Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Why Moorish Spain Fell

Happy New Year! But back on January 2, 1492, this day would not have been considered a joyous occasion for the Muslim inhabitants of Spain. Their world had ended as more than seven centuries of Moorish rule in what was now a majority Catholic country collapsed. Historians have referred to the event as a dying gasp or whimper as the last Islamic rulers, the Nasrids, handed over the keys to the city of Granada and access to their Alhambra Palace to the Catholic monarchs of a united peninsula. Moorish Spain had long been in decline. Several factors aided that final push over the precipice, much of which I've explored in the six-part Sultana novel series.

"La rendici├│n de Granada" or The Capitulation of Granada by F. Padilla
Five hundred and twenty-seven years later, I'm reflecting on the reasons for the fall of Moorish Spain. Having spent more than twenty years researching the time in which the Iberian Peninsula was once a predominantly Muslim region, the actors who played their roles in the last act of what I consider a great tragedy are as familiar to me as old friends and hated enemies. The Sultans; proud Abu'l-Hasan Ali, his rebellious brother Muhammad al-Zaghal and the luckless Muhammad XI, fated to be the last Muslim monarch to reign over a diminished Granada. Fierce Sultana Aisha and her daughter-in-law, Sultana Moraima, who did not long survive the surrender of the final Islamic kingdom. The rival Isabel de Solis who captured a Sultan's heart but ended her days as a Christian again. Queen Isabella of Castile with her husband King Ferdinand of Aragon accomplished what no other Christian predecessor of hers had done; undeniable submission. While I've painted her as the villain of my novels, I can't deny the transformative effect of her accomplishment. With the fall of Granada, Spain and Portugal stemmed their adversary's access to the gold of Africa and invaded the continent, while also pursuing the exploration of what they would come to call the New World. One of the purported witnesses of the Moors' exodus from the city was the young captain Christopher Columbus.

While Isabella's aims were achieved, it's impossible for me to view them without a cynical view or negate how events within Granada's Alhambra Palace, completely outside of her control or influence, allowed her to obtain victory. She inspired religious zeal by portraying her crusade against the Moors as a holy war, but in the end, her efforts paved a path towards the Inquisition and the deaths of thousands of Jews and Moors, the latter of whom she had promised would not be forced to convert to Christianity. She could not have anticipated how Abu'l-Hasan Ali's clashes with his younger sibling Muhammad al-Zaghal and his son Muhammad XI would have fractured the Nasrid Dynasty. Nor could she have known that the rivalry between supporters of Abu'l-Hasan Ali and his first wife Aisha would have led to the Moors' downfall. Centuries of knowledge were destroyed as Arabic and Jewish texts fed bonfires. Yet, ultimately, Isabella is responsible for maintaining much of Alhambra Palace as it was at the time of her conquest. Beyond her grandson's destruction of the southern portion of the complex, which might have been part of the royal harem, the site largely remains the same. Never seen Alhambra? Now's as good a time as any to go; personally, I prefer winters in Granada than a hellish summer.

If you walk the corridors of Alhambra Palace today, there's an Arabic inscription that occurs repeatedly throughout the stuccoed walls and tiled rooms. Wa-la ghaliba illa-Llah, which translates as 'there is no conqueror but God.' It had been the motto of the Nasrids for two hundred and sixty years. As a devout Catholic, Isabella believed in the power of God fervently too, that He was on her side. Did the fall of Moorish Spain prove her right?    

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