How important was the Siege of Málaga in 1487?

The Siege of Málaga in 1487 was a crucial military campaign during the Reconquista and the Granada War, marking a pivotal moment in the efforts of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, to reconquer the Iberian Peninsula from Muslim rule. Here is a detailed explanation of the siege:


Málaga was a strategically important city in the Emirate of Granada, ruled by the Nasrid dynasty. It served as a major port and fortress and held significance for communication with North Africa. Its capture was deemed essential for the Catholic Monarchs’ broader campaign against Granada.

As one of the major cities within the Emirate of Granada, Mālaqa was a priority target for Christian monarchs, including Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile (the Catholic Monarchs), who sought to unify Spain under Christian rule. Image: Catholic monarchs – Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon

Key Points of the Siege of Malaga

Before initiating the siege, the Catholic Monarchs conducted raids in the surrounding countryside to sever Málaga’s supply lines. This strategic move aimed to isolate the city and deprive it of essential resources.

The siege commenced in May 1487 and lasted for approximately four months, reflecting the determination and resolve of both the besieging forces and the city’s defenders.

Ferdinand and Isabella employed various military tactics. They constructed a fort or fortified camp armed with artillery to bombard the city. Additionally, they implemented a naval blockade to prevent any potential reinforcement or resupply from the sea.

The defenders of Málaga, led by Hamd Allah, demonstrated remarkable resilience and determination throughout the siege. They vigorously resisted the besieging forces, contributing to the siege’s protracted nature.

As the siege wore on, food and supplies within Málaga became increasingly scarce. By August, the situation had become dire, and the defenders had little choice but to surrender due to the untenable conditions.

Treatment of Prisoners

The capture of Málaga was distinctive because of the harsh treatment meted out to its inhabitants following the city’s surrender. Unlike the usual practice of granting generous terms to cities that surrendered without excessive resistance, the people of Málaga were not offered such leniency. Many were enslaved or forced to pay for their freedom, reflecting the severity of the Catholic Monarchs’ response.

Strategic Importance

The capture of Málaga represented a significant blow to the Nasrids. With this victory, the Catholic Monarchs secured control of a major port and eliminated a key stronghold of resistance. This success was a critical step in the broader campaign against Granada, ultimately culminating in the fall of Granada in 1492, marking the end of Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula.

The Siege of Málaga, with its dramatic unfolding and significant aftermath, exemplified the determination of both the Catholic and Muslim forces during the closing stages of the Reconquista. Image: Alcazaba of Málaga, built by the Hammudid dynasty in the 11th century

Questions & Answers

The Siege of Malaga was a significant operation by the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, against the Nasrid-ruled city of Málaga, one of the principal ports and fortresses of the Emirate of Granada. Image: Location of Malaga in Spain

How important was Málaga?

Mālaqa, as it was known then, was a key stronghold of the Nasrid dynasty, and its port was crucial for communication with North Africa. Its capture was considered essential for the success of the Catholic Monarchs’ campaign against Granada.

Capturing Mālaqa would have had a significant impact on the balance of power in the region. It would have disrupted trade routes, weakened the Nasrids, and paved the way for further Christian advances into the Emirate of Granada.

How did Malaga rise to prominence?

A thriving Moorish city, Mālaga’s prosperity was primarily driven by its strategic location and the vitality of its port, which facilitated trade and commerce.

The port of Mālaga was a vital maritime hub in the region. It served as a crucial point for both domestic and international trade, allowing goods to flow in and out of the Emirate of Granada.

Due to its port’s significance, Mālaga became a key target for the Christian forces during the Reconquista, a series of campaigns aimed at reclaiming territories in the Iberian Peninsula that had been under Muslim rule.

What preparations were made before the siege?

King Ferdinand’s forces included 20,000 cavalry, 50,000 laborers, and 8,000 auxiliary troops. They reached Vélez-Málaga on April 17, and within ten days, the city surrendered.

Before the Siege of Malaga commenced, the surrounding countryside was raided to cut off the city’s supplies, ensuring that it would be isolated and starved of resources.

As they advanced towards Malaga, other nearby settlements also yielded to the advancing forces. However, Malaga’s commander, Hamet el Zegrí, rebuffed all of Ferdinand’s efforts to negotiate a peaceful resolution.

How long did the Siege of Malaga last?

The siege started in May 1487 and lasted for about four months.

What tactics did the Spanish use?

Ferdinand and Isabella employed various military tactics, including the construction of siege towers to bombard the city. They also had a navy blockade the port to cut off any possible aid or supplies from the sea.

However, this tactic did not go as planned. The Moors, aided by their corps of African mercenaries, launched a successful counterattack. They drove out the Catholic forces and used armed vessels against the enemy fleet.

It is said that the inhabitants of the besieged city were in such a precarious situation that they resorted to eating horses, cats, dogs, and other pets. Some even boiled animal hide due to the depletion of their food supplies.

Initially, Ferdinand planned to starve the city of Malaga into surrender, but his impatience led him to take more aggressive actions. Frustrated with delays, he constructed siege towers and dug mines beneath the city walls in an attempt to breach them from both above and below. Image: Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile with their subjects

Who led the Muslim defenders?

The defenders of Málaga, under the command of Hamd Allah (Hamet el Zegri), showed remarkable resilience and put up a determined resistance against the besieging forces.

Why did the Muslim defenders refuse negotiating?

Leader of the Muslim defenders Hamet el Zegri held firm in his belief in the impregnability of Malaga’s formidable fortifications, which included the imposing Alcazaba and the unconquerable Gibralfaro fortress, and was confident that they could withstand any siege by the enemy.

When did the city capitulate?

Despite the spirited defense, food and supplies within the city began to run low. In the end, the Catholic forces managed to capture an outlying tower connected to the city by a bridge. This allowed them to breach the city’s defenses and enter. By mid-August, the situation had become dire, and the defenders had little choice but to surrender.

Why did the Catholic monarchs hand out severe punishment to the Muslim inhabitants of Malaga?

Throughout the siege, the defenders of Málaga had repeatedly refused to negotiate or surrender, contributing to the siege’s prolonged duration.

It’s important to note that the siege tactics of that era often included the offer of negotiated terms to cities that surrendered without excessive resistance.

When Ferdinand and Isabella eventually achieved victory and entered the city on August 18, 1487, they were not in a forgiving or merciful mood.

The conquerors imposed harsh consequences on the population of Málaga. With the exception of a small group of about 24 families who were allowed to remain as Mudéjars (Muslims living under Christian rule), the entire population of the city, estimated to be between 10,000 to 15,000 inhabitants, faced dire outcomes.

The fate of the majority of Málaga’s inhabitants was grim. Many were either enslaved or executed by the conquering forces. This brutal treatment was a stark departure from the customary practice of offering more lenient terms to cities that surrendered peacefully.

What impact did the Siege of Malaga have on Granada’s fall in 1492?

The capture of Málaga was a significant event in the broader campaign to reconquer the Iberian Peninsula from Muslim rule during the Reconquista.

Within five years of the fall of Málaga, the city of Granada itself would also be captured by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492, marking the end of over seven centuries of Muslim rule in the region and the unification of Spain under Christian rule.

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