Al-Andalus and Christian kingdoms circa 1000 AD, at the apogee of Almanzor

Al-Andalus[a] was the name given by the Muslims during the Middle Ages to the Iberian Peninsula.[1] At its greatest geographical extent, their territory occupied most of the peninsula[2] and a part of present-day southern France, Septimania (8th century), and for nearly a century (9th–10th centuries) extended its control from Fraxinet over the Alpine passes which connect Italy with Western Europe.[3][4][5] The name more specifically describes the different Arab or Berber states that controlled these territories at various times between 711 and 1492, though the boundaries changed constantly as the Christian Reconquista progressed,[6][7][8] eventually shrinking to the south and finally to the vassalage of the Emirate of Granada.

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.[9] As a political domain, it successively constituted a province of the Umayyad Caliphate, initiated by the Caliph Al-Walid I (711–750); the Emirate of Córdoba (c. 750–929); the Caliphate of Córdoba (929–1031); and the Caliphate of Córdoba's taifa (successor) kingdoms. Rule under these kingdoms led to a rise in cultural exchange and cooperation between Muslims and Christians. Christians and Jews were subject to a special tax called jizya, to the state, which in return provided internal autonomy in practicing their religion and offered the same level of protections by the Muslim rulers. The jizya was not only a tax, however, but also a symbolic expression of subordination.[10]

Under the Caliphate of Córdoba, al-Andalus was a beacon of learning, and the city of Córdoba, the largest in Europe, became one of the leading cultural and economic centres throughout the Mediterranean Basin, Europe, and the Islamic world. Achievements that advanced Islamic and Western science came from al-Andalus, including ibn Firnas's invention of the first glider and other major advances in trigonometry (Geber), astronomy (Arzachel), surgery (Abulcasis Al Zahrawi), pharmacology (Avenzoar),[11] agronomy (Ibn Bassal and Abū l-Khayr al-Ishbīlī), and works of Averroes. Al-Andalus became a major educational center for Europe and the lands around the Mediterranean Sea as well as a conduit for cultural and scientific exchange between the Islamic and Christian worlds.[11]

For much of its history, al-Andalus existed in conflict with Christian kingdoms to the north. After the fall of the Umayyad caliphate, al-Andalus was fragmented into minor states and principalities. Attacks from the Christians intensified, led by the Castilians under Alfonso VI. The Almoravid empire intervened and repelled the Christian attacks on the region, deposing the weak Andalusi Muslim princes, and included al-Andalus under direct Berber rule. In the next century and a half, al-Andalus became a province of the Berber Muslim empires of the Almoravids and Almohads, both based in Marrakesh.

Ultimately, the Christian kingdoms in the north of the Iberian Peninsula overpowered the Muslim states to the south. In 1085, Alfonso VI captured Toledo, starting a gradual decline of Muslim power. With the fall of Córdoba in 1236, most of the south quickly fell under Christian rule and the Emirate of Granada became a tributary state of the Kingdom of Castile two years later. In 1249, the Portuguese Reconquista culminated with the conquest of the Algarve by Afonso III, leaving Granada as the last Muslim state on the Iberian Peninsula. Finally, on January 2, 1492,[12] Emir Muhammad XII surrendered the Emirate of Granada to Queen Isabella I of Castile, completing the Christian Reconquista of the peninsula.


The toponym al-Andalus is first attested by inscriptions on coins minted in 716 by the new Muslim government of Iberia.[13] These coins, called dinars, were inscribed in both Latin and Arabic.[14][15] The etymology of the name "al-Andalus" has traditionally been derived from the name of the Vandals; however, proposals since the 1980s have challenged this tradition.[16] In 1986, Joaquín Vallvé proposed that "al-Andalus" was a corruption of the name Atlantis,[17] Heinz Halm in 1989 derived the name from a Gothic term, *landahlauts,[18] and in 2002, Georg Bossong suggested its derivation from a pre-Roman substrate.[19]


Province of the Umayyad Caliphate

The Age of the Caliphs
   Muhammad, 622–632
   Rashidun Caliphate, 632–661
   Umayyad Caliphate, 661–750

During the caliphate of the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid I, the Moorish commander Tariq ibn-Ziyad led a small force that landed at Gibraltar on April 30, 711, ostensibly to intervene in a Visigothic civil war. After a decisive victory over King Roderic at the Battle of Guadalete on July 19, 711, Tariq ibn-Ziyad, joined by Arab governor Musa ibn Nusayr of Ifriqiya, brought most of the Visigothic Kingdom under Muslim rule in a seven-year campaign. They crossed the Pyrenees and occupied Visigothic Septimania in southern France.

Most of the Iberian peninsula became part of the expanding Umayyad Empire, under the name of al-Andalus. It was organized as a province subordinate to Ifriqiya, so, for the first few decades, the governors of al-Andalus were appointed by the emir of Kairouan, rather than the Caliph in Damascus. The regional capital was set at Córdoba, and the first influx of Muslim settlers was widely distributed.

The small army Tariq led in the initial conquest consisted mostly of Berbers, while Musa's largely Arab force of over 12,000 soldiers was accompanied by a group of mawālī (Arabic, موالي), that is, non-Arab Muslims, who were clients of the Arabs. The Berber soldiers accompanying Tariq were garrisoned in the centre and the north of the peninsula, as well as in the Pyrenees,[20] while the Berber colonists who followed settled in all parts of the country – north, east, south and west.[21] Visigothic lords who agreed to recognize Muslim suzerainty were allowed to retain their fiefs (notably, in Murcia, Galicia, and the Ebro valley). Resistant Visigoths took refuge in the Cantabrian highlands, where they carved out a rump state, the Kingdom of Asturias.

The province of al-Andalus in 750

In the 720s, the al-Andalus governors launched several sa'ifa raids into Aquitaine, but were severely defeated by Duke Odo the Great of Aquitaine at the Battle of Toulouse (721). However, after crushing Odo's Berber ally Uthman ibn Naissa on the eastern Pyrenees, Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi led an expedition north across the western Pyrenees and defeated the Aquitanian duke, who in turn appealed to the Frankish leader Charles Martel for assistance, offering to place himself under Carolingian sovereignty. At the Battle of Poitiers in 732, the al-Andalus raiding army was defeated by Charles Martel. In 734, the Andalusi launched raids to the east, capturing Avignon and Arles and overran much of Provence. In 737, they traveled up the Rhône valley, reaching as far north as Burgundy. Charles Martel of the Franks, with the assistance of Liutprand of the Lombards, invaded Burgundy and Provence and expelled the raiders by 739.

Interior of the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba formerly the Great Mosque of Córdoba. The original mosque (742), since much enlarged, was built on the site of the Visigothic Christian 'Saint Vincent basilica' (600).

Relations between Arabs and Berbers in al-Andalus had been tense in the years after the conquest. Berbers heavily outnumbered the Arabs in the province, had done the bulk of the fighting, and were assigned the harsher duties (e.g. garrisoning the more troubled areas). Although some Arab governors had cultivated their Berber lieutenants, others had grievously mistreated them. Mutinies by Berber soldiers were frequent; e.g., in 729, the Berber commander Munnus had revolted and managed to carve out a rebel state in Cerdanya for a while.

In 740, a Berber Revolt erupted in the Maghreb (North Africa). To put down the rebellion, the Umayyad Caliph Hisham dispatched a large Arab army, composed of regiments (Junds) of Bilad Ash-Sham,[22] to North Africa. But the great Umayyad army was crushed by the Berber rebels at the Battle of Bagdoura (in Morocco). Heartened by the victories of their North African brethren, the Berbers of al-Andalus quickly raised their own revolt. Berber garrisons in the north of the Iberian Peninsula mutinied, deposed their Arab commanders, and organized a large rebel army to march against the strongholds of Toledo, Cordoba, and Algeciras.

In 741, Balj b. Bishr led a detachment of some 10,000 Arab troops across the straits.[23] The Arab governor of al-Andalus, joined by this force, crushed the Berber rebels in a series of ferocious battles in 742. However, a quarrel immediately erupted between the Syrian commanders and the Andalusi, the so-called "original Arabs" of the earlier contingents. The Syrians defeated them at the hard-fought Battle of Aqua Portora in August 742 but were too few to impose themselves on the province.

The quarrel was settled in 743 when Abū l-Khaṭṭār al-Ḥusām, the new governor of al-Andalus, assigned the Syrians to regimental fiefs across al-Andalus[24] – the Damascus jund was established in Elvira (Granada), the Jordan jund in Rayyu (Málaga and Archidona), the Jund Filastin in Medina-Sidonia and Jerez, the Emesa (Hims) jund in Seville and Niebla, and the Qinnasrin jund in Jaén. The Egypt jund was divided between Beja (Alentejo) in the west and Tudmir (Murcia) in the east.[25] The arrival of the Syrians substantially increased the Arab element in the Iberian peninsula and helped strengthen the Muslim hold on the south. However, at the same time, unwilling to be governed, the Syrian junds carried on an existence of autonomous feudal anarchy, severely destabilizing the authority of the governor of al-Andalus.

19th century portrait of Abd al-Rahman I

A second significant consequence of the revolt was the expansion of the Kingdom of the Asturias, hitherto confined to enclaves in the Cantabrian highlands. After the rebellious Berber garrisons evacuated the northern frontier fortresses, the Christian king Alfonso I of Asturias set about immediately seizing the empty forts for himself, quickly adding the northwestern provinces of Galicia and León to his fledgling kingdom. The Asturians evacuated the Christian populations from the towns and villages of the Galician-Leonese lowlands, creating an empty buffer zone in the Douro River valley (the "Desert of the Duero"). This newly emptied frontier remained roughly in place for the next few centuries as the boundary between the Christian north and the Islamic south. Between this frontier and its heartland in the south, the al-Andalus state had three large march territories (thughur): the Lower March (capital initially at Mérida, later Badajoz), the Middle March (centered at Toledo), and the Upper March (centered at Zaragoza).

These disturbances and disorders also allowed the Franks, now under the leadership of Pepin the Short, to invade the strategic strip of Septimania in 752, hoping to deprive al-Andalus of an easy launching pad for raids into Francia. After a lengthy siege, the last Arab stronghold, the citadel of Narbonne, finally fell to the Franks in 759. Al-Andalus was sealed off at the Pyrenees.[26]

The third consequence of the Berber revolt was the collapse of the authority of the Damascus Caliphate over the western provinces. With the Umayyad Caliphs distracted by the challenge of the Abbasids in the east, the western provinces of the Maghreb and al-Andalus spun out of their control. From around 745, the Fihrids, an illustrious local Arab clan descended from Oqba ibn Nafi al-Fihri, seized power in the western provinces and ruled them almost as a private family empire of their own – Abd al-Rahman ibn Habib al-Fihri in Ifriqiya and Yūsuf al-Fihri in al-Andalus. The Fihrids welcomed the fall of the Umayyads in the east, in 750, and sought to reach an understanding with the Abbasids, hoping they might be allowed to continue their autonomous existence. But when the Abbasids rejected the offer and demanded submission, the Fihrids declared independence and, probably out of spite, invited the deposed remnants of the Umayyad clan to take refuge in their dominions. It was a fateful decision that they soon regretted, for the Umayyads, the sons and grandsons of caliphs, had a more legitimate claim to rule than the Fihrids themselves. Rebellious-minded local lords, disenchanted with the autocratic rule of the Fihrids, conspired with the arriving Umayyad exiles.

Umayyad Emirate and Caliphate of Córdoba

In 756, the exiled Umayyad prince Abd al-Rahman I (nicknamed al-Dākhil, the 'Immigrant') ousted Yūsuf al-Fihri to establish himself as the Emir of Córdoba. He refused to submit to the Abbasid caliph, as Abbasid forces had killed most of his family. Over a thirty-year reign, he established a tenuous rule over much of al-Andalus, overcoming partisans of both the al-Fihri family and of the Abbasid caliph.[27]

For the next century and a half, his descendants continued as emirs of Córdoba 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, vacillating depending on the competence of the individual emir. Indeed, the power of emir Abdallah ibn Muhammad (circa 900) did not extend beyond Córdoba itself. But his grandson Abd-al-Rahman III, who succeeded him in 912, not only rapidly restored Umayyad power 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 Fatimid caliph in Tunis, with whom he was competing for control of North Africa.

The Caliphate of Cordoba in the early 10th century
Gold dinar minted in Córdoba during the reign of Hisham II

The period of the Caliphate is seen as the golden age of al-Andalus. Crops produced using irrigation, along with food imported from the Middle East, provided the area around Córdoba and some other Andalusī cities with an agricultural economic sector that was the most advanced in Europe by far, sparking the Arab Agricultural Revolution.[28][29] Among European cities, Córdoba under the Caliphate, with a population of perhaps 500,000, eventually overtook Constantinople as the largest and most prosperous city in Europe.[30] Within the Islamic world, Córdoba was one of the leading cultural centres. The work of its most important philosophers and scientists (notably Abulcasis and Averroes) had a major influence on the intellectual life of medieval Europe.

Muslims and non-Muslims often came from abroad to study at the famous libraries and universities of al-Andalus, mainly after the reconquest of Toledo in 1085 and the establishment of translation institutions such as the Toledo School of Translators. The most noted of those was Michael Scot (c. 1175 to c. 1235), who took the works of Ibn Rushd ("Averroes") and Ibn Sina ("Avicenna") to Italy. This transmission of ideas remains one of the greatest in history,[peacock prose] significantly affecting the formation of the European Renaissance.[31]

The Caliphate of Cordoba also had extensive trade with other parts of the Mediterranean, including Christian parts. Trade goods included luxury items (silk, ceramics, gold), essential foodstuffs (grain, olive oil, wine), and containers (such as ceramics for storing perishables). In the tenth century, Amalfitans were already trading Ifriqiyan and Byzantine silks in Umayyad Cordoba.[32] Later references to Amalfitan merchants were sometimes used to emphasize the previous golden age of Cordoba.[33] Fatimid Egypt was also a supplier of luxury goods, including elephant tusks, and raw or carved crystals. The Fatimids were traditionally thought to be the only supplier of such goods, but were also valuable connections to Ghana. Control over these trade routes was a cause of conflict between Umayyads and Fatimids.[32]

Taifas period

The taifas (green) in 1031 AD

The Caliphate of Córdoba effectively collapsed during a ruinous civil war between 1009 and 1013, although it was not finally abolished until 1031 when al-Andalus broke up into a number of mostly independent mini-states and principalities called taifas. In 1013, invading Berbers sacked Córdoba, massacring its inhabitants, pillaging the city, and burning the palace complex to the ground.[34] The largest of the taifas to emerge were Badajoz (Batalyaws), Toledo (Ṭulayṭulah), Zaragoza (Saraqusta), and Granada (Ġarnāṭah). After 1031, the taifas were generally too weak to defend themselves against repeated raids and demands for tribute from the Christian states to the north and west, which were known to the Muslims as "the Galician nations",[35] and which had spread from their initial strongholds in Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, the Basque country, and the Carolingian Marca Hispanica to become the Kingdoms of Navarre, León, Portugal, Castile and Aragon, and the County of Barcelona. Eventually raids turned into conquests, and in response the Taifa kings were forced to request help from the Almoravids, Muslim Berber rulers of the Maghreb. Their desperate maneuver would eventually fall to their disadvantage, however, as the Almoravids they had summoned from the south went on to conquer and annex all the Taifa kingdoms.

map of Taifa of Sevilla over three rulers
The Kingdom of Seville emerged as the most powerful of the taifas

During the eleventh century several centers of power existed among the taifas and the political situation shifted rapidly. Before the rise of the Almoravids from the south or the Christians from the north, the Abbadid-ruled Taifa of Seville succeeded in conquering a dozen lesser kingdoms, becoming the most powerful and renowned of the taifas, such that it could have laid claim to be the true heir to the Caliphate of Cordoba. The taifas were vulnerable and divided but had immense wealth.[36] During its prominence the Taifa of Seville produced technically complex lusterware and exerted significant influence on Andalusia-wide ceramic production.[37]

Almoravids, Almohads, and Marinids

Map showing the extent of the Almoravid empire
Expansion of the Almohad state in the 12th century

In 1086 the Almoravid ruler of Morocco, Yusuf ibn Tashfin, was invited by the Muslim princes in Iberia to defend them against Alfonso VI, King of Castile and León. In that year, Tashfin crossed the straits to Algeciras and inflicted a severe defeat on the Christians at the Battle of Sagrajas. By 1094, ibn Tashfin had removed all Muslim princes in Iberia and had annexed their states, except for the one at Zaragoza. He also regained Valencia from the Christians. The city-kingdom had been conquered and ruled by El Cid at the end of its second taifa period. The Almoravid dynasty made its capital in Marrakesh, from which it ruled its domains in al-Andalus.[38] Modern scholarship has sometimes admitted originality in North African architecture, but according to Yasser Tabbaa, historian of Islamic art and architecture, the Iberocentric viewpoint is anachronistic when considering the political and cultural environment during the rule of the Almoravid dynasty.[39] The rise and fall of the Almoravids is sometimes seen as an expression of Ibn Khaldun's asabiyyah paradigm.[40]

The Almoravids were succeeded by the Almohads, another Berber dynasty, after the victory of Abu Yusuf Ya'qub al-Mansur over the Castilian Alfonso VIII at the Battle of Alarcos in 1195. In 1212, a coalition of Christian kings under the leadership of the Castilian Alfonso VIII defeated the Almohads at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. The Almohads continued to rule Al-Andalus for another decade, though with much reduced power and prestige. The civil wars following the death of Abu Ya'qub Yusuf II rapidly led to the re-establishment of taifas. The taifas, newly independent but now weakened, were quickly conquered by Portugal, Castile, and Aragon. After the fall of Murcia (1243) and the Algarve (1249), only the Emirate of Granada remained as a Muslim state in Iberia, tributary of Castile until 1492. Most of its tribute was paid in gold that was carried to Iberia from present-day Mali and Burkina Faso through the merchant routes of the Sahara.

The last Muslim threat to the Christian kingdoms was the rise of the Marinids in Morocco during the 14th century. They took Granada into their sphere of influence and occupied some of its cities, like Algeciras. However, they were unable to take Tarifa, which held out until the arrival of the Castilian Army led by Alfonso XI. The Castilian king, with the help of Afonso IV of Portugal and Peter IV of Aragon, decisively defeated the Marinids at the Battle of Río Salado in 1340 and took Algeciras in 1344. Gibraltar, then under Granadian rule, was besieged in 1349–50. Alfonso XI and most of his army perished by the Black Death. His successor, Peter of Castile, made peace with the Muslims and turned his attention to Christian lands, starting a period of almost 150 years of rebellions and wars between the Christian states that secured the survival of Granada.

Emirate of Granada, its fall, and aftermath

A painting of Muhammad XII, last sultan of Granada. Date of this painting and its current location are unknown.
A silk textile fragment from the last Muslim dynasty of Al-Andalus, the Nasrid Dynasty (1232–1492), with the epigraphic inscription "glory to our lord the Sultan". [41] [42]

From the mid 13th to the late 15th century, the only remaining domain of al-Andalus was the Emirate of Granada, the last Muslim stronghold in the Iberian Peninsula. The emirate was established by Muhammad ibn al-Ahmar in 1230 and was ruled by the Nasrid dynasty, the longest reigning dynasty in the history of al-Andalus. Although surrounded by Castilian lands, the emirate was wealthy through being tightly integrated in Mediterranean trade networks and enjoyed a period of considerable cultural and economic prosperity.[43] However, for most of its existence Granada was a tributary state, with Nasrid emirs paying tribute to Castilian kings. Granada's status as a tributary state and its favorable geographic location, with the Sierra Nevada as a natural barrier, helped to prolong Nasrid rule and allowed the emirate to prosper as a regional entrepôt with the Maghreb and the rest of Africa. The city of Granada also served as a refuge for Muslims fleeing during the Reconquista, accepting numerous Muslims expelled from Christian controlled areas, doubling the size of the city[44] and even becoming one of the largest in Europe throughout the 15th century in terms of population.[45][46] The independent Nasrid kingdom was also a trade hub between the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and was frequented especially by Genoese merchants.[32]

Muhammad XII's family in the Alhambra moments after the fall of Granada, by Manuel Gómez-Moreno González, c. 1880

In 1469, the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile signaled the launch of the final assault on the emirate. The King and Queen convinced Pope Sixtus IV to declare their war a crusade. The Catholic Monarchs crushed one center of resistance after another until finally on January 2, 1492, after a long siege, the emirate's last sultan Muhammad XII surrendered the city and the fortress palace, the renowned Alhambra (see Fall of Granada).

By this time Muslims in Castile numbered half a million. After the fall, "100,000 had died or been enslaved, 200,000 emigrated, and 200,000 remained as the residual population. Many of the Muslim elite, including Muhammad XII, who had been given the area of the Alpujarras mountains as a principality, found life under Christian rule intolerable and passed over into North Africa."[47] Under the conditions of the Capitulations of 1492, the Muslims in Granada were to be allowed to continue to practice their religion.

Mass forced conversions of Muslims in 1499 led to a revolt that spread to Alpujarras and the mountains of Ronda; after this uprising the capitulations were revoked.[48] In 1502 the Catholic Monarchs decreed the forced conversion of all Muslims living under the rule of the Crown of Castile,[49] although in the kingdoms of Aragon and Valencia (both now part of Spain) the open practice of Islam was allowed until 1526.[50] Descendants of the Muslims were subject to expulsions from Spain between 1609 and 1614 (see Expulsion of the Moriscos).[51] The last mass prosecution against Moriscos for crypto-Islamic practices occurred in Granada in 1727, with most of those convicted receiving relatively light sentences. From then on, indigenous Islam is considered to have been extinguished in Spain.[52]


Clothing of al-Andalus in the 15th century, during the Emirate of Granada

The society of al-Andalus was made up of three main religious groups: Muslims, Christians, and Jews. The Muslims, although united on the religious level, had several ethnic divisions, the main being the distinction between the Arabs and the Berbers. The Arab elite regarded non-Arab Muslims as second-class citizens; and they were particularly scornful of the Berbers.[53]

The ethnic structure of al-Andalus consisted of Arabs at the top of the social scale followed by, in descending order, Berbers, Muladies, Mozarabes, and Jews.[54] Each of these communities inhabited distinct neighborhoods in the cities. In the 10th century a massive conversion of Christians took place, and muladies (Muslims of native Iberian origin), formed the majority of Muslims. The Muladies had spoken in a Romance dialect of Latin called Mozarabic while increasingly adopting the Arabic language, which eventually evolved into the Andalusi Arabic in which Muslims, Jews, and Christians became monolingual in the last surviving Muslim state in the Iberian Peninsula, the Emirate of Granada (1230–1492). Eventually, the Muladies, and later the Berber tribes, adopted an Arabic identity like the majority of subject people in Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia, and North Africa. Muladies, together with other Muslims, comprised eighty percent of the population of al-Andalus by 1100.[55][56] Mozarabs were Christians who had long lived under Muslim and Arab rule, adopting many Arab customs, art, and words, while still maintaining their Christian and Latin rituals and their own Romance languages.

The Jewish population worked mainly as tax collectors, in trade, or as doctors or ambassadors. At the end of the 15th century there were about 50,000 Jews in Granada and roughly 100,000 in the whole of Islamic Iberia.[57]

Non-Muslims under the Caliphate

A Christian and a Muslim playing chess in 13th-century al-Andalus

Non-Muslims were given the status of ahl al-dhimma (the people under protection), with adult men paying a "Jizya" tax, equal to one dinar per year with exemptions for the elderly and the disabled. Those who were neither Christians nor Jews, such as pagans, were given the status of Majus.[58] The treatment of non-Muslims in the Caliphate has been a subject of considerable debate among scholars and commentators, especially those interested in drawing parallels to the coexistence of Muslims and non-Muslims in the modern world.[59]

Image of a Jewish cantor reading the Passover story in al-Andalus, from a 14th-century Spanish Haggadah

Jews constituted more than five percent of the population.[60] Al-Andalus was a key centre of Jewish life during the early Middle Ages, producing important scholars and one of the most stable and wealthy Jewish communities.

The longest period of relative tolerance began after 912 with the reign of Abd-ar-Rahman III and his son, Al-Hakam II, when the Jews of al-Andalus prospered, devoting themselves to the service of the Caliphate of Córdoba, to the study of the sciences, and to commerce and industry, especially trading in silk and slaves, in this way promoting the prosperity of the country. Southern Iberia became an asylum for the oppressed Jews of other countries.[61][62]

Under the Almoravids and the Almohads there may have been intermittent persecution of Jews,[63] but sources are extremely scarce and do not give a clear picture, though the situation appears to have deteriorated after 1160.[64] Muslim pogroms against Jews in al-Andalus occurred in Córdoba (1011) and in Granada (1066).[65][66][67] However, massacres of dhimmis are rare in Islamic history.[68]

The Almohads, who had taken control of the Almoravids' Maghribi and Andalusi territories by 1147,[69] far surpassed the Almoravides in fundamentalist outlook, and they treated the non-Muslims harshly. Faced with the choice of either death or conversion, many Jews and Christians emigrated.[70][71] Some, such as the family of Maimonides, fled east to more tolerant Muslim lands.[70]


There were many scientific advances, especially in the fields of medicine, astronomy, and agronomy. Córdoba served as a major center for this scientific growth, with a vast amount of these advancements occurring during the rule of ‘Abd al-Rahman III from 929 to 961, in part due to the exposure of scientists to translations of older Greek and Persian works during that time.[72][73] Scholars often worked in many different and overlapping subjects, so it is difficult to place those discussed here into a single scientific field each.[74]


Notable surgeons, physicians, and medical scholars from al-Andalus include Ibn al-Baytar (d. 1248), Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (Albucasis; d. 1013), Muhammad al-Shafrah (d. 1360), Abu Marwan 'Abd al-Malik ibn Habib (d. 853), and Abu Marwan ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar; d. 1162).[75] Of particular note is al-Zahrawi, who is considered by many to be "probably the greatest physician in the entire history of Western Islam."[76] Around the year 1000 he wrote a book with a title that roughly translates to The Arrangement of Medical Knowledge for One Who is Not Able to Compile a Book for Himself (Kitab al-tasrif li-man 'ajiza 'an al-ta'alif)—a comprehensive medical encyclopedia with the goal of summarizing all existing medical knowledge and eliminating the need for students and practitioners to rely on multiple medical texts.[76] The book is renowned for its chapter on surgery which included important illustrations of surgical instruments, as well as sections "on cauterization, on incisions, venesection and wounds, and on bone-setting."[77] For hundreds of years after its publication it was one of the most widely used medical texts for students and medical practitioners and was translated into Hebrew, Latin, and Castilian.[74][78] This encyclopedia is also significant for its inclusion of al-Zahrawi's personal experiences as a surgeon, which provided important case studies for aspiring surgeons. This distinguishes it from other strictly factual medical works of the time, most notably Ibn Sina's Canon of Medicine.[78]

Other important medical texts include al-Baytar's Comprehensive Book on Simple Drugs and Foodstuffs—an encyclopedia with descriptions of the medical uses of over 1400 plants and other types of medicine—and ibn Habib's Book of the Medicine of the Arabs (Kitab tibb al-'arab)—a historical summary of Arabic medicine until the 9th century.[79] Ibn Habib's work is significant because it is one of the oldest known writings in the field of prophetic medicine, which uses hadiths to create Islamic-based medicinal guidelines. His book is also significant because it uses principles of Galenic medicine, such as humorism and the theory of four temperaments, as the basis of its medical recommendations.[80]

The ibn Zuhr family played a very important role in the production of Andalusian medical knowledge, as they produced five generations of medical experts, particularly in the fields of dietary sciences and medicaments.[81] Abu Marwan ibn Zuhr (d. 1162) is particularly notable, as he wrote the Book of Moderation (Kitab al-Iqtisad)—a treatise on general therapy; the Book of Foods (Kitab al-Aghdhiya)—a manual on foods and regimen which contains guidelines for a healthy life; and the Kitab al-Taysir—a book written to act as a compendium to Ibn Rushd's Colliget. In Kitab al-Taysir he provides some of the earliest recorded evidence of the Scabies mite, which contributed to the scientific advancement of microbiology.


Three of the most notable Andalusian astronomers were Ibn Tufail (d. 1185), Ibn Rushd (Averroes; d. 1198), and Nur ad-Din al-Bitruji (Alpetragius; d. 1204). All lived around the same time and focused their astronomical works on critiquing and revising Ptolemaic astronomy and the problem of the equant in his astronomical model.[82] Instead, they accepted Aristotle's model and promoted the theory of homocentric spheres.[83]

Al-Bitruji is believed to have studied under Ibn Tufail and Bitruji's Book on Cosmology (Kitab fi al-hay'a) built on Ibn Tufail's work, as well as that of Ibn Rushd, Ibn Bajja, and Maimonides. The book's goal was "to overcome the physical difficulties inherent in the geometrical models of Ptolemy's Almagest and to describe the cosmos in agreement with Aristotelian or Neoplatonic physics," which it succeeded in doing to an extent.[84] Bitruji's book set a precedent of criticizing the Almagest in future works in the field of astronomy.[82]

Although Ibn Rushd originally trained and practiced as a jurist, he was exposed to astronomy—possibly through Ibn Tufail—and became a renowned scientist in the field.[85] His most popular work was his Summary of the Almagest, but he also published shorter works discussing Aristotle's planetary theories.[86] Ibn Rushd published writings on philosophy, theology, and medicine throughout his life too, including commentaries on the works of Ibn Sina.[74][87]

In addition to writing the important Book of the Medicine of the Arabs, Ibn Habib also wrote the Book on Stars (Kirab fi l-nujim). This book included important "teachings on the lunar mansions, the signs of the zodiac, [and] the division of the seasons."[88] In these teachings, Ibn-Habib calculated the phases of the moon and dates of the annual solstices and equinoxes with relative accuracy.[89]

Another important astronomer from al-Andalus was Maslama al-Majriti (d. 1007), who played a role in translating and writing about Ptolemy's Planisphaerium and Almagest. He built on the work of older astronomers, like Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, whose astronomical tables he wrote a discussion on and subsequently improved.

Abu Ishaq Ibrahim al-Zarqali (d. 1087) had many influential astronomical successes, as shown by Copernicus's recognition of him in his On The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres five centuries later. Along with other astronomers, he undertook extensive work to edit the Toledan Zij astronomical tables. He also accurately calculated the motion of the solar apogee to be 12.04 seconds per year, which is relatively close to today's calculation of 11.8 seconds per year.[74]


Other important scientific advances in al-Andalus occurred in the field of agronomy. These advances were in part facilitated by technological innovations in irrigation systems. State organized, large-scale irrigation projects provided water to city baths, mosques, gardens, residential homes, and governing palaces, such as the al-Hambra and its gardens in Granada. Collective, peasant-built irrigation infrastructure also played an important role, especially in agriculture. Many of these irrigation techniques, especially those utilized by peasants, were brought to al-Andalus by migrating Berber and Arab tribes. Although some irrigation projects built on existing Roman infrastructure, most of al-Andalus's irrigation systems were new projects built separate from old Roman aqueducts. However, there is some debate about this among scholars.[90]

One notable agriculturalist was Ibn al-'Awwam, who wrote the Book of Agriculture. This book contains 34 chapters about various aspects of agriculture and animal husbandry, including discussions of over 580 different types of plants and how to treat plant diseases.[74]

Other agronomic innovations in al-Andalus include the cultivation of the pomegranate from Syria, which has since become the namesake and ubiquitous symbol of the city of Granada, as well as the first attempt to create a botanical garden near Córdoba by ‘Abd al-Rahman I.[91]


Many ethnicities and religions coexisted in al-Andalus, each contributing to its intellectual prosperity. Literacy in Islamic Iberia was far more widespread than in many other nations in the West at the time.[92] Thus, it also had an important literary activity; one specialist of Al-Andalus' intellectual history, Maria Luisa Avila, says that "biographical dictionaries have recorded information about thousands of distinguished people in every period from al-Andalus, who were cultivators of knowledge, particularly in the legal-religious sciences as well as authors", and that "the exact number of scholars which appears in the biographical sources has not been established yet, but it surely exceeds six thousand."[93] It has been estimated that in the 10th century between 70,000 and 80,000 manuscripts were copied on a yearly basis in Cordoba alone.[94]

In the 11th century the Hindu–Arabic numeral system (base 10) reached Europe, via Al-Andalus through Spanish Muslims together with knowledge of astronomy and instruments like the astrolabe, first imported by Gerbert of Aurillac. For this reason, the numerals came to be known in Europe as Arabic numerals.

From the earliest days, the Umayyads wanted to be seen as intellectual rivals to the Abbasids, and for Córdoba to have libraries and educational institutions to rival Baghdad's. Although there was a clear rivalry between the two powers, there was freedom to travel between the two caliphates,[citation needed] which helped spread new ideas and innovations over time.

Art and architecture

The Alhambra, constructed by order of the first Nasrid emir Ibn al-Ahmar in the 13th century
Muhammad I of Granada (red shield), depicted in an illustration taken from the Cantigas de Santa María

The Alhambra palace and fortress as well as the Generalife in Granada reflect the culture and art of the last centuries of Moorish rule of Al-Andalus.[95] The complex was completed at this stage towards the end of the rule by Yusuf I (1333–1353) and Muhammed V, Sultan of Granada (1353–1391). Artists and intellectuals took refuge at Alhambra after the Reconquista began to roll back Muslim territory. The site integrates natural qualities with constructed structures and gardens, and is a testament to Moorish culture in Al-Andalus and to the skills of the Muslim artisans, craftsmen, and builders of their era.

The decoration within the palace comes from the last great period of Al-Andalus art in Granada, with little of the Byzantine influence of contemporary Abbasid architecture.[95] Artists endlessly reproduced the same forms and trends, creating a new style that developed over the course of the Nasrid Dynasty using elements created and developed during the centuries of Muslim rule on the Peninsula, including the Caliphate horseshoe arch, the Almohad sebka (a grid of rhombuses), the Almoravid palm, and unique combinations of these, as well as innovations such as stilted arches and muqarnas (stalactite ceiling decorations). Columns and muqarnas appear in several chambers, and the interiors of numerous palaces are decorated with arabesques and calligraphy. The arabesques of the interior are ascribed to, among other sultans, Yusuf I, Muhammed V, and Ismail I, Sultan of Granada.

A section of the hypostyle hall in the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba

In Cordoba, the Umayyads sponsored the construction of the Great Mosque of Cordoba (now a Catholic church); its key features included an arcaded hypostyle hall with 856 columns, a horseshoe-arch mihrab facing Mecca, a vaulted dome, the Court of Oranges (containing fountains and imported citrus trees) and a minaret (later converted into a bell-tower).[96] The Umayyads reconstructed the Roman-era bridge over the Guadalquivir River in Cordoba, while the Almohads later added the Calahorra Tower to the bridge.

In Seville, Moorish rulers built the main section of the Giralda (later expanded as a bell-tower for the Seville Cathedral) as a massive minaret (resembling that of the Koutoubia Mosque in Morocco) for the Great Mosque of Seville, which also contained a Patio de los Naranjos (Court of Oranges). The Royal Alcazar of Seville, built by the Christian king Peter of Castile, displays prominent features of Mudejar and Moorish architecture, including decorative calligraphy and garden orchards with irrigation channels, jets, pools and fountains.

The rib-vaulted dome of the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba

Moorish architecture continued to have an influence on Western European architecture in the Medieval Ages. Additionally, one of the features of both Gothic and Islamic architecture, the pointed arch (adapted by Islamic architects from earlier Byzantine and Sassanid models), was increasingly utilized in the Islamic West and perhaps transmitted to Western Europe via Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula.[97]

Food and agriculture

The cultivation of sugarcane had reached the south of the Iberian Peninsula by the 16th century CE due to Arab conquest and administration of the region.
Diffusion of bananas from India to the Iberian peninsula during Islamic rule.

A variety of foodstuffs, spices and crops were introduced to Spain and Sicily during Arab rule, via the commercial networks of the Islamic world. These include sugarcane,[98] rice,[99] cotton, alfalfa, oranges,[100] lemons,[101] apricots,[102] spinach,[103] eggplants,[104] carrots[105], saffron[106] and bananas.[107] The Arabs also continued extensive cultivation and production of olive oil (the Spanish words for 'oil' and 'olive' -- aceite and aceituna, respectively—are derived from the Arabic al-zait, meaning 'olive juice'),[108] and pomegranates (the heraldic symbol of Granada) from classical Greco-Roman times.

Arabic influence still lingers on in Spanish cuisine through these fruits, vegetables, spices and cooking and agricultural techniques.[109][98] One of the largest palm groves in the world, called the Palmeral of Elche, was established by the Arabs between the 7th-10th centuries to facilitate fruit (including pomegranate and date crops) and vegetable growth underneath the cool shade of palm trees and irrigation channels, and is cited by UNESCO as an example of the transfer of agricultural practices from one continent (North Africa) to another (Iberian Peninsula of Europe).[110]

The period of Arab rule also involved the extension of Roman irrigation channels as well as the introduction of novel irrigation techniques from the Persianate world, such as the acequia (deriving from the classical Arabic as-sāqiya) – subterranean channels used to transport water from highland aquifers to lowland fields in arid environments –first originating in either the Arabian Peninsula or the Persian Empire (referred to as qanat or karez in the Middle East). These structures are still found in Andalusia province, particularly in Granada.[111]


The historian Said al-Andalusi wrote that Caliph Abd-ar-Rahman III had collected libraries of books and granted patronage to scholars of medicine and "ancient sciences". Later, al-Mustansir (Al-Hakam II) went yet further, building a university and libraries in Córdoba. Córdoba became one of the world's leading centres of medicine and philosophical debate.

Averroes, founder of the Averroism school of philosophy, was influential in the rise of secular thought in Western Europe. Detail from Triunfo de Santo Tomás by Andrea Bonaiuto, 14th century

When Al-Hakam's son Hisham II took over, 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 of 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. With Al-Mansur's death in 1002, interest in philosophy revived. Numerous scholars emerged, including Abu Uthman Ibn Fathun, whose masterwork was the philosophical treatise "Tree of Wisdom". Maslamah Ibn Ahmad al-Majriti (died 1008) was an outstanding scholar in astronomy and astrology; he was an intrepid traveller who journeyed all over the Islamic world and beyond and kept in touch with the Brethren of Purity. He is said to have brought the 51 "Epistles of the Brethren of Purity" to al-Andalus and added the compendium to this work, although it is quite possible that it was added later by another scholar with the name al-Majriti. Another book attributed to al-Majriti is the Ghayat al-Hakim, "The Aim of the Sage", which explored a synthesis of Platonism with Hermetic philosophy. Its use of incantations led the book to be widely dismissed in later years, although the Sufi communities continued to study it.

A prominent follower of al-Majriti was the philosopher and geometer Abu al-Hakam al-Kirmani who was followed, in turn, by Abu Bakr Ibn al-Sayigh, usually known in the Arab world as Ibn Bajjah, "Avempace".

The al-Andalus philosopher Averroes (1126–1198) was the founder of the Averroism school of philosophy, and his works and commentaries influenced medieval thought in Western Europe[citation needed]. Another influential al-Andalus philosopher was Ibn Tufail.

Jewish Street Sign in Toledo, Spain

As Jewish thought in Babylonia declined, the tolerance of al-Andalus made it the new centre of Jewish intellectual endeavours. Poets and commentators like Judah Halevi (1086–1145) and Dunash ben Labrat (920–990) contributed to the cultural life of al-Andalus, but the area was even more important to the development of Jewish philosophy. A stream of Jewish philosophers, cross-fertilizing with Muslim philosophers (see joint Jewish and Islamic philosophies), culminated with the widely celebrated Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages, Maimonides (1135–1205), though he did not actually do any of his work in al-Andalus, his family having fled persecution by the Almohads when he was 13.

The Encyclopedia of Homosexuality states that "Al-Andalus had many links to Hellenistic culture, and except for the Almoravid and Almohadic periods (1086–1212), it was hedonistic and tolerant of homosexuality, indeed one of the times in world history in which sensuality of all sorts has been most openly enjoyed. Important rulers such as Abd al-Rahman III, al-Hakam II, Hisham II, and al-Mu-tamid openly chose boys as sexual partners, and kept catamites. Homosexual prostitution was widespread, and its customers came from higher levels of society than those of heterosexual prostitutes." The poetry of writers such as Abu Nuwas and anthologies of poetry such as the Rāyāt al-mubarrizīn wa-ghāyāt al-mumayyazīn are known in part for their homoerotic and "abundant pederastic poetry". Such themes were also found in the Sephardic Jewish poetry of the time.[112]

In the book Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia Daniel Eisenberg describes homosexuality as "a key symbolic issue throughout the Middle Ages in Iberia", stating that "in al-Andalus homosexual pleasures were much indulged in by the intellectual and political elite. Evidence includes the behaviour of rulers, such as Abd al-Rahmn III, Al-Hakam II, Hisham II, and Al Mu'tamid, who openly kept male harems; the memoirs of Abdallah ibn Buluggin, last Zirid king of Granada, makes references to male prostitutes, who charged higher fees and had a higher class of clientele than did their female counter-parts: the repeated criticisms of Christians; and especially the abundant poetry. Both pederasty and love between adult males are found. Although homosexual practices were never officially condoned, prohibitions against them were rarely enforced, and usually there was not even a pretense of doing so." Male homosexual relations allowed nonprocreative sexual practices and were not seen as a form of identity. Very little is known about the homosexual behaviour of women.[113]

See also