The epic battle for control of the Strait of Gibraltar waged by
Castile, Morocco, and Granada in the late thirteenth and early
fourteenth centuries is a major, but often overlooked, chapter in
the history of the Christian reconquest of Spain. After the
Castilian conquest of Seville in 1248 and the submission of the
Muslim kingdom of Granada as a vassal state, the Moors no longer
loomed as a threat and the reconquest seemed to be over. Still, in
the following century, the Castilian kings, prompted by ideology
and strategy, attempted to dominate the Strait. As self-proclaimed
heirs of the Visigoths, they aspired not only to reconstitute the
Visigothic kingdom by expelling the Muslims from Spain but also to
conquer Morocco as part of the Visigothic legacy. As successive
bands of Muslims over the centuries had crossed the Strait from
Morocco into Spain, the kings of Castile recognized the strategic
importance of securing Algeciras, Gibraltar, and Tarifa, the ports
long used by the invaders.
At a time when European enthusiasm for the crusade to the Holy Land
was on the wane, the Christian struggle for the Strait received the
character of a crusade as papal bulls conferred the crusading
indulgence as well as ancillary benefits. The Gibraltar Crusade had
mixed results. Although the Castilians seized Gibraltar in 1309 and
Algeciras in 1344, the Moors eventually repossessed them. Only
Tarifa, captured in 1292, remained in Castilian hands.
Nevertheless, the power of the Marinid dynasty of Morocco was
broken at the battle of Salado in 1340, and for the remainder of
the Middle Ages Spain was relieved of the threat of Moroccan
invasion. While the reconquest remained dormant during the late
fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, Ferdinand and Isabella
conquered Granada, the last Muslim outpost in Spain, in 1492. In
subsequent years Castile fulfilled its earlier aspirations by
establishing a foothold in Morocco.
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