The Fall of the Nasrid Dynasty – Why Granada Fell?

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The Fall of the Nasrid Dynasty

Muhammad XII of Granada or known to the 15th century Castilians as Boabdil El Chico was the last Nasrid ruler of the kingdom of Granada in Spain 1492. For centuries, there has been a debate regarding who was to blame for the fall of the Nasrid dynasty in Granada. Some historians have blamed this on the weak, inexperienced character of Boabdil whereas others have blamed the fall on the scheming antics of his ruthless father Muley Hacén who rejected Boabdil as his rightful heir to the throne of the Granada dynasty in favour of the children he bore with Castilian born Zoraya.   Others believe the fall of the Nasrid rule on the rising power of Isabel and Fernando who joined the Castilian and Aragonese thrones through a royal marriage in 1469.

The Nasrids rose to power following the fall of the Almohads dynasty in Spain in 1229 (a 12th Century Moroccan Berber movement). The founder of the Nasrid dynasty was ibn Yusuf ibn Nasr who was the head of the Banu l-Ahmar an Arab tribe. He was a local ruler and a governor from the province of Jaen. Five years after announcing himself ruler of the Nasrids in 1237 Granada became the capital of the Nasrid dynasty which lasted for over 260 years.

Granada originated in the seventh-century and founded by a Jewish community “Gárnata al-Yahūd”  and was named after the pomegranate.  In the 11th century, the Muslim dynasty of Ziyad chose it as the capital of their new Taifa kingdom.  Taifa’s were the administrative divisions of the Umayyad caliphate of Cordoba.

In the 11th century Cordoba was the richest and most powerful state in Europe, but following the civil war, the caliphate broke into small rival states called Taifas. It was common amongst Taifas in the 11th and 12th century to compete regarding military and cultural prestige which took the form of recruiting famous poets and artisans to build the local culture of the Taifa. It wasn’t uncommon for Taifa to hire North African warriors or Christian mercenaries to fight other rival areas.

Granada’s neighbouring cities Malaga and Almeria were important strategic Andalusian provinces with key ports and access to trading routes via North Africa. The diverse landscape of Granada included the coast, high mountains and the Sierra Nevada which enabled irrigation systems, agriculture and fertile lands which enabled the growing of vegetables, fruit trees, olives, vines, citrus and dates. Corn, wheat and barley were also produced on the coast which allowed fishing and sea trade with northern Africa.

Remnants of the 11th Century Muslim city of Granada still exist today. The Church of San Jose was built on the site of a mosque; the former minarets are now bell towers. The main mosque of Granada which consisted of marble columns, pillar heads and doors brought from Cordoba, is now Calle de Los Oficios in the city centre. Later Christian conquests destroyed many “Hammans” or original Moorish baths as excessive use of water was perceived as wasteful. However, some original 11th Century “Hammans” can be found in Granada.

The kingdom of Granada became an amazing success, while under the rule of the Nasrid sultans Yusuf I and Muhammad V. The Alhambra Palace was constructed when the Nasrid empire was at its cultural, social and economic peak.

Yusuf I (1333-1354) embarked on various peace treaties to devote himself to building and cultural activities. Yusuf I, managed to negotiate peace with Castile and Morocco and also maintained diplomatic relations with Aragon. Yusuf I,  son of Muhammad V, became the successor to the throne and also had a keen interest in building and continued the construction of the Alhambra Palace after his father’s death.

There was the great investment in the sciences through the theology school’s or madrassas, which also produced historical commentaries, and anthologies. Madrasas also produced books on surgery and pharmacology.

Historically peace had been intermittently brokered between the Islamic kingdom and Castile via costly tributes paid to the Castilian crown. These were often at the expense of prosperity and the local population.

Bearing all this in mind why did the Nasrid dynasty finally fall under the reign of the reign of Boabdil?  According to Elizabeth Drayson, in “The Moor’s Last Stand: How Seven Centuries of Muslim Rule in Spain Came to an End,” throughout two centuries of the Nasrid rule, a pattern of conflict betrayal and murder would ensue and have the significant impact on the fate of the last emir Boabdil.

The Abencerrajes were a rival tribe to the Nasrids in 1453; they supported Abu Nasr Sa’d,  (the paternal grandfather of Boabdil)  to take the position of the Emir of Granada. Henry IV of Castile (half-brother of future queen Isabel) initially supported Sa’d, but relations deteriorated when the Granada emir refused to pay tributes to Castile.  Wars between the Christians and Moors continued over the years and so between 1458-63 Boabdil was born into the world where the Nasrid dynasty was already under siege and threat.

Boabdil’s father Muley Hacén or Abu l-Hasan Ali, known to be cruel and war mongering, usurped his father Sa’d from the throne in 1464 when Boabdil was five years old, and two decades later Boabdil would do the same to his father.  Court astrologers predicted that Boabdil would bring misfortune to the Nasrid throne, and so he became known as El Zogoibi (the Unlucky One). Boabdil grew up in the confines of the Alhambra Palace.  He was trained to be a skilled horseman and hunter. Elizabeth Drayson explains in her book that Boabdil learned advanced Arabic grammar, poetry, logic, algebra, science, history, law and theology. He had two siblings a younger brother Yusuf and sister Aixa.

When Isabel of Castille and Fernando of Aragon joined the two crowns of the Iberian Peninsula, the clock began ticking for Granada. Once Isabel had quashed any opposition to her as rightful queen and united as much as Castile as possible, her next objective was a bring the Moorish rule of Granada and 700 years of Islam on the Iberian Peninsula to an end.

Boabdil’s mother Aixa al-Hurra was a Nasrid princess with a strong, feisty character, and for 20 years she lived in relative harmony with Muley Hacén as the queen of Granada until Boabdil’s father fell in love with Isabel de Solis, the daughter of a Castilian Nobel man.  Isabel became known as Zoraya and became queen of Granada. She bore Muley Hacén two sons. Boabdil was no longer seen as the rightful heir. As a Nasrid princess with a bloodline that dated back to the Prophet (PBUH), Aixa could not accept that her eldest son should be denied the throne of Granada.

Boabdil during his exile in Guadix, married Morayma, the daughter of the governor of La Lonja and member of the Royal Court. They had a daughter Aixa and two sons, Ahmed and Yusuf. Boabdil, along with his new family, his brothers and sisters mother they were all confined to the Court of the Lions the Alhambra Palace while his father continued with his life with Isabel de Solis (Zoraya).

Muley Hacén continued to raid Christian territory, and the Catholic monarchs retaliated in the same vein. Boabdil faced two threats one was his uncle Al-Zagal who aspired to the throne via his brother and the other threat were the sons of Isabel de Solis.

In 1482 Boabdil and his brother Yusuf fled the Alhambra Palace and sought refuge in the city of Guadix. The same year while Boabdil’s father Muley Hacén was celebrating victory at La Lonja, Boabdil and his supporters entered the city of Granada to take control with the help of the Abencerrajes. Boabdil was now Emir of Granada.

The battle for power continued between Boabdil and his father, supported by his uncle, Al Zagal. When Boabdil’s father died proclaiming Zoraya’s sons as the rightful as heirs to the throne rather than support Zoraya, Al Zagal decided to seize power.  After many battles with his uncle, Al Zagal travelled to North Africa to gather an army but was imprisoned and blinded.

However, once the threat of Boabdil’s uncle Al Zagal had diminished Boabdil still had Isabel and Fernando to contend with. The Catholic monarchs were now a growing force and proving to be too powerful for Boabdil. They created a fortress town on the outskirts of Granada called Santa Fé and after years of battle with Boabdil finally starved the kingdom of Granada into retreat. Boabdil’s children Yusuf and Ahmed were also kept as bargaining chips by the monarchs in exchange for Granada and Morayma wanted her children back.  Broken, dejected and isolated and after seeing his city starved into retreat,  Boabdil  in 1492 January 2, handed over the keys of Granada to the Catholic monarchs ending 700 years of Moorish rule in Spain.

Author: S.Ahsan 

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