Al-Andalus: Glimpses Of Human Coexistence And Compassion – Analysis
Al-Andalus, mon amour
Andalusia is the seduction of Spain. It is believed to be immediately grasped under its shiny and easy appearance, but it has deep roots in the past. Andalusian art, at the meeting of East and West, allows us to follow these ancient paths.
Andalusia is the largest of Spain’s regions and the one with the best defined natural setting. Two mountain ranges form its backbone, but while the northern one, the Sierra Morena, forms the border with Castile and Extremadura, the southern one, the Sierra Nevada, is just an obstacle behind the great Andalusian cornice on the Mediterranean. Between the two ranges, the plain of the Guadalquivir opens wide to the Atlantic.
These geographical conditions explain the essential role played in Spanish history, especially with regard to artistic creation, by this region that guards the entrance to the Mediterranean and at the same time constitutes a façade of Spain on the Ocean. Its importance goes hand in hand with its diversity, born from the variety of natural landscapes and, even more so, from the personality of the cities that have always dominated the economy and culture.
Bilâd al-Andalus “Country of al-Andalus” (Arabic: الأَنْدَلُس): it is in this form that almost all Arab authors early on referred to the part of the Iberian Peninsula under Muslim rule. However, the origin of the word remains rather mysterious: it was thought to have a connection with the Vandals, who passed from Spain to North Africa at the beginning of the fifth century (1). But what traces would their name have left, to be taken up in this way? What is certain is that later, when Muslim Spain lost its territories, the application of the word was restricted in the same way (2); today it refers to the eight southern provinces of Cordoba, Seville, Granada, Huelva, Cadiz, Jaén, Málaga and Almería.
Eloy Benito Ruano writes in 2002 in a book entitled: Tópicos y realidades de la Edad Media:(3)
“Los arabes y musulmanes de la Edad Media aplicaron el nombre de Al-Andalus a todas aquellas tierras que habian formado parte del reino visigodo: la Peninsula Ibérica y la Septimania ultrapirenaica.“
(“The Arabs and Muslims from the Middle Ages used the name of al-Andalus for all those lands that were formerly part of the Visigoth kingdom: the Iberian Peninsula and Septimania”)
As for José Ángel García de Cortázar, he argues that:(4)
“Para los autores árabes medievales, el término Al-Andalus designa la totalidad de las zonas conquistadas – siquiera temporalmente – por tropas arabo-musulmanas en territorios actualmente pertenecientes a Portugal, España y Francia”
(“For medieval Arab authors, Al-Andalus designated all the conquered areas – even temporarily – by Arab-Muslim troops in territories now belonging to Portugal, Spain and France”)
The idea that the etymology of the name “al-Andalus” has traditionally been derived from the name of the Vandals; has been challenged by proposals since the 1980s (5). In 1986, Joaquín Vallvé proposed that “al-Andalus” was a corruption of the name Atlantis (6). Heinz Halm in 1989 derived the name from a Gothic term: landahlauts (7), and in 2002, Georg Bossong suggested its derivation from a pre-Roman substrate.
Andalusia vigorously opposes the high interior plains of the peninsula and the literal Levant from which it is separated by vast deserted areas. Its reputation for opulence and refinement that would make it a “given land“, according to the formula of José Ortega y Gasset (8), is based on the abundance of raw materials: products from copper, lead, iron or silver mines and agricultural products such as wheat, wine or olive oil. But they were exported without creating wealth and employment locally.
Traditional agricultural prosperity was mainly based on the depression traversed by the Guadalquivir River, the largest expanse of hills and plains in the entire Iberian Peninsula. On the soft and fine marine sediments, deep soils with a green character developed, whose water retention capacity and saturation of the calcium ion absorbing complex make them the best cereal lands on the peninsula.
Over an area comparable to that of Belgium, the Guadalquivir depression is the domain of wheat and sunflowers, olive groves and some quality vineyards (Montilla and, above all, Sherry). Irrigation, which has only been developed there since the late 1920s, is for corn, cotton, fruit and vegetables and, in the Marismas alluvial plain, for rice. But agriculture is facing difficult market problems.
Mountainous regions surround the Betic Depression. In the north, the Sierra Morena, the southern edge of the ancient base deeply cut by erosion, has been depopulated since the beginning of the 20th century. The mines were for a long time the main wealth, and the names of large multinationals are associated with them (Río Tinto, Tharsis, Peñarroya, etc.).
In the south, the Betic mountain ranges of alpine type culminate at 3,478 meters in the Sierra Nevada. A string of depressions allows an easy circulation. This region with steep slopes and skeletal soils was, until the end of the 1970s, a country of small farmers. The terraced and fruit-growing landscapes are remnants of a centuries-old labor that now belongs to the past, while the intra-montane depressions such as the one in Granada are the site of a very old irrigation system.
Finally, the narrow Mediterranean coastline enjoys a sheltered climate with mild, sunny winters. These advantages have been used to grow tropical crops such as sugar cane and, more recently, to develop international tourism to the west of Málaga (Costa del Sol) or intensive off-season agriculture (Campo de Dalías and the region of Almería).
The emigration of part of the population was for a long time the only answer to the misery and seasonal unemployment. In the 1950s, it was directed towards the large Spanish cities: Bilbao, Madrid and, above all, Barcelona. Andalusia then had a large surplus of births over deaths. From the 1960s onwards, the exodus spread beyond the borders to Germany, France and Switzerland. Since the mid-1970s, these flows have dried up and, despite the considerable decrease in birth rates, the population has increased again. In the meantime, however, the countryside and small towns have become depopulated. Only the provincial capitals have grown, but without forming an urban hierarchy.
Moreover, since the Caliphate of Cordoba, Andalusia has never had a capital. It was after the establishment of autonomy that Seville became the seat of government. However, it has not been able to extend its influence to the whole of Andalusia. Seville did take advantage of the 1992 World Expo to carry out major urban planning work and begin rehabilitating a very extensive historic center, commensurate with its glorious past. Efforts to improve navigation and to protect against flooding led engineers to cut through the meanders of the Guadalquivir.
There was thus a land reserve of half a thousand hectares near the city center, making it possible to hold the exhibition, a source of prestige and investment. It was an opportunity to obtain credits from various sources and to make considerable improvements. Now connected to Córdoba and Madrid by a high-speed train, equipped with an extensive road and highway network, Greater Seville, whose population reached one million in 1992, has the means to fulfill its function as the capital of Andalusia.
The history of al-Andalus can be divided into five main periods:
- 711-1031: Dynasty of the Umayyads of Córdoba (from Damascus)
- 1031-1085: Taifa Kingdoms (Slavic Muslims, Arab Emirs, Amazigh/Berber tribal chiefs)
- 1086-1147: Domination of the Amazigh/Berber Almoravids (from Morocco)
- 1147-mid 13th century: Domination of the Amazigh/Berber Almohads (from Morocco)
- 1250-1492: Kingdom of the Nasrid of Granada (from Zaragoza, Spain)
The Muslim conquest
With North Africa barely conquered, its governor Musa had the idea of diverting towards the outside the living forces of these Amazighs/Berbers who had put up such fierce resistance. In 711 (year 92 of the Hegira), he sent, under the command of Tariq ibn Ziyyad (9), 7,000 Amazighs/Berbers to conquer Spain, whose wealth and divisions promised easy spoils. The unexpected crushing of the Visigoth king Rodriguez at the battle of the Guadalete (19-26 July) led Musa, not without reluctance on the part of the Caliph, to pass through Spain himself, to make his junction with Tariq and to enter Toledo with him.
According to Joseph Pérez: (10)
“ parmi les envahisseurs de 711, les Arabes proprement dits étaient une infime minorité […] ; la majorité était formée de Berbères. […] C’est pourquoi les Espagnols, pour évoquer la domination musulmane, préfèrent parler de Maures, c’est-à-dire de Maghrébins.“
(“among the invaders of 711, the Arabs themselves were a tiny minority […]; the majority were Berbers […] This is why the Spaniards, to evoke the Muslim domination, prefer to speak of Moors, that is to say of North Africans.”)
The weakness of the Visigoth party, led by the pretender Akhila, whose call had served as a pretext, even inspired him with the idea of a lasting occupation, and he began to conclude agreements to this end with the local chiefs. In 713 he reached beyond Zaragoza. But in 714, Musa and Tariq were called to Damascus for investigation: Akhila had renounced all royal claims, and the conquest of the peninsula was completed (except for a small part of the Cantabrian chain) by the new Amir al-Hurr, who destroyed Tarragona and occupied Barcelona (from 716 to 719). His successors even occupied Visigoth Septimania (Lower Languedoc) beyond the Pyrenees, and from there launched expeditions northward.
The Amazigh/Berber insurrection in North Africa, based on Kharidjism (740) rejecting Umayyad domination and seeking political and religious independence (The Berghouatas in Morocco (11)), brought a stop to the Arab conquest in the West. The Amazighs/Berbers of Spain also rose up, forming several columns that threatened Cordoba and Toledo. Faced with this danger, the Arabs, few in number, were not even united: a traditional opposition was perpetuated between Kaisites, nomadic Bedouins of northern and central Arabia, and Kalbites, sedentary farmers from Yemen.
The uprising was only defeated by the arrival of Kaisite Baldj, with a few thousand Syrians who had been evacuated from besieged Ceuta, and who eventually remained in Spain. Several years of cruel famines (from about 750 to 755) eased these struggles. Nevertheless, the situation in Spain was still very confused during this “Era of the Governors” and the governors, although not very powerful and often replaced, were in fact less and less dependent on the Damascene caliph.
The Islamization of Hispanic society
From the beginning of the 8th century, Hispanic society was fragmented according to religion:
- The Christians present on these lands before the arrival of the Moslems (Visigoth kingdom);
- The Jews like the Christians, they inhabited the territory before the arrival of the Arabs but were persecuted by the Visigoth kings (forced conversions) at the end of the 7th century; and
- The Muslims, mainly merchants recently settled in the country before the arrival of the Umayyads (12).
The Islamization of al-Andalus will pass through the acculturation of its inhabitants: beneficiaries of pacts of tolerance, Christians and Jews received the status of “dhimmis”, i.e. protected, which in fact transforms them into second-class subjects. The “dhimma” status allows them to practice their religion as long as they accept their legal inferiority to Muslims and pay them a protection tax jizyah. The only escape from such a pact is conversion to Islam or flight from the territory. (13)
The unconverted Christians (later called “Mozarabs”) gradually integrated: many in Toledo, Seville and Cordoba, they kept their own administration and ecclesiastical hierarchy, while adopting the lifestyle and language of the new occupants.
On the conversion of Christians to Islam, Glick argues: (14)
“The rate of conversion is slow until the tenth century (less than one-quarter of the eventual total number of converts had been converted); the explosive period coincides closely with the reign of ‘Abd al-Rahman III (912–961); the process is completed (eighty percent converted) by around 1100. The curve, moreover, makes possible a reasonable estimate of the religious distribution of the population. Assuming that there were seven million Hispano-Romans in the peninsula in 711 and that the numbers of this segment of the population remained level through the eleventh century (with population growth balancing out Christian migration to the north), then by 912 there would have been approximately 2.8 million indigenous Muslims (muwalladûn) plus Arabs and Berbers. At this point Christians still vastly outnumbered Muslims. By 1100, however, the number of indigenous Muslims would have risen to a majority of 5.6 million.”, (Glick 2005, pp. 23-24)
The literate people mastered Latin, but all of them spoke Arabic and Romance dialects. They still made up three quarters of the population of al-Andalus at the beginning of the 10th century; they disappeared at the end of the 11th century.
The situation of the Jews was generally better than that of the Christians: they were active collaborators of the Muslim power and their Arabization was total in the tenth century. However, their situation deteriorated from the 11th century onwards, with the Almoravids and then the Almohads (Amazigh/Berber dynasties) who put an end to the relative tolerance they enjoyed: the Jews were forced to choose conversion to Islam or to flee to the Christian kingdoms and Egypt. The Islamization of society after the Arab conquest was thus rapid: some historians estimate that half of the population was already Islamized in the 10th century, 80% in the 11th century and 90% in the 12th century (15).
Emancipation of Muslim Spain
The de facto emancipation of Muslim Spain was ensured by the foundation of the Umayyad emirate. (16) Abd ar-Rahman, grandson of the last caliph of this dynasty, escaped the massacre of the dynasty by the triumphant Abbasids, took refuge in North Africa among the Amazigh/Berber tribes from which his mother came. With the precious political and military support of the Syrians and part of the Kalbites of Spain, he seized Cordoba, where he proclaimed himself emir (756). His authority did not impose itself there without difficulty, both on the Amazigh/Berbers, who resisted for a long time in the center by rejecting their Arab chiefs. Two of them, the governors of Barcelona and Zaragoza, even provoked the intervention of Charlemagne (778). However, after the death of Abd ar-Rahman (788), his descendants – not without a struggle – succeeded in consolidating his dynasty in the Cordovan emirate: Hisham I (from 788 to 796), then al-Hakam I (from 796 to 822), ‘Abd ar-Rahman II (822 to 852), Muhammad I (from 852 to 886). This century of Andalusian history was, indeed, very troubled. (17)
The Amazighs/Berbers, almost constantly, took part in the uprisings. However, the struggles between Arabs continued, and the part taken by the Spaniards converted to Islam (or muwallads) increased its gravity. The “Revolt of the Suburb” installed on the southern bank of the Guadalquivir in Cordoba had to be savagely repressed in 818. The large cities of the Western and Northern Marches, Merida, Toledo and Zaragoza, were also hotbeds of unrest: several hundred notables from Toledo were massacred on the “Day of the Pit” in 797; the walls of Merida were dismantled in 834.
In the region of Zaragoza, the Banu Kassi, descendants of a Visigoth count, became practically independent. The Christians under Muslim (or Mozarabic) domination, not being the object of religious persecution, remained generally calm; however, from 850 to 858, under the effect of the preaching of mystics such as the priest Euloge (18), a movement of voluntary martyrs took place in Cordoba. (19)
The struggle against the Christian states of the north continued, defensively, when the internal troubles, in which the Asturian kings participated on several occasions, monopolized the Emirs of Cordoba, offensively as soon as circumstances permitted. On the whole, the borders retreated, both to the east (loss of Barcelona in 801) and to the west. It is also worth mentioning the looting by the Normans, who sacked Seville in 844 and attempted a few more landings between 858 and 861.
Under Hisham I, Malikite doctrine was introduced into Spain, which was very orthodox and rigorous in its interpretation of the Koran and Sunnah. In Córdoba and in the large cities an aristocracy of faqîhs, theological jurists, developed and they duly interfered in the government or made opposition.
The reign of Abd ar-Rahman II and the beginnings of his successor were relatively quiet and brilliant. Then unrest began again. Since 850, the muwallad Umar ibn Hafsun practiced in the region of Bobastro a brigandage which even tended to the formation of a principality; since 868, not without lulls, the muwallad Ibn Marwan maintained in the West an agitation supported by the Asturians. After the short reign of al-Mundhir (from 886 to 888), his brother Abd Allah (from 888 to 912) tried to maintain the Hispano-Umayyad dynasty despite the rising agitation. It was his grandson Abd ar-Rahman III (20) who restored the situation and founded the Caliphate of Córdoba خلافة قرطبة.
The apogee of Muslim Spain
Under Abd ar-Rahman III and his son al-Hakam II (from 961 to 976), Andalusia, pacified and prosperous, reached a true apogee, a remarkable balance between its political and military power and the splendor of its civilization.
If, in the 10th century, the Muslim world lost its religious and political unity, it formed an economic unit, invigorated by important currents of circulation (which also favored the circulation of ideas). Spain received (from Sudan in particular) large quantities of gold, which fed an abundance of coinage, complementing the traditional silver coins. It finds outlets, which stimulate its production. Its agriculture has benefited from the arrival of Amazighs/Berber peasants, the introduction of better irrigation methods and new crops (rice, sugar cane, cotton, orange trees, etc.). Spain is above all the country of wheat and wine; it can also provide wood, a rare advantage among Muslim countries. The Calendar of Cordoba written for al-Hakam II gives an accurate picture of agricultural activity. Old mining resources (silver, iron, mercury, etc.) are more actively exploited. Urban industries, some old (such as leather from Cordoba), others newer (silks, woolen carpets, and Toledo weapons) flourished.
This vigorous activity, which is reflected in the relative affluence of the peasant world, generally subject to a kind of sharecropping, by the size of the cities, which should not be exaggerated (Cordoba may have had 100,000 inhabitants, Toledo 35,000), but which was unparalleled in Christian Europe, also feeds the finances of the Caliph and allows him to give this country the strong political and military framework it needs.
Indeed, its population makes of Andalusia a true mosaic, where the conquerors are only a small minority. The overwhelming majority of the population is made up of the Spaniards themselves: Muwallads and Mozarabs, who live in communities governed by their bishops and their “defenders”, or counts. In every city there are large Jewish communities. Many slaves of Slavic origin were introduced by the trade; among them, the mawali, or freedmen, can rise to important positions. The Amazighs/Berbers have provided a significant contingent of immigrants (from 200,000 to 300,000), but they are poorly Arabized and live mainly in the countryside. The Arabs (from 30,000 to 40,000) form a tiny minority, which no longer renewed any contribution from the East.
If it is true that in the end the power of the Caliph rests on force – which often manifested itself with harshness – the administrative organization reached a development with which no Christian country could then compete. At the head of all the services is the hadjib, who is the first of the viziers (the vizier being more a well-paid dignity than a precise function). Richly fed by the legal taxes of the various subjects (Muslims’ tithes, property taxes and capitation taxes for infidels) and by extraordinary resources (transaction taxes, customs), the finances made it possible to pay a whole administrative staff, as well as mercenaries (Slavs, Amazighs/Berbers, etc.) whose role was growing in the army. The provincial organization was not well known: the pacified qurâs, probably corresponding to the former Visigoth counties, were each led by a wâli; in the war zone bordering Christian Spain, military bosses were based in Zaragoza and Medinaceli.
The Caliphs of Córdoba felt the desire to surround themselves with scholars and artists. Persecution drove Jewish scholars from the East. From the end of the 10th century, Spain welcomed the sciences and philosophy developed in the Islamic world, and from there they could pass into Christian Europe. This whole movement is characterized in Spain by the lesser place occupied by theology and grammar – specifically Arab disciplines – and by the strong participation of the infidels. Not without arbitrariness, we can highlight: Abu l-Qasim, physician of al-Hakam II, from Cordoba, author of a medical encyclopedia; the vizier Ibn Hazm (died in 1064), who in his “Book of Religions and Sects“ developed an interesting comparison; al-Zarqali, born in Cordoba around 1029, but who lived in Toledo, composed the “Toledan Tables of Celestial Observations.” (21) The characteristic evolution of the decentralization movement that took place in the 11th century: at first, Cordoba was the only major intellectual center, but it was rivaled by Toledo, Almeria, and Zaragoza. But this decentralization also affected the political life of Andalusia.
In the words of Sylvie Arsever in the Swiss journal Le temps: (22)
“Rarely has history taken on the features of myth as much as under these two words, symbols in the Arab memory of a golden age of tolerance and reason, seen alternately on the European side as a cursed parenthesis from which Christian Spain will try to eliminate all traces, or as a blessed – and lost – moment of dialogue between cultures. The seven centuries of Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula have been the subject of impressive amounts of ink and an equally remarkable abundance of divergent interpretations. “
(“Al-Andalus. Rarement l’histoire a autant pris les traits du mythe que sous ces deux mots, symboles dans la mémoire arabe d’un âge d’or de tolérance et de raison, vus alternativement du côté européen comme une parenthèse maudite dont l’Espagne chrétienne s’efforcera d’éliminer toute trace ou comme un moment béni – et perdu – de dialogue des cultures. Les sept siècles de présence musulmane dans la péninsule Ibérique ont fait couler des quantités impressionnantes d’encre et donné lieu à un foisonnement tout aussi remarquable d’interprétations divergentes. “)
Caliph Abd ar-Rahman III: Contrasting power, between cohabitation and violence
After the difficulties of the early days, the transition to an independent Umayyad emirate was a step of the utmost importance for al-Andalus. The work of Abd ar-Rahman I is continued by the second of his name: Abd ar-Rahman II.
His reign, which occupied the first part of the 9th century, is considered both a period of economic and cultural expansion and a time of increasing sectarian tensions. The case of the “Martyrs of Cordoba” is quite revealing in this respect. It concerns the execution of about fifty Mozarabic Christians (Arabic-speaking Christians) by the authorities of al-Andalus. It should be noted that this type of violence did not constitute, at the time, the norm in relations between Christians, Jews and Muslims. The emirate of Cordoba is a country where there was relative tolerance between these different components.
However, the reign of Abd ar-Rahman II also saw the continuation of the construction of the Great Mosque in the Andalusian capital. It became one of the most important religious and intellectual centers of the Muslim world.
The second part of the 9th century is marked by new tensions. As always with the history of al-Andalus, the crises were complex and the oppositions multiple: Arabs against Amazighs/Berbers, Christians newly converted to Islam against descendants of the first conquerors. In short, chaos was once again part of Andalusian history. This did not prevent a new conquest at the very beginning of the 10th century; that of the Balearic Islands. Even divided, al-Andalus extended and reinforced Muslim domination in the region.
Nevertheless, the internal situation was complicated. The fragmentation of power and the resulting unrest foreshadowed an era of territorial fragmentation. For the moment, however, we return to the early 900s to witness the advent of al-Andalus’s most important figure.
His name is Abd ar-Rahman, grandson of Amir Abd Allah, whom he succeeded in 912. He became the third of his name. However, as mentioned above, he inherited power in a complicated period. The most tenacious dissent that the central power had to face is that of Umar ibn Hafsun, a Muslim whose Christian grandfather was the first in the family to convert to the rulers’ religion. However, some of these Christian converts, known as the “muladis“, feel that they have been wronged. Indeed, they consider that they have made considerable efforts to flourish in Andalusian society and believe that, even though they are all Muslims, the barriers remain between the indigenous people and the descendants of the conquerors.
Abd ar-Rahman III will put several years to end this rebellion by subduing the strong base of Ibn Hafsun in the region of Malaga. By winning this important victory, the Emir intended to affirm that he was the true master of a unified entity. He went further in 929 by proclaiming himself Caliph. From then on, independence was total vis-à-vis the Abbasids of Baghdad, historical enemies of the Umayyads.
Now at the head of a united and pacified caliphate, Abd ar-Rahman III developed the capital Cordoba, which became one of the major centers of the Mediterranean. He also built Madinat az-Zahra’, a huge palace and house of arts and thought. It is at this time that the intellectual aura of al-Andalus is the most brilliant. Hakam II, the successor of Abd ar-Rahman III, will gather the largest library of Islam in Madinat az-Zahra’. (23)
During this period, bureaucracy developed and innovations, especially in agriculture (irrigation of the land) allowed al-Andalus to achieve a certain prosperity. The cities were clean and rich, at least by the standards of the time. Toledo lived on arms and Cordoba on leather. Ceramics and fabrics were traded. The refinement of the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba lasted for a century before the poison of division carried al-Andalus back to dark ages.
The Golden Age of al-Andalus
In the 10th century, al-Andalus experienced a true golden age: the Caliphate of Cordoba was proclaimed in 929, the Caliph’s authority extended beyond a border line that linked the cities of Porto – Salamanca – Zaragoza – Lleida. The Christian kingdoms in the north of the peninsula accepted their political submission to the Caliph Abd ar-Rahman III, who also put a brake on the expansion of the Amazighs/Berber tribes of North Africa. He was, thus, able to control the Route of Gold Trade in the Sahara.
The capital Córdoba was the most populated city in Europe, with an estimated population of between 150,000 and 200,000 inhabitants around 980; the cities of Toledo, Seville, Granada and Zaragoza had about 15,000 inhabitants and were homes to thriving Jewish communities. The main administrative and religious bodies were concentrated in Cordoba: the Emirs’ Palace, the library and the mosque. Built from 786 on the remains of a Christian basilica, the Great Mosque of Córdoba was extended in stages between the 8th and 10th centuries to reach an area of 2.3 hectares. The exceptional architecture of the building owed much to the synthesis between Visigoth and Arabic art (especially the use of the horseshoe arch).
Cordoba, capital of the Umayyad kingdom
The conquest of most of Spain by the Muslims in 711, and especially the settlement of Abd ar-Rahman in Cordoba, the last descendant of the Umayyad Caliphate family of Syria, gave the history of art in ancient Betica a new orientation: a Muslim art of Spain was to be born. Abd ar-Rahman brought with him nostalgia for his native Syria, a country with a long urban tradition and a brilliant civilization that his people had nurtured in Damascus. Like his ancestors, he wanted to be a patron of the arts, especially in his capital city.
His most important work was the construction of a new mosque between 785 and 788. Significantly increased by his successors, this work represents only the northwest corner of the present building, but it is the first important building of Islam in Spain and its style was respected in later additions. It was characterized by the existence of eleven naves of twelve bays perpendicular to the qibla wall and, in elevation, by the superimposition of two rows of polychrome arcades above columns and capitals that were reused. Here one could see both the influence of the multi-nave Christian basilicas and the Roman aqueducts of Spain. All the features of this masterpiece were imitated by Caliph Abd ar-Rahman II when, in 848, he added eight bays to the old twelve.
Córdoba, Capital of the Caliphate
In 929, Abd ar-Rahman III (912-61) proclaimed himself Caliph and thus united political power and religious authority in his hands. This was the beginning of the most brilliant period in the history of Muslim Spain. Cordoba was the most populated city in the West, comparable only to the opulent eastern cities of Constantinople, Damascus and Baghdad.
In order to increase its prestige, the Caliph surrounded himself with a large court, endowed with a complicated ceremonial, for which he had a huge palace built at Madinat az-Zahra’, 5 km northwest of Cordoba, which was at the same time the city of government. Abandoned in 1013, destroyed from top to bottom during the wars that brought about the fall of the Caliphate, and repeatedly looted, Madinat az-Zahra’ was then used for centuries as a quarry. However, the excavations on its site, accompanied nowadays by patient restoration work, allow the imagination to revive this palace of the Thousand and One Nights. Confusing at first glance, the plan includes, as is often the case in oriental-style residences, constructions distributed around patios. Particular care had been given to the reception hall, which is being raised using the old carved elements. Stone and marble coverings covered huge areas, representing the origins of an architectural decoration that would later be widely developed in the Hispano-Moorish art.
In Córdoba itself, ‘Abd ar-Rahman III was the author of several important constructions, including the minaret (945) next to the Gate of Pardon, which forms the core of the present bell tower. Madinat az-Zahra’ was the cradle of the Caliphate’s art as it developed under the reign of ‘Abd ar-Rhaman III’s son and successor, Caliph al-Hakam II (961-76). Without neglecting his father’s work, which he still embellished considerably, his father took a special interest in the Great Mosque of Córdoba, which had become insufficient for the city’s ever-growing population.
The new addition, with a depth of twelve bays, was again built southwards and reached the banks of the Guadalquivir. Until then, the importance of the central nave leading to the mihrâb had been limited to marking it as being wider than the others. The architect of al-Hakam II added cupolas at its ends, and two additional cupolas rose above the portals that flank the mihrâb. The parts of the mihrâb that were enhanced by these additions were richly decorated with mosaics and carvings that combined local traditions, influences from the Abbasid East, and Byzantine contributions in a highly eclectic manner.
A last enlargement of the mosque (987) was carried out by al-Mansur, who ruled for about thirty years in the place of an incapable caliph. But it was a hasty and sloppy construction, juxtaposing eight naves eastward with the previous eleven.
Shortly after al-Mansur’s death in 1002, the Caliphate of Córdoba fell into anarchy and power was dispersed into the hands of the Taifa (24) kings, the kings of the clans, who divided its territory among themselves. The ambition of these local kings was to present themselves as the heirs of the caliphs on an artistic level. Thus it was the case with the Abbadids of Seville and the Zirids of Granada.
On two occasions, however, dynasties originating in Africa, the Almoravids and Almohads, re-established the unity of Muslim Spain within a state that also included a significant part of North Africa. In this empire, Hispano-Moorish art continued to evolve at the end of the 11th century and during the 12th century. It is in Africa that one will find most of its essential creations. A few exist, however, in Seville, which became the residence of Abu Yaqub Yusuf (1163-1184), the second Almohad ruler.
Raised at the height of the Almohad empire, the Muslim buildings in Seville were of a very high quality. The Great Mosque, built on the site of an Umayyad mosque, was to rival that of Córdoba. Unfortunately, it was almost completely destroyed after the Reconquista to make way for the present cathedral. The construction of the minaret – the famous Giralda – was not ordered until 1184. On the outside, with its interlacing panels, it is a beautiful example of the “broad style”, characteristic of the Hispano-Moorish decoration in the Almohad period.
Very close to the great mosque, stood the Alcázar, both citadel and royal palace. Only the small patio known as del Yeso remains from that time. The port, which stretched between the enclosure – some poor remains of which can be seen near the Macarena Gate – and the Guadalquivir, was guarded by the monumental Tower of Gold.
It is in military architecture that the remains of the Almohad occupation are the most numerous in Andalusia, where they include enclosures, towers and barbicans.
Nasrid architecture in Granada
Repeated calls to Africa had not been able to halt the progress of the Reconquista in any lasting way. The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (25), in 1212, meant the eventual condemnation of Iberian Islam, which was maintained only in the upper basin of the Guadalquivir and on the Mediterranean coast from Gibraltar to Almería, thanks to the Christian tolerance granted to Emir Muhammad I, of the Nasrid family. In this refuge of the last Taifa kings, a Muslim art was to be maintained for two and a half centuries.
The most characteristic manifestation of this flowering of art is the construction of the Alhambra, al-Qal’at al-Hamrâ’, the “Red Citadel”. Within a picturesque enclosure, whose towers house a series of luxuriously decorated pleasure residences – the towers of the Queen’s Cabinet, the Portal (or portico) of the Captive and the Infants – two palaces were built in succession by the most famous sovereigns of Granada: Yusuf I and Muhammad V.
The plan of the first does not deviate from the Muslim architectural tradition. Its buildings were arranged around a long rectangular courtyard, almost entirely occupied by a large basin bordered by myrtles: hence the name patio de la Alberca (of the Basin) or of los Arrayanes (of the Myrtles).
After completing his father’s palace, giving it a facade on a patio to the west of the Court of the Myrtles – patio del Cuarto Dorado – Muhammad V began to build his own, in the corner formed by this Court of the Myrtles and the Alhambra Baths. He adopted the eastern part of the riad, the garden framed by architecture. The various rooms – Muqarnas (stalactites), Kings, Abencérages and the Two Sisters – take day on galleries of an airy finesse. Their decor is a true enchantment, thanks to the clever perspective effects that fragment the space to infinity, as well as to the complexity of the decor where the surfaces dissolve and the love of the picturesque. We can see here the final fireworks of an art that has reached the extreme of its means.
A slightly older masterpiece is the small palace of the Generalife, which the Nasrid people owned on the high ground near the Alhambra in the northeast. By the qualities of its site, the abundance of its waters and the richness of its vegetation, it combines all the attractions of a superb summer residence.
But the Alhambra was only a small part of Granada, and in this declining metropolis of Muslim Spain, whose population was swollen by the influx of refugees from the provinces reconquered by the Christians, many other monuments affirmed the survival of Hispano-Moorish art. In the Albaicin, a neighborhood that has now fallen into decline but which at the time had an aristocratic population, we can mention the remains of the small palace known as Casa de la Reina and the courtyard of the mosque, which was replaced by the collegiate church of San Salvador. In the rest of the city there are other monuments that illustrate the relationship between Nasrid Granada and Eastern Islam: the well-restored ruins of a medersa, an old hermitage (râbita) converted into a Christian church (San Sebastián), and a funduq , or caravanserai known as the Corral del Carbón .
Outside of Granada, Ronda and Málaga evoke with brilliance the last manifestations of the Muslim civilization in Spain.
The conquest of Lower Andalusia by Saint Ferdinand did not lead to the disappearance of Muslim art. It remained there, thanks to important colonies of Mudejars, that is to say, submissive Muslims.
Mudejar art is presented in two aspects. Most often it is works related to artistic techniques, of which the Muslims had kept the monopoly: we can speak of popular Mudejar. In a number of cases, fewer in number, the rulers used artists from Granada, who built monuments comparable to those in the Nasrid capital. To qualify this art, Élie Lambert proposed to speak of court Mudejar.(26)
The most important works of this style were carried out in the Alcázar of Seville on the orders of King Peter the Cruel (1350-1369), probably by artists sent by his friend Emir Muhammad V, who were joined by Mudejars from Seville and Toledo. The work could not compete with his models from Granada, because of the multiple and not always happy restorations that it underwent from the 16th to the 19th century. The same style also characterizes the synagogue of Córdoba, built on a roughly square plan by Isaac Mejeb in 1314 or 1315.
Besides the monuments that belong to the aristocratic art and that faithfully reflect the general evolution of Hispano-Moorish architecture in its most perfect forms, the mass of Muslim works were executed only by local artists. There are two main centers of Andalusia: Cordoba, where Mudejar art is based on Caliphate traditions, and Seville, where it is inspired by Almohad motifs.
The fall of Granada (January 2, 1492) determined for a short time a special favor of Mudejar art. Especially in Seville, where the Palacio de las Dueñas was built in this style and the wonderful Ribera family home, better known by the popular name of Casa de Pilatos. But it is only a straw fire. The Capitulations of Granada, which had guaranteed the Muslims freedom of worship, were soon violated. Spain, politically united under the authority of the Catholic Monarchs, undertook to perfect this work, establishing the unity of faith.
Cultural and commercial exchanges
In Muslim Spain, the Arab translators of Toledo safeguarded the ancient heritage and in particular the writings of the philosophers and scholars of Classical and Hellenistic Greece. The Muslim world, inheriting knowledge and wisdom from Asia, in turn transmitted them to the Christian West. The figures qualified as Arabs were born in India. The Muslims took these numbers and transmitted them to the Christians who adopted them and with them the zero (a number absent from Roman notation).
If trade in the Mediterranean world was dominated by the Byzantine Empire and then by the Italian cities, Andalusian trade involved all the regions from northern Europe to northern Africa as far as the East. The Mediterranean is the point of arrival of products sought after as much in Europe as in Africa or Asia.
The Byzantine and Muslim arts intermingle and influence each other in the regions where the different cultures are present. Thus the monuments of Sicily or Andalusia mixed Byzantine influences (mosaics) with the art of calligraphy and Arabic geometric patterns.
The Arab-Muslim heritage can be seen through certain terms reused in the French language. The words “check”, “admiral”, “zenith”, “mattress” … of Arab origin, demonstrate the Muslim legacies in trade, navigation, astronomy or crafts.
It is a story of cultural crossbreeding, tolerance and fratricidal wars that Maria Rosa Menocal undertakes to tell us (27). The surprising story of a brilliant civilization that flourished in Spain, then at the gates of Europe, finally abrogated in 1492 during the Reconquista, a symbolic date if ever there was one: Christopher Columbus discovered the New World; the Spaniards seized Granada, the last refuge of the Arab-Andalusian civilization, and Isabella I the Catholic expelled the Jews from Spain, renouncing the terms of the Treaty of Surrender of Granada which required, in response to the submission of the city, a cohabitation of different religions. (28)
In spite of this conflictual relationship, the universities and scholars of Andalusia were the bearers of civilization: they bequeathed to us medicine and algebra, alchemy and philosophy, from which they had drawn material from the Greeks before enriching it. But the rise of religious fanaticism, punctuated by autodafés (book burning), put an end to what literature at the time described as a paradise of libraries, gardens and palaces haunted by poets and men of science.
“Tolerance,” wrote M. R. Menocal, “rarely meant the recognition of religious liberties […]. It manifested itself in the belief, no doubt tacit, that contradictions, in themselves and within a culture, could be positive and productive. “It was at al-Andalus that the Jews, profoundly Arabized, rediscovered Hebrew; that the Christians made Arab culture their own, from philosophy to architecture, especially after they took power.
Some prominent figures of al-Andalus
Abu al-Quasim az-Zahrawi (936-1013), known as Abulcasis to the Latin, a physician from Cordoba, known to be the founder of modern surgery, his treatise at-Tasrif is a thirty-volume encyclopedia of medicine translated by Gerard of Cremona. It will be used for five hundred years by major medical universities such as Montpellier or Salerno. He is the inventor of the technique of cauterization, as well as several surgical instruments.
Ibn Rushd (1126-1198), known as Averroes, physician of the Caliph, jurist, philosopher, born in Cordoba in a family of recognized câdîs (jurists). He is famous in the Latin world for having renewed the analysis of Aristotle’s De Anima. One of his famous works is the Decisive Discourse in which he defends philosophy as an intellectual discipline compatible with faith in response to Al-Ghazâlî, author of several works on medicine, including the Colliget (Koulliyyât = generalities), inspired by Avicenna (Ibn Sina, 980-1037). Much of his research will be transmitted to the Latin world by Jewish translators of Arabic language.
Mûsa Ibn Maymûn (1138-1204), known as Moses Maimonides, (30) born in Cordoba, contemporary of Averroes, he is also a doctor and philosopher. He comes from a great lineage of Andalusian scholars. An Arabic-speaking, avid reader of Al-Farabi (a Syrian philosopher and commentator on Plato and Aristotle). He contributed, like Averroes, to the renewal of philosophical thought by appropriating the Aristotelian heritage. He is also known to have contributed to a renewal of the commentary of the Mishnah (a reference compilation of Jewish oral tradition).
Ziryab (782 (?)-857), musician, singer, music theorist. According to Ibn Hayyan, he came from Mosul (Iraq) after a visit to Kairouan. He became the most famous musician of al-Andalus by exercising his talents at the Umayyad court in Cordoba. Ziryab is a legendary figure in the Arab world (31). Thanks to the Emir al-Hakam, his protector, he is said to have developed a school of music and imported a culture of Baghdadian refinement to southern Europe. Thanks to his fortune, he revolutionized the art of the table. He is considered to have introduced chess to Europe.
Al-Idrisi: born in Ceuta(?) around 1100, geographer, he studied in Cordoba (32). At the request of the Norman king of Sicily, Roger II, he elaborated a planisphere that he accompanied with a commentary with encyclopedic tendency. This text, accompanied by a set of maps, is called Roger’s Book. Heir to Ptolemy the Greek, at the crossroads of the Muslim, Christian and Byzantine worlds, al-Idrisi promoted a scientific and modern approach to geography.
Multiculturalism and tolerance in Andalusia: convivencia
The Muslims of al-Andalus tolerated the “People of the Book”: Jews and Christians could therefore freely practice their religion: go to religious schools, build churches and synagogues, celebrate their religious holidays. This tolerance lasted four centuries until the arrival of the Almohads.
Once upon a time there was a happy Andalusia, where Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars peacefully quoted. Is it a model or a useless myth?
Andalusia… For the Syrian-Lebanese poet Adonis, this southern part of Spain would have been, in the Middle Ages, under the aegis of the Muslim dynasty of the Umayyads of Cordoba (756-1031), the place par excellence of a successful crossbreeding. There would have existed a Spain of three cultures where Muslim, Jewish and Christian monotheisms would have managed to coexist in good understanding, and even to maintain a fruitful collaboration. A model for our present…
It will not be difficult to find contrary opinions. Mainly, it is true, on “Islamophobic” sites, where the idea is developed, for example, that it is a myth, “that Islamophiles of all kinds come to us to demonstrate that Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and freedom, and that the Andalusian period was a golden age of Islam and European civilization.“
In medieval Spain, Muslims, Jews and Christians were able to invent tolerance (33). The Andalusian culture of this period is that of the mixtures, a prosperous society rich in splendor, where ideas and texts were exchanged and circulated in languages that were themselves mixed. With erudition and true writing, Maria Rosa Menocal (34) retraces the history of Andalusia between the 8th and 15th centuries, based on “motifs” or remarkable figures: poets, troubadours or philosophers, intellectuals, men of science and politics and the “jewel of the world” with its palaces, libraries or gardens, mosques and synagogues.
The influence of this civilization and the relations it developed with Europe and the Mediterranean basin were halted by the rise of religious intolerance and the advent of the Black Death; in extreme violence, the autodafés (book burning) marked the destruction of the treasures of al-Andalus.
According to the almost unanimous chorus of historians, the convivencia, as a term and concept, is said to have been invented by the Spanish philologist Américo Castro, in his seminal 1948 work “España en su Historia, Cristianos, moros y judíos.” (35) Thus, among many other examples, Brian Catlos in a recent article stated that “the idea of convivencia [was] proposed by Américo Castro,” (36) giving rise to the myth we are discussing here. In many ways, however, this is an error that is all too often repeated.
In Castro’s writings, finally, the convivencia is not constructed as a concept, it is only one word among others to designate the coexistence between the members of the three religions. He uses it in a much less systematic way than other terms that he sees as clearly synonymous, such as tolerance and, even more so, contextura: (37)
“ […] aspiro a explicarme cómo se formó la peculiaridad de los grandes valores hispánicos. Puede ser que me engañe ; mas quiero correr el riesgo de equivocarme, y a pesar de ello formular el juicio de que lo más original y universal del genio hispánico toma su origen en formas de vida fraguadas en los novecientos años de contextura cristiana-islámico-judaica.“
(“[…] I aspire to explain how the peculiarity of the great Hispanic values was formed. I can be wrong: but I want to run the risk of being wrong, and in spite of this I want to affirm that the originality and universality of the Hispanic genius has its origin in the forms of life woven by nine hundred years of Christian-Islamic-Judaic contexture.“)
In discussing of the concept of covivencia, Christophe Cailleaux (38) writes:
“Moreover, Castro nowhere evokes perfectly harmonious relationships. In the first place because, as a philologist and literary historian, he is interested in literary and linguistic transfers and only places his reflection on the terrain of concrete, everyday relationships on the margins. Secondly, the convivencia, in his pen, is neither positive nor happy in itself; it also implies and encompasses oppositions, resistances, and rejections. Indeed, obsessed with the destiny of his country, Castro wondered about the causes of what he perceived as the “disease of Spain “. His answer is ambiguous and even contradictory. Certainly, in his eyes, this failure is due to the rejection of Jews and Muslims by Christians, thus wrenching from Spain by a kind of self-mutilation two of the three founding elements of its identity. But at the same time, he sees the fusion of Christian, Jewish and Muslim elements as the root of the Spanish malaise; he goes so far as to affirm that the Inquisition and even the obsession with the purity of blood are direct legacies of the “Jewish element. ” The convivencia thus appears to Castro as a source of pride, a ferment of the originality and grandeur of his country, but also as a fundamental handicap explaining his country’s contemporary backwardness in the concert of European nations.“
(“En outre, Castro n’évoque nulle part des relations parfaitement harmonieuses. En premier lieu parce qu’en philologue et historien de la littérature, il s’intéresse aux transferts littéraires et linguistiques et ne place qu’à la marge sa réflexion sur le terrain des relations concrètes et quotidiennes. En second lieu, la convivencia, n’est sous sa plume ni positive ni heureuse en soi, elle implique et englobe également les oppositions, les résistances, les rejets. En effet, obsédé par le destin de son pays, Castro s’interroge sur les causes de ce qu’il perçoit comme la « maladie de l’Espagne ». Or, sa réponse est ambiguë voire contradictoire. Certes, cet échec est à ses yeux dû au rejet des juifs et des musulmans par les chrétiens, arrachant ainsi à l’Espagne par une sorte d’automutilation deux des trois éléments fondateurs de son identité. Mais dans le même temps, il voit dans la fusion des éléments chrétiens, juifs et musulmans la racine du malaise espagnol ; il va jusqu’à affirmer que l’Inquisition et même l’obsession de la pureté du sang sont des héritages directs de « l’élément juif ». La convivencia apparaît donc chez Castro tout à la fois comme une source d’orgueil, un ferment de l’originalité et de la grandeur de son pays, mais aussi comme un handicap primordial expliquant le retard contemporain de son pays dans le concert des nations européennes.”)
Before the conquest by the Muslims, the population of Spain was made up of Hispano-Roman Visigoths who were either Christians or Jews. They were of Latin culture, that is, they spoke Latin. With the conquest of Spain by the Muslims, Arabs and Amazighs/Berbers were added to this population. (39)
The population of al-Andalus was therefore very varied: (40)
- The Arabs: they arrived in the 8th century and in the 12th century in the Almohad period. They played an important political role;
- The Amazighs/Berbers: General Tarik Ibn Ziyyad who undertook the conquest of Spain in 711 was an Amazigh/Berber. The Amazighs/Berbers are a people from North Africa who inhabited this region before the arrival of the Arabs. Most of the Amazighs/Berbers worked in agriculture, animal husbandry or handicrafts;
- The Mozarabs: these are the Christians of Spain who abandoned Latin to speak Arabic: and
- The Muwallads: these are the Christians who converted to Islam. They had privileged positions.(41)
- The Jews: they were very happy with the arrival of the Muslims because the Visigoths mistreated them. They integrated perfectly into Arab-Muslim society until the Almohad invasion.
The Arabs favored the development of large cities: Cordoba was in the Middle Ages the largest city in Europe. They greatly modernized the cities by installing a sewerage system and many public amenities such as street lighting. The Arabs developed culture and knowledge by building many libraries, universities, schools… In the city, the medina was the fortified core, composed of many streets and alleys. There were zocos (from the Arabic suk) or markets, public baths (hammam), mosques, inns and sometimes universities. In the districts, the populations were grouped by activity in guilds (the craftsmen: jewellers, potters, weavers…) or by religion. Thus, Juderia was the Jewish district and Mozarabia the Mozarabic district.
Around the medina were the suburbs, more modern districts, the cemetery was located outside the city. The military and their families lived in the Alcazaba (al-qasabah), an independent fortified citadel.
In the countryside, the lords owned large agricultural properties. The rulers also owned rich properties with beautiful gardens and fountains. But there were also farmers and herders who worked their own land. Agriculture was able to develop thanks to irrigation techniques brought by the Arabs.
Olive trees, cereals and vines had been cultivated in Spain for a long time. The Arabs brought the cultivation of rice, pomegranate, cotton, saffron, eggplant, artichoke, endive and asparagus.
Culture and Knowledge
While in the rest of Europe wars were raging, Andalusian leaders were developing culture and knowledge. They supported scientists, philosophers, artists, poets… People came from all over the world to learn medicine, mathematics and poetry. Great scholars were born in Andalusia: Avempace, Averroes and Maimonides…
In Andalusia, medicine was more modern than in the rest of Europe. Surgery was practiced; medicines were invented and hospitals were built. Andalusian doctors wrote medical encyclopedias.
The Great Mosque of Córdoba, built between the end of the 8th and the end of the 10th century, illustrates the affirmation of the new power and the formation of a cultural identity. In the middle of the 9th century, the case of The Martyrs of Cordoba highlighted the crisis caused by the Arabization and Islamization of the Christians. A century later, the figure of Hasdai ibn Shaprut, the Jewish secretary of Abd ar-Rahman III, attests to the integration of the Jewish community of al-Andalus, and to the influence of the caliphate; He went on an embassy visit to the Byzantine emperor.
At the same time, the construction of the palace of Madinat az-Zahra’, destroyed by the Amazighs/Berbers during the unrest of 1009, was both a political manifesto and a cultural achievement in Andalusia. The Andalusia of the Taifas remained a fertile cultural breeding ground in the eleventh century: Samuel ibn Nagrila, the Jewish vizier of the king of Granada, first had the idea of composing poems in the sacred language, Hebrew. The Necklace of the Dove of Ibn Hazm (42) shows that Arab love poetry was at its peak. The Normans who conquered Barbastro in 1064 and appropriated the musicians of the Arab notables transmitted this poetic sensibility to the Latin world.
The Reconquista gave rise to several forms of acculturation, of which Toledo provides the best illustrations in the 12th century, with its monuments of Mozarabic art (including the Church of San Roman) and its school of translators. In the 13th century, the city was the first scientific center of the West. Emperor Frederick II, who was a great admirer of Arabic knowledge, employed intellectuals who had been trained there, such as Michel Scotus.
The inhabitants of the conquered Spain were considered scholars everywhere: the converted Jew Peter Alfonso taught Arabic and astronomy in London, and popularized the fable genre on the model of the Thousand and One Nights. At the same time, the Andalusian cultural tradition was in decline, as revealed by the brutal rejection of poetry in favor of theology by the intellectual Judah Halevi, and his departure for the East, caused by the crisis of the Jewish community under Almoravid rule.
The trip to Spain in 1142 by Peter the Venerable, the abbot of Cluny, with the aim of making a Latin translation of the Koran, constitutes a key moment in the importation into the West of this debate between faith and reason. The repeated condemnations of averroism – named after the Cordovan philosopher Ibn Rushd, who in the twelfth century attempted to reconcile the two forms of thought in his commentary on Aristotle – at the University of Paris in the thirteenth century testify to the ecclesiastical opposition to the Andalusian state of mind.
Hispania, which became al-Andalus, gave birth to an original culture, made up of crossed heritages between the Arab, Latin, Jewish and Greek worlds. A large part of the transfer of knowledge from the Muslim world to the Latin world was carried out thanks to the translation from Arabic from the 10th century onwards: Catalan convents had close contacts with Arabic knowledge; monks worked on translations of astronomy or arithmetic works. In the 12th century, the Toledo school was considered the first center for translating Arabic into Latin. Toledo is a center of multilingual culture with a large number of Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians. Jewish translators switch from oral Arabic to Spanish and Christian clerics transcribe Spanish into Latin. Books therefore hold an important place in the Arab-Muslim world: the cities of Toledo, Zaragoza, and Granada were home to imposing libraries with many copyists.
Al-Andalus is the result of interactions between the different Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Byzantine cultural areas. These various influences concern literature, art, science and technology. Astronomers, agronomists, doctors, botanists, philosophers, musicians and poets have contributed over the centuries to create the rich cultural range of al-Andalus. Among them are the physician Avenzoar, the jurist, theologian and philosopher Averroes, the geographer al-Idrisi, and the Jewish theologian Maimonides. Archaeological and historical research demonstrates the importance of this heritage in the development of Western civilization.
Andalusian scholars, or ulemas, who willingly combine the interpretation of sacred texts and legal customs with curiosity for astronomy, medicine or botany, have almost all traveled, to train – in Kairouan, Cairo or Baghdad – or to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, sometimes taking advantage of the opportunity to engage in trade. They constituted an influential body, active in administration, and promoted the contribution of knowledge and ideas developed elsewhere in the Muslim world.
The latter are particularly abundant in the first decades of the Abbasid Caliphate. Caliph al-Mamun, who reigned from 813 to 833, protected the Mutazilite movement (43), a rationalism that bordered on free thought. And he actively promoted the translation of Greek authors, often entrusted to Syriac Christians before being transcribed into Arabic. Although Mutazilism did not survive the subsequent political tensions, the study of the “science of the ancients”, philosophy, continued to develop in Baghdad, Samarra and Khorassan. Al-Farabi (872-950) attracted by his comments on Aristotle earned the undisputed qualification of “second master” (after the Greek philosopher), while a century later, Ibn Sina by his works, in medicine and philosophy, carved out a glory that would distinguish him even in Christianity under the name of Avicenna (44). These are just two of the scholars whose writings are still discussed greatly, today, throughout Dar-al-Islam.
Their ideas reached Al-Andalus, where they made their own translations, notably of Dioscorides’ “medical matter”, enriched on the basis of local botanical species. They also studied the Almagest of Ptolemy, which the Andalusian astronomer Al-Zarkali (Azarquiel) (45) completed and corrected. Applied sciences such as agronomy and medicine, initially in Christian hands, are also honored, as well as genealogy, fueled by the tendency of Amazighs/Berbers and Christians to invent Arab ancestries. Knowledge is disseminated, sometimes in rhyming form, in the adabs, treatises on the customs and knowledge indispensable to the honest man. Biographies of scholars are compiled to bear witness to the extent of Andalusian knowledge.
A jurist committed to fighting Malikite traditionalism, a fervent advocate of medicine, and a commentator on Aristotle, Ibn Rushd believes, like Ibn Tumart (and, in his own way, Maimonides), in a search for God through reason, which led him to attack the Persian mystic Al-Ghazali, who in the previous century had launched a violent attack on philosophy. Ibn Arabi, for his part, was in line with Al-Ghazali’s pursuit of an intuitive knowledge of God through asceticism and spiritual quest. Considered one of the principal mystics of the Muslim world, he knows a posterity without comparison with that of Averroes, whose influence exerted itself above all on the Christian world of the early Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Al-Andalus was, in many ways, radically different from Christian Europe. While rural Europe had become impoverished, al-Andalus was a region of prosperous cities oriented toward trade. Its products, including glass, paper, leather, goldsmiths, and silks, enjoyed a high reputation as far away as India. Muslim rulers generally tolerated Christians and Jews and encouraged cultural diversity.
The contributions of Muslims enriched Spanish culture. Hispano-Muslim civilization participated in the golden age of Islam. Science, medicine and philosophy flourished, especially in the capital city of Cordoba. Spanish Islamic scholars, such as Averroes, studied the works of Aristotle and other Greek philosophers, which were translated into Latin before being spread throughout the rest of Europe. The caliphs built libraries and encouraged the blossoming of culture: the future Pope Sylvester II came to Barcelona to study the science of the Arab sages. A certain number of words in the Spanish language come from Arabic. New cultures and agricultural techniques, coming from Africa or the East, were introduced. The large cities of al-Andalus were centers of refined craftsmanship (leather work in Cordoba). They were also important markets and centers of study.
Based on Greek, Persian and Indian knowledge, Arab medicine developed largely thanks to great figures (Ibn Sînâ, Ibn Rushd…) and discoveries resulting from a mastery of the theoretical aspects of this science and a keen sense of observation. The medicine of the time sought both to maintain good health (hygiene and dietetics) and to treat certain diseases; manuscripts and instruments testify to the practice of surgery. The practice of surgery was widely studied and compiled in a reference work written by the Andalusian physician Az-Zahrawi (11th century). Anatomy will also be approached with a new look at the human body. Medicine has largely developed thanks to the infrastructure of hospitals, both places of care and training. Research in the medical field was also devoted to the pulmonary circulation observed by Ibn an-Nafis.(47)
The establishment of an Islamized territory in southern Europe extended over several centuries at the end of numerous processes of hybridization, acculturation, exchanges, and conflicts between the multiple components of the people of al-Andalus.
The will to spread a unified model of Islam by the elites had to adapt to the different local contexts. Intercultural exchange between Visigoth populations of Christian origin, a strong Jewish minority, Amazighs/Berbers from Africa, and Arabs from Syria, gave rise to original cultural and social productions. The Arabic language contributed to the creation of an Arab-Muslim “supra-identity” common to the inhabitants of al-Andalus.
This Arabizing cultural climate generated a diversity of cultures and social statuses: the Mozarabs, Arabized Christians, the Muladis (Muwalladun), Christians converted to Islam who obtained important positions in Muslim Spain, the Mudéjars, Muslims under Christian influence and the Slavs (Sâqalibas), servile or freed personnel of Christian and Islamic origin.
Al-Andalus is the result of interactions between different cultural areas, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Byzantine. The assimilation of these various influences through the Arabic language, have concerned both intangible goods such as language, literature, scientific texts, techniques or systems of thought, as well as material goods such as tools, raw materials, handicrafts, and gardens.
A large part of the transfer of knowledge from the Muslim world to the Latin world has been carried out through Arabic translation companies since medieval times, notably by the Toledo school and Jewish translators of Arabic language. Archaeological and historical research on al-Andalus has shown the importance of the Arab cultural heritage in the development of European civilization. (48)
The traces of this heritage can be found both in French literature through the influence of the great poet of love Ibn Hazm of Cordoba on the art of the troubadours, and the imprint of Mudejar architecture in the works of the Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi.
The Islamic heritage bears witness to eight centuries of the history of Spain, which was itself the creator of an original art form and, in the 10th century, enjoyed an incomparable influence in the dissemination of knowledge, science and literature. It is in Spain, especially in Andalusia, that we find the most numerous and best preserved monuments of this period from the 8th to the 15th century. From language to art and literature, agricultural techniques, handicrafts, tapestries and fabrics, it is all the Muslim heritage that still permeates Andalusia.
The cultural boom, which culminated at the end of the 11th century, began among the Umayyads of Damascus, who were the first to build libraries. During the reign of the Umayyads began the translation of Greek, Persian, Syriac texts that were copied and brought back to Andalusia. The number of published works is quite important. The use of paper made things easier. It was in Cordoba, then the most populated city in Europe, that Abd ar-Rahman III promoted the arts and sciences.
Why has Muslim Andalusia, more than any other moment in European history, been elevated to the status of a unique symbolic moment of universal significance? The history of Andalusia is indeed at the heart of a debate with multiple accents. If we are indeed in the presence of a privileged place and moment between East and West, the meaning of the event changes according to the angle from which one places oneself.
Remembrance of a lost paradise, an essential intermediary of scientific and philosophical transmission, or a privileged moment of syncretism and “conviviality”, Andalusia is a “place of memory” that is constantly revisited to support modern acts and designs, to found an exemplary history.
- Cf. Reinhart Anne Pieter Dozy. Recherches Sur L’Histoire Et la Littérature de L’Espagne Pendant Le Moyen Age. Charleston, South Carolina: BiblioBazaar. 2009: 303.
- Cf. Manuel González Jiménez. Andalucía a debate y otros estudios. Sevilla: Universidad de Sevilla. 1998: 16–17.
- Cf. Eloy Benito Ruano. Tópicos y realidades de la Edad Media. Real Academia de la Historia. 2002: 79
- Cf. José Ángel García de Cortázar. V Semana de Estudios Medievales: Nájera, 1 al 5 de agosto de 1994. Gobierno de La Rioja : Instituto de Estudios Riojanos, 1995 : 52.
- Cf. Cantó, Pablo. “De dónde vienen los nombres de las Comunidades Autónomas españolas”. El País of 9 September 2016. https://verne.elpais.com/verne/2016/09/09/articulo/1473434604_706233.html
- Cf. Joaquín Vallvé. La división territorial de la España musulmana. Buenos Aires: Instituto de Filología of UBA. 1986: 55–59.
- Cf. Halm, Heinz. “Al-Andalus und Gothica Sors”. Der Islam. 1989, 66 (2): 252–263. https://www.degruyter.com/view/journals/islm/66/2/article-p252.xml
- José Ortega y Gasset; (9 May 1883 – 18 October 1955) was a Spanish philosopher and essayist. He worked during the first half of the 20th century, while Spain oscillated between monarchy, republicanism, and dictatorship. His philosophy has been characterized as a “philosophy of life” that “comprised a long-hidden beginning in a pragmatist metaphysics inspired by William James, and with a general method from a realist phenomenology imitating Edmund Husserl, which served both his proto-existentialism (prior to Martin Heidegger’s) and his realist historicism, which has been compared to both Wilhelm Dilthey and Benedetto Croce.” Cf. John T. Graham. A Pragmatist Philosophy of Life in Ortega y Gasset. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1994.
- Cf. Gill, James. Andalucia, a cultural history. New York, New York: Oxford University Press US. 2008: 251.
- Cf. Joseph Pérez. Histoire de l’Espagne. Paris: Fayard, 1996: 34.
- Cf. Mohamed Chtatou.“ Les Berghouatas, ces Amazighs vilipendés et oubliés de l’histoire du Maroc.“ in Le Monde Amazigh of August 7, 2020. http://amadalamazigh.press.ma/fr/les-berghouatas-ces-amazighs-vilipendes-et-oublies-de-lhistoire-du-maroc/
- Cf. Haim Zafrani. Juifs d’Andalousie et du Maghreb. Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose, 2002. This book is dedicated to the meeting place of ideas, cultures and civilizations that for more than a millennium was the ensemble that embraces Andalusia and the Extreme Maghreb, Morocco to be precise, and which we call the Muslim West. It is also dedicated to its Jewish and Muslim populations, who, together and with other groups of different ethnic and confessional affiliations, have lived privileged moments in history, have recognized each other, have exchanged their differences, in cooperation and conviviality, cultivating a significant dose of symbiosis, even religious syncretism. In this space of convergence and dialogue, awareness and memory have been remarkably developed at various levels: at the historical level, when we look at the origins and destiny of these societies; at the cultural level, when we question the multiple contributions of the Arab, Hebrew, Berber and Castilian civilizations, their scientific and literary production; at the level of the social imagination marked by the seal of religion, mysticism and magic. The high places of wisdom meticulously described in this book are the Hispano-Moorish heritage, a privileged reference of Judeo-Maghrebi intellectual creation, the philosophical, legal and theological, poetic and musical, mystical and kabbalistic, dialectal and popular models, religious and ritual life, etc., etc. The past thus provides us with a message, a memory that we must question and remember, and which must serve as a reference point and paradigmatic category for building the present and envisioning the future.
- Cf. Alberto León et Juan F. Murillo. “Las comunidades dhimmis cristianas en la Córdoba Omeya : posibilidades y límites de su visibilidad arqueológica. “ AlMullk, Cordoue, Instituto de estudios califales, 2017 : 149-151. https://www.academia.edu/34606088/Las_comunidades_dhimmis_cristianas_en_la_C%C3%B3rdoba_Omeya_Posibilidades_y_l%C3%ADmites_de_su_visibilidad_arqueol%C3%B3gica
- Cf. Glick, Thomas F. Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages. The Netherlands: Brill.1999 (2005).
- Cf. Patricia E. Grieve. The Eve of Spain: Myths of Origins in the History of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Conflict. Charles Village, Baltimore: JHU Press. 2009: 6.
- Cf. O’Callaghan, Joseph F. A History of Medieval Spain. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1983: 142. Following the Umayyad conquest of Hispania, al-Andalus, then at its greatest extent, was divided into five administrative units, corresponding roughly to modern Andalusia; Portugal and Galicia; Castile and León; Navarre, Aragon, and Catalonia; and the Languedoc-Roussillon area of Occitanie
- Cf. Eduardo Manzano. Conquistadores, emires y califas: Los omeyas y la formación de al-Andalus. Barcelone : Critique, 2006.
- Cf. Miguel Salcedo Hierro. La Mezquita, Catedral de Córdoba. Publicaciones de la Obra Social y Cultural de CajaSur, 2000 : 188.
- Euloge de Córdoba or Saint Euloge (before 819 in the emirate of Córdoba – March 11, 859) is a Spanish bishop and theologian who is one of the forty-eight Martyrs of Córdoba. This saint is celebrated on March 11th. In 850, the Moors who had ruled Spain for nearly 150 years suddenly began to persecute the Christians. The Christians were in the majority and the Saracens could not make them embrace Islam because they were so attached to their religion. Euloge encouraged Christians to remain faithful to their faith and persuaded them to avoid apostasy. He takes in Léocricia, a young Muslim girl who became a Christian and who was mistreated by her parents for this reason, which led to her being imprisoned. According to historian Olivier Hanne, he is the first Latin to understand the Koran – which is never named – as a text or a set of texts. In 858, he was elected Bishop of Cordoba. He immediately had problems with the Emir of Cordoba who summoned him to publicly renounce Catholicism. The holy man refused. He was then tortured by a thousand refinements, but nothing helped. In 859, while he was being taken to the place of his torture, a eunuch slapped him. Without saying anything, he turned the other cheek to follow the teaching of his master Jesus and received a second blow. But the bishop’s fortitude impressed the executioner, who then stopped hitting him. In front of qādī – Islamic judge – in Cordoba, he publicly proclaimed his faith. He was beheaded for insulting the Prophet. The city’s Christians recovered his body to make relics. In iconography, he is represented with his skull split by a sword and his heart pierced by a sword. In 1784, Francisco Bayeu did one of the eleven frescoes he made for the cloister of Toledo Cathedral: Exhortation of San Eulogio.
- Cf. Azizur Rahman, Syed (2001). The Story of Islamic Spain New Delhi: Goodword Books. 2001: 129.
- Cf. Covington, Richard. Arndt, Robert (ed.). “Rediscovering Arabic Science”. Saudi Aramco World. Aramco Services Company. 2007, 58 (3): 2–16.
- Cf. Sylvie Arsever. “Al-Andalus, le premier islam européen. “in Le Temps of August 8, 2011. https://www.letemps.ch/monde/alandalus-premier-islam-europeen
- Madinat az-Zahra’ (in Arabic: مدينة الزهراء Madīnat az-Zahrā’, literally “shining city”) is the remnant of a vast palatial city created by the Umayyad Caliph of Córdoba, Abd-ar-Rahman III al-Nasir (912-961). Built from 936 onwards, it is located eight kilometers from the western outskirts of Córdoba, Spain, in the Sierra Morena region. The city was then the capital of al-Andalus because the heart of the administration and government was located within its walls.
- From 1009 the Caliphate of Cordoba broke out and, after the civil war, Andalusia crumbled into emirates called in Arabic Mulûk at-Tawâ’îf and in Spanish Reyes de Taifas. If the political weakening then favored the Reconquista, the economic growth allowed the masters of the independent principalities to reproduce the Cordovan model, especially in the cultural field. This period has been the subject of somewhat unbalanced studies. If the political aspects are now well known thanks to recent works and if the artistic and intellectual wealth has been abundantly evoked, on the other hand the economic aspects are only partially covered by numismatic studies. Above all, maritime activities have hardly been the subject of research, even though the period was undoubtedly one of the most remarkable in this respect. It is true that the paucity of historical sources largely explains this gap: in the set of chronicles, geographical works and biographies, the works of Ibn ‘Idharî and Ibn Bassâm are among the few to account for it, but in a scattered way. Nevertheless, some observations have already been made. The Emirs of Denia, Mujahid al-‘Amirî (1010-1045) and to a lesser extent his son ‘Alî ibn Mujahid Iqbâl al-Dawla (1045-1076), are famous for their activity in the field of letters, but also for having promoted the armament of a fleet that enabled them to take control of the Balearic Islands in 1015 and to conduct a fruitful war in the Western Mediterranean … Cf. M. Morony. “Mulūk al-Ṭawāʾif. In Pre-Islamic Persia”. In Bosworth, C. E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W. P. & Pellat, Ch. (eds.). The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition, Volume VII: Mif–Naz. Leiden: E. J. Brill. 1993: 551–552. Cf. Tolan, John (2013). Europe and the Islamic World: A History. Princeton: Princeton University press. 2013: 40, 39-40.
- The battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, or ma’arakat al-‘Oqab (Arabic : معركة العقاب), takes place on Monday, July 16, 1212 in the place called Castillo de la cuesta (nowadays Castro Ferral, in the province of Jaén, Spain), between, on the one hand, troops of the Islamic empire from all over the Maghreb and Al-Andalus under the command of Muhammad an-Nâsir of the Amazigh/Berber dynasty of the Almohads and, on the other hand, a coalition of several Christian states of the Iberian Peninsula as well as Crusader troops from several European nations. Won by the Christians, it marked a decisive stage in the Reconquista and significantly accelerated the disintegration of the Almohad empire. Cf. Martín Alvira-Cabrer, Las Navas de Tolosa, 1212 : Idea, liturgia y memoria de la batalla. Madrid : Sílex Ediciones. 2012.
- Cf. Isidro DE LAS CAGIGAS, Minorias étnico-religiosas de la Edad Media espanola, II, Los Mudéjares (tomo I), pp. 47-48.
- Cf. María Rosa Menocal. L’Andalousie arabe VIIIe-XVe siècle. Une culture de la tolérance. Paris, France: Autrement, 2003.
- Cf. Mohamed Chtatou. “Expulsion of Sephardic Jews from Spain in 1492 and their Relocation and Success in Morocco. “in Eurasia Review of September 5, 2019. https://www.eurasiareview.com/05092019-expulsion-of-sephardic-jews-from-spain-in-1492-and-their-relocation-and-success-in-morocco-analysis/
- Az-Zahrawi’s thirty-volume medical encyclopedia, Kitab at-Tasrif, completed in the year 1000, covered a broad range of medical topics, including on surgery, medicine, orthopaedics, ophthalmology, pharmacology, nutrition, dentistry, childbirth, and pathology. The first volume in the encyclopedia is concerned with general principles of medicine, the second with pathology, while much of the rest discuss topics regarding pharmacology and drugs. The last treatise and the most celebrated one is about surgery. Az-Zahrawi stated that he chose to discuss surgery in the last volume because surgery is the highest form of medicine, and one must not practice it until he becomes well-acquainted with all other branches of medicine.
- Cf. Davidson, Herbert A. Moses Maimonides: The Man and his Works. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2005.
- Cf. Glasser, Johnathan. The lost paradise: Andalusi music in urban North Africa. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press, 2016.
- Cf. Al-Idrisi. De Geographia Universali: Kitāb Nuzhat al-mushtāq fī dhikr al-amṣār wa-al-aqṭār wa-al-buldān wa-al-juzur wa-al-madā’ in wa-al-āfāq. Rome: Medici. 1592.
- Cf. Karabell, Zachary. Peace be upon you: the story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish coexistence (1st ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2007.
- María Rosa Menocal, op. cit.
- Cf. Américo Castro, España en su historia. Cristianos, moros y judíos, Barcelone, Crítica, 1983 [1re édition, Buenos Aires, Losada, 1948].
- Brian A. Catlos, “Contexto y conveniencia en la Corona de Aragón: propuesta de un modelo de interacción religiosa entre grupos etno-religiosos minoritarios y mayoritarios,” Revista d’Història Medieval, no. 12, 2001-2002, pp. 259-268. In the same vein, Kenneth Baxter Wolf states that “It was the Spanish philologist and literary historian Américo Castro (1885-1972) who first used the term convivencia“: see Kenneth Baxter Wolf, “Convivencia in Medieval Spain: A Brief History of an Idea,” Religion Compass, vol. 3, no. 1, 2009: 72.
- Cf. Américo Castro, La realidad histórica de España, Mexico, Porrúa, 1954 : 61.
- Cf. Christophe Cailleaux. « Chrétiens, juifs et musulmans dans l’Espagne médiévale. La convivencia et autres mythes historiographiques », Cahiers de la Méditerranée [Online], 86 | 2013. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cdlm/6878 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/cdlm.6878
- Adams et al. “The Genetic Legacy of Religious Diversity and Intolerance: Paternal Lineages of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula. “The American Journal of Human Genetics, vol. 83, 2008: 725. https://www.cell.com/ajhg/fulltext/S0002-9297(08)00592-2
- Cf. Ruiz, Ana. Medina Mayrit: The Origins of Madrid. New York, New York: Algora Publishing. 2012: 57.
- Cf. Fernando Rodríguez Mediano. The Orient in Spain: Converted Muslims, the Forged Lead Books of Granada, and the Rise of Orientalism. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. 2013: 42.
- Cf. Ibn Hazam (994-1064). The Ring of the Dove. A Treatise on the Art and Practice of Arab Love.Translated by A.J. Arberry, Litt.D., F.B.A. London: Luzac & Company, Ltd. http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/hazm/dove/ringdove.html
- Cf. Ess, Josef van. The Flowering of Muslim Theology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.
- Cf. Langhade et Mallet. “Droit et philosophie au XIIe siècle sous Al Andalus. “ Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée, no 40, 1985 : 104. https://www.persee.fr/doc/remmm_0035-1474_1985_num_40_1_2097
- Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm ibn Yaḥyā al-Naqqāsh al-Zarqālī al-Tujibi (Arabic: إبراهيم بن يحيى الزرقالي); also known as Al-Zarkali or Ibn Zarqala (1029–1087), was an Arab Muslim instrument maker, astrologer, and the most important astronomer from the western part of the Islamic world. Although his name is conventionally given as al-Zarqālī, it is probable that the correct form was al-Zarqālluh. In Latin he was referred to as Arzachel or Arsechieles, a modified form of Arzachel, meaning ‘the engraver’. He lived in Toledo, Al-Andalus before moving to Córdoba later in his life. His works inspired a generation of Islamic astronomers in Al-Andalus, and later, after being translated, were very influential in Europe. His invention of the Saphaea (a perfected astrolabe) proved very popular and was widely used by navigators until the 16th century. The crater Arzachel on the Moon is named after him.
- Cf. Pormann, Peter E. Medieval Islamic medicine. Savage-Smith, Emilie. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. 2007: 117.
- Cf. Ibn al-Nafis (translation of M. Meyerhof), The Theologus Autodidactus of Ibn al-Nafis. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968.
- Cf. Perry, Marvin; Myrna Chase, Margaret C. Jacob, James R. Jacob, and Theodore Von Laue. Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society. Boston, Massachusetts: Cengage Learning. 2008: 261–262.
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