As portrayed in El Cid
In the white hot initial fervor of Islam, the Moslems swept out of eastern Arabia, across the entire breadth of North Africa, then across the Straits of Gibraltar to Spain in 710, only 78 years after the death of Mohammed. By 718 the Moslems had consolidated long-term control over the Iberian Peninsula, save for certain impoverished and worthless Christian territory in the desolate mountains of Asturias in northern Spain. The initial tide reached as far north as Poitiers, France, in 732 before spending itself. The Moslem firebrands then settled down as rulers of this vast newly converted territory. Thereby began the inevitable process of settlement, of moderation, of becoming cultured and weak, and fat, and fractious and divided. The Christians began, with the taking of Galicia in 750, the slow, seven-century long. Reconquista, Reconquest, of the Iberian Peninusla. By the late 11th Century King Fernando I ruled a consolidated territory in northern Spain consisting of Castile and Leon.
But as would recur throughout Islam's history, revitalization movements were arising, calling the Believers to return to the true path of Islam, and seeking new territories and converts. In the time of Fernando, these fundamentalists were the Almoravides, who had originated among the Berber tribes of the mountains of Morocco. These two forces of expansion - Christianity from the north and Fundamentalist Islam from the south - were set to crush the cultured existence of the Moslem rulers of Islamic Iberia. Then the Fundamentalists and Christians would meet with colossal force on a front across central Spain. Between 1086 and 1102 the Christians under King Alfonso, the son of King Fernando, lost their newly-won territories to the Almoravides.
The Cid (1043-1099; the word an honorific Arabic title, el-sayyid, meaning My Lord) was the greatest warrior of this time. Outcast by King Alfonso from Christendom, he became a bandit, preying on Moslem towns, and a mercenary, working in the service of the Moorish King of Saragossa. After conquering the great Islamic city of Valencia, he became reconciled with Alfonso. But Christendom held Valencia only so long as the Cid lived. After his death, it was taken by the Almoravides, and then remained in Muslim hands for another 137 years.
The story of the Cid became best known to English readers with the publication of the Chronicle of the Cid by the English poet Robert Southey in 1808. Southey translated and blended three Spanish language source works in an attempt to give the complete story of the Cid's life. These were:
The story of the Cid was made into an epic motion picture, El Cid, in 1961. This was an independent film by renegade producer Samuel Bronston, who recruited top Hollywood talent for his work. Shot in Spain, using real (albeit 14th to 15th Century) castles as backdrops, the movie has been called one of only two films every made of an epic hero (the other being Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky).
Both the film and the Chronicle resonate strongly in the post-9/11 world in a way they did not in their own time. The opening sequence of the film, showing the Almoravid Islamist leader Yucef addressing his troops prior to the invasion of Spain, could have been spoken by Osama bin Laden:
The Prophet has commanded us to rule the world. Where in all your land of Spain is the glory of Allah? When men speak of you the speak of poets, music-makers, doctors, scientists… Where are your warriors? You dare call yourselves sons of the Prophet? You have become - women!The final loss in 1492 of the fair gardens of Andalusia in western Europe resonated deeply in the Islamist collective subconscious. American author Washington Irving related in 1832 how many families in Morocco still kept the deeds and the keys to their houses in Granada, awaiting the time of their eventual return, even after 340 years of exile. In his first public broadcasts after the 9/11 attacks, Bin Laden's mentor Ayman Al-Zawahiri proclaimed to the world on 7 October 2001:
Burn your books - make warriors of your poets - let your doctors invent new poisons for our arrows - let your scientists invent new war-machines. And then - Kill! Burn! Infidels live on your frontiers - encourage them to kill each other.
And when they are weak and torn - I will sweep up from Africa - and the empire of the One God - the True God - Allah - (Allah is the Master) - will spread - first across Spain - then across Europe - then - the whole World!
We will not accept that The Tragedy will be repeated in Palestine. Never again Al Andalus!This site is a work in progress that will be expanded and improved on with time. It is not an attempt at a scholarly work. There are certainly enough dry articles dissecting and debunking every aspect of the historical, literary Cid. Instead this is a celebration of the legendary hero. Perhaps not all of the Cid's legend is historical, but it certainly ought to be. And just like the legends of Troy and Arthur and Robin Hood, I suspect that more of it is historically correct than scholars will accept. Hopefully these pages will allow the reader to fully understand the references in the poem and keep track of places and characters.
So explore the world of the Cid - a hero for our time!