Boabdil: el rey chico
Boabdil was born in the Alhambra Palace to the Sultana Aixa. His father, Abul Hassan Ali, known by the Spaniards as Muley Hacén, gave his name to the highest mountain peak on the Iberian Peninsula, Mulhacén, where it is said he was buried. Boabdil’s name was Abu’Abd Allah, pronounced ‘bu-ab-di-lah’ from which came the andaluz pronunciation with its knack of cutting short every word... His nickname of ‘el rey chico’ (the small king) did not in fact have anything to do with his stature but referred to the size of his ever-diminishing kingdom. By many, he was also known as el zogoybi – the unfortunate one – but that came later.
He came to the throne in 1482 following an uprising by the population in the Granada district of Albaicín against the extraordinarily high taxes that had been levied upon them. Boabdil, supported by an important local family, the Abencerrajes, deposed Abul Hassan Ali who was driven from the land and Boabdil became Muhammed XII, the last Nasrid king of Granada.
To gain more prestige, Boabdil endeavoured to invade the region of Castile. At the same time he was continually fighting against his father and his uncle, who both considered themselves the rightful ruler of the kingdom of Granada. In 1483, during one of his forays against the Christian armies, Boabdil was captured and imprisoned in the castle at Lucena. Its unusual octagonal tower, the Torre del Moral, is a surviving remnant of the original castle that can still be seen today. Three years later, in exchange for his liberty, Boabdil agreed to govern Granada under the Catholic kings. He had his throne returned to him, but had to hand over part of the territory ruled by his father to the kingdom of Castile.
The next six years saw more frequent civil wars and internecine strife, greatly favouring the ever-stronger Christian forces who eventually laid siege to Granada. The city fell on 2 January 1492 and, four days later, after total capitulation by its inhabitants, the so-called reconquista came to an end. From this magnificent centre of culture, of science and learning, of glorious art and architecture, Boabdil was expelled and the armies of Fernando and Isabel, the Reyes Católicos, or Catholic Kings, raised the Christian cross on the Alcazaba alongside their royal standards of Castile and Aragón.
Boabdil was granted a fiefdom in the region of Las Alpujarras and left Granada by the southern route to La Zubia. About 12 kilometres from the city he paused at a mountain pass before descending to Padul, looked back at his birthplace, his palace and his kingdom and sighed for what he had lost. His mother travelling with him is said to have been somewhat unsympathetic, telling him: “You do well to weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man.” ThePuerto del Suspiro del Moro (the Pass of the Arab’s Sigh), around 860 metres above sea level, is the last place on that road from where the Alhambra Palace can be seen.
From Padul, Boabdil travelled south to Lanjarón, the gateway to Las Alpujarras. Lying at the south-western end of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, it was originally settled by the Romans who discovered seven natural springs in the area and has been renowned for its spa waters ever since. Turning east, Boabdil travelled to the land he had been ceded near Láujar de Andarax by the wide Guadalfeo river valley.
Protected by the high mountains of the Sierra Nevada to the north and bounded by the lower sierras of Gador, La Contraviesa and Lujar to the south, the Alpujarras stretch from west to east through the province of Granada and into that of Almería. The snow from the high sierras melts in late spring and early summer keeping the towns and villages well supplied with fresh water throughout the year. With their innate knowledge of agriculture, their engineering skill in laying out complex networks of channels for the supply and drainage of water and their talent at maintaining the intricate terracing that originated from as far back as the time of the Visigoths, the Moors turned the Alpujarras into a veritable paradise on earth.
Boadbil lived in exile for less than a year in the Alpujarras before travelling to Fez in Morocco where he died fighting other battles in 1527. His followers stayed behind but most were finally expelled around 1570. However, much of their culture remained: two Moorish families were forced to stay behind in each village to instruct the Christian peasants sent down from the north to repopulate the area, in matters of agriculture and water management. They formed the basis of a new society, which still pays respect to the old in many of its traditions.