Qantara Qantara

Las Navas de Tolosa Banner

  • Title/name : Las Navas de Tolosa Banner
  • Author : Al-Andalus, Spain
  • Discovery place : Spain, Burgos, Monasterio de las Huelgas
  • Date / period : Early 13th century
  • Materials and techniques : Silk and gilt thread (an alloy of gold and silver); tapestry
  • Dimensions : H. 330 cm ; W. 220 cm
  • Conservation town : Burgos
  • Conservation place : Monasterio de las Huelgas, Museo de Telas Medievales
  • Inventory number : Inv. 00652193
  • Inscription :

    In the central medallion: al-mulk (‘power’ or ‘sovereignty’) 

    Within the four bands that surround the central square in naskhî script: Surat 61: 10-12

                “O believers, shall I direct you to a commerce that shall deliver you from a painful chastisement? You shall believe in God and His Messenger, and struggle in the way of God with your possessions and your selves. That is better for you, did you but know.

    He will forgive you your sins and admit you into his gardens underneath which rivers flow, and to dwelling-places goodly in Gardens of Eden; that is the mighty triumph.”

                “In God I find refuge from Satan, punished by stoning. In the name of a compassionate and merciful God. The blessing of God by upon our Lord and Master Muhammad…”

    In the small friezes above and below the larger frieze:

    “There is no divinity other than Allah and Mohammed is His Prophet”.

    In the crescent moons in the lower portion, different expressions alternate:

    “Eternal sovereignty”, “perpetual happiness”, “eternal salvation”, “prayers to God for His gifts [that He offers us]”, “eternal health”.

It was once thought that this royal banner was part of the spoils of war, captured by Alfonso VIII of Castile during his victory over the Almohad caliph, al-Nasir al-Dîn Allâh, during the battle of las Navas de Tolosa (1212). Recent studies, however, posit that it passed into Christian hands when Fernando III conquered Jaén, Córdoba and Seville. This same king is thought to have conferred it to the Huelgas Monastery in Burgos when he sponsored the renovation of its cloister.

The banner is in fragile condition despite having been restored in the 1950s and more recently by a team of textile restorers, the Patrimonio Nacional, for the 900th anniversary of the founding of the monastery, which has significantly improved it. Currently only one side of the banner is visible. A canvas lining has been added to distribute the weight of the banner uniformly so it can be suspended for public viewing.

The overall composition is very orderly, determined by a white plaited braid. The design unfolds around an eight-pointed star, the tips of which form several rosettes which become increasingly more complex as the stars’ stems interlace forming what resemble words. All the sections contain vegetal motifs and four small crosses also appear in the right half of the composition. The number eight recurs throughout the design, giving it symbolic import. An uninterrupted band dotted with small medallions and intertwining stars forms a circular frame around the central rosette; enclosing the ensemble is a square border. This band also encloses three small medallions which contain rampant lions. In the corner pieces on the curvilinear lower line a dense leafy flourish develops, organized within a palmetto in the angles.

Framing the central composition are wide, uninterrupted bands inscribed with naskhî script made up of dark blue letters that stand out on a gold field. The writing of the script is very particular: small decorative elements of white vegetal motifs light up the blue letters. On the upper region of the banner is an inscription held between two smaller bands, which are also marked with inscriptions of rectangular cartouches (curvilinear at the tips), separated by small eight-pointed rosette. It appears that this band was originally much longer before it was cut to fit the banner.

The lower border is composed of eight lambrequins in the form of sequins. They contain written motifs which are now difficult to decipher. These moon crescents, also visible on the banner of  Abû Sa’id ‘Uthmân[1], are the heritage of a Far-Eastern design known as tchintami, often seen on Ottomon textiles as early as the 15th century and still used in the 19th[2]. This border stands out on its background thanks to its exceptional workmanship: a network of elongated linked chain work that recalls Ayyubid metal work. This same motif decorates a number of contemporary wash basins from al-Andalus, made in cuerda seca[3].

There are some striking similarities between the central composition of the fabric and certain contemporary frontispieces, in particular those of Korans[4]. The striking contrast between the structured overall construction of the geometric motifs and the fluidity of the vegetal décor in the interstices (palmettes, diverse fleuron, tendrils, flourishes and leaves) give the ensemble a high degree of elegance.

A number of pictorial representations of this type of banner exist: in Alfonso X, the Learned’s Cantigas de Santa María, for instance, and on the stucco murals from the Nasrid period in the Alhambra’s Casita del Partal in Granada, contemporaneous with the reign of Yûsaf I. 


[1] Made in 1312, this standard, as well as that of Abû-l-Hasan (1340), were used during the battle of Río Salado and have been conferred to the Toledo Cathedral.

[2] Vernoit, S., Occidentalism. Islamic Art in the 19th century, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 24, n° 7.

[3] For example: Ceuta, Museo Municipal, inv. 1078.

[4] On this particular theme cf. Barrucand, M., “Les enluminures de l’époque almohade : frontispices et ‘unwâns”, in Cressier, P., Fierro, M., Molina, L., Los Almohades : Problemas y Perspectivas. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científic “Estudios árabes e islámicos. Monografías”, vol. 1, 2006.


Bango Torviso, I., Maravillas de la España Medieval. Tesoro Sagrado y Monarquía, (ex. cat., León, Real Colegiata de San Isidoro, 2000-2001), Valladolid: Junta de Castilla y León/Caja España, 2000.

Torres Balbás, L., “Arte almohade, arte nazarí, arte mudéjar”, Madrid: Plus Ultra, Ars Hispaniae”, vol. 4, 1949.

Al-Andalus: las artes islámicas en España, (ex. cat., Granada, Alhambra/New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992), Madrid: Ed. El Viso, 1992, p. 326-327, n° 92.

Al-Andalus: the Art of Islamic Spain, (ex. cat., Granada, Alhambra/New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992), New York: J.D. Dodds, 1992, p. 326-327, n° 92

Vestiduras Ricas. El Monasterio de las Huelgas y su Época. 1170-1340, (ex. cat., Madrid, Palacio Real, 2005), Madrid: Patrimonio nacional, 2005.

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