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

Al-ʾAndalus (Arabic الأندلس) is the Arabic name given the Iberian Peninsula by its Muslim conquerors; it refers to both the Emirate (ca 750–929) and Caliphate of Cordoba (929–1031 ) and its taifa successor kingdoms specifically, and in general to territories under Muslim rule (7111492). As Iberia was slowly regained by Christians fighting from northern enclaves, in the long process known as the Reconquista, the name "al-Andalus" came to refer only to the Muslim-dominated lands of the South, the former Roman Hispania Baetica, within an ever-southward-moving frontier.



Conquest and early years

In 711 CE, a "Moorish" Islamic army from North Africa invaded Visigoth Christian Spain. Under their leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad, they landed at Gibraltar on 711 April 30 and brought most of the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic rule in an eight-year campaign. They moved northeast across the Pyrenees but were defeated by the Frank Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732. The Iberian peninsula, except for small areas in the northwest and largely Basque regions in the Pyrenees, became part of the expanding Umayyad empire, under the name of Al-Andalus. In the Archaeological Museum in Madrid, a dinar dating from five years after the conquest (716), has the Arabic "Al-Andalus" on one side and the Iberian Latin "Span(ica)" on the other — apparently the first mention known.

At first, Al-Andalus was ruled by governors appointed by the Caliph, most ruling for three years or less. However, from 740, a series of civil wars between various Muslim groups in Spain resulted in the breakdown of Caliphal control, with Yusuf al-Fihri, who emerged as the main winner, being effectively an independent ruler.

The Emirate and Caliphate of Cordoba

The interior of the Great Mosque in Cordoba, built on the site of a Visigoth Christian basilica was restored to a Christian cathedral. The mosque, known as the  in Spanish, was one of the finest examples of Arab-Islamic architecture pioneered by the  dynasty.
The interior of the Great Mosque in Cordoba, built on the site of a Visigoth Christian basilica was restored to a Christian cathedral. The mosque, known as the Mezquita in Spanish, was one of the finest examples of Arab-Islamic architecture pioneered by the Umayyad dynasty.

When the Umayyad dynasty gave way to the Abbasid in 750, Abd-ar-Rahman I (later titled AlDāakhil), an Umayyad exile, established himself as the Emir of Cordoba in 756, ousting Yusuf al-Fihri. Over a thirty-year reign, he established his rule over the whole of al-Andalus, overcoming partisans both of the al-Fihri family and of the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad, whose title he refused to acknowledge. For the next century and a half, his descendants continued as Emirs of Cordoba, with nominal control over the rest of al-Andalus (and sometimes parts of western North Africa) but with real control, particularly over the marches along the Christian border, varying greatly depending on the competence of the individual Emir. Indeed, Abdallah ibn Muhammad, who was Emir around 900, had very little control beyond the area immediately around Cordoba.

However, Abdallah's grandson Abd-ar-Rahman III, who succeeded him in 912, not only rapidly restored Ummayad power not only throughout al-Andalus but extended it into western North Africa as well. In 929 he proclaimed himself Caliph, elevating the emirate to a position competing in prestige not only with the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad but also the Shi'ite Caliph in Tunis — with whom he was competing for control of North Africa.

The period of the Caliphate can reasonably be regarded as the golden age of al-Andalus. Irrigation techniques and crops – for instance, rice, oranges and a variety of other citrus fruits – imported from the Middle East provided the area around Cordoba and some other Andalusi cities with an agricultural infrastructure well in advance of that of any other part of western Europe. Cordoba under the Caliphate, with a population of perhaps 100,000, was far larger and more prosperous than any other city of the time in Europe, with the exception of Constantinople, and competed on at least equal terms as a cultural centre with anywhere else in the Islamic world. The work of its philosophers and scientists would be a significant formative influence on the intellectual life of medieval western Europe.


Non-Muslims (Dhimmi) under the Caliphate

The position of Christians (Mozarabs) and Jews living under the Caliphate, while distinctly inferior to that of Muslims, was still far better than that of religious minorities elsewhere in Europe. However, Dhimmis (i.e. non-Muslims) could not build new churches or synagogues nor repair old ones; they had to observe their faiths indoors, never in public, they could not do anything that could be interpreted as a challenge the superiority of Islam; they were required to wear an identifying belt called the zunnar; they could not employ Muslims ; they had to show loyalty to Muslims; they could not sell goods not approved by Muslims. They had to pay an poll tax (jizya). Dhimmis were also forbidden from holding public office, although in practice this rule was often ignored; there are many examples of dhimmi holding office especially during the time of the Abbasid empire, and their control over Baghdad. One notable example is that of Hasdai ibn Shaprut, a prominent Jew who controlled the customs (among other duties) in Cordoba.

Provided they paid a special poll tax (jizya) and did nothing to insult Islam, they were recognised as dhimmis, believers in a tolerated non-Muslim religion entitled to worship God in their own way and, in matters affecting only members of their own religion, entitled to be governed by the rules of their own religion rather than those of Islam. Thus dhimmi communities were generally administered by leaders of their own religion who would even usually collect the jizya on behalf of the Caliph. Of course, the requirement not to insult Islam could be interpreted more or less widely. It was generally understood that that dhimmi places of worship should be less conspicuous than Muslim ones and that acts of worship should not take place where they might offend the eyes of pious Muslims. Some Muslim scholars held that dhimmis could not give orders to Muslims, and so could neither employ them nor hold public office - but caliphs and other rulers in all periods of al-Andalus employed dhimmis in responsible positions (often admittedly because a dhimmi was more dependent on their personal favour than a Muslim would have been). One notable example is that of Hasdai ibn Shaprut, a prominent Jew who controlled the customs (among other duties) in Cordoba. The two offences that supposedly carried an automatic death penalty were apostasy from Islam and explicitly insulting the Prophet - yet even here, Ummayad Emirs and Caliphs could be reluctant to take notice of such cases.

An unusual historical drama occured in the city of Córdoba, Spain, under Muslim rule, during which 48 Christians were decapitated for religious offences against Islam and became known as the Martyrs of Córdoba.


One of the most significant contributions made in Al-Andalus was to the advancement of theological philosophy.

From the earliest days, the Umayyads wanted to be seen as intellectual rivals to the Abbasids, and for Cordoba to have libraries and educational institutions to rival Baghdad. Although there was a clear rivalry between the two powers, freedom to travel between the two Caliphates was allowed, which helped spread new ideas and innovations over time. The historian Said Al-Andalusi wrote that the Caliph Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Rahman had collected libraries of books and patroned men to study Medicine and "ancient sciences". Later Al-Mustansir (Al-Hakam II) vastly improved this by importing philosophical volumes as well as varying series of books on diverse subjects, including medicine and music from the East to his new university and libraries in Cordoba. Under his reign Cordoba had become one of the worlds most important cities for medicine and philosophical debate.

However, when his son Hisham II took over, his real power was ceded to the hajib, al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir. Al-Mansur was a distinctly religious man and disapproved of the sciences of Astronomy, Logic and especially Astrology, so much so that many books on these subjects, which had been preserved and collected at great expense by Al-Hakam II, were burned publicly. It was not long, however, after the death of Al-Mansur (1002) that interest in philosophy sparked up again. Numerous scholars came to the forefront, including Abu Uthman Ibn Fathun, who wrote and taught extensively on a wide variety of subjects including Music and Grammar but whose masterwork was the philosophical treatise the Tree of Wisdom. Another outstanding scholar in astronomy and astrology was Maslamah Ibn Ahmad al-Majriti (died 1008), an intrepid traveller who journeyed all over the Islamic countries, and beyond, and who kept in touch with the Brethren of Purity. Indeed, it is said to have been him who brought the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity to al-Andalus and who added the compendium to these 51 books, although it is strongly possible that this was added later by another of the name al-Majriti. Another book believed to be his is the Ghayat al-Hakim ("The aim of the Sage:), a book which dealt with varying philosophical ideas including a synthesis of Platonism with Hermetic philosophy. Its use of incantations led the book to be widely dismissed in later years, altough the Sufi communities did keep studies of it.

A prominent follower of al-Majriti was Abu al-Hakam al-Kirmani, who aside from the studies of philosophy was also a particularly keen scholar of Geometry. A follower of his was the great Abu Bakr Ibn al-Sayigh, known to most Arabic Speakers as Ibn Bajjah, known mostly to the west as Avempace

The first taifa period

The caliphate effectively collapsed during a ruinous civil war between 1009 and 1013, although it was not finally abolished until 1031. Al-Andalus now broke up into a number of mostly independent Islamic states called taifas. These were however militarily too weak to defend themselves against repeated raids and demands for tribute from the Christian states based in the north and west, which had already spread from their initial strongholds in Galicia, Asturias, the Basque country and the Carolingian Marca Hispanica to become the Kingdoms of Navarre, León, Castile and Aragon and the County of Barcelona. Eventually, raids turned into conquest; and in response, the taifa kings requested help from the Almoravids, the puritanical rulers of the Maghrib. However, the Almoravids conquered the taifa kingdoms.

Almoravids and Almohads

The Almoravids were substantially less tolerant of Christians and Jews than the earlier Umayyads, and were succeeded in the 12th century by the even more fanatical Almohads, another Berber dynasty. In 1212 a coalition of Christian kings under the leadership of Alfonso VIII of Castile defeated the Almohads at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. The Muslims were driven from Central Spain in the next few decades until only the kingdom of Granada remained.

The Emirate of Granada

Granada survived for three more centuries as a vassal state of Castile, and is is known in modern time for architectural gems such as the Alhambra. On January 2, 1492, Boabdil of Granada, the leader of the Amirate of Gharnatah (Granada), the last Muslim stronghold in Iberia surrendered, in the "Capitulation of Granada," to armies of Christian Spain, recently united under the Catholic Monarchs Isabella I of Castile (Isabel La Católica) and Ferdinand II of Aragon (Fernando el Católico or Ferran el Catòlic). Al-Andalus ceased to exist.


The famous Court of the Lions inside the  palace of , in , one of the finest examples of the high art and culture achieved by the Islamic civilization in Spain.
The famous Court of the Lions inside the Umayyad palace of Alhambra, in Granada, one of the finest examples of the high art and culture achieved by the Islamic civilization in Spain.

In 1502, the Capitulation's extension of tolerance was rescinded, and the remaining Muslims were forced to leave Spain or convert to Christianity, as moriscos. They were an important portion of the peasants in some territories, like Aragon, Valencia or Andalusia, until their systematic expulsion in the years from 1609 to 1614. Henri Lapeyre has estimated that this affected 300,000 out of a total of 8 million inhabitants at the time.

The Moorish domination of the peninsula had a profound effect on language, art and culture, especially in the south. Examples include the many Arabic or Arabic-influenced words in Spanish, and architecture such as Granada's Alhambra.

The name of today's Andalusia (Spanish: Andalucía) comes from "Al-Andalus", as this southern province was among the last territories to pass from Moorish to Spanish Christian hands.

Etymology of "al-Andalus"

The etymology of the word "al-Andalus" is uncertain. The word is popularly thought to be derived from the Vandals, the Germanic tribe who settled in southern Iberia and Northern Africa. However, scholars are by no means in agreement. The notion of it originating with the Vandals, who supposedly devastated southern Spain so severely in a mere twenty-two years of tenure (407-429) as to leave their name forever imprinted on it, gained in popularity over time and survives — but it is a theory put forth without much basis, bolstered perhaps by homophony. Three possible etymologies have been advanced in recent times. The first, the Vandal link, is largely disregarded now, and the question of the origin of the Arabic name, given to the entire peninsula, is still open to debate.


Reinhardt Dozy (1820-1883), Dutch author of the famous History of the Muslims of Spain (4 vols., Turner, Madrid, 1984), advanced the theory according to which the name of Al-Andalus is an Arabic rendition of Vandalicia or Vandalucía, on the assumption that the Roman province of Hispania Baetica (southern Spain) could have acquired and retained this name-association, not in Iberia itself, but among the Arabs of the maghreb.


The Spanish philologist Joaquín Vallvé Bermejo, in his The Territorial Divisions of Muslim Spain (CSIC, Madrid, 1986), is of the opinion that Al-Andalus, as in Jazirat al-Andalus, translates pure and simply as "Atlantis" or "island of the Atlantic":

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


An etymology was advanced recently by H. Halm in "Al-Andalus und Gothica Sors", in Welt des Oriens, vol. 66, 1989, pp 252-263, and drawn upon by Marianne Barrucand/Achim Bednorz in Arquitectura Islámica en Andalucía, Köln, Taschen, 1992, pp 12-13. Halm dismisses any links with the Vandals, an association he finds without foundation, and offers instead an interesting explanation. According to him the name "Al-Andalus" is simply an Arabic rendition of the Visigothic name given to the Roman province of Baetica. The Visigoths, following the custom of their Germanic predecessors, parcelled out the conquered territories by drawing lots, and the allotments to anyone, with their corresponding land, was called "Sortes Gothicae". Contemporary texts, still written in Latin, refer to the Gothic kingdom as a whole as "Gothica sors" (singular). It is reasonable to suppose then that the corresponding Gothic designation "Landahlauts" (allotted, inherited, drawn land), in its phonetic form — "landalos" — became easily and spontaneously, to Arabic ears, "Al-Andalus".

  • Lôt (Gothic hlauts: allotment, inheritance. Old High German hlôz, modern German los, which passed to French as lot (cf. Lot (departement)) and Castilian as lote; whence "lottery," "loterie," "lotería," etc.

See also


  • Hugh Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal  : A Political History of al-Andalus, Longman, 1996 (ISBN: 0-582-49515-6)
  • Roger Collins, The Arab Conquest of Spain, 710–797, Blackwell, 1989 (ISBN: 0-631-19405-3)

Further reading

  • Manuela Marin, et al. editors, The Formation of Al-Andalus: History and Society (inm series The Formation of the Classical Islamic World, Vol 46) 1999. ISBN 0860787087
  • David Luscombe, editor, et al. The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume 4, c.1024-c.1198, Part 1 (in series The New Cambridge Medieval History)Cateogry:Islamic history

ca:Al-Andalus es:Al-Andalus fr:Al-Andalus pl:Al-Andalus sv:al-Andalus


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