While the crusades suffered setbacks in the east with the loss of Jerusalem and the advances made by Saladin – all was not well for Muslim rulers in the west. It’s often forgotten that the crusades were not just waged by crusaders against Islam in the Middle East, but also in Al-Andalus….medieval Spain and Portugal.
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.
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 through 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.