he simply allotted them plots on to which, I suppose, he expected them to fork out the expense of building their own houses. 
Ibn Sahib al-Sala
Prior to all this water had been collected from sources along the side of the mountain by means of small irrigation channels carrying the water to a ditch that brought it to the town, depositing it int a large chamber constructed for this purpose. This water was used by both men and animals for drinking purposes as well as for watering the gardens that had been planted close to the city which was accessed by a single, solidly fortified entrance called Bab al-Futuh. (The Gate of Victory) 

The Gatehouse (Bab al-Futuh ?)

One local historian suggests that the Gate of Victory faced north and opened out from the northern defences of Villa Vieja. 
Tito Benady 
There was a strong gate opening out on what is now the King's Lines, which before the cliffs were scarped could be approached by a slope from the isthmus. This gate was known as Bab-al-Fath, the Gate of Victory . . .
I hesitate to say that a historian of such pedigree as Tito Benady could have got this wrong but I suspect he did in this case. If other commentators are correct and there was only one gate, it definitely faced south not north. However, and despite the fact that no additional gate is mentioned in the literature I cannot believe that the town could possibly not have had access to the isthmus. I think that perhaps he had in mind the old Islamic Gate of Granada as there is historical and archaeological evidence for a gate of that name at exactly the spot suggested by our great historian.

The fortified gate on the top left is the Gate of Granada (1567 - Van Wyngaerde – detail)
Ibn Sahib al-Sala
. . . all this so that this city would be the residence of the imperial power during the passage and starting point of the victorious armies with victory banners and flying standards marching against the Christians. . .

Flag of the Almohads (13th century – Crónica de Jaime I) 

Local historian, George Palao, writing in the 1970s makes al-Hajj Ya'iash the man responsible for creating the water system of Madinat-al-Fath and gives a lengthier and slightly different version unfortunately unreferenced.
George Palao (1970)
He set them to excavate the rock at places where there were natural streams of fresh water (some still flow today) and linked them all together by means of small stone cut channels. One of these water conduits was situated just north of the present South Barracks and from there were earthen pipes led into each other which directed the water down the slope (today the Scud Hill area)  
It then continued along open channels across the Red Sands Alameda, past the Line Wall, but within the masonry of the Moorish town wall defences, and from there was conveyed into the city by means of small channels to terminate in a huge cistern or reservoir near Water-port (Casemates Square) from where the Moorish galleys watered.

Map showing the remains of the old Spanish water conduit system that followed the same path as that of Madinat al Fath - The source was probably further to the south (1738 – Tindal and Rapin -detail)

One oddly unanswered question after all this is whether the town was in fact brand new or whether it had replaced something that was already there. Tarik ibn Zayed's exploits occurred in 711 or nearly 450 years before Madinat al-Fath. Quite frankly it is difficult to believe that absolutely nobody had ever considered building themselves some sort of a settlement on the Rock - no matter how hostile and uncomfortable a place. 
Ángel Sáez Rodríguez. . . Cualquier vestigio de construcciones anteriores debió quedar desaparecido bajo la nueva fundación Almohade . . .
Antonio Malpica Cuello - La expansión de la ciudad de Granada – 2001-2
Las obras de los Almohades . . . se centran en espacios para el nuevo poder. Las crónicas refieren, por ejemplo, los trabajos realizados en Gibraltar. Es una ampliación de la ciudad existente, pero de indudable importancia. 
Both of which I imagine were taking the following with a pinch of salt:
Ibn Sahib al-Sala - Al-Mann bil-imama – From Antonio Malpica Cuello
Orders were received to build a large city with the greatest permission and help from God which he built between the cities and towns of that blessed, ancient mountain in peninsula of al-Andalus – Tarik’s mountain.
I am not sure why the Spanish historians decided to ignore Ibn Sahib al-Sala description. He was undoubtedly the most important chronicler of the Almohad dynasty writing during the time in which Madinat-al-Fath had only just been constructed and may even have visited the place after it had been built.

However, it is also true that Ibn Sahib, had his own axe to grind as he was an employee of Abu Ya'qub Yusuf. One would hardly have expected him to criticise the consequences of decisions made by his boss on behalf of his all-powerful brother. A few months after the work on the new town had begun Abd al-Mu’min crossed the Straits to Madinat al Fath to check on progress:
Linda Gail Jones – The Christian Companion -2008
When the illustrious lord Abu Ya‘qub, then governor of Seville, travelled to Gibraltar to receive his father the caliph, (Abd al-Mu’min) – who had just crossed the Straits to visit al-Andalus, Ibn Sahib al-Sala writes that:
Abu Ya‘qub . . . invoked God to allow him to hurry and rush to benefit from the blessing of render him the homage of loyalty and to delight in this sweet felicity . . . fortunate and felicitous, surrounded by an aura of security and manifest victory . . . The day that [the caliph] crossed the sea, a throng came to meet him on the beach, which only their Creator could count. It was a happy day in which the greatness of the kingdom and its power were manifest, the likes of which was never seen in olden times and which no one could imagine.
A much earlier Spanish Arabist – also presumably using Sahib al-Sala as a source - developed the scene still further. 
José Antonio Conde (1840)
Entrado el año (1061) . . . pasó el Rey Abdelmumen (Abd al-mu’min) á Gebalfetah (Gibraltar) en la costa de Andalucía, que es Gebaltarik, y le contentó mucho la disposición y fortaleza de aquella ciudad, y aprobó las obras acabadas de su orden. Estuvo allí dos meses, y le vinieron a visitar los Walies y caudillos de Andalucía y se informó del estado de España y de cada provincia: cada día venían Xekes y gentes principales a saludarle y vinieron muchos Alimes y buenos poetas Andaluces que le decían versos en su alabanza: entre otros oradores y poetas se presentó Abu Giafar ben Said de Granada que era muchacho de poca edad y entró en compañía de su padre y de sus hermanos a saludar al Rey: y le dijo estos versos.
. . . Di lo que quieras, la ocasión ofreceOído a tu decir, y la fortunaAhora tus mandatos obedecenEn cuanto ilustra la fulgente luna:
To read the entire quote and verse see Conde’s Historia de la Dominación de los árabes en España.

Another poet who made sure he came well prepared was Abu Abdallah ibn Ghalib Arrossafy. His work focussed on Gebal Tarik but without naming it which may have been to his advantage as the Rock was now to be known as Jabal-al-Fath. The following is a translation of the last few stanzas.
Uproot the mountains of the worldSave this, this one retain, but free from fear and misery,Here let peace reign. 
Sadly, that last line must surely stand as one of the most ironic ever written. Over too many of the subsequent years Gibraltar would prove itself to be one of the most fought over places on earth. A less romanticised version of the entire poem goes like this;
The ships came to the mountain of double victory,
Whose venerated heights are the most famous of all mountains,
Clouds form an unbuttoned black cloak round the neck of its superb summit;
Stars crown the air above it like dinars of gold
And their golden rays caress it.
This ancient mountain has blunted its teeth
In the forests of time and the passage of centuries.
Wise in experience, it has known all manner of things;
Has shaken off all vicissitudes, and pushed them away,
Like the camel drivers jostle their camels
And continue on the road singing glad songs.
The mountain is now at rest and ponders
On its past, its present, and it future.
In grave and thoughtful silence, hiding many mysteries.
May this rock be secure as from tomorrow,
Safe from fear and misfortune
Although all other mountains in the world tremble.
The reference to the levanter (black cloak) will be familiar to Gibraltarians. Appropriately this version avoids a plea for peace. Fate had other plans for Madinat al Fath.

Another 17th century Muslim historian also mentions Al Mu’mins visit to the Rock: 
(Abd al-Mu'min) landed on Jebal Tarik which from that day was called Jebal-al-Fath and ordered that a strong fortress should be erected on top of it. He traced out the building with his own hand. and when, after remaining for two months there . . . returned to his African dominions, he appointed his son Abu Sa’id, then governor of Granada, to superintend the building and report its progress to him. One of the architects employed was Haji Ya’ysh, the geometrician (who) is said to have constructed . . . during his residence at Jebal-Tarik (Gibraltar), a large windmill, which stood on the very top of the mountain.
As does a mid-20th century Spanish Arabist who was well known in Gibraltar and who used Ibn Sahib al-Sala. He is worth quoting in full:
Leopoldo Torres Balbás – on Ibn Sahib al-Sala
Proyectaba, pues, Abd al-Mu'min construir, o reedificar, como dicen algunos de los manuscritos del Qirtas, en Yabal Tarik, llamado en tal ocasión Yabal al-Fata (monte de la Victoria), una gran ciudad fortificada, preparando así un sólido punto de apoyo para la guerra santa en la Península.  
Comenzaron a excavarse los cimientos de la nueva ciudad, a la que dio el nombre, pronto olvidado, de Madinat al-Fath, el . . . 19 mayo 1160, y acabaron las obras, realizadas rápidamente y en las que se invirtieron grandes sumas . . . (entre el 2 de noviembre y el 1 de diciembre del mismo año) 
Entre las construcciones levantadas entonces, y que fueron las primeras de los almohades en al-Andalus, cítanse la mezquita mayor, un palacio para alojamiento del soberano, otros destinados a sus hijos, y residencias para los principales dignatarios de la corte.  
Previamente se habían excavado en la ladera de la montaña algunos lugares en los que brotaron fuentes, que fueron reunidas por medio de pequeñas regueras a una acequia que penetraba en la ciudad y vertía en un gran depósito construido con tal destino; el agua utilizábase tanto para beber hombres y animales como para el riego de los jardines plantados junto a la ciudad, a la que se entraba por un ingreso único, sólidamente fortificado, llamado Bab al-Futuh. (Puerta de la Conquista) 
Para estas obras mandó Abd al-Mu' min ir a Gibraltar albañiles, carpinteros y canteros desde Sevilla y otros lugares de su imperio. Diferentes testimonios dicen haberlas dirigido el geómetra al-Hayy Ya’is, de Málaga, enviado por Abd al-Mu'min desde Marrakus, y que era un famoso ingeniero, constructor de notables máquinas durante su residencia en Gibraltar, entre ellas un molino de viento situado en lo más alto del monte y autor asimismo de la célebre Maqsura de la aljama de Marrakus, obra de tal arte y mecanismo, que causaba la admiración de cuantos la veían moverse por ocultos resortes.  
También dirigió las obras de la nueva ciudad el arquitecto Ahmad ibn Baso, ido a Gibraltar desde su residencia de Sevilla, el mismo que más tarde fué a Córdoba para edificar o restaurar sus alcázares y proveer de sólidas defensas a sus fronteras, y a quien luego, en el año . . . 1171-1172, le encomendó Abu Ya,’qub la dirección e intendencia de la mezquita sevillana.  
Al terminarse las obras pasó Abd al-Mu' min a al-Andalus desde Tánger. Desembarcó el soberano almohade en Gibraltar . . . (entre el 2 de noviembre y el 1 de diciembre 1160, y, cuenta al-Marrakusi, concedió allí audiencia a gran número de poetas  
Celebróse en esa ciudad una asamblea a la que acudieron los jefes de Málaga, Ronda, Granada, Córdoba y Sevilla y numerosos caídes de ambos lados del Estrecho. Después de disponer la guerra en el Occidente de al-Andalus, y tras dos meses de estancia, regresó el soberano al África . . . el 31 de diciembre de 1160, dejando encargado a su hijo Abu Sa’id, gobernador de Granada, de la intendencia y prosecución de las obras de Gibraltar. 
A partir de entonces, el Peñón, con la ciudad, la alcazaba y el puerto, convertidos en fortaleza del islamismo, sirvieron de seguro apoyo para el paso de los musulmanes de África a Andalucía. A la par se desarrollaba también la cercana Algeciras, capital de la comarca inmediata.

Leopoldo Torres Balbás posing in the Alhambra

The many mentions of sundry constructions in Madinat-al-Fath deserve further comment. 


Historian Maurice Harvey blandly explains that it was used to grind corn. One can only assume he uses the word in its more general sense as 'corn' was unknown in Europe before the 15th century. Also, it is hard to imagine what it would have been used for. It could hardly have been for any sort of grinding purpose as the effort of getting whatever it was up the mountain would have been out of all proportion to whatever benefits might have been gained by being assured a decent wind. 

One possible if rather weak explanation is that both George Hills and Maurice Harvey were right and that Madinat-al-Fath was founded on the south rather than the north and that the 'very top of the mountain' was a relative phrase referring to Windmill Hill - which by its very name has long been associated with windmills - and which incidentally was tantalisingly known in later days as Taraf-al-fath.

A windmill in Windmill Hill (1778 - William Booth)


Tourist information at the Gibraltar Museum states categorically that the Moorish baths in Bomb House Lane – which lies well outside and the south of the Castle Qasabah – were built in the 14th century. However, two prominent Gibraltarian historians Fa and Finlayson - at the time directors of the local museum - writing about the construction of Madinat al Fath make the following observation:
Darren Fa and Clive Finlayson
Islamic sources of the day indicate that the construction included . . . a palace for the sovereign (possibly the site of the present baths) . . . 
Of course, this does not necessarily mean the Darren and Clive’s palace included any sort of bath - although many contemporary Islamic palaces worth their salt would definitely have had one. However, it seems to me unlikely that such an important building would have been constructed so far away from the security of what were essentially the town walls. 


Following Alcantara’s example I will leave my opinions on this one for a later chapter.

Tabula Rogeriana - A modern copy of an original published more or less at the time when Abd al-Mu'min was busy building Madinat-al-Fath – the top is south (12 century - al-Isidri)

THE GREAT SIEGE – 1779-1783

The town was indeed very badly damaged during this siege and I would imagine that the prints in the Gibraltar Museum referred to are the ones shown below:

The town in ruins after the Great Siege - Top facing south - Bottom facing north (1793 - Captain Thomas Davis)

However, according to a footnote in the 1839 edition of Drinkwater’s definitive account of the siege:
John Drinkwater – History of the Siege of Gibraltar - 1839 ed P 36
Since the peace of 1783, the greatest part of the town has been rebuilt and (which is rather to be regretted) on the old foundations.
As regards Alcantara’s “elusive, tantalising clues”, I will deal with them as he does in the 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