The Alcazaba of Almeria: A Masterpiece of Islamic Military Architecture

About three years ago, when I was in Spain, I had the opportunity to visit the south-eastern coastal city of Almería. 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.

One of the most significant monuments of this former Andalusi city is without a doubt the city’s fortress, or Alcazaba. This fortress-palace complex was constructed beginning in 955 and was designed to be near-impregnable in order to resist the naval and military attacks of the Fatimids during this period. The only major force known to have breached its defenses was the combined Castilian-Genoese army led by Alfonso VII during the Second Crusade in 1147, although it returned to Muslim hands a decade later. The fortress is a magnificent example of Islamic military architecture in Iberia and clearly exhibits both Roman and Byzantine influences. One of the building’s distinguishing feature is its hydraulics, as evidenced from the water flowing through every level of the complex. The fortress was finally surrendered in 1489 by Muhammad al-Zagal, the rival Nasrid emir, as part of a surrender agreement with Castile. Some later improvements (such as an extended outer wall) were added by subsequent Spanish monarchs. The following are some pictures I took in 2012 when I visited the Alcazaba.

2 thoughts on “The Alcazaba of Almeria: A Masterpiece of Islamic Military Architecture

  1. An astonishing place to visit! I’ve never been there but it’s clearly one for the list. I find it intriguing, actually, how the history of peoples is set out before us in this way – the fact that the Arabs pushed into southern Spain after the political end of the Roman Empire, as Europe plunged into its ‘dark age’; and were later pushed out of it. They are gone, but the stones they built remain, and we can see and touch that legacy today. To me that really brings history alive.

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