History of Al-Andalus
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711–732 Muslim conquest

756–1031 Omayyads of Córdoba

1009–1106 First Taifa period

1085–1145 Almoravid rule

1140-1203 Second Taifa period

1147–1238 Almohad rule

1232–1287 Third Taifa period

1238–1492 Emirate of Granada

connected articles
Islamic period garden in Granada, Al-Andalus

Al-Andalus (Arabic: الأندلس‎, trans. al-ʼAndalus, Spanish: Al-Ándalus, Portuguese: Al-Andalus) was the Arabic name given to a nation and territorial region also commonly referred to as Moorish Iberia. The name describes parts of the Iberian Peninsula and Septimania governed by Muslims (given the generic name of Moors), at various times in the period between 711 and 1492, although the territorial boundaries underwent constant changes due to wars with the Christian Kingdoms.[1][2][3]

Following the Muslim conquest of Hispania, Al-Andalus was divided into five administrative areas roughly corresponding to Andalusia, Galicia and Portugal, Castile and León, Aragon and Catalonia, and Septimania.[4] As a political domain or domains, it successively constituted a province of the Umayyad Caliphate, initiated by the Caliph Al-Walid I (711–750); the Emirate of Córdoba (c. 750–929); the Caliphate of Córdoba (929–1031); and the Caliphate of Córdoba's taifa (successor) kingdoms. Rule under these kingdoms saw the rise in cultural exchange and cooperation between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Under the Caliphate of Córdoba, al-Andalus was a beacon of learning, and the city of Córdoba became one of the leading cultural and economic centres in both the Mediterranean Basin and the Islamic world.

In succeeding centuries, Al-Andalus became a province of the Berber Muslim dynasties of the Almoravids and Almohads, subsequently fragmenting into a number of minor states, most notably the Emirate of Granada. With the support of local inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula the Almoravids deposed of the taifa Muslim princes, after helping to repel Christian attacks on the region by Alfonso VI. Rule under the Almoravids and Almohads saw a decline in cultural and social exchange and increased persecution of religious minorities, with a return to more fundamentalist forms of Islam.

For much of its history, Al-Andalus existed in conflict with Christian kingdoms to the north, which at first were forced into subservience but eventually overpowered their Muslim neighbors to the South. In 1085, Alfonso VI of León and Castile captured Toledo, precipitating a gradual decline until, by 1236, with the fall of Córdoba, the Emirate of Granada remained the only Muslim-ruled territory in what is now Spain. The Portuguese Reconquista culminated in 1249 with the conquest of the Algarve by Afonso III. In 1238, the Emirate of Granada officially became a tributary state to the Kingdom of Castile, then ruled by King Ferdinand III. On January 2, 1492, Emir Muhammad XII surrendered the Emirate of Granada to Queen Isabella I of Castile, who along with her husband King Ferdinand II of Aragon were the "Catholic Monarchs". The surrender concluded Al-Andalus as a political entity, but the cultural and social contributions under Muslim rule still persist in the region.


Etymology of Al-Andalus

The etymology of the word "Al-Andalus" is disputed. Furthermore, the extent of Iberian territory encompassed by the name changed over the centuries. As a designation for Iberia or its southern portion, the name is first attested by inscriptions on coins minted by the new Muslim government in Iberia circa 715 (the uncertainty in the year is due to the fact that the coins were bilingual in Latin and Arabic and the two inscriptions differ as to the year of minting).[5]

At least three specific etymologies have been proposed in Western scholarship, all presuming that the name arose after the Roman period in the Iberian Peninsula's history. Their originators or defenders have been historians. Recently, linguistics expertise has been brought to bear on the issue. Arguments from toponymy (the study of place names), history, and language structure demonstrate the lack of substance in all preceding proposals, and evidence has been presented that the name predates, rather than postdates, the Roman occupation.[6]

A major objection to all earlier proposals is that the very name Andaluz (the equivalent of Andalus in Spanish spelling) exists in several places in mountainous areas of Castile.[7] Furthermore, the fragment and- is common in Spanish place names, and the fragment -luz also occurs several times across Spain.

Older proposals

A Gold Dinar minted in Al-Andalus.

The name Andalusia or Vandalusia was traditionally believed to be derived from Vandal (the Germanic tribe that colonized parts of Iberia from 407 to 429). However, there is no historical reference to support this. The proposal is sometimes associated with the 19th century historian Reinhart Dozy,[8] but it predates him and he recognized some of its shortcomings. Although he accepted that Al-Andalus derived from Vandal, he believed that geographically it referred only to the harbor from which the Vandals departed Iberia for Africa—the location of which harbour was unknown.[9]

Another proposal is that Andalus is an Arabic language version of the name Atlantis. This idea has recently been defended by the Spanish historian Vallvé, but purely on the grounds that it is allegedly plausible phonetically and would explain several toponymic facts (no historical evidence was offered).[10]

Vallvé writes:

Arabic texts offering the first mentions of the island of Al-Andalus and the sea of al-Andalus become extraordinarily clear if we substitute this expressions with "Atlantis" or "Atlantic". The same can be said with reference to Hercules and the Amazons whose island, according to Arabic commentaries of these Greek and Latin legends, was located in jauf Al-Andalus—that is, to the north or interior of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Island of Al-Andalus is mentioned in an anonymous Arabic chronicle of the conquest of Iberia composed two to three centuries after the fact.[11] It is identified as the location of the landfall of the advance guard of the Moorish conquest of Iberia. The chronicle also says that "Island of al-Andalus" was subsequently renamed "Island of Tarifa". The preliminary conquest force of a few hundred, led by the Berber chief, Tarif abu Zura, seized the first bit of land that is encountered after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar in 710. The main conquest force led by Tariq ibn Ziyad followed them a year later. The landfall, now known in Spain as either Punta Marroquí or Punta de Tarifa, is in fact the southern tip of an islet, presently known as Isla de Tarifa or Isla de las Palomas, just offshore of the Iberian mainland.

This testimony of the Arab chronicle, the modern name Isla de Tarifa, and the above mentioned toponymic evidence that Andaluz is a name of pre-Roman origin taken together lead to the supposition that the Island of Andalus is the present day Isla de Tarifa, which lies just offshore from the modern day Spanish city of Tarifa. The extension of the scope of the designation "Al-Andalus" from a single islet to all of Iberia has several historical precedents.

In the 1980s, the historian Halm, also rejecting the Vandal proposal, originated an innovative alternative.[12] Halm took as his points of departure ancient reports that Germanic tribes in general were reported to have distributed conquered lands by having members draw lots, and that Iberia during the period of Visigothic rule was sometimes known to outsiders by a Latin name, Gothica Sors, whose meaning is 'Gothic lot'. Halm thereupon speculated that the Visigoths themselves might have called their new lands "lot lands" and done so in their own language. However, the Gothic language version of the term Gothica Sors is not attested. Halm claimed to have been able to reconstruct it, proposing that it was *landahlauts (the asterisk is the standard symbol among linguists for a linguistic form that is proposed but has not been attested). Halm then suggested that the hypothetical Gothic language term gave rise to both the attested Latin term, Gothica Sors (by translating the meaning) and the Arabic name, Al-Andalus (by phonetic imitation). However, Halm did not offer evidence (historical or linguistic) that any of the language developments in his argument had in fact occurred.

Province of the Caliphate

The Age of the Caliphs
  Muhammad, 622–632
  Patriarchal Caliphate, 632–661
  Umayyad Caliphate, 661–750
The province of al-Andalus circa 720

During the caliphate of the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid I, the Berber commander Tariq ibn-Ziyad led a small force that landed at Gibraltar on April 30, 711, ostensibly to intervene in a Visigothic civil war. After a decisive victory over King Roderic at the Battle of Guadalete on July 19, 711, Tariq ibn-Ziyad, joined by Arab governor Musa ibn Nusayr of Ifriqiya, brought most of the Visigothic Kingdom under Muslim occupation in a seven-year campaign. They crossed the Pyrenees and occupied Visigothic Septimania in southern France.

Most of the Iberian peninsula became part of the expanding Umayyad empire, under the name of Al-Andalus. It was organized as a province subordinate to Ifriqiya, so, for the first few decades, the governors of al-Andalus were appointed by the emir of Kairouan, rather than the Caliph in Damascus. The regional capital was set at Cordoba, and the initial influx of Muslim colonists were widely distributed - Arab colonists were assigned to the south and east, while Berber colonists were scattered across the west and center. Visigothic lords who agreed to recognize Muslim suzerainity were allowed to retain their fiefs (notably, in Murcia, Galicia and the Ebro valley). Resistant Visigoths took refuge in the Cantabrian highlands, where they carved out a rump state, the Kingdom of Asturias.

In the 720s, the Andalusian governors launched several sa'ifa raids into Aquitaine. Duke Odo the Great of Aquitaine appealed to the Frankish mayor Charles Martel for assistance, offering to place himself under Carolingian sovereignty. At the Battle of Poitiers in 732, an Andalusian raiding army was defeated by Charles Martel. In 734, the Andalusians launched raids to the east, capturing Avignon and Arles and overran much of Provence. In 737, they climbed up the Rhône valley, reached as far as Burgundy. Charles Martel of the Franks, with the assistance of Liutprand of the Lombards, invaded Burgundy and Provence and expelled the raiders by 739.

Relations between Arabs and Berbers in al-Andalus had been tense in the years after the conquest. Berbers heavily outnumbered the Arabs in the province, and had done the bulk of the fighting, but they had been given the lesser plums of the conquest and were assigned the harsher duties (e.g. garrisoning the more troubled areas). Although some Arab governors had cultivated their Berber lieutenants, others had grievously mistreated them. Mutinies by Berber soldiers were frequent, e.g. in 729, the Berber commander Munnus revolted and managed to carve out a rebel state in Cerdanya for a spell. In 740, a great Berber Revolt erupted in the Maghreb (North Africa). To put down the rebellion, the Umayyad Caliph Hisham dispatched a large Arab army, composed of regiments (junds) of Greater Syria[13] to North Africa. But the great Syrian army was crushed by the Berber rebels at the Battle of Bagdoura (in Morocco). Heartened by the victories of their North African brethren, the Berbers of al-Andalus quickly raised their own revolt. Berber garrisons in northern Spain mutinied, deposed their Arab commanders and organized a large rebel army to march against the strongholds of Toledo, Cordoba and Algeciras. The Andalusian Arab governor, joined by the remnant of the Syrian army (some 10,000) which had fled across the straits, crushed the Berber rebels in a series of ferocious battles in 742. However, a quarrel immediately erupted between the Syrian commanders and the older Andalusian Arabs. The Syrians defeated the Andalusians at the hard-fought Battle of Aqua Portora in August 742, but were too few to impose themselves on the province. The quarrel was settled in 743, with the distribution of the Syrians in regimental fiefs across al-Andalus - the Damascus jund was established in Elvira (Granada), the Jordan jund in Rayyu (Málaga and Archidona), the Palestine jund in Medina-Sidonia and Jerez, the Emesa (Hims) jund in Seville and Niebla and the Qinnasrin jund in Jaén. The Egypt jund was divided between Beja (Algarve) in the west and Tudmir (Murcia) in the east.[14] The arrival of the Syrians increased substantially the Arab element in the Iberian peninsula and helped deepen the Muslim hold on the south. However, at the same time, unwilling to be governed, the Syrian junds carried on an existence of autonomous feudal anarchy, severely destabilizing the authority of the governor of al-Andalus.

A second significant consequence of the revolt was the expansion of Kingdom of the Asturias, hitherto confined to enclaves in the Cantabrian highlands. After the rebellious Berber garrisons evacuted the northern frontier fortresses, the Christian king Alfonso I of Asturias set about immediately seizing the empty forts for himself, quickly adding the northwestern provinces of Galicia and León to his fledgling kingdom. The Asturians evacuated the Christian populations from the towns and villages of the Galician-Leonese lowlands, creating an empty buffer zone in the Douro River valley (the "Desert of the Duero"). This new emptied frontier would remain roughly in place for the next few centuries as the boundary between the Christian north and the Islamic south. Between this frontier and the Andalusian heartland in the south, the Andalusian state organized three large march territories (thughur) - the lower march (capital initially at Merida, later Badajoz), the middle march (centered at Toledo) and the upper march (centered at Zaragoza)

The disturbances and disorders also allowed the Franks, now under mayor Pepin the Short, to invade the strategic strip of Septimania in 752, hoping to deprive Andalusians of their easy launching pad for raids into Francia. After a lengthy siege, the last Arab stronghold, the citadel of Narbonne, finally fell to the Franks in 759. Al-Andalus was sealed off at the Pyrenees.[15]

The third consequence of the Berber revolt was the collapse of the authority of the Damascus Caliphate over the western provinces. With the Umayyad Caliphs distracted by the challenge of the Abbasids in the east, the western provinces of the Maghreb and al-Andalus spun out of their control. From around 745, the Fihrids, an illustrious local Arab clan descended from Oqba ibn Nafi al-Fihri, seized power in the western provinces, and ruled them almost as a private family empire of their own - Abd al-Rahman ibn Habib al-Fihri in Ifriqiya and Yūsuf al-Fihri in al-Andalus. The Fihrids welcomed the fall of the Umayyads in the east in 750, and sought to reach an understanding with the Abbasids, hoping they might be allowed to continue their autonomous existence. But when the Abbassids rejected the offer and demanded submission, the Fihrids declared independence and, probably out of spite, invited the deposed remnants of the Umayyad clan to take refuge in their dominions. It was a fateful decision they soon regretted, for the Umayyads, the sons and grandsons of caliphs, had a more legitimate claim to rule than the Fihrids themselves. Rebellious-minded local lords, disenchanted with the autocratic rule of the Fihrids, intrigued with the arriving Umayyad exiles.

Umayyad Emirate and Caliphate of Córdoba

The interior of the Cathedral of Cordoba, formerly the Great Mosque of Córdoba. The cathedral is one of the finest examples of Arab-Islamic architecture in the Umayyad style. An Islamic Mosque (742) built on the site of the Visigothic Christian 'Saint Vincent basilica' (600) then reconquered for the Christian Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción in 1236.

In 756, the exiled Umayyad prince Abd al-Rahman I (nicknamed al-Dākhil, the 'Immigrant') ousted Yūsuf al-Fihri to establish himself as the Emir of Córdoba. He refused to submit to the Abbasid caliph, as Abbasid forces had killed most of his family. Over a thirty year reign, he established a tenuous rule over much of al-Andalus, overcoming partisans of both the al-Fihri family and of the Abbasid caliph.[16]

For the next century and a half, his descendants continued as emirs of Córdoba, with nominal control over the rest of al-Andalus and sometimes even parts of western North Africa, but with real control, particularly over the marches along the Christian border, vacillating depending on the competence of the individual emir. Indeed, the power of emir Abdallah ibn Muhammad (circa 900) did not extend beyond Córdoba itself. But his grandson Abd-al-Rahman III, who succeeded him in 912, not only rapidly restored Umayyad power throughout al-Andalus but extended it into western North Africa as well. In 929 he proclaimed himself Caliph, elevating the emirate to a position competing in prestige not only with the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad but also the Shi'ite caliph in Tunis—with whom he was competing for control of North Africa.

The Caliphate of Cordoba c. 1000 at the apogee of Al-Mansur.
The Caliphate broke up into many taifa states in 1031. (The northern areas shown here in white, red, yellow and dark blue were Christian)

The period of the Caliphate is seen as the golden age of al-Andalus. Crops produced using irrigation, along with food imported from the Middle East, provided the area around Córdoba and some other Andalusī cities with an agricultural economic sector by far the most advanced in Europe. Among European cities, Córdoba under the Caliphate, with a population of perhaps 500,000, eventually overtook Constantinople as the largest and most prosperous city in Europe.[17] Within the Islamic world, Córdoba was one of the leading cultural centres. The work of its most important philosophers and scientists (notably Abulcasis and Averroes) had a major influence on the intellectual life of medieval Europe.

Muslims and non-Muslims often came from abroad to study in the famous libraries and universities of al-Andalus after the reconquest of Toledo in 1085. The most noted of these was Michael Scot (c. 1175 to c. 1235), who took the works of Ibn Rushd ("Averroes") and Ibn Sina ("Avicenna") to Italy. This transmission was to have a significant impact on the formation of the European Renaissance.

First Taifa period

The Córdoba Caliphate effectively collapsed during a ruinous civil war between 1009 and 1013, although it was not finally abolished until 1031. Al-Andalus then broke up into a number of mostly independent states called taifas. These were generally too weak to defend themselves against repeated raids and demands for tribute from the Christian states to the north and west, which were known to the Muslims as "the Galician nations",[18] and which had spread from their initial strongholds in Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, the Basque country and the Carolingian Marca Hispanica to become the Kingdoms of Navarre, León, Portugal, Castile and Aragon and the County of Barcelona. Eventually raids turned into conquests, and in response the taifa kings were forced to request help from the Almoravids, Islamic rulers of the Maghreb. Their desperate maneuver would eventually fall to their disadvantage, however, as the Moravids they had summoned from the south went on to conquer many of the taifa kingdoms.

Map showing the extent of the Almoravid empire

Almoravids, Almohads and Marinids

Almohad dynasty and surrounding states, c. 1200.

In 1086 the Almoravid ruler of Morocco Yusuf ibn Tashfin was invited by the Muslim princes in Iberia to defend them against Alfonso VI, King of Castile and León. In that year, Yusuf ibn Tashfin crossed the straits to Algeciras and inflicted a severe defeat on the Christians at the az-Zallaqah. By 1094, Yusuf ibn Tashfin had removed all Muslim princes in Iberia and annexed their states, except for the one at Zaragoza. He regained Valencia from the Christians.

The Almoravids were succeeded in the 12th century by the Almohads, another Berber dynasty, after the victory of Abu Yusuf Ya'qub al-Mansur over the Castilian Alfonso VIII at the Battle of Alarcos. In 1212 a coalition of Christian kings under the leadership of the Castilian Alfonso VIII defeated the Almohads at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. The Almohads continued to rule Al Andalus for another decade, but with much reduced power and prestige; and the civil wars following the death of Abu Ya'qub Yusuf II rapidly led to the re-establishment of taifas. The taifas, newly independent but now weakened, were quickly conquered by Portugal, Castile and Aragon. After the fall of Murcia (1243) and the Algarve (1249), only the Emirate of Granada survived as a Muslim state, but only as a tributary of Castile. Most of its tribute was paid in gold from present-day Mali and Burkina Faso that was carried to Iberia through the merchant routes of the Sahara.

The last Muslim threat to the Christian kingdoms was the rise of the Marinids in Morocco during the 14th century, who took Granada into their sphere of influence and occupied some of its cities, like Algeciras. However, they were unable to take Tarifa, which held out until the arrival of the Castilian Army led by Alfonso XI. The Castilian king, helped by Afonso IV of Portugal and Peter IV of Aragon, decisively defeated the Marinids at the Battle of Salado in 1340 and took Algeciras in 1344. Gibraltar, then under Granadian rule, was besieged in 1349–1350, Alfonso XI along with most of his army perished by the Black Death. His successor, Peter of Castile, made peace with the Muslims and turned his attention to Christian lands, starting a period of almost 150 years of rebellions and wars between the Christian states that secured the survival of Granada.

In 1469 the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile signaled the launching of the final assault on the Emirate of Granada (Gharnatah). The King and Queen convinced the Pope to declare their war a crusade. The Christians crushed one center of resistance after another and finally, in January 1492, after a long siege, the Moorish sultan, Muhammad XII, surrendered the fortress palace, the renowned Alhambra, itself.


A manuscript page of the Qur'an in the script developed in al-Andalus, 12th century.

The society of Al-Andalus was made up of three main religious groups: Christians, Muslims and Jews. The Muslims, though united on the religious level, had several ethnic divisions, the main being the distinction between the Berbers and the Arabs. Mozarabs were Christians that had long lived under Muslim rule and so had adopted many Arabic customs, art and words, while still maintaining their Christian rituals and their own Romance languages. Each of these communities inhabited distinct neighborhoods in the cities. In the 10th century a massive conversion of Christians took place, and muladies (Muslims of ethnic Iberian origin) plus Arabs and Berbers comprised eighty percent of the population of Al-Andalus by around 1100.[19][20]

A later illustration, depicting the Jewish Soldiers fighting alongside the forces of Muhammed IX, Nasrid Sultan of Granada, at the Battle of La Higueruela, 1431.

The Berbers, who made up the bulk of the invaders, lived in the mountainous regions of what is now the north of Portugal and in the Meseta Central, while the Arabs settled in the south and in the Ebro Valley in the northeast. The Jews worked mainly as tax collectors, in trade, or as doctors or ambassadors. At the end of the fifteenth century there were about 50,000 Jews in Granada and roughly 100,000 in the whole of Islamic Iberia.[21]

Non-Muslims under the Caliphate

Treatment of non-Muslims

The non-Muslims were given the status of ahl al-dhimma (the people under protection), adults paying a "Jizya" tax, equal to one Dinar per year with exemptions for old people, women, children and the disabled, whenever there was a Christian authority in the community. When there was no Christian authority, the non-Muslims were given the status of majus.[22]

The treatment of non-Muslims in the Caliphate has been a subject of considerable debate among scholars and commentators, especially those interested in drawing parallels to the coexistence of Muslims and non-Muslims in the modern world. María Rosa Menocal, a specialist in Iberian literature, has argued that "tolerance was an inherent aspect of Andalusian society".[23] In her view, the Jewish and Christian dhimmis living under the Caliphate, while allowed fewer rights than Muslims, were much better off than minorities in Christian parts of Europe.

Jews constituted more than 5% of the population.[24] Al-Andalus was a key center of Jewish life during the early Middle Ages, producing important scholars and one of the most stable and wealthy Jewish communities. Bernard Lewis takes issue with this view, arguing its modern use is ahistorical and apologetic. He argues that Islam traditionally did not offer equality nor even pretended that it did, arguing that it would have been both a "theological as well as a logical absurdity."[25] However, even Bernard Lewis states:

Generally, the Jewish people were allowed to practice their religion and live according to the laws and scriptures of their community. Furthermore, the restrictions to which they were subject were social and symbolic rather than tangible and practical in character. That is to say, these regulations served to define the relationship between the two communities, and not to oppress the Jewish population.[26]

Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam (1984),

Image of a Jewish cantor reading the Passover story in al-Andalus, from a 14th century Spanish Haggadah.

The Caliphate treated non-Muslims differently at different times. The longest period of tolerance began after 912, with the reign of Abd-ar-Rahman III and his son, Al-Hakam II where the Jews of Al-Andalus prospered, devoting themselves to the service of the Caliphate of Córdoba, to the study of the sciences, and to commerce and industry, especially to trading in silk and slaves, in this way promoting the prosperity of the country. Southern Iberia became an asylum for the oppressed Jews of other countries.[27][28]

Under the Almoravids and the Almohads there may have been intermittent persecution of Jews,[29] but sources are extremely scarce and do not give a clear picture, though the situation appears to have deteriorated after 1160.[30]

The 11th century saw Muslim pogroms against Jews in Al-Andalus; those occurred in Córdoba in 1011 and in Granada in 1066.[31][32][33] However, such massacres are of rare occurrence in Islamic history.[34]

The Almohads, who had taken control of the Almoravids' Maghribi and Andalusian territories by 1147,[35] far surpassed the Almoravides in fundamentalist outlook, and they treated the non-muslims harshly. Faced with the choice of either death or conversion, many Jews and Christians emigrated.[36][37] Some, such as the family of Maimonides, fled east to more tolerant Muslim lands,[36] while others went northward to settle in the growing Christian kingdoms.[38]

Rise and fall of Muslim power

Medieval Spain and Portugal was the scene of almost constant warfare between Muslims and Christians. The last Muslim bastion, Nasrid Granada fell around 1492. By this time the Moors in Castile numbered "half a million within the realm, 100,000 had died or been enslaved, 200,000 emigrated, and 200,000 remained as the residual population. Many of the Muslim elite, including Muhammad XII, who had been given the area of the Alpujarra mountain as a principality, found life under Christian rule intolerable and passed over into North Africa"[39]


One detail of the arabesques completed towards the end of Muslim rule of Spain by Yusuf I (1333–1353) and Muhammed V, Sultan of Granada (1353–1391), the Alhambra is a reflection of the culture of the last centuries of the Moorish rule of Al-Andalus, reduced to the Emirate of Granada.

Many tribes, religions and races coexisted in al-Andalus, each contributing to the intellectual prosperity of Andalusia. Literacy in Islamic Iberia was far more widespread than many other nations in the West at the time.[40]

From the earliest days, the Umayyads wanted to be seen as intellectual rivals to the Abbasids, and for Córdoba to have libraries and educational institutions to rival Baghdad's. Although there was a clear rivalry between the two powers, freedom to travel between the two Caliphates was allowed, which helped spread new ideas and innovations over time.


Andalusian philosophy

Averroes, founder of the Averroism school of philosophy, was influential in the rise of secular thought in Western Europe.

The historian Said Al-Andalusi wrote that Caliph Abd-ar-Rahman III had collected libraries of books and granted patronage to scholars of medicine and "ancient sciences". Later, al-Mustansir (Al-Hakam II) went yet further, building a university and libraries in Córdoba. Córdoba became one of the world's leading centres of medicine and philosophical debate.

However, when Al-Hakam's son Hisham II took over, real power was ceded to the hajib, al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir. Al-Mansur was a distinctly religious man and disapproved of the sciences of astronomy, logic and especially astrology, so much so that many books on these subjects, which had been preserved and collected at great expense by Al-Hakam II, were burned publicly. However, with Al-Mansur's death in 1002 interest in philosophy revived. Numerous scholars emerged, including Abu Uthman Ibn Fathun, whose masterwork was the philosophical treatise "Tree of Wisdom". An outstanding scholar in astronomy and astrology was Maslamah Ibn Ahmad al-Majriti (died 1008), an intrepid traveller who journeyed all over the Islamic world and beyond, and who kept in touch with the Brethren of Purity. Indeed, it is said to have been he who brought the 51 "Epistles of the Brethren of Purity" to al-Andalus and who added the compendium to this work, although it is quite possible that it was added later by another scholar of the name al-Majriti. Another book attributed to al-Majriti is the Ghayat al-Hakim "The Aim of the Sage", a book which explored a synthesis of Platonism with Hermetic philosophy. Its use of incantations led the book to be widely dismissed in later years, although the Sufi communities kept studies of it.

A prominent follower of al-Majriti was the philosopher and geometer Abu al-Hakam al-Kirmani. A follower of his in turn was the great Abu Bakr Ibn al-Sayigh, usually known in the Arab world as Ibn Bajjah, "Avempace"

The Andalusian philosopher Averroes (1126–1198) was the founder of the Averroism school of philosophy, and his works and commentaries had an impact on the rise of secular thought in Western Europe.[41] He also developed the concept of "existence precedes essence".[42]

Another influential Andalusian philosopher who had a significant influence on modern philosophy was Ibn Tufail. His philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, translated into Latin as Philosophus Autodidactus in 1671, developed the themes of empiricism, tabula rasa, nature versus nurture,[43] condition of possibility, materialism,[44] and Molyneux's Problem.[45] European scholars and writers influenced by this novel include John Locke,[46] Gottfried Leibniz,[47] Melchisédech Thévenot, John Wallis, Christiaan Huygens,[48] George Keith, Robert Barclay, the Quakers,[49] and Samuel Hartlib.[50]

Jewish philosophy and culture

With the relative tolerance of al-Andalus and the decline of the previous centre of Jewish thought in Babylonia, al-Andalus became the centre of Jewish intellectual endeavours. Poets and commentators like Judah Halevi (1086–1145) and Dunash ben Labrat (920–990) contributed to the cultural life of al-Andalus, but the area was even more important to the development of Jewish philosophy. A stream of Jewish philosophers, cross-fertilizing with Muslim philosophers, (see joint Jewish and Islamic philosophies) culminated in a widely celebrated Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages, Maimonides (1135–1205), though he did not actually do any of his work in al-Andalus, as, when he was 13, his family fled persecution by the Almohads.

Enduring influence on Iberian Peninsula

Science legacy


In the 11th–12th centuries, astronomers in Al-Andalus took up the challenge earlier posed by Ibn al-Haytham, namely to develop an alternate non-Ptolemaic configuration that evaded the errors found in the Ptolemaic model.[51] Like Ibn al-Haytham's critique, the anonymous Andalusian work, al-Istidrak ala Batlamyus (Recapitulation regarding Ptolemy), included a list of objections to Ptolemic astronomy. This marked the beginning of the Andalusian school's revolt against Ptolemaic astronomy, otherwise known as the "Andalusian Revolt".[52]

In the late 11th century, al-Zarqali (Latinized as Arzachel) discovered that the orbits of the planets are elliptic orbits and not circular orbits,[53] though he still followed the Ptolemaic model.

In the 12th century, Averroes rejected the eccentric deferents introduced by Ptolemy. He rejected the Ptolemaic model and instead argued for a strictly concentric model of the universe. He wrote the following criticism on the Ptolemaic model of planetary motion:[54]

"To assert the existence of an eccentric sphere or an epicyclic sphere is contrary to nature. [...] The astronomy of our time offers no truth, but only agrees with the calculations and not with what exists."

Averroes' Jewish contemporary, Maimonides, wrote the following on the planetary model proposed by Ibn Bajjah (Avempace):

"I have heard that Abu Bakr [Ibn Bajja] discovered a system in which no epicycles occur, but eccentric spheres are not excluded by him. I have not heard it from his pupils; and even if it be correct that he discovered such a system, he has not gained much by it, for eccentricity is likewise contrary to the principles laid down by Aristotle ... I have explained to you that these difficulties do not concern the astronomer, for he does not profess to tell us the existing properties of the spheres, but to suggest, whether correctly or not, a theory in which the motion of the stars and planets is uniform and circular, and in agreement with observation."[55]

Ibn Bajjah also proposed the Milky Way galaxy to be made up of many stars but that it appears to be a continuous image due to the effect of refraction in the Earth's atmosphere.[56] Later in the 12th century, his successors Ibn Tufail and Nur Ed-Din Al Betrugi (Alpetragius) were the first to propose planetary models without any equant, epicycles or eccentrics. Al-Betrugi was also the first to discover that the planets are self-luminous.[57] Their configurations, however, were not accepted due to the numerical predictions of the planetary positions in their models being less accurate than that of the Ptolemaic model,[58] mainly because they followed Aristotle's notion of perfect circular motion.

Earth sciences

In the late 11th century, Abu 'Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Ma'udh, who lived in Al-Andalus, wrote a work on optics later translated into Latin as Liber de crepisculis, which was mistakenly attributed to Alhazen. This was a short work containing an estimation of the angle of depression of the sun at the beginning of the morning twilight and at the end of the evening twilight, and an attempt to calculate on the basis of this and other data the height of the atmospheric moisture responsible for the refraction of the sun's rays. Through his experiments, he obtained the accurate value of 18°, which comes close to the modern value.[59]

In the early 13th century, the Andalusian-Arabian biologist Abu al-Abbas al-Nabati developed an early scientific method for botany, introducing empirical and experimental techniques in the testing, description and identification of numerous materia medica, and separating unverified reports from those supported by actual tests and observations.[60] His student Ibn al-Baitar published the Kitab al-Jami fi al-Adwiya al-Mufrada, which is considered one of the greatest botanical compilations in history, and was a botanical authority for centuries. It contains details on at least 1,400 different plants, foods, and drugs, 300 of which were his own original discoveries. The Kitab al-Jami fi al-Adwiya al-Mufrada was also influential in Europe after it was translated into Latin in 1758.[61][62]

Geography and exploration

Long distance travel created a need for mapping, and travelers often provided the information to achieve the task. While such travel during the medieval period was hazardous, Muslims nonetheless undertook long journeys. One motive for these was the Hajj or the Muslim pilgrimage. Annually, Muslims came to Mecca in Arabia from Islamic Iberia, Persia, Africa, and India. Another motive for travels was commerce. Muslims were involved in trade with Europeans, Indians and the Chinese, and Muslim merchants travelled long distances to conduct commercial activities.[63]

The origins of the caravel ship, used for long distance travel by the Portuguese after the beginning of their overseas expansion in the 15th century, date back to the designs of the Cog, the Holk and the Dromon, but also possibly to the qarib used by explorers from Islamic Iberia in the 13th century.[64]


Muslim physicians from Al-Andalus contributed significantly to the field of medicine, including the subjects of anatomy and physiology. Major figures of this period included Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (Abulcasis), author of the Kitab al-Tasrif ("Book of Concessions"), a 30-volume medical encyclopedia, and Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar), who made advances in surgery.

Psychology and sociology

Abu al-Qasim (Abulcasis), the father of modern surgery, developed material and technical designs which are still used in neurosurgery. Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) gave the first accurate descriptions on neurological disorders, including meningitis, intracranial thrombophlebitis, and mediastinal germ cell tumors, and made contributions to modern neuropharmacology. Averroes suggested the existence of Parkinson's disease and attributed photoreceptor properties to the retina. Maimonides wrote about neuropsychiatric disorders and described rabies and belladonna intoxication.[65]

Said Al-Andalusi (1029–1070) stated that people in all corners of the world have a common origin but differ in certain aspects: "ethics, appearance, landscape and language". He treated the history of Egypt as part of the universal history of all humanity, and he linked Egypt and Sudan to the history of the Arabs through a common ancestry.[66] They linked ancient Egypt to Muslim history through Hajar (Hagar), the wife of Ibrahim (Abraham) and mother of Ismail (Ishmael), the patriarch of the Arabs,[66] thus making Hajar the mother of the Arabs.[67]


As early as the 9th century, an essentially modern agricultural system became central to economic life and organization in the Arab caliphates, replacing the largely export-driven Roman model. It started with Zakat, an Islamic tax on large land holdings,[68] which slowly broke the land monopoly of the nobility that had smothered the rural economy for centuries.[69] Cities of the Near East, North Africa, and Moorish Spain were supported by elaborate agricultural systems which included extensive irrigation based on knowledge of hydraulic and hydrostatic principles, some of which were continued from Roman times.{Glick, Thomas (1996) Irrigation and Hydraulic Systems pp. 10}

The introduction of new crops transforming private farming into a new global industry exported everywhere,[70] including Europe, where farming was mostly restricted to wheat strains obtained much earlier via central Asia. Spain received what she in turn transmitted to the rest of Europe; many agricultural and fruit-growing processes, together with many new plants, fruit and vegetables. These new crops included sugar cane, rice, citrus fruit, apricots, cotton, artichokes, aubergines, and saffron. Others, previously known, were further developed. Several were later exported from Spanish coastal areas to the Spanish colonies in the New World. Also transmitted via Muslim influence, a silk industry flourished, flax was cultivated and linen exported, and esparto grass, which grew wild in the more arid parts, was collected and turned into various articles.

The process of getting all of these new crops was not as easy as some might assume it was. It was difficult to take these new plants and fruits to the Iberian Peninsula and in some cases it was done illegally. Bringing them was difficult in many cases because there were specific varieties of plants that were not allowed to be removed from Muslim territories that people had to smuggle out; however, in the end this process proved very helpful to the Iberian peninsula. The economic implications were enormous. By having so many new crops people began to become more healthy and due to this there was a great economic upturn in this time.[71]

Culture legacy


Muslim rulers introduced a characteristically Arabic architectural style, which by the end of their rule in Iberia included elements of Arabic, Byzantine, and Visigothic architecture. These features remained influential in the Iberian Peninsula after the Reconquista. Some examples of the lasting architectural contributions under the taifa include the Great Mosque of Córdoba and the Cordoban palace estate al-Rustafa. Christians and Jews adopted Arabic architectural elements into their own churches and synagogues. This became known as the Mozarabic style. Mozarabic architecture included the absence of exterior decoration, diversity of floor plans, the use of the horseshoe arch in the Islamic style, and the use of the column as support, with a capital decorated with vegetable elements.


Restaurants in medieval Islamic Spain served three-course meals, which were introduced in the 9th century by Ziryab, who insisted that meals should be served in three separate courses consisting of soup, the main course, and dessert.[72]

Linguistics and literature

In the 12th century, the Andalusian-Arabian philosopher and novelist Ibn Tufail (known as "Abubacer" or "Ebn Tophail" in the West) first demonstrated Avicenna's theory of tabula rasa as a thought experiment in his Arabic novel, Hayy ibn Yaqzan, in which he depicted the development of the mind of a feral child "from a tabula rasa to that of an adult, in complete isolation from society" on a desert island. The Latin translation of his work, titled Philosophus Autodidactus, published by Edward Pococke the Younger in 1671, had an influence on John Locke's formulation of tabula rasa in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,[43] which went on to become one of the principal sources of empiricism in modern Western philosophy, and influenced many Enlightenment philosophers, such as David Hume and George Berkeley.

Hadith Bayad wa Riyad (The Story of Bayad and Riyad) was a 13th century Arabic love story written in Al-Andalus. The main characters of the tale are Bayad, a merchant's son and a foreigner from Damascus, and Riyad, a well educated girl in the court of an unnamed Hajib (vizier or minister) of Al-Andalus who is referred to as the lady. The Hadith Bayad wa Riyad manuscript is believed to be the only illustrated manuscript known to have survived from more than eight centuries of Muslim and Arab presence in Spain.


Thanks to the Toledo School of Translators, established after Toledo was reconquered by the Christian forces in 1085,[73] the work of many Islamic scholars, that previously could have only be accessed by Muslims, especially in Al-Andalus and Islamic Sicily, finally found its way into European science. These scholars most translated new scientific and philosophical texts from Arabic into Latin.

One of the most productive translators in Castile was Gerard of Cremona, who translated 87 books from Arabic to Latin, including Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī's On Algebra and Almucabala, Jabir ibn Aflah's Elementa astronomica,[74] al-Kindi's On Optics, Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Kathīr al-Farghānī's On Elements of Astronomy on the Celestial Motions, al-Farabi's On the Classification of the Sciences,[75] the chemical and medical works of Razi,[76] the works of Thabit ibn Qurra and Hunayn ibn Ishaq,[77] and the works of Arzachel, Jabir ibn Aflah, the Banū Mūsā, Abū Kāmil Shujā ibn Aslam, Abu al-Qasim, and Ibn al-Haytham (including the Book of Optics).[citation needed]

With the fall of the Emirate of Granada in 1492, the scientific and technological initiative of the Islamic world was inherited by Europeans and laid the foundations for Europe's Renaissance and Scientific Revolution.[78]


Ziryab introduces the Lute in Al-Andalus, (Tale of Bayad and Riyad).

Some musical instruments are believed to have been derived from Arabic musical instruments used in Al-Andalus: the naker from naqareh, adufe from al-duff, alboka from al-buq, anafil from al-nafir, exabeba from al-shabbaba (flute), atabal (bass drum) from al-tabl, atambal from al-tinbal,[79] the balaban, the castanet from kasatan, sonajas de azófar from sunuj al-sufr, the conical bore wind instruments,[80] the xelami from the sulami or fistula (flute or musical pipe),[81] the shawm and dulzaina from the reed instruments zamr and al-zurna,[82] the gaita from the ghaita, rackett from iraqya or iraqiyya,[83] the harp and zither from the qanun,[citation needed] canon from qanun, geige (violin) from ghichak,[84] and the theorbo from the tarab.[85] It is also commonly acknowledged by flamenco performers that the vocal, instrumental, and dance elements of modern flamenco were greatly influenced by the Arab performing arts.


Tin-glazed Hispano-Moresque ware with lusterware decoration, from Spain circa 1475.

Hispano-Moresque ware was a style of Islamic pottery created in Al-Andalus, after the Moors had introduced two ceramic techniques to Europe: glazing with an opaque white tin-glaze, and painting in metallic lusters. Hispano-Moresque ware was distinguished from the pottery of Christendom by the Islamic character of its decoration.[86]

The tin-glazing of ceramics was invented by Muslim potters in 8th century Basra, Iraq.[87] The earliest tin-glazed pottery thus appears to have been made in Iraq in the 9th century.[88] From there, it spread to Egypt, Persia and Iberian Peninsula, before reaching Italy in the Renaissance, Holland in the 16th century, and England, France and other European countries shortly after.

Lusterware was invented by Jābir ibn Hayyān, who applied it to ceramic glazes in the 8th century.[89] After the production of lusterware became popular in the Middle East, it spread to Europe—first to Al-Andalus, notably at Málaga, and then to Italy, where it was used to enhance maiolica.

An albarello is a type of maiolica earthenware jar originally designed to hold apothecaries' ointments and dry drugs. The development of this type of pharmacy jar had its roots in the Islamic Middle East. It was brought to Italy by Hispano-Moresque traders by the 15th century.

Technology legacy

The world's first vertical-axle windmills were built by Islamic engineers


Industrial water mills were built in Al-Andalus between the 11th and 13th centuries. Fulling mills, steel mills, and other mills, spread from Al-Andalus to Christian Iberia by the 12th century.[90] The first windmills were built in Sistan, Afghanistan, sometime between the 7th century and 9th century, as described by Muslim geographers. These were horizontal axis windmills with rectangle shaped blades, geared to long vertical driveshafts.[91] These were introduced to Europe through Spain. The bridge mill was a unique type of water mill that was built as part of the superstructure of a bridge. The earliest record of a bridge mill is from Córdoba in the 12th century.[92] The first forge to be driven by a hydropowered water mill rather than manual labour, also known as a finery forge, was invented in 12th century Al-Andalus.[93] Stamp mills were used by miners in Samarkand from as early as 973. They were used in medieval Persia for the purpose of crushing ore. By the 11th century, stamp mills were in widespread use throughout the Islamic world, including Al-Andalus.[94]

Many Damdams (or dams), acequias, and qanat water supply systems, and "Tribunal of Waters" irrigation systems, were built during the Islamic Golden Age and are still in use today in Islamic countries and in formerly Islamic Provinces in Europe such as Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula, particularly in the Andalusia, Aragon and Valencia Provinces of Spain. The Arabic systems of irrigation and water distribution were later adopted in the Canary Islands and Americas due to the Spanish and are still used including in Texas, New Mexico, Mexico, Peru, and Chile.[95]

Muslim cities such as Córdoba had advanced domestic water systems with sanitary sewers, public baths, drinking fountains, piped drinking water supplies,[96] and widespread private and public toilet and bathing facilities.[97] The first street lamps were built in the Arab Empire,[98] especially in Córdoba, which also had the first facilities and waste containers for litter collection.[99]


In 9th century Al-Andalus, Abbas Ibn Firnas (Armen Firnas) invented a primitive version of the parachute.[100][101][102][103] John H. Lienhard described it in The Engines of Our Ingenuity as follows:

"In 852, a new Caliph and a bizarre experiment: A daredevil named Armen Firman decided to fly off a tower in Cordova. He glided back to earth, using a huge winglike cloak to break his fall. He survived with minor injuries, and the young Ibn Firnas was there to see it."[104]

Ibn Firnas was also the first to make an attempt at controlled flight, as opposed to earlier gliding attempts in ancient China which were not controllable. Ibn Firnas manipulated the flight controls of his hang glider using two sets of artificial wings to adjust his altitude and to change his direction. He successfully returned to where he had lifted off from, but his landing was unsuccessful.[105][106] According to Philip Hitti in History of the Arabs:

"Ibn Firnas was the first man in history to make a scientific attempt at flying."

Ibn Firnas' glider was possibly the first hang glider, though there were earlier instances of manned kites being used in ancient China. Knowledge of Firman and Firnas' flying machines spread to other parts of Europe from Arabic references.[100][101] Ibn Firnas' hang glider was also the first to have artificial wings, though the flight was ultimately unsuccessful.

Genetic legacy of Muslim rule

A number of studies have tried to find out the genetic impact of non-European Muslim populations on the modern Spanish and Portuguese populations, through comparison of genetic markers in Spain and Portugal with North Africa and the Near East. The most recent and thorough study about Moorish influence in the Iberian Peninsula by Capelli et al. 2009 reported that North African male haplogroups, especially E1b1b1b (E-M81), E1b1b1a-b (M78 derived chromosomes showing the rare DYS439 allele 10, or E-V65) and a subset of J1 (M267 derived), represented, on average, 7-8% of the current Iberian male lineages.[107]

Historically introduced NW African types in Iberia (Capelli et al. (2009))
Sample N E1b1b1b (M81) E1b1b1a-b (V65) J1 (subset) Total %
Spain 717 5.2 1 1.5 7.7
Portugal 659 5 0.3 1.8 7.1
Iberia 1376 5.1 0.7 1.7 7.4

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