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The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, Seville. Its bell tower ‘La Giralda’, is a minaret built by the Almohad caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf in 1198 for his grand mosque, with later Christian additions

I dare to imagine that, as the least of his exploits, entire kingdoms will fall beneath his laws; and my fond love is already persuaded that I behold him seated on the throne of Granada, the vanquished Moors trembling while paying him homage.

The Infanta from Corneille’s El Cid.

The Reconquista predated the Crusades, and knights fighting in Spain received indulgences equal to those who battled for Jerusalem. The title of the venture is also something of a misnomer, as most of the knights who would eventually take Spain from the Muslims came from Navarre and beyond, and there was certainly a great deal of rubbing along with Muslim neighbours and short-term alliances between Christians and Muslims for quick gains. However, in response to a heavy defeat at Alarcos in 1195, Alfonso VIII of Castile received Crusade privileges from Pope Innocent III and by 1210 Alfonso had renewed the offensive and he pushed into Muslim territories. His success led to a further call for Crusade in 1212 in both France and Spain, and in Rome fasting and special prayers were ordered for a Christian victory. The response was strong in southern France amongst knights already engaged on the Albigensian Crusade and a large army mustered at Toledo. At the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa the Muslims were routed after an heroic charge was led by Alfonso. Many Muslim castles immediately surrendered, and Andalucía was opened up to invasion. This was a turning point but a long, grinding campaign still lay ahead and the Papacy consistently fretted that the reconquest should not divert resources from Crusades to the Holy Land.

By the middle of the thirteenth century there was far more unified, concerted and powerful action, and Crusade privileges were given in 1229 for James I of Aragon and his expedition to the Balearics, and military orders specific to the Iberian Peninsula evolved. By 1248 only Granada remained to be taken in Spain by the Reconquista, as Seville fell in that year, and Cordoba had surrendered in 1236. Portugal was completely Christian-controlled by 1250.

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But then for nearly a century the pace of reconquest slowed as the Marinids of Morocco fought to preserve Moorish Andalucía. They may have seen it as a buffer, as a Crusade was being preached to invade Africa. Alfonso X of Castile tried to recruit King Henry III of England and King Hakon of Norway for the venture, but in 1264 he had to face a large-scale Muslim revolt alone and he expelled all Muslims from Murcia. Granada survived with Marinid support, and the long war would continue with Crusades bringing warriors to Spain from England, Bohemia, France and Germany. However, Gibraltar remained a Muslim possession allowing entrance to the campaign for Marinid troops, and Alfonso XI died of the Black Death while besieging it in 1350. The reconquest then went dormant for nearly a century with the Christians unable to subjugate Granada and the Muslims unable to attempt any significant onslaught.

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The union of Aragon and Castile in 1479 reinvigorated the war. Indulgences were promulgated and the completion of conquest was widely seen as a compensation for the loss of Constantinople. Malaga was taken in 1487 and a permanent fortress-town, Santa Fe, was constructed next to Granada to demoralise and to dominate the Muslim defenders. The final surrender came in January 1492. Rome was illuminated with torches and bonfires and bullfights were organised by Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia.

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