Ksar El-Kibir, Morocco (1578 AD)
The Battle of Alcacer Quibir was, depending how you look at it, one of the latest reversals of a European power attempting a crusade or one of the earliest reversals of a European power attempting to establish a colonial presence in Africa. Ostensibly an attempt by Portugal to interfere in the internal affairs of Morocco, Alcacer Quibir was in reality a showdown between the Portuguese and Ottoman Turks for influence in North Africa. The battle was a disaster for the Europeans, and is considered one of the major reasons why Portugal began to slide from its position as one of the two major colonial powers of the 16th century.
As early as the 15th century, Portugal, the first European power to begin establishing an overseas empire, had started to dominate the coastal regions of West Africa as a route to the East Indies. However, despite the ever improving military technical advances of the Europeans, the Portuguese could neither dislodge or control the threat on its closest frontier, the Muslim powers of North Africa. These smaller realms, which included modern-day Morocco, were only marginized by the fact that they were constantly at war with one another.
However, by the 1500s the powerful Ottoman Empire, which utterly dominated the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, was beginning to extend its territory westward even as the kingdoms of Iberia began to seek new colonies overseas. Eventually, the influence of the Ottomans began to be felt in Morroco, and the Portuguese, who were now under direct threat, began to prepare for war.
In the 1570s, a civil war broke out in Morocco. A new sultan, supported by the Ottomans, seized the throne. In desperation, the old sultan turned to the Portuguese, who used the incident to declare a crusade in Africa. The Portuguese raised an army which included volunteers from throughout Europe and a large force of Moors supplied by the deposed sultan. This army was led by the Portuguese King Sebastian I. In response the new sultan, with the help of the Ottomans, raised an army under declaration of jihad.
The two armies met approached each other along the Atlantic coast of northern Morocco and met at Alcacer Quibir in August of 1578. Although the Portuguese were better trained and armed, their allies were questionable, and the the enemy outnumbered them more than two to one. Although these odds were generally not a problem for the Europeans at this point in history, at this time the Portuguese could not overcome them. Quickly outflanked by the Moroccan cavalry, the European army was quickly slaughtered, including King Sebastian who died at the fore. Because of this victory North Africa was generally secured from the European colonial powers for the better part of the next two centuries.
The Battle of Alcacer Quibir is remembered as an important national event both historically and religiously. It represented not only the Moroccan triumph over the Portuguese, which confirmed Morocco’s independence during the early Colonial era, but also the Muslim triumph over what was effectively the last Christian Crusade. Today the battlefield is located in an area developed for agriculture. Markers note some of the sites associated with the battle.
The Alcacer battlefield is located just outside of the modern-day city of Ksar El-Kebir, approximately fifty miles south of Tangiers. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.visitmorocco.com (official tourism website of Morocco).
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