The Nasrid Dynasty and the Birth of the Alhambra Palace

June 24, 2020

The Nasrid Dynasty was the last Muslim dynasty on the Iberian Peninsula . The Nasrids ruled over the Emirate of Granada , which was founded during the 13 th century.

The Emirate was the last Muslim state of Al-Andalus (also known as Andalusia) and was only conquered by the Christians around the end of the 15 th century. It may be said that the Emirate of Granada was able to survive so long as its rulers were tributary vassals of the Christian Kingdom of Castile. Moreover, the Nasrids were not considered to be a serious threat by the Christians and were therefore allowed to exist.

Although the Nasrids gradually lost territory to the Christians, their capital, Granada, remained an important center of Islamic culture until its fall. The Alhambra in Granada is one of the best examples of the Nasrid Dynasty’s cultural achievements that has survived to this day.

The Nasrids in Al-Andalus and the crusades that defeated them

The Nasrid Dynasty came to power in 1212 AD, following the defeat of the Almohads (the Berber Muslims who ruled Al-Andalus) at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, a major battle of the Reconquista. At the Battle of Alarcos in 1195, Alfonso VIII of Castile suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the Almohads. Subsequently, Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, the Archbishop of Toledo, began stirring up indignation at the Muslim victory over the Christians.

As a result, a proclamation of a crusade was obtained from the pope, which received the backing of several French bishops. In the spring of 1212, several contingents of French knights, and the Knights Templar arrived at Toledo. The crusade was joined by Aragon, Castile, and Portugal.

The crusaders began their march southwards on the 21 st of June, and succeeded in capturing two Muslim fortresses. Many of the non-Spanish crusaders, however, were discouraged by the harsh climate and living conditions, and returned home. Nevertheless, the remaining army was reinforced by an army from Navarre. In the meantime, the Almohads brought their army to the mountainous region around Baeza.

The caliph, Muhammad al-Nasir, planned to cut the crusaders off at the plain of Las Navas de Tolosa. The crusaders arrived on the 12 th of July, and took Castroferral, hoping to reach the Muslims via the pass of La Llosa. This was not going to be an easy task, as the pass was heavily guarded. Fortunately for the crusaders, a local shepherd showed them an alternative route to the Muslim camps. The Almohads who were taken by surprise, were easily routed.

The defeat of the Almohads at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa marked the beginning of the end for them. Dynastic squabbles and the lack of a strong leader exacerbated the problems faced by the Almohads, and they quickly lost their grip on Al-Andalus.

The power vacuum left by the Almohads was quickly filled by local Muslim rulers, who established their own taifas, or independent principalities. As a matter of fact, this was not the first time that taifas were formed. When the Caliphate of Cordoba fell in 1031, for instance, local Muslim leaders seized the opportunity to declare their independence. According to some estimates, as many as 50 taifas emerged after the collapse of central authority. Other estimates, however, place the number at around 30.

The Rise of the Nasrids and the Emirate of Granada

The Emirate of Granada was one of these taifas (though sometimes not considered as such) that emerged after the fall of the Almohads. Although the power of the Almohads had been greatly reduced as a result of their defeat to the Christians, they were still strong enough to control Al-Andalus for one or two decades. Eventually, however, the Almohads lost their control over Al-Andalus, and their lands were soon lost to the taifas. These independent principalities, however, did not last for long, as they were conquered one by one by the Christian kingdoms of Spain.

In the early 1230s, Muhammad ibn Yusuf ibn Nasr ibn al-Ahmar (known also as Muhammad I of Granada, and Muhammad I al-Ghalib), a military leader from the Jaén region, founded the Emirate of Granada. In 1237, Muhammad established his capital at Granada.

The city would serve as the Nasrid capital until the dynasty’s demise. In addition to Granada, Muhammad was also in control of neighboring Jaén, Almería, and Málaga. In other words, the Nasrids ruled over the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula.

The Nasrids were aware of the Christian threat to their emirate. Therefore, they chose to acknowledge the sovereignty of the King of Castile. In exchange for peace, the Nasrids paid an annual tribute to Castile, and were occasionally required to contribute to the Castilian war effort in the form of soldiers. Muhammad himself was a vassal of Ferdinand III, and continued his vassalage under Alfonso X, Ferdinand’s successor. The Castilians, in turn, were happy to maintain this arrangement, as they did not perceive the Nasrids as a strong Muslim state that may pose a threat to them.

Compared to the other taifas, the Emirate of Granada enjoyed a relatively peaceful relationship with the Christian states. As these taifas were conquered by the Christians during the Reconquista, more and more Muslims were forced to flee from their homes. Many of them headed south, and eventually reached Granada, where they were welcomed by the Nasrids.

These refugees came from such cities as Seville, Valencia, and Murcia, which had been prosperous centers of Islamic culture . The refugees brought along their skills with them, which contributed to Granada’s prosperity, and transformed the city into the new center of Islamic culture on the Iberian Peninsula. Thanks to this new-found prosperity, the Nasrids were able to embark on the construction (more appropriately the renovation and rebuilding) of the Alhambra, arguably the achievement they are best remembered for today.

Read More

0 comment