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Mallorca Through the Ages - The Moors (902-1229)

The Umayyads were the second Arab Caliphate since the death of Mohammed and they needed a new fleet to counter piracy across the Mediterranean, much of it based in the Balearic Islands, 3,000 Almoravid warriors led by Isram invaded in the year 902 A.D. and they found the island in a terrible state.

the moors in mallorcaMallorca was easily captured yet again and only Alaró Castle , in the centre of the island, held out for eight years before their supplies ran out. The islands became a fief of the Emirate of Cordoba and this time Palma was chosen as the capital with a new name, Medina Mâyûrqa or Majorca City. The settlers rebuilt the city and worked hard to turn the barren lands into fertile gardens using irrigation and walled terraces.

Moorish immigrants formed small farming communities (rafals) some of which grew into villages (alqueriers). They rebuilt the fortresses (almudainas) at Palma and Arta and the castles (alcazars) at Alaró, Santueri and Pollença. They also built mosques, palaces and gardens in their distinctive Arabic architectural style.

The Umayyads had a cultured society which respected philosophy, medicine and other sciences. Their agricultural methods were developed from Roman ideas and while they abandoned wine, pork, wheat and olives, they thrived on a diet of vegetables, rice, sugar cane, saffron and fruits. Mallorca also became a centre of legalised piracy directed at Christian trading routes and al-Mowaffak's and Kautir's ships were the scourge of the Mediterranean Sea.

the moors in mallorcaThe Umayyad Caliphate collapsed early in the 11th Century after civil wars and internal strife and it was divided into 27 provinces (taifas). However, the strongest dominated the weakest until only 20 taifas were left. Mujahid al-Amiri captured Denia in 1009 and Mallorca in 1015, making his nephew, al-Aghlab, the island's governor (wali). After Denia was annexed to Saragossa in 1076, the Balearics became independent with Al-Murtada as its Emir.

The year 1036 was an important one in the western Mediterranean because a new radical Islamic sect formed in the Sahara under ibn Yasin. The followers called themselves the al-Murabitum (the Faithful Soldiers) or Almoravids and by 1084 they controlled northwest Africa. Yusuf ibn Tashufin, or 'Commander of the Faithful', crossed what is now the Gibraltar Straits and invaded Iberia the following year. They quickly converted large areas to their fundamental ideals, persecuting Christians, Jews and liberal Muslims alike.

the moors in mallorcaYusuf was succeeded by his son, Ali, and although he was defeated by the great warrior El Cid at Valencia in 1099, he conquered Saragossa in 1110, making the Balearics Islands the last remaining Umayyad emirate. While the mainland came under the cosh of the Almoravids, Mallorca's only invader was Sigurd I of Norway who raided in 1108 en route to Jerusalem.

As Balearic piracy increased, the Pisans joined with the Catalans in 1114 to stamp out the problem. 500 ships carrying an army of 75,000 men captured Ibiza before sailing to Mallorca and landing at Coll d'en Rabassa, east of the city. Emir Mobaxir fought and lost two battles and fell back inside the city walls after appeals for peace were refused. After an eight month siege the Christians wanted to talk but this time the Emir refused because he was waiting for help from the Almoravids. Mobaxir died soon afterwards and his successor, Abu Rabi Suleiman, failed to hold the city because a new invention Greek fire set the city ablaze and on 2 February 1115. The Pisans and Catalans entered through three breaches in the wall and went on the rampage, only leaving with Suleiman when the Almoravid fleet approached.

the moors in mallorcaThe Almoravids found that Medina Mâyûrqa was a ruined shell littered with corpses and the survivors were in no position to put up a fight. They were soon under hard line Islamic rule but while first governor Wali Wanur wanted to build a new capital city inland, he was also a despotic ruler and the Mallorcans took him prisoner. An appeal to Caliph Ali ibn Yusuf resulted in a new leader being appointed in 1126 but the new regime's was complacent. The Almoravids employed Christian mercenaries to protect Mallorca and they rebelled every time money ran short, resulting in several rebellions and several deposed Wali's.

Muhammad ibn Ganiya, was appointed governor around 1151 and he urged redevelopment and trade with North Africa to stimulate the economy. He also ended piracy by signing trading agreements with Genoa and Pisa. While Mallorca's fortunes were improving, Ganiya's son Ishak murdered his brother Abd-Allah and his father and appointed himself Emir around 1155. Ishak continued the truce with Genoa and Pisa but piracy continued against all other ships and King William II of Sicily attacked the island in 1181.

While the Almovides allowed Christians and Jews to live on Mallorca, a new radical Islamic group was on the rise in Morocco under Ibn Tumart. The al-Muwahhidum or Almohads (the Unitarians) captured Marakesh under Abd al-Mumin in 1147 and then sailed to the Algarve in what is now southern Portugal.

the moors in mallorcaOnce Al-Mumin's son, Abu Yaqub Yusuf, had completed the seizure of northwest Africa, his followers crossed to Iberia in their thousands. They advanced north quickly, making Seville their capital, and drove the Christians and Jews ahead of them, burning their churches and synagogues. Many escaped to Mallorca as it became a bastion of tolerance.

Muhammad Ganiya II succeeded Ishak in 1184 but he was usurped by his brother Ali when he negotiated with the Almohades. With an army of 1,000's of Almoravid refugees, Ali invaded what is now Algeria to undermine the Almohades' power base. Unfortunately, propaganda stirred up an uprising in Mallorca as the Almohades plotted to take the island.

In 1203 a fleet of 300 ships sailed from Denia and captured Mallorca, killing Abd-Allah in battle. Two years later Ganiya was defeated and killed in North Africa, bringing an end to the Almovides dynasty.

Abu Yahya seized control but while he brought stability to the island, the Almohad situation on the Peninsular was deteriorating. In 1212 the combined forces of Castile, Navarre, Aragon and Catalonia defeated Muhammad al-Nasir at Las Navas de Tolosa, undermining Almohad authority. The Moorish Empire collapsed following the death of Yusuf II in 1224, leaving Mallorca once again a bastion of Islamic rule. Although Peter II of Aragon had wanted to capture Mallorca, he could not raise an army to take it because he had commitments elsewhere. His son was crowned King when he was only six years old but he was soon aware of his father's desire and by 1229 he was ready to conquer Mallorca.

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