History - Spain's Moorish History - Almoravids and Almohads

Almoravids and Almohads: 11th to 13th centuries

These two dynasties ruled Andalucia from Seville; their most famous monument is the Giralda tower, part of a UNESCO World Heritage complex.

Towards the end of the 11th century in the western Magreb, now Morocco, a new political and religious movement emerged from which was founded the Almoravid dynasty. Ethnically more Berber than Arab, it conquered Morocco and founded Marrakech as its capital. In 1085 after the fall of Toledo in central Spain, Yusuf ibn Tashufin, the Almoravid leader, was sent a plea from the Moorish leaders there to help in repelling the Christian armies who were gradually moving south from northern Spain. Five years later the Almoravids took control of the whole of Al-Andalús, while maintaining their principal seat of government in Marrakech.

Initially the Almoravids disapproved of the opulence and lack of piety favoured by Spanish Muslims and put into place quite austere regulations, especially as regards art and architecture. Their later monuments, however, show they were eventually seduced by the so-called ‘luxury’ culture in Al-Andalús. This survives today in the ideas and designs they took back with them to North Africa in, for example, the mosques at Algiers and Fez.

In the mid-12th century the Almoravids were overtaken by another religious movement: the Almohads, who came from a Berber tribe originating in the very heart of the Atlas Mountains. This new dynasty spread through Morocco, crossed over to the Iberian Peninsula and, by 1150, had conquered the cities of Sevilla, Córdoba, Badajoz and Almería. Marrakech was again retained as their centre of power and, as religious reformation was an integral part of their culture, their courts in that city and also in Sevilla became significant focal points of Islamic learning.

The Almohads built grand mosques, mansions and palaces throughout their empire, which gradually extended as far north as the Ebro River, near the modern city of Tarragona. Continuing with the use of geometric design in their art and architecture (patterns begun by the Almoravids), they rebuilt the Alcázar in Sevilla, enlarged the city’s Grand Mosque and constructed nearby a new minaret, the Giralda. Rising over 100 metres tall, the slim, elegant tower was built in 1184 to mark the accession of Abu Yusuf Ya’qub al-Mansur. The minaret, serving as a model for similar ones in the Almohad imperial capitals of Rabat and Marrakech, still stands today, an emblematic landmark of Sevilla.

Like the Almoravids before them, the Almohads gradually succumbed to the relaxed customs and spiritual neglect that generally characterised Al-Andalús. The Christian states to the north were by then too well organised to be conquered by the Muslims and, despite minor forays into ‘alien’ territories, the Almohads made no permanent advances against them. Al-Mansur’s successor, Muhammed III (Al-Nasir) was finally defeated in 1212 at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in the Sierra Morena, marking the end of Almohad dominance.

Where can I see monuments from the Almoravids and Almohads?

In Seville:

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