Gateway to the Classics: Spain: A History for Young Readers by Frederick A. Ober
Spain: A History for Young Readers by  Frederick A. Ober

The Fall of Granada

Granada, the last stronghold of the Moors in Spain, capital city of the delightful Andalusia, since called by the Spaniards "the Land of the most Holy Virgin," was finally invested by the Castilian host. In vain flashed signal fires from the atalayas  on surrounding hills; no friendly succour could now reach the beleaguered city, either from the coast, from the mountains, or from Africa. It lay like an Oriental gem, a "diamond in an emerald setting "with the green vega  outspread at its feet, embossed with olive groves, glistening with silver streams, and with a background of rugged mountains flashing the sun and reflecting the moonlight from their snow-clad summits.

In this beautiful city the Moors had lived two hundred and fifty years. Its downfall was hastened by the rivalry of two tribes or factions among the Moors themselves. Those of the tribe of the Abencerrages were the most noble and humane, the most favourably disposed toward the Spaniards, and are said to have been descended from the ancient kings of Arabia. But the fierce Zegris, their rivals, were of African blood, hated the Christians, intensely, and retained to the last all the savage traits of the desert Bedouins. Not many years before the advent of the Christians into the vega, the Zegris had massacred the Abencerrages, beheaded the flower of their noble warriors, and the fountain basin of the Alhambra hall which still retains their name was filled with their blood.

The Zegris had conquered, but in their endeavours to overcome their domestic enemies they had so weakened their own forces that the final triumph of their hated Christian foes was the more easily assured. Ferdinand and his army came in the blossoming springtime, when the glorious vega  was spangled with flowers and all Nature joyous. "He will stay through the summer, and in the autumn, as the winter rains come on, will go away," said the Moors. "If we can hold out till winter, we can at least survive another year. Perhaps help will then arrive from Africa or from the East."

But the spring faded into summer and through the long, hot months the Castilian army lay intrenched; autumn came, and still no signs of departure; instead, in place of the city of tents, with which the plain had been flecked and whitened, arose the stone city of Santa Fé, which exists in our time, and which may be seen to-day, covering the site of the Christian camp.

Then the Moors despaired of succour indeed, for hitherto it had been Ferdinand's custom to retire to his capital for the winter season, and campaign in summer only. The Moors had planted no crops, reaped no harvests, and now gaunt famine was staring them in the face; the cavalgadas  of supplies, sent to them by friendly chiefs, were captured by the watchful Christians, and their condition was most pitiable. Still, the siege had not been without its incidents of startling character, its display of chivalrous deeds of high renown; for, after the arrival of Isabella at the camp, the spirited cavaliers vied with each other as to which should perform the most daring deed, until, the Moors usually getting the best of those individual encounters, Ferdinand forbade them.

However, you may see, high up between the towers of the church subsequently erected at Santa Fé, the marble effigy of a Moor's head, which reminds us of the most notable of those encounters. One of the most defiant and insolent of the Moorish cavaliers was Yarfe the Moslem, who carried his insolence so far as one day to dash into the Spanish camp and throw his spear into the tent of the queen. To offset this reckless deed, one of the Spanish caballeros, seeing the gate of Granada one day but negligently guarded, passed the sentinels and rode into the city, right up to the door of the great mosque, against which, with the point of his poniard, he affixed a piece of wood, with "Ave Maria" printed on it. Then he wheeled about and clattered down the street, now thronging with astonished and angered Moors, and miraculously escaped, hurling cries of defiance at his enemies as he passed through the gate.

When the Moslems found the Christian emblem fastened to the door of their sacred mosque, they were beside themselves with rage, and the next day gigantic Yarfe attached the bit of wood to the tail of his horse and paraded with it, dragging in the dust, before the Spanish army. This insult was not to be borne, and as he defied any one of the cavaliers to meet him in single combat, Ferdinand was overwhelmed with petitions for permission to engage him. He reluctantly gave consent to a fiery young Castilian, Garcilasso de la Vega, who, after kneeling at the feet of his beloved queen, armed himself completely and sallied forth to fight the Moor. His foe treated him at first with contempt, being almost twice his size and more finely mounted; but what Garcilasso lacked in stature he made up in spirit, and in the sight of the Christian army, and of the Moslems gathered on the battlements,. he slew the infidel after a terrible combat, cut off his head, and took it to the tent of Isabella.

The site of this encounter is marked to-day with a large stone cross covered with a canopy, and between the church towers of Santa Fé still rests the marble head of Yarfe the Moor. Across the vega, at Zubia, stand several great stone crosses, also to commemorate the narrow escape of the queen, one day, from capture by the Moors. Yet another reminder of that memorable siege of Granada is the commemorative chapel on the bank of the river Xenil, which indicates the spot where Boabdil el Chico surrendered the keys of the capital; for at last, as we know, Granada capitulated, to famine rather than assault, to overwhelming numbers rather than to superior feats of arms.

On the 2nd of January, 1492, the Moorish king came down from the fortified palace on the Alhambra hill with a small retinue, and met the Castilian sovereigns on the right bank of the Xenil. "El Rey Chico" the Little King—gave up what his fiercer ancestors, and particularly his own father, would have fought to defend till the last gasp. His real power had departed; the emblems of it he handed to Ferdinand, saying: "These keys, O king, are thine, since Allah hath decreed it: use thy success with clemency and thy power with moderation." The exit of the "Little King" was more dramatic than his action on the stage, of war; yet he went not out as a warrior, but as a woman. Within sight of the battlements of Granada is a gap in the hills which surround the plain, and here it is related Boabdil paused to look his last on the fair city he had so ignominiously abandoned, and wept at the remembrance of his misfortunes. And his mother reproached him with—"You do well to weep, like a woman, for what you could not defend like a man!" The scene of this incident is still known as "El ultimo suspiro del Moro,"  or "The last sigh of the Moor."

But it was not his last sigh by any means, for he lived for years thereafter: lived to see the dismemberment of his empire, the scattering of his people, and finally to die in a foreign land, in the service of the King of Morocco. In the capitulation it was stipulated that Boabdil and his subjects should do homage to the Castilian sovereigns, that they should be protected in their religious exercises, be governed by their own cadis, be exempt from tribute for three years, and within that period all who wished to emigrate to Africa should be furnished with free transportation thither. Boabdil was granted lands in the Alpuxarras Mountains, and at first lived peacefully in a secluded valley; but eventually, through the treachery or mistaken zeal of his vizier, he parted with his possessions in Spain for a sum of money, and went over to Africa, where travellers may see what is alleged to be his tomb, in the city of Tlemcen in Algiers.

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