History - The Catholic Reconquest

The Catholic Reconquest

by Chris Chaplow

The reconquest is the period of history of the Iberian Peninsular between the Battle of Covadonga (718 AD); the first victory of Christian Military forces since the Islamic Invasion to the fall of the Islamic state in Granada in 1492.

In the mid-12th century the Almoravid dynasty was overtaken by another religious movement: the Almohads, who came from a Berber tribe originating in the very heart of the Atlas Mountains and by 1150  the Almohads had conquered the Southern part of the Iberian Peninsula that is approximately today's Andalucia.


The Christian kingdoms to the north were by then too well organised to be conquered by the Almohads and, despite minor forays into 'alien' territories, the Almohads made no permanent advances against them. Muhammed III (Al-Nasir) was finally defeated by King Alfonso VIII (of Castile) in 1212 at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in the Sierra Morena, marking the end of Almohad dominance. After Las Navas de Tolosa, King Alfonso VIII returned north to confront the Almohads near Toledo, in 1213.


A crisis for succession of the Almohad Caliphate after the death of Yusuf II in 1224 and the need for claimant Abdallah al-Adil to defend a succession in Africa, opened an opportunity for intervention to Fernando III of Castile who had indirectly inherited the Castilian throne from Alfonso in 1217.

In 1225 Fernando ravaged the regions of Jaen and Vega de Granada and carried on his predecessor's work, fighting the Almohads in the Guadalquivir Valley. He captured Cordoba in 1236, Jaen in 1246, and Seville in 1248; he then took Arcos, Medina Sidonia, Jerez and Cadiz. Fernando's death in 1252 prevented the Castilians from crossing the Gibraltar Straits to take the war to the heartland of the Almohad empire.

In the meantime, the east and Mediterranean coast of Andalucia remained under Moorish occupation. This is approximately present-day Almeria, Granada, Malaga provinces.  Muslims fled to this Taifa of Granada after their towns and cities were recaptured. There was very little territory gained by the Catholic Castile monarchs before 1482.

The last Islamic rulers of Al-Andaluz in Granada were the Nasrids who controlled Granada for the 13th and 14th Centuries and in the time built the Alhambra palace.

The Crown of Castile conferred four territorial jurisdictions known as (reynos del Andalucia) Kingdoms of Andalucia after the reconquest in line with the former Moorish 'taifas'. Theses are Kingdom of Cordoba (1236), Kingdom of Jaen (1246), Kingdom of Sevilla (1248), Kingdom of Granada (1492). These were not reformed until 1833 when 8 provinces were created.  


Ferdinand III successor in 1252 was Alfonso X who fought a successful war with Portugal but had less success against Granada. The end of his reign in 1284 was marred by a civil war with his eldest surviving son Sancho IV.


In 1293 at the request of the council of the Kingdom of Sevilla, King Sancho IV construct castles to fortify an area in present day Sierra de Aracena, against possible Portuguese ambitions and also to protect the population from bandits.  Since this area had been repopulated by people from Galicia and Leon the defensive line was called the Banda Gallego.

Isabel and Ferdinand

Isabel and Ferdinand, the Catholics Monarchs, were a marriage which united medieval Spain: the great houses of Castile and Aragon, which between them controlled vast tracts of the peninsula. You can see references to the Monarchs all over Andalucia, as their reign marked a key turning point in Spain's history, its fortunes and its power. They are buried in the Royal Chapel of Granada Cathedral.

Reyes Catolicos (Catholic Monarchs) took part in the Granada War starting in 1482 and finishing with the siege and Battle of Granada in 1491, the capitulations of Bobadil the Nasrids Sultan on signing the Treaty of Granada on 25th November 1491 and the relinquishment of the city in January 1492.  This was the same year Columbus sailed to the New World.