TAKEN from the Chronicles of “Al-Mayurqy”, a book by Juan José Valle documenting the era when Majorca was part of a North African Empire.
IN the 12th century, Majorca enjoyed one of its most splendid historical epochs, not only as an island but as part of the wider context of Africa. There were instances in which it laid claim to an empire thanks to battles won by the Ganya family, above all by Alí and Yahiya, known as “The Majorcan”. Their adventures curtailed the ambitions of one of the great emperors of the day, Al-Mansur, who more than once saw those “miserable Majorcans” bringing his empire into check. The researcher and arabist, Juan José Valle, has spent nine years investigating this period of history, visiting battle sites and compiling a large amount of information that has taken the shape of a fictionalised historical book entitled “Al-Mayurqy”. We present here a resumé of this work which brings us closer to this little-known part of Majorca's history. Medina Mayurqa (the city of Majorca or Palma), during the 11th century was an oasis of peace. It comprised of more than 40 hectares of land, it was clean and its people hard working. It had more than 14 mosques, two Christian churches and a number of Jewish synagogues. This rich tapestry of culture remained stable up until the first years of the 12th century. In 1184, the Iberian Peninsula, or “al-Andalus” as it was then known, was divided into two halves. The upper section was divided into four Christian kingdoms that often fought amongst themselves; at the same time, they didn't hesitate to form alliances and give to - or ask for - assistance from their Islamic neighbours. The latter controlled the lower section of the Peninsula and were an integral part of the Western conquests of the “al-Magreb” empire, that at that particular time was in the hands of the Almohad dynasty after the overthrow of Almoravids. At that juncture, control of culture and power were in the hands of the Moroccan Sultan or Emperor to whom homage was paid in overt and covert form by all the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. All except Portugal where “Ibn al Renq” Alfonso Enríquez refused to acknowledge the Sultan of Marrakech, and continually organized expeditions to the Southern part of the Peninsula intending to enlarge his small kingdom using the peace-loving and hard-working people of that region as a base. But the Almohad Sultan was not especially bothered by the problems that the recently crowned Portuguese king might create for him, since the real thorn in his side was the independence of a small kingdom consisting of a group of islands known as “Al-Yazasir al-Sarquyya” the oriental islands - the Balearics. This group, situated in “Al-Bahr Abyad al-Matawasiq” - the white sea amongst lands - the Mediterranean, was three days' journey from Bujía, the most important city at the centre of the empire. This could lead to serious problems because the leaders of Majorca and the other islands in the Balearics were the only living descendants of the ancient imperial dynasty of the Almoravids. When a hunter has killed a lion, he also has to contend with the cubs - these cubs were the Majorcan family by the name of “Ganya”. Yusuf Ibn Taxufin (died 1106) was the first Almoravid emperor and founder of an empire that extended right through Spain as far as Zaragoza, and across the nations of Mauritania, Algeria, Tunis, Libya and Morocco. The name of Morocco derives from Marrakesh, the capital (founded by Ibn Taxufin) of the enormous empire. He had several children, amongst whom numbered the beautiful Ganya, mother to Yahya ibn Ganya and Mohamed ibn Ganya. The latter became governor of Majorca from 1123 until 1149. He in turn had various children, amongst them Abdalah and Ishaq, sovereign prince of the Balearics between 1149 until 1183. Ishaq had 13 sons. In 1184, Reverter, a military man converted to Islam and general of the Almohad fighting forces, attempted to conquer Majorca with a fleet of 20 warships at the time when Mohamed, the eldest son of Ishaq was governor of the Balearics. The undertaking proved to be a disaster and the invader was put to flight, but Alí, second son of Ishaq, wasn't in favour of developments in spite of the victory. He overthrew his brother and proclaimed himself sovereign of Majorca and of the rest of the islands. Not content with this, he declared war on enemy territory and, accompanied by nearly all his brothers, he reached Bujía in Algeria where supporters of the Almoravids were still entrenched. He entered the city at midday when the town was at prayer and after his supporters had cut the chain of the main portal to allow the boats to enter. He took Bujía more easily than had been foreseen, principally because he had made sure that the town governor was absent on an expedition. During the return from this foray, the governor's princes, supporters of the Almoravids, persuaded the army's rank and file not to enter into combat with the Majorcans. When they arrived back in Bujía, victory was being celebrated and for the first time, the black Majorcan flag was raised. The troops, inspired by this triumph, went on to advance towards Argel, successfully conquered it but leaving behind them the city of Constantina. Alí*s Majorcan army continued its march through what today is Algeria, going from victory to victory. Whilst attacking Miliana, the emperor Yaqub al-Mansur - the third and grandest of the Almohad sovereigns, ordered a fleet of 20'000 men to put to sea. Sailing out of Ceuta, the plan was the attempted reconquest of Bujía and the capture of two galleys laden with gold heading for Majorca to purchase the services of mercenaries from Barcelona and to liberate Reverter. Alí, seeing the way things were going, decided to turn back and besiege Constantina, but 500 archers had arrived there to reinforce the troops. In the meantime, the galleys reached Majorca and achieved their objective of freeing Reverter after buying the services of mercenary soldiers. Mohamed was freed and the island taken. Two ships however sailed out of Al-kudia in order to alert Alí to what had happened and arrived at Bujía. The brother of Alí, Yahiya was governor there - it was he who was to be known as “the Majorcan”. Yahiya reacted by ordering two ships and fifty men under the command of his brother Tala, as much a soldier as he was a drinker, in order to regain control of the island. Meanwhile, the 20'000 men in al-Mansur's fleet made their advance and recaptured Argel, their ultimate aim also being to take Bujía. Yahiya had set up an enormous fortified encampment at the entrance to the city but had discovered another strategic position in the area of the port. Yahiya changed the set up of his encampment and realigned it to face the sea but after three days of bloody fighting in which all the sailors died, the Moroccan emperor's army vanquished the Majorcan fleet with the exception of three ships which managed to escape. Yahiya fled in the direction of Constantina, where he met up with Alí and his army. There he received the bad news about the fall of Argel, Bujía, Majorca and the capture of his chief cavalry officer in Miliana. He bought all the horses he could lay his hands on, exchanging them for food, as the town had been under siege and its people starving, and then set off southwards crossing the Atlas mountains and advanced deep into Tunisia. He left a group of 100 men to concentrate on “guerrilla” warfare with the Almohad army but the latter decided not to hunt them down. Al-Mansur wrote a letter celebrating the victory. Alí meanwhile arrived at the Tunisian town of Tuzer. He wasn't able to take it but he bought his way in by bribing some guards. The only people who went unpunished were those who had let him in. This cruelty didn't sit well with his brothers who railed against him, obliging him to finance the construction of the Bled al-Ahdar mosque. The following town on their list of conquests was Gafsa where they encountered an army of Turks who had come to ally themselves with Alí. This had come about because, after taking control of Bujía, Alí had ordered his secretary to let the Calif of Baghdad know that Alí recognized the Calif as his superior. The Calif, by way of compensation, ordered Saladin, sovereign of Syria and Egypt to assist Alí and two small armies were despatched. One seized Tripoli and the other, Gafsa. In view of the way things were going, Al-Mansur decided to go in person to fight against those “miserable Majorcans” and he took his finest troops with him. He took six months to arrive, and with his exhausted men, decided to rest up for awhile in Tunis. Once recovered, his four senior generals arrived at Gafsa where Alí*s forces were waiting for them. The two armies faced each other on the Plain of Umra where the Almohad troops were destroyed by their Majorcan counterparts. The rout of the all-powerful Al-Mansur army spread like dust on the wind throughout the Almohad empire, from Marrakech up until close to Zaragoza. Four months later, Al-Mansur rallied his troops and set off, determined to either conquer or die.
He once again met the Majorcan army in Al-Hamma Matmata, and, in spite of the fact that the beginning of the battle seemed to favour the Majorcans, the news of the fact that Imperial troops had taken treasure and attacked women resulted in Alí*s followers disbanding. Alí himself took refuge in various places, amongst them, the oasis of “Ghardaya”. Al-Mansur felt he had got his strength back and continued taking control of all towns at that time held by the Majorcans, so terrible had been the vengeance in Gafsa. Alí died (his body was sent to Majorca and it is reported that his remains were laid to rest in the vault of the Ganya family in the rear section of the current Temple) and his place at the head of the army was taken by Yahiya. Majorca had been reconquered and Reverter had been expelled from the island along with the mercenaries from Barcelona. Tala remained in charge and repulsed three attempted invasions - one made by the mercenaries from Barcelona and two by Al-Mansur. Yahiya, meanwhile, began his own offensive, took Almadilla in Tunisia, and availed himself of armed forces from Al-gaida, Marrachy, In-ka and Al-kudia. After gaining control of Tuzer, he installed his general quarters there and proceeded to conquer the entire regions of Libya and Tunisia - his military forays extended as far as Algiers. Al-Mansur who had just vanquished the Christian kings at the battle of Alarcos, received the news of what the Majorcans had been up to, but he died before being able to defeat them. His successor, the Emperor Al-Nassir, managed to recuperate the lost territories. Al-Nassir ordered an enormous squadron of troops in the director of Majorca but Tala and his men, “tired” of the repeated invasion attempts celebrated a presumed victory the night before the conflict. When the enemy's boats arrived the next day, the chief of cavalry advised Tala that the battle had begun. Tala, still under the effects of alcohol, advanced into enemy lines and was beheaded. Apart from losing his head, he also lost the island.


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