Ethelred the Pious

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Perched high in the Pyrennes, the city of Al-Darra marks the traditional northern limits of Andalusia. Its name is Arabic for "The Woods", but it may in fact derive from the name of a pre-Roman Iberic tribe that lived in the region.

An extremely unimportant Christian city had occupied the spot of present-day Al-Darra since ancient times. The history of the city, however, begins in 977 during the reign of the Umayyad Caliph Hisham in Cordoba. Hisham's vizier Al-Mansur, the real power behind the throne, was finishing a magnificently successful campaign through the northern parts of Hispania. When his army reached a high pass through the mountains, Al-Mansur decided to advance no farther. He named the place Al-Darra and had a fortress built to defend the pass against the Frankish states to the north.

In 978 Al-Mansur decreed that Al-Darra would serve as the seat of government of the entire northern march. Construction began on a mosque to serve the soldiers; over the years the mosque would be rebuilt many times on an ever grander scale. In 980 work began on a palace for a regional governor whose territory included the entire mountain range.

For half a century the gubernatorial forces of Al-Darra posed a constant - if unheeded - threat to the struggling Aquitanian kingdom. Through a series of incremental attacks and raids, Al-Darra's boundaries were pushed down the northern slope of the mountains and a few miles into the plain beyond. Arabs and Berbers from across the sea began moving to Al-Darra. By 1025 it was a thoroughly Muslim city.

In 1031, the Caliphate suddenly collapsed. Local leaders seized power in Andalusia, which became divided into an innumerable number of taifas competing for influence. Al-Darra was one of the strongest of the taifas. Its strength kept the Andalusian civilization alive in northern Spain.

In the middle of the Eleventh Century, Al-Darra established itself as a major power in southern Europe by conquering neighboring states, mainly Christian ones. Al-Darran forces sacked Jaca, capital of Aragon, in 1044, making Aragon a vassal state. Not long after that, Al-Darra captured Tolouse, the largest city in south-central Gaul. The Aquitanians were allowed to keep their language and religion, but were made subjects of the Emir.

The following is probably obsolete. In the Twelfth Century Al-Darra conquered Provence and advanced into the Alps - familiar territory for soldiers born and raised in the Pyrennes. The ensuing Gallic Crusade to drive the Emir out of France occupied the attention of Catholic Europe for many years and pre-empted any plans to wage war in the Holy Land. Some of the early Christian kings of England distinguished themselves in this crusade.

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