While the Knights Templar saw a rising tide of defeat in the Holy Land – the story was the opposite in Moorish Spain. There it was a case of victory after victory. The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa was a turning point where Christian forces began to overwhelm the Muslim caliphate in Spain.
The Knights Templar were at the forefront of the long wars in what’s now Spain and Portugal against the Muslim rulers of the southern half of the Iberian peninsula. They were the shock troops of the Christian crusader kingdoms, always in the front line. Still today, you can see their mighty castle dotted around the Iberian landscape.
Templar war in medieval Spain
Since the year 711, when the Iberian peninsula was overrun by the armies of the caliphate, there had been three hundred years of solid Muslim rule but then a rolling back of Islamic Al-Andalus as the new Christian kingdoms of Aragon, Castile, Leon and Portugal began to emerge.
Divisions in Al-Andalus between rival rulers caused weakness and division which the crusaders, including Templar knights, exploited. But the tide of war ebbed and flowed in favour of the Christians and then the Muslims and then back again.
But from the late eleventh century, the Moors – as the Muslim rulers of Spain were called – lost many of their most treasured cities including Toledo and Al Usbunna (Lisbon). The Templars were highly prolific in the fight to drive the caliphate southwards.
Things started to look increasingly precarious for the Moors as Castile expanded towards the key cities of Seville and Cordoba. But the Moors were not completely spent as a force – on the contrary, they regarded Al-Andalus as a part of the Islamic world and were not prepared to surrender it so easily.
Almohad fightback against the Templar army in Spain
Religious zealots called the Almohads put some backbone in to the Moorish fightback and the crusaders were pushed back. But then came the decisive battle of Las Navas de Tolosa – also known as the Battle of Al-Uqab – in the year 1212.
The Almohads threw everything they had at the combined armies of the Christian kingdoms to the north but suffered a terrible defeat. From this moment onwards, Al-Andalus was slowly snuffed out and Spain emerged as a Christian kingdom – with Jews and Muslims forced to convert.