The Suhayl castle. / SUR

Suhayl - the best and worst of times

The Moorish occupation of the Iberian peninsula would last seven centuries

PATRICK H. MEEHAN

The Moorish occupation of the Iberian peninsula began in 711 and would continue on this coast for seven centuries.

Periods of peace and prosperity alternated with disruptions and violence from competing caliphates, pirates and Castilians.

  • Patrick H. Meehan is a 20-year resident of Fuengirola and author of Fuengirola Revisited, a unique book that tells the story of the location through the ages. For more information visit www.fuengirolarevisited.com or follow @fuengirolarevisited on Facebook.

During this era, the location of Fuengirola from Benalmádena to Cabopino became known as Suhayl. The Moors identified the large star Suhayl (Canopus in English) as the one seen looking north from the castle. This star was relevant to the Islamic farming year and the placing of mosques. It gave its name to the town and is remembered today on the flag of Fuengirola. Suhayl entered Arabic literature in 908 through the chronicler Ahmad ibn Mūsa al-Rāzī.

From 929, the Caliph of Cordoba Abd al-Rahmān III (builder of Cordoba's Madinat Al Zahara) brought a century of peace, growth and prosperity. They were ousted in 1031 by the Almoravids, Sufi-inspired warrior monks from north Africa. By around 1080 the Almoravids had built the castle that we see today, and much more.

The area around the castle became a larger settlement some of which has been unearthed. Burial grounds were excavated on the hillside overlooking the castle, with tombs facing 97 degrees towards Mecca. The wider area became a series of rural farms on the most fertile land whilst the castle provided defence and education while regulating trade. Abundance was created by sophisticated drainage systems and farming methods imported from the driest countries.

Suhayl's most celebrated writer, Abd-Allah al-Suhayli al-Suhayli, born here in 1114, is still admired throughout the Arab world for his work on grammar.

Ibn al Khatib a renowned thirteenth-century intellectual wrote of Suhayl:

"It has a castle so strong that it has no rival in India or China ... The basis of its prosperity is the cultivation of barley and figs ... The population extends along the slope of the castle, in its river, fish abound and its lands produce abundant grain."

Suhayl enjoyed golden ages of prosperity and security where generations lived studious and prosperous lives in a world of opportunity. However, unlike the Roman occupation, Moorish rule was never peaceful for long. Of seven centuries perhaps half were peaceful, the other less so. Infighting between competing caliphates and murderous raids by pirates or Castilians made Suhayl a difficult location to live in.

In Part 6, we will see a world-famous account of just how difficult that was.