The final triumph of the 700-year Christian reconquest of Spain,
marked by the fall of Granada in 1492, was accompanied by the
forced conversion of Spanish Muslims (Moriscos). As a result of
the Inquisition, thousands of Jews fled or were deported to the
Maghrib, where many gained influence in government and commerce.
Without much difficulty, Christian Spain imposed its influence
on the Maghrib coast by constructing fortified outposts (presidios)
and collecting tribute during the fifteenth and early sixteenth
centuries. On or near the Algerian coast, Spain took control of
Mers el Kebir in 1505, Oran in 1509, and Tlemcen, Mostaganem,
and Ténès, all west of Algiers, in 1510. In the same year, the
merchants of Algiers handed over one of the rocky islets in their
harbor, where the Spaniards built a fort. The presidios in North
Africa turned out to be a costly and largely ineffective military
endeavor that did not guarantee access for Spain's merchant fleet.
Indeed, most trade seemed to be transacted in the numerous free
ports. Moreover, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century,
sailing superior ships and hammering out shrewd concessions, merchants
from England, Portugal, Holland, France, and Italy, as well as
Spain, dominated Mediterranean trade.
Why Spain did not extend its North African conquests much beyond
a few modest enclaves has puzzled historians. Some suggest that
Spain held back because it was preoccupied with maintaining its
territory in Italy; others that Spain's energies were absorbed
in obtaining the riches of the New World. Still another possibility
is that Spain was more intent on projecting its force on the high
seas than on risking defeat in the forbidding interior of Africa.
Data as of December 1993