Alpine Islam: France

Besides Spain and Portugal, Muslims ruled parts of Italy and France at one time. The south of France, the Riviera, is site of a forgotten page of European history. Muslims from Spain, in the 700’s, marched across France to the Alps, a mountain range that runs through France, Italy and Switzerland. The Christians cut them off from reaching the Mediterranean but the Muslims established a mountain fortress in the Alps and reinforcements were sent by the Caliph in Spain. A new state grew amid the European duchies along the coast and to the north. The Muslims extended their power through the Alpine passes from France to Italy, and followed the Rhone River into Switzerland. This was Alpine Islam. Its great age came in the 10th century.
In the south of France a province is called the Mountains of the Moors (Muslims). Nice has a Saracen (Muslim) Quarter, an Alpine peak between France and Italy is known as Monte Moro (Muslim). Swiss place names Almagell and Allalinhorn are of Arabic origin. The Arabs left an imprint on the geography and speech of Europe.
The genius of Alpine Islam was Mohammed Al-Qasam, who built the Great Fraxinet, his central stronghold, part of which can be seen in the French town of La Garde Freinet. Occupying the main passes of the Western Alps the Muslims levied tolls on travelers and sent expeditions into Italy, Switzerland and France. They ruled the Maritime Alps for a century. Then the Counts of Provence and Turin defeated them. The determination of a few Muslims (Great Fraxinet held 1,000 people during its heyday) ensured a lasting Muslim legacy in France.

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