Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the south-eastern coastal city of Almería. It was a great trip! I was drawn by the city’s illustrious history, which extends back thousands of years and, in particular, by its importance in Andalusi history. The city is distinguished by the fact that its Muslim population was almost entirely composed of indigenous converts to Islam, who were later joined by southern Arabian (Yemeni) tribes who settled in the region. In the late eighth and early ninth century, these converts (known as muwalladun) established an important polity based around the town of Almería (and its neighboring town Pechina/Bajjana) which was entirely independent from the central authorities in Cordoba. This polity was based mainly on local agriculture, the cermanics industry, and maritime trade. Almería’s population specialized in sea-faring, as is evident from their extensive ship-building expertise and the fact that they traveled widely in the Mediterranean. There is even evidence, based upon maritime archaeology and historical sources, that the Muslims who established themselves in Provence in southern France (where they ruled for over 100 years from Fraxinetum) originated from Almería. The city is also important because it was the site of a major battle between the Umayyads and the Fatimids, the latter whom tried to invade al-Andalus but were repelled. Following its integration into the Umayyad state, Almería became the central port of al-Andalus, which greatly enhanced its status and wealth. During the time of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada, Almería continued to be regarded as the principal port of al-Andalus and the primary link with the Islamic world.
La Garde-Freinet in southern France, from where Andalusi Muslims ruled a frontier-state, extending across the Alps from Piedmont to Provence, for about a century
When I arrived in Almería during the early morning, the city was completely covered with mist. Although it may look like fog, this was in fact an odd mix of extreme humidity and sand/dust, since Almería (as I found out) is located in the only desert part of Spain. Interestingly, the city’s climate reminded me a lot of that in Kuwait, where I lived a few years ago. However, thankfully the weather cleared up eventually and I was able to enjoy walking through the city’s ancient neighborhoods, churches, and market places. For such an old city, located in one of the more touristy areas of Spain, I was quite shocked at the amount of poverty I witnessed. Entire portions of the city are completely falling apart and I don’t recall witnessing as many homeless people in the rest of Andalusia (Madrid is a different issue altogether) as I did in Almería.
Iglesia de San Juan, one of the city’s most important churches but formerly a mosque. This can be seen clearly from the architecture of the building, and the complete preservation of the mihrab (seen in the image above).
Courtyard of the Cathedral, formerly great mosque of the city
Facade of the cathedral
One of Almería ‘s most distinguishing features, it not its most distinct landmark, is the Islamic fortress overlooking the town. Built in 955 on the direct orders oft he caliph Abd al-Rahman III, this structure is one of the most powerful and extensive fortresses ever constructed in al-Andalus; it also happens to be one of the most well-preserved in Spain. Aside from its sheer complexity (a fact which rendered it impregnable), one of its key characteristics is its hydraulics system which allows water to flow throughout the structure. The fortress is a masterpiece of Islamic military architecture and clearly exhibits Roman and Byzantine influences.