Andalusia is so different from the rest of Europe
Al-Andalus: the Spain of the Moors
The Moorish armies conquered the Iberian peninsula in just 15 years from the year 710. The “capital” Toledo remained in Arab hands for over 300 years and the city of Granada with its La Alhambra even for almost 800.
Who were these Moorish conquerors and rulers?
Prophet Mohammed, born in 570, laid the foundations for a religious empire that by 650 already included Saudi Arabia, Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Egypt, with Mecca as its centre. This meant a shift in the balance of power, which until then had been determined mainly by the Byzantine and Persian empires. In 661, the dynasty of the Umayyads was established in Damascus. The Umayyads, said to be descendants of Abraham, formed an important clan in Mecca and converted to Islam at the beginning of the 8th century. This dynasty would rule until 750 and managed to expand the Islamic empire not only to the east, but also to the west. As early as 708, the southern coastal areas of the Mediterranean were conquered and their eyes turned to the Iberian peninsula.
Conquest of the Iberian Peninsula
How exactly the Arabs conquered Spain is unclear, but it is said that the Moors were made to feel comfortable by a request from one of the Visigothic pretenders to the throne to help him defeat his opponent. In 710, on the orders of the ruler of North Africa, Musa Ibn Nusair crossed the Strait of Gibraltar with an army of 9000 Berbers and led by Tariq Ibn Ziyad and began a conquest. In just fourteen years, almost the entire Iberian Peninsula would be under Moorish rule.
In itself, a rapid conquest of such a large area; the Romans had taken two hundred years to conquer Spain, but unlike the Moors, they had no clear plan of conquest. This relative speed was also due to the fact that Tariq, after landing on the rock that bears his name Chabal Tariq the present day Gibraltar, had his ships burnt and told his men that there was only one way out, that of victory.
The general Tariq advanced quickly to the north and in the same year easily conquered the capital Toledo, which was deserted by almost all its inhabitants except the Jews. He then moved even further north, leaving the conquered areas under the control of natives and especially Jews who had suffered greatly from the Visigothic persecution and were overtaken by the Islamites as liberators.
At the height of their rule, the Moors are said to have reached as far as the south of France. They called the conquered area Al-Andalus which meant in Arabic for ‘that God will protect’. meant. In the beginning Al-Andalus was a province of the Caliphate of Damascus. Later it became independent and in 912 Abd al-Ráhman III proclaimed himself caliph of the Caliphate of Cordoba. Cordoba thus became the capital of Spain. Slowly but surely, the cultural, artistic, economic and scientific centre of the world moved from Baghdad in present-day Iraq to Cordoba. What so often happens in history also happened in Al Andalus. Internal rivalries caused the Caliphate to disintegrate a hundred years later into 23 small empires, of which the Empire of Granada finally survived in 1229. This would remain the only Islamic part of Spain until 1492.
La Alhambra in Granada
The Moorish rule did not consist of one long period, but included several rulers and peoples in different areas and/or regions. This had a great influence on the building styles, something that is clearly visible today. La Alhambra in Granada is known as the masterpiece of Moorish architecture. The magnificent La Alhambra was built under the Nasrids during the Granada Empire. It is a special palace because of its refined architecture and extraordinary art treasures.
La Mezquita in Córdoba
Another highlight of Islamic architecture in Spain is La Mezquita, the Cathedral of Córdoba. The Mezquita was built in 756-788 and was later expanded. At the time of the Caliphate of Cordoba, it was the largest mosque in Europe and the second largest after Mecca in the world. It had a capacity for twenty thousand men. After the Christian victory in 1236, the Mezquita was expanded and partially modified so that it could serve as a church. A cathedral was built in the middle of the mosque. Today, the Christian and Islamic influences can still be seen.
Because Moorish rule lasted much longer in the south of Spain than in the north, it is not surprising that much more of the Islamic architecture can be found in the south. That is what makes Andalusia so special. In the capital Seville alone you will find a large number of Moorish buildings that make the city so special, such as : La Giralda, the minaret of the cathedral, the Alcázar, a beautiful Moorish palace and the La Torre de Oro (Golden Tower). This tower used to be part of the Moorish city walls that protected the city from attacks from the river Quadalquivir. More to the north in Spain around Madrid, Moorish structures have also been preserved: the Aljafería in Zaragoza is a wonderful example.
Moorish quarters Granada
Many cities in Andalusia still have many authentic Moorish quarters. A good example is the Albaícin in Granada. It is a true maze of narrow streets where you go back to the time when the Moors still ruled over this city. The general layout of a central square surrounded by a maze of small, narrow streets is a relic of the Moors anyway. Which you can often find in all capitals of this region in the south of Spain. The typical houses in Andalusia with a courtyard and enormously thick walls are also of Moorish origin and a relic from that time.
With the arrival of the Moors in Al-Andalus came a new language: Arabic. When the Moors invaded Spain, Latin was spoken. Within a short time, Arabic became a language of high prestige and the official language for scholars. It is therefore not surprising that many influences of Arabic can be found in contemporary Spanish. In addition, many new words were added to Latin. This was because the level of development of the Moors was superior to that of the Christians. As a result, many words were not known at all in Latin. Examples are certain technical terms or names for food. Some concrete examples are alcalde (mayor), almacén (warehouse), quilate (carat), albañil (bricklayer), albéitar (veterinarian). The Moors also introduced many terms into agriculture: alcachofa (artichoke), albaricoque (apricot), alberca (water reservoir)acequia (water pipe).
Andalusia is so different, and so worth it!