Andalusia - The Legacy of Arab Influences in Spain
The Arab Legacy in Andalusia
Following Europe's Arabian Roots
Andalusia - The Legacy of Arab Influences in Spain
Andalusia is a land of conquistadors and rapid changes in culture throughout history. Not always to the advantage of the region, it now makes Andalusia one of the most culturally diverse parts of Europe. But how did this even happen? How did the Arabs rule over such a great part of Europe, how did they disappear and most importantly what treasures did they leave behind? This post should give you an idea about how Europe as we know it today would be completely different if Arabs would have stayed in power. Pay attention to the way we perceive the history of Arabs today and what Europe associates with the Muslim faith and their culture. Once upon a time, long before radicals forced it into infamy, all of it was, and to some extent still is, part of Europe.
The Arrival of the Arabs in Andalusia
Arab reign began in the 8th century when Arab tribes from Morocco took over the Christian rule with a series of bloody fights. These tribes were called Moors and lead the way into the Moorish Time, also called the “Golden Era”. The great pieces of architecture, their cultural tolerance, and practices that in part last up to this day, the scientifically advanced medicine and engineering all contribute to the golden time of Andalusia. The courts of the ostentatious Khalifs were full of knowledgeable scientists, architects, and poets… and all left behind work written in Arabian. Before one of the most conservative Christian rules took over in Spain it was essential to speak Arabian. Even when it came to religion Arab rulers showed more tolerance than their Christian neighbors. Before the Reconquista, hundreds of thousands of Jews used to live in the region. While following the Arab footsteps throughout Andalusia one might have wished that Christians had never taken over.
The Reconquista and the Disappearance of the Arabs
In 1492, after more than 700 years of Arab rule in Andalusia the conquest of Granada under the last Arabic sovereign Mohammad XII. marked the end of the Reconquista. The term united all efforts of the Christians to push back Muslim Rulers from the whole peninsula. That same year, the kings of Spain enacted the Alhambra Decree that forced hundreds of thousands of Jews to convert to Christianity or leave all regions ruled by Christian monarchs.
A Detour to Arab Influences in the Spanish Language
Not only buildings, calendars and scientific methods were taken over from the Arabs. To this day, we can recognize Arab words in the Spanish language. Ojalá means hopefully in Spanish and clearly derives from the Arabic expression “ma sha allah” that literally translates to should God will. Nowadays we put a little bit of Azúcar (Sugar) in our coffee that comes directly from the Arabic word "as-sukkar". Our salad we eat with aceite (Oil) that comes from the Arabic word “zeyt”. As you can see, the Spanish language is full of words that were once Arabic and have evolved over time.
Arab Architecture in Andalusia
Ever prevailing in the Andalusian landscape is first and foremost the Moorish art and architecture that can be spotted in Cordoba, Granada, Malaga or Seville on every corner.
The Mezquita in Cordoba
The Mezquita in Cordoba is one of the legacies of the Muslim faith in Andalusia. Erected as a church it was quickly divided into Christian and Muslim halves at the mid of the 8th century. Imagine, the two religions under most cultural pressure now worshiping to different gods under the same roof. At the end of the 8th century, the Christian half of the monumental building was purchased by Abd al-Rahman who built a mosque from the ground up as we know it today. Now it is again being used as a Catholic church.
The Design is regarded as one of the greatest examples of Moorish architecture. The main hall features countless doubled arches that permitted higher walls than known before. From gilded art, prayer niches and nails to Arabic stone inscriptions – the Mezquita was a display of the Arab art and power of its time and amazes its visitors to this day.
The Alhambra in Granada
Going to the Alhambra is at first one thing: overwhelming. It is a complex protected by two steep stone slopes to left and right and includes a palace, numerous gardens, and fortresses. Literally, "Al-Hambra" translates to "The Red One" which is due to the fact that it was built from the red clay provided directly by the mountain it was built on. The Khalif responsible for the large renovations in the 13th century Nasrid emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar must have known that the times of the Arabs of Andalusia were slowly coming to an end. Yusuf I, the Sultan who turned it into a royal palace, made further architectural additions, completing the Alhambra to its today known perfection. Especially the fortress provided great protection during the Reconquista... But as we know today, could not with withhold the Christian Kings from regaining control over Andalusia.
The Alcazár of Seville
Still used as the residence of the royal family whenever they pass through Seville the Alcazár was not built by the Arabs but inspired by them. The palace that features extensive gardens with orange plantations, artificial pools and Renaissance statues, was originally commissioned by Abd Al Raman III. The Chrisitan king Alfonso XI and King Peter of Castile added most of its parts after the Arab fortress was destroyed and the palace kept evolving from the 11th century to this day. The changes were made in the traditional Mudejar style. Although Alfonso XI made changes to demonstrate his victory over the Muslim culture, King Peter's motive was slightly different. He celebrated it, even being advised by Mohammed V of Granada who was in exile at the time.
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