The tuna empire of the modern age was born in the fragmented chaos that was late medieval Spain. After the fall of the western Roman Empire the northern barbarian tribes of the Vandals and the Visigoths took over the Iberian peninsula, leading to centuries of obscure conflict between kings with unpronounceable names such as Amalaric, Ataulf, Gesalec and Liuvigild. They barely put up a fight in the spring of 711 when the Berber troops led by Tariq landed from what is now Morocco. It was the beginning of the Islamic conquest of the Iberian peninsula. The tuna fishermen must have been the first to see the invasion coming over the strait. It was a walkover: before winter that same year the Moorish troops had broken through to Toledo, capital of the empire under the Visigoths, right in the heart of the Iberian peninsula. Large parts of Spain and Portugal subsequently remained under Muslim rule for centuries. The area around the Strait of Gibraltar was of great military importance as a bridge between the Muslims in Spain and Muslim rulers in the Moroccan hinterland. Tuna fishing again found itself at the centre of an area of geostrategic value. There is no doubt that the tradition of tuna fishing continued under the Muslims: the name almadraba—the place where the blows are struck—is of Moorish origin. Nonetheless the great Muslim historians and explorers of the western Mediterranean region—Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Battuta and later Leo Africanus—turned out not to be particularly interested in fisheries. Muhammad al-Idrisi, the Moorish poet and famous cartographer who drew the world map for the Catholic King Roger II of Sicily in the twelfth century, is the only one who writes about tuna. But then, he was born in Ceuta, right next to the main almadraba fisheries area. The Sicilian king, himself ruler of an island where the Phoenicians had left behind an important tuna industry, was probably equally interested in the fish. According to al-Idrisi, a large fish called tuna was effectively caught near Ceuta. The fishermen hunted the tuna with a kind of harpoon, according to the Muslim scholar. Large-scale fishing of any importance seemed not to exist, or was lost in the course of time.
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