Las Navas de Tolosa, Spain (1212 AD)
The Battle of Las Navas De Tolosa was the greatest Christian victory against the Moors in Spain and one of the most decisive engagements of the Reconquista. It ended the Almohad campaign to retake Iberia and ultimately set the stage for their loss of the entire peninsula and their toehold in Western Europe. It also reinvigorated the Church’s crusade against Islam and raised the importance of the Christian kingdoms of Spain and Portugal to continental importance.
During The early Middle Ages, the Islamic Caliphate and its successor states in the west conquered almost all of the Iberian Peninsula, but were never able to complete their victory in the north or achieve a toehold north of the Pyreness. Little by little, rump Christian states, often backed by France or other European powers, began to reclaim Spanish territory. Early in the 11th century, the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were established, and the reconquest of Spain began in earnest.
For decades, the Christian kingdoms slowly expanded, taking advantage of internal divisions within the smaller Muslim Taifa kingdoms. However, in the 1190s, a new Muslim power, the Almohads, arrived from Africa and began to reunite the Muslim realms and push the Christians back. In 1211, an immense Muslim army was raised, posing a threat so great that Pope Innocent called for a crusade in Spain to stop the menace.
Soldiers and knights from all over Christian Europe flocked to Spain, where they gathered in Toledo. However, despite these reinforcements, the Christian armies, led by Alfonso VIII of Castile, were still hopelessly outnumbered. Therefore a surprise attack on the Almohad camp was devised. Thanks to a helpful local guide, the crusaders marched on the Almohads almost completely undetected.
The assault went off like clockwork. Before the Almohads knew what was happening, the Christians had managed to attack the headquarters of the caliph. His bodyguard was quickly routed, and the caliph barely managed to flee with his life. His immense army, now leaderless, completely fell apart. Over a hundred thousand Almohads were killed or captured, with minimal loss of life to the crusaders. This battle led directly to the conquest of most of Andalusia, and broke the power of the Almohads in Spain permanently.
The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa was less a pitched battle and more of a rampage through the Almohad camp. Fighting took place in and all around the town, especially to the north near the Despanaperros Pass. The most popular site related to the battle is the Monument at Navas De Tolos, an immense modernish structure featuring the carved images of the leaders of the Christian forces.
Battle sites are located and marked throughout the area. The monument is located in the center of Las Navas de Tolosa, approximately 150 miles south of Madrid. All relevant locations are open sites. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.andalucia.com (official tourism website of Andalusia).