A Brief Guide to the Marvelous History of the Moors in Spain

Example of moorish architecture
Originally from the North African country of Morocco, the Moors were medieval Muslims who once ruled over areas that currently comprise Spain, Portugal, and Septimania. This Buzzle article provides a brief history of the Moors in Spain.
Did You Know?
Lemons, dates, saffron, peaches, oranges, sugarcane, apricots, figs, cotton, pomegranate, rice, ginger, silk, etc., were introduced by the Moors to the Iberian peninsula.
The Moors were the nomadic inhabitants of the North African continent. They invaded the Iberian peninsula in 711, defeating the Visigoths, and established their rule for almost 800 years. The Moorish empire included most of Spain and Portugal; the Moors attempted to invade France as well, but were halted by Charles Martel.

The Spanish Moors were eventually overpowered in the 15th century, but they left behind a legacy of rich culture and architecture found right across Spain and Portugal today, particularly Spain. This Buzzle post takes a brief look at the history of what happened to the Moors in Spain, their rule, cultural influence, and decline.

An Introduction
  • The yellow area marked in the map shown below denotes the Moorish kingdom called Al-Andalus, and included the majority of Spain, apart from certain northern areas, and more than two-thirds of Portugal, including Lisbon and Lamego.
  • The name 'Moor' comes from the word 'Mauretania', which, at that time, was a part of North Africa, and presently, it covers Morocco and Algeria.
  • The Spanish generally refer to the term 'moro', while other Latin variations include 'mor', 'moir', 'maur', and 'mouro'.
  • Between the 7th and 8th centuries, the Arab empire underwent a lot of changes. The Muslims fought a civil war, after which they seized the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) empire up to Bugia.
  • Following a series of campaigns over the next few decades, North Africa was completely in the hands of the Muslims. The Arab groups who lived in the Maghreb were then called the Moors, and they went to on to invade and capture many areas along the Mediterranean, one of which included Spain.

Map of Al-Andalus
Yellow denotes the extent of the Moorish kingdom in the Iberian peninsula

The Invasion, Reign, and Decline: Timeline

711 - 900
  • The Moors invaded Spain in the beginning of the 8th century. It started with the defeat of the Visigoths in the year 711 by the Muslim troops, after which they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar.
  • In 718, the Muslim army was defeated at Alcama, by a brave Visigoth, called Pelayo.
  • In the year 732, the Muslims tried to invade France as well, but were driven away by Charles Martel.
  • The year 750 witnessed the Christian reconquest of Glaicia.
  • In the year 755, Abd-er-Rahman arrived at the coast of Granada, after which Al-Andalus saw a myriad of strategic developments.
  • In 778, Charlemagne was defeated by the Vascons.
  • Abd-er-Rahman established the Mezquita in 785.
  • Between 791 to 845, the Moors lost a number of lands; they were captured by Alfonso II.
  • The Christian kingdom was set up between 870 to 898.

901 - 1000
  • This century saw a slight decline in the Moorish Empire; Abd al-Rahman III was defeated by the King of Leon, Ramiro II, at Simancas and Osma, between 930 to 950.
  • By 981, Ramiro III was defeated by Al-Mansur at Rueda.
  • Post 1000, the reconstruction of some of the Moorish Empire commenced. This was undertaken by Alfonso V, and went on for almost two decades.

1001 - 1195
  • After Al-Mansur's death, the Al-Andalus split up into smaller vassal states, and the unified rule ceased to exist.
  • For the three decades that followed, Sancho III took possession of the counties of Aragon, Sobrarbe, Castile, and Ribagorza.
  • He signed a pact with the King of Leon, Bermudo III, to possess the County of Castile.
  • After his death, however, Navarre was left to Garcia III, Sobrarbe and Ribagorza were left to Ramiro I, and Castile to Fernando I, respectively.
  • Between 1035 to 1063, the Moors of Toledo and Seville were defeated by Fernando I.
  • His son, Alfonso VI, united Castile and Leon, and took over Toledo as well.
  • Further conquests were met with resistance from the Almoravids―the Muslim nomads from the Sahara.
  • They arrived in 1086, destroyed Alfonso's army, and restored the power of the Moors.
  • The followers of the El Cid, Sancho III's knight, left Valencia.
  • In the year 1118, the kingdom of Sagossa was captured by the Christians, and in 1135, Alfonso VII proclaimed himself as Emperor.
  • However, in 1151, the Moors reestablished power―they were the Almohades, another supreme African dynasty.
  • The year 1195 saw the defeat of the Castilians by the Almohades.

1200 - 1492
  • The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa was fought in the year 1212. The Spanish army was led by Alfonso VIII of Castile, along with Sancho VIII of Navarre and some other troops. This event marked the beginning of the end of Moorish Spain.
  • The conquest of Seville commenced in 1230, by Alfonso IX of Leon, who captured Merida and Badajoz.
  • By 1252, the Kingdom of Granada remained the sole independent Moorish kingdom. The ruler of Granada, Mohammed Ibn-Alhamar, signed a pact with Fernando III. In return for cooperating in the conquest of Muslim Seville, he would release Granada from the Muslim rule.
  • The period between 1252 to 1284 was the period of the 'Mudejar' revolts.
  • In 1340, the Battle of Rio Salado was won by Alfonso XI.
  • The Castilians were defeated by the Portuguese in 1385.
  • Between 1469 to 1490, the last Muslim rulers were plagued by internal rivalries.
  • In 1492, Isabel I of Castile and Fernando II of Aragon (who got married in 1469) captured Granada and unified Spain, thus freeing the nation from Moorish rule.

Cultural Influence and Noteworthy Contributions

The impact of the Moors on European culture was manifold. They brought along their religion, cuisine, architecture, language, and many other influences in Spain.

Architecture
  • Córdova was the cultural center of the Moorish territory in Spain, and was, by far, known as the most modern and civilized city in Europe.
  • The Great Mosque of Córdoba, called La Mezquita, is considered as one of the architectural wonders of the world. Its gold roof is supported by 1,000 columns of marble and porphyry, in red and white stone, and back then, was lit by thousands of brass and silver lamps.
  • The Moorish rulers lived in huge palaces, as opposed to most European rulers of that time who lived in dreadful conditions.
  • The palace of Alhambra (the red one), in Granada, is one of Spain's finest architectural wonders. It contains some of the most beautiful arches, fountains, and other brilliant, vintage décor examples of Moorish culture and architecture.

Court of La Acequia
The Court of La Acequia
Court of the Myrtles
The Court of the Myrtles

Dome of the room of two sisters
The Dome of the Two Sisters
La Mezquita
La Mezquita de Córdoba

The Alhambra Palace
The beautiful arches of the Alhambra Palace
The Lions Fountain
The Lions Fountain at the Alhambra Palace

Education
  • The Moors brought about a revolutionary education system in Spain, and this gradually spread to the rest of Europe.
  • Unbelievably, while almost 99% of the European population was illiterate, the Moors stressed on the importance of education, and made it universally available.
  • There were seventeen universities―primarily in Granada, Seville, Toledo, Almeria, Juen, Malaga, and Córdova. And this was at a time when Europe had merely a couple of universities.
  • The Moors built more than seventy public libraries that housed numerous manuscripts. In fact, Oxford University was established by scholars after taking cue from the Moorish universities.
  • The European Renaissance has taken root due to the fine education system by the Moors, and helped develop the continent to what it is today.

Agriculture, Cuisine, and Fashion
  • The Moors introduced new crops and agricultural methods.
  • They helped develop irrigation by channeling water supply to the fields.
  • They were known for their high standards of hygiene―Cordova had 900 public baths!
  • They brought about several changes in the cuisine and style of dining. They introduced asparagus and citrus fruits.
  • They introduced the concept of changing clothes according to the season, and also the fact that meals should be served in separate courses on clean tablecloths.
  • They introduced new fashion trends, body perfumes, and cookware.

Civilization
  • The streets in the city of Córdova were well-paved with sidewalks. The streets were always well-lit by lamps.
  • You'd be surprised to know that this development was at a time when cities like Paris and London had no street lamps or paved walks.
  • As the commercial and cultural capital of the Moorish empire, Córdova had population of more 500,000. It also boasted of 50 hospitals with running water, 500 mosques, 70 libraries, and 900 hundred public baths, as mentioned earlier.
  • The Moors were very advanced in terms of engineering concept. They ordered the construction of an aqueduct with lead pipes to channel water from the mountains to the towns.

Important Facts

The astrolabe, a scientific device to measure the position of the stars and planets, was introduced to Europe by the Moors.

Moorish Spain was well-developed in terms of education. It was available for everyone, and advanced subjects, like physics, chemistry, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, and geography were taught at universities.

'Journey to Mecca', a documentary film, highlights the travels of Ibn Battuta, a Moorish explorer. He traveled from Morocco to Mecca in the 14th century for the Hajj.

The Spanish language has borrowed more than 4,000 Arabic words/phrases. The words, 'alcohol', 'algebra', 'alkaline', 'influenza', 'typhoon', etc., are derived from Arabic.

Paper was introduced to Europe by the Moors.

China and many other Eastern countries could spread their knowledge to Europe through Arabic nations.

Lisbon, in Portugal, was called 'Lashbuna' by the Moors. They ruled this place until the end of the 1100s, until they were defeated by the troops of Alfonso Henriques in the Castelo de Sao Jorge.

The library at the University in Cordova housed more than six hundred thousand manuscripts.

The Moors were rather advanced in hygiene and fashion trends. The notable Moor, Abu l-Hasan Ali Ibn Nafi, had immense knowledge in geography, meteorology, botanics, cosmetic, fashion, etc. He was a polymath, and was also known as Pájaro Negro (blackbird) in Spanish.

Abu al-Quasim, also called the 'father of modern surgery', was a Moor who was born in Cordoba. He had a lucrative medicine practice, and he developed many innovative surgical equipment during his tenure.

The Moors ruled Spain for almost 800 years, and left their cultural imprint on various facets of the country that are relevant even today. The Spanish style of living has heavy traces of the Arabic culture. The significance of the Moorish rule was perhaps lost for a while in the golden lanes of history, but a number of organizations and simultaneous research studies have helped unearth the beautiful period once more.
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