The Last of the Moors
W HILE Columbus is preparing for his first voyage to the West, let us take a look at the country he is now serving, and tell again the picturesque story of the fall of Granada.
In the days of the Cid the Moors had occupied a large part of Spain, but since then they had been driven nearer and nearer to the coast, till only the beautiful kingdom of Granada was left to them. It was this stronghold that the King of Spain was besieging when Columbus laid before him his great plan of discovery. And with the fall of Granada the long reign of the Moors in Spain was over.
This beautiful city stood on two lofty hills. One of them was crowned by the famous palace and fortress of the Alhambra, celebrated for its marble colonnades, its domes, and ceilings glowing with colour. While cities in the plains panted with heat, fresh breezes played through the marble halls of the Alhambra. So pure was the air, so beautiful was the earth in this spot, that the Moors used to imagine that their prophet Mohammed dwelt in that part of the heaven that hung over Granada.
Ferdinand and Isabella were Christians, and they could not bear the Moors to hold any part of their Christian country in Spain. One day they sent a Spanish messenger to demand tribute from the King of the Moors.
"Tell your king," cried the fierce Moor bitterly, "that the kings of Granada who used to pay tribute to the King of Spain are dead. Our mint coins nothing now but blades of swords and heads of lances."
The Spanish messenger rode away, noting as he rode the strength of this last stronghold of the Moors.
Ferdinand now sent to demand a complete surrender of the town. He received back a firm answer that the Moors would sooner die than yield up their beautiful city to Christian warriors, and Ferdinand prepared for war.
The din of arms now filled the city. Under Muza, one of the proudest of the Moors, the men of Granada gathered. They would defend their town even with their lives. Ferdinand's plan was to devastate the plains round Granada and so starve the city into surrender. He laid waste the fields of waving corn, he burnt the lovely gardens and orchards which were the pride and joy of the Moors, but still the standard of Mohammed waved defiance to the Christian king from the red towers of the Alhambra.
"How is thy strength departed, O Granada," lamented the Moors; "how is thy beauty withered, O city of groves and fountains. The commerce that once thronged thy streets is at an end; the merchant no longer hastens to thy gates with luxuries of foreign lands."
They prepared for attack from the Spaniards; but in the hour of her despair Granada was no easy city to take, and Ferdinand knew his only hope of success lay in starving out the people.
At last famine began to make itself felt among the Moors. There was no harvest to look to, the orchards and gardens were burnt. Gloomy indeed was their outlook.
"What shall we do?" asked the king hopelessly.
"Surrender," answered the Moors.
"Do not talk of surrender," cried the brave Muza. "Our means are not yet exhausted. We have one source of strength remaining—it is our despair. Let us rouse the mass of the people and arm them. Rather let us fall in the defence of our city than survive to surrender."
But his fiery words fell on the ears of broken-hearted men. Heroic as they were, the despairing Moors turned a deaf ear to them.
"Surrender, surrender," they moaned.
And the king listened to them, and yielded. He sent to Ferdinand to treat for terms. At the end of seventy days the city was to surrender. When the Moors found that the moment had come when they—the conquerors of Spain—must be blotted out for ever as a nation, they gave way to piteous tears.
"Leave this weeping to the women and children," cried Muza. "We are men, we have hearts—not to shed tender tears, but drops of blood. Let us die defending our liberty; let it not be said the nobles of Granada feared to die."
But the careworn Moors were beyond Muza's appeal. It was hopeless to contend longer. He rose angrily as the king signed the agreement, strode gloomily through the marble courts, armed himself, and, mounting his favourite war-horse, rode forth from the gates of Granada. He was never heard of more.
The weary days passed by, until the last day came. The royal treasures were packed on mules, and before dawn a weeping procession of downcast Moors, with their king, passed from the beautiful city they would never see again. The sun was shining above the snowy peaks behind the city, when the King and Queen of Spain rode across the plain to take possession of Granada. The joyful procession met the unhappy Moorish king, who yielded up the keys.
"These keys are the last relics of the Moorish Empire in Spain," he said miserably; and as he journeyed on in gloomy silence, the shouts of the victorious Spaniards fell on his ears. As he reached the hill which commanded the last view of Granada, he stopped. The sun caught the silver cross of the Christians as it sparkled on the watch-tower of the Alhambra.
"God is great," he groaned, bursting into tears, "God is great. When did such misfortunes equal mine?"
So did the Moors leave Spain for ever.