The title of my article is slightly less ambiguous than that of the original manuscript from which I took it from - El jabar an-Marsa Yabal-Tarek – Noticias del Puerto de Gibraltar. Let me quote an explanatory reference from the University of Seville whose archives hold the original:
El primer título está tomado de una ficha que hay en el manuscrito. El segundo está tomado del texto en español. Texto en árabe y español. Parece tratarse de la crónica de unos viajeros musulmanes por España en tiempos de Carlos II
The original manuscript is in Arabic - which is incomprehensible to me - with a rather scribbled handwritten translation in Spanish which I have also found hard to transcribe. The manuscript does indeed seem to be a chronicle of several Arab visitors to Spain during the reign of Charles II - in other words some time during the late 17th century.
But it is not really about Gibraltar. It simply records a journey from Ceuta to Andalucía in which various places such as Cádiz, Sanlúcar, Marchena, Sevilla, Ronda, Utrera and Jerez de la Frontera are visited. However . . . the travellers’ first stop is Gibraltar and it is the author’s comments on it that I have tried my best to transcribe into English.
This mountain is called the mountain of victory 1 because it was through here that Tariq 2 (may god have mercy on him) came to the coast of Andalucía. It was Musa 3 who sent him together with several divisions on the orders of Prince Walid 4 - the son of Abdi AlMakaliki. 5 Musa was Walid’s Regional Governor in Africa and Tariq was Musa’s Governor in Tangier
1. The “Gibraltar” that occurs in the title is used throughout the manuscript to name the port rather than the Rock itself. This is invariably called the “mountain of victory” – Gebel al fath a name given to it in the middle of the 12th century by the founder of the town itself - Al-Muwahalid Abd-al Abd al-Mu'min Emir of the Moorish Almohads. He also renamed the town Medinat-al-Fath. (See LINK)
2. Tariq ibn Zayed – the man who is touted as having been responsible for the name of Gibraltar – Gebel Tarik – the Mountain of Tarik. (See LINK)
Tariq ibn Zayed (Unknown)
3. Musa bin Nusayr was the ruler of the Muslim provinces of Ifriqiya (North Africa) (See LINK). He is credited as having led the Islamic conquest of Visigothic Spain.
Musa on horseback whipping his serf Tariq
Al-Walid I relieving tribute (Unknown Korean Artist )
5. Abdi AlMakaliki – Almost certainly Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, the father of Walid I
Contemporary gold coin showing Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan
It so happened that a considerable correspondence had taken place between Musa and Julian 1 , a leader on the opposite coast of Spain who offered to allow passage to Musa’s men to the Isla Verde. 2 Musa in turn wrote to Walid telling him of this offer. Walid’s reply was that he should be careful before sending Tariq.
Because of this Musa sent Tarif 3 to Spain who returned after a successful conquest with booty and captives. . . . A new war against the Berbers had taken place before this but they had eventually been convinced to adopt the religion of Mohammed. It was after this war that many Berber prisoners were persuaded to take part in the eventual conquest of the non-believing Spaniards.
1. Julian – a Visigothic count and a shadowy historical figure perhaps best understood by reading the following. (See LINK)
2. Isla Verde - was once found in front of the town today known as Algeciras. The name is actually taken from the Arabic for “Green Island” or Al-Jazīra Al-Khadrā. It would seem that the author sometimes confuses the island with the nearby mainland because of the similarity between the two names.
Partial map of the Bay showing Gibraltar with the Isla Verde on the opposite coastline and Algeciras just beyond it ( 1802 - Ambroise Tardieu - Detail )
3. Tarif ibn Malik – led the first raid against Spain in 710 one year before Tarik’s expedition. He is reputed to have given his name to the Spanish town of Tarifa
When (Tarif) came back unscathed Julian asked Musa to return to Andalusia. Musa in turn asked Walid, for permission to proceed. The Caliph ordered him not to expose the Muslims to any danger which in turn prompted Musa to answer him as follows: Oh Prince of the believers . . . I will send my serf Tariq with Berber troops and if things work out the profit will be ours whereas if he fails it will really have nothing to do with us Muslims – in other words we have nothing to lose.
It was after preparations had been ordered for the passage across the straits to the coast of Spain that Julian arrived in Ceuta. He had left his daughter 1 behind in the palace of the King Don Rodrigo. 2 Musa was elsewhere in Africa but Julian visited him and explained how matters stood in Spain as well as his friendship towards him and willingness to supply troops.
1. Julian’s daughter – Florinda - played an indirect – if small and almost certainly apocryphal role in the Moorish conquest of Spain the details of which can be read here. (See LINK)
Florinda ( 1852 Franz Xaver Winterhalte )
2. Don Rodrigo – or King Roderick - was the last of the Christian Visigothic Kings of Hispania. He was famously defeated by Tariq in the Battle of Guadalete.
The Battle of Guadalete and the death of King Roderick (Unknown)
Muza answered that he believed what Julian had told him but that he declined to join him. Julian then took his men to Tarifa and wandered around plundering the land making himself rich in the process.
Julian trying to convince Musa that there were rich pickings to be had in Visigothic Hispania
( From a sketch by Ximena Maier – With thanks )
Meanwhile Musa turned his attentions to Tariq and his Berber soldiers. Tariq had set off from Ceuta and had disembarked near the mountain on a small island which lay near the foot of the town. It is a very small island in that it is only one mile in latitude and one mile in longitude. One of its limits or terminals is a big river that descends from the mountains of Ronda and its environs 1. There are many tall mountains that face the lands of the Berbers – the mountains of Fajasi and Tabtl 2 and others. This small island gives its name to the nearby coast. . . At the moment the place is uninhabited. 3
1. The author may be describing la Isla Verde but if so the place was certainly smaller than one mile long and one mile in width. Nevertheless as mentioned previously this small island did indeed give its name to Algeciras on the coast just opposite.
2. I am not sure where to find Fajasa and Tablt.
3. I am not entirely sure whether the Isla Verde was uninhabited in the late 17th century. Algeciras certainly wasn’t.
The port of Gibraltar is big and standing over it is an excellently built inaccessible fortress. 1 It is full of arms and canons and it is where the guards and sentries sleep at night. There are walls along the harbour and the lower reaches of the town. They extend from the castle for a mile along the coastline until they reach the area of the town where people disembark.
1. The Moorish Castle
"The area of the town where the people disembark” with the Moorish Castle looming over it ( Engraving of unknown date and artist )
The town is of average size and the majority of the inhabitants are soldiers and are housed according to their rank. There are no great merchants or really important inhabitants as there are in larger cities. The other side of the Rock faces Ceuta which supplies the inhabitants with goods as it is the closest place on the opposite coast of Africa. There are many guards on this side of the coast as the opposite side is the land of the Berbers which is considered a threat or so one learns from its history and chronicles.
Some of these confirm that nobody ever crossed over the sea from Barbary to the opposite coast in Spain until well before our Mozarab kings (may God have mercy on them). They did so from across those places opposite the mountain of victory and Tarifa. The reason that Tarifa is so named is because of Musa, son of Nasr (God have mercy on him) and prefect in Africa on behalf of Walid, son of Abdi AlMalilki and Tariq, Musa’s prefect in Tangier and the convert Julian of the Isla Verde.
Musa had written to Walid who had agreed to his suggestions under the following conditions – he was not to expose Muslims to any danger in such a vigorous, dangerous and fearsome territory. Musa wrote back that there was nothing in these lands or its shores that might impede his proposal. Once again he insinuated that it would be possible to carry out his plan with just a few divisions.
Musa chose a Berber (his name was Tarif and his nickname Abazarabia) 1 and to take with him one hundred horsemen and four hundred men 2. They eventually crossed over 3 and disembarked on the coast of Andalucía at a place known nowadays as the Island of Tarifa which has taken its name because of Tarif’s landing.
Map showing the island of Tarifa in relation to the Spanish mainland, the Barbary coast and Gibraltar ( 1750s )
On our own land just opposite the mountain of victory lies Mount Belionese 4 also known as Mount Musa 5. It is called Belionese because of an ancient city of which even today there are vestiges of monuments and trees that confirm its existence. It lies to the west of Ceuta . . . 61. The Berber commander Tarif ibn Malik.
2. The horsemen were probably all Arabs and the others Berber soldiers.
3. Tarif is supposed to have set off from Tangier.
4. Perhaps from Beliones, the name of a coastal town near “Mount Musa” and west of Ceuta.
5. Mount Musa – or Jebal Musa or Mons Abyla or Apes Hill - is identified by some as the southern pillar of Hercules (See LINK)
Jebal Musa from Gibraltar ( 1853 - Lady Patrick ) (See LINK)
6. The rest of this section deals with a confused and confusing paragraph which I have been unable to decipher.
We arrived at this port on Wednesday afternoon the same day we had set off from the town of Afraza 1 which lies near Ceuta. In the port we found a ship full of supplies and soldiers. It had been sent by the Duke 2 who lives in Sanlúcar on the orders of his king. 3 All matters referring to the coast opposite our lands and all orders issued by the king are done through this noble Duke and Count.
This large ship had been sent to Ceuta (our house of Islam) on the orders of the Governor of Cadiz. But a strong east wind had not allowed it to remain near Ceuta or anywhere nearby. Because of this they returned to the mountain of victory and stayed there waiting for the wind to abate. . . .
The people in Ceuta and the son of the captain of the ship assured us that it was awaiting us there but that we might make the crossing on smaller and more agile boats. They prepared for us three small ships with corresponding crew and soldiers and canons to defend ourselves. We set off at midday in the small ships and on our arrival transferred on to the ship that was waiting for us moored near the mountain of victory.
17th century Ceuta (Unknown)
2. A member of the powerful Guzman family, Lord of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Count of Niebla and Duke of Medina Sidonia with multiple important connection with Gibraltar. (See LINK)
3. Charles II
We spent the night on board as the ship balanced itself towards the right and we were rolled about and beaten like beasts by the rough seas. 1 Our fear lasted until dawn when the Captain ordered the ship to enter the port. It was in an area protected from the winds and waves a veritable shelter of the sea 2 and we anchored below the castle 3 and in the shadow of the mountain of victory. We were there eight days waiting for an east wind to ease our passage to Cadiz which was our destination. . . . 4
1. Despite the author’s previous comments about the size of the port, in those days – and right up to the very early 20th century - Gibraltar had no real harbour. Ships were forced to anchor in the middle of the Bay, a considerable distance from shore and at the mercy of the elements.
2. This was a reasonably protected area on the north western section of the Bay close to the neck of the isthmus just north of the Old Mole. (See LINK)
4. A notorious problem in the days of sail as only specific wind conditions made it possible to leave the Bay and continue to the desired destination.
Ships anchored in the Bay waiting for a favourable wind (1868 )
Of relative historic value but a curious document in that it offers a 17th century Moorish perspective of Gibraltar – albeit a very limited one. The rather repetitive historical notes which seem reasonably correct are interesting in that they seem to show that despite the loss of Gibraltar to Castile more than two centuries previously, the place still held considerable interest to people from Barbary.
But to me, perhaps the most interesting point is the continuous use of the name “the mountain of victory” rather than Gibraltar to identify the Rock. It suggests that the modern inclination to call it Gibraltar is of Spanish rather than Moorish origin.