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Andalusia

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Andalusia

    Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain, was for several centuries the jewel of the Muslim empire in the west. A center of commerce, art, and learning, medieval Andalusia supported a thriving and diverse community and became a symbol of the most renowned aspects of Muslim culture. Muslims still consider the loss of Andalusia—to Christian armies between the 1200s and 1400s—to be a deep historical injustice.

    Golden Age of Islam.

    Present-day Andalusia comprises the provinces of Huelva, Cádiz, Seville, Málaga, Córdoba, Jaén, Granada, and Almería, a total area of more than 30,000 square miles. The region is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and Portugal. Muslims once referred to the entire Iberian Peninsula as al-Andalus, which probably means “country of the Vandals.” Christians later used the term al-Andalus (or Andalucía in Spanish) to identify only those parts of the region that were still under Muslim control.

    In ancient times, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Greeks established colonies in Andalusia. It became part of the Roman Empire in 206 B.C.E. , and Roman rule lasted until the Vandals and the Visigoths invaded in the 400s C.E..

    In 711 Muslim armies under Tariq ibn Ziyad entered Andalusia by crossing the Strait of Gibraltar from Tangier (in present-day Morocco). Quickly defeating the Visigoths, the Muslims conquered the Iberian Peninsula, spreading Islam and the Arabic language. In 929 Abd al-Rahman III took the title of caliph, with the city of Córdoba as his capital. Other important cities included Granada and Seville. Under the reign of Abd al-Rahman, Córdoba became a great urban center. Described as “the ornament of the world,” the city boasted 1,600 mosques, 900 public baths, lighted streets, beautiful villas, and numerous libraries. Abd al-Rahman's library alone contained some 400,000 volumes. Andalusia attracted the leading scientists and scholars of the day. They made significant contributions to the fields of chemistry, medicine and surgery, mathematics, and philosophy.

    This thriving region supported a diverse population made up of Arab and Berber Muslims, Spanish Christians, and Jews. Islam became the dominant faith, but Christians and Jews who accepted Muslim rule were allowed to practice their own religions.

    While commerce and the arts flourished in Andalusia, military strength also increased. Abu Amir al-Mansur , who served as chief minister under the caliph Hisham II in the late 900s, conducted more than 50 raids against Christian targets in northern Spain. His army consisted largely of hired soldiers from Berber tribes in North Africa. One of al-Mansur's most daring exploits was the sacking of the Christian shrine of Santiago de Compostela, an important pilgrimage site. He destroyed the church there and took the church bells back to Córdoba, where he ordered that they be placed in the Great Mosque. Al-Mansur died in 1002 , while returning to Córdoba from a battle in La Rioja.

    Reconquest.

    By the early 1000s, political conflicts between the Arabs and the Berbers had eroded the unity of Andalusia, and the region was divided into smaller kingdoms, or taifas. Because these kingdoms were often at war with one another, Andalusia became vulnerable to Christian armies and other foes. Hired soldiers from Catalan attacked Córdoba in 1010 . Three years later, Berber soldiers killed many of city's scholars and destroyed many homes. In 1064 Christian forces slaughtered thousands of Muslims in Barbastro after the two groups had signed a peace treaty. Alfonso VI , king of Castile-León, captured Toledo in 1085 . Alarmed by the fall of Toledo, the rulers of the other taifas sought help from the Almoravids of Morocco, a group of zealous Berbers. The Almoravids defeated Alfonso's army in 1086 and reunited Islamic Spain.

    Almoravid rule lasted until 1147 , when the Almohads from Morocco toppled the empire. Neither the Almoravids nor the Almohads were able to hold off the advancing Christian armies, however. In 1212 Alfonso VIII defeated the Almohads at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa.

    After this defeat, the remaining Muslim states in Andalusia were too weak to mount an effective resistance. Within less than 50 years, Christian rulers successfully reconquered most of Spain. In 1236 Córdoba fell to King Ferdinand III of Castile-León, who ordered the city's Great Mosque to be set aside for Christian worship. It was renamed the Cathedral de Santa Maria. Victories at Murcia, Jaén, and Seville soon followed. By 1251 Ferdinand III controlled all of Andalusia except for the Muslim kingdom of Granada, which finally fell to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella's forces in 1492 . With the Reconquest complete, all of Andalusia became part of the Christian kingdom of Castile.

    The new rulers gave the Muslims who remained in Andalusia a choice—convert to Christianity or be expelled. By 1614 the last of about three million Spanish Muslims had been forced out of the country. These exiles went on to spread Andalusian culture through much of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Many displaced Muslims settled in North Africa, with Morocco in particular attracting large numbers. To this day, some Moroccans keep the keys to homes in Andalusia that their ancestors lost. For many Muslims, the Reconquest became a symbol of Christian persecution that is as painful today as it was 500 years ago.

    Modern Andalusia still shows traces of its distinguished Islamic heritage. Many words in the Andalusian dialect are Arabic, and the names of geographic features often begin with the prefix al, Arabic for “the,” or guad, Arabic for “river.” Buildings in Andalusia reflect the style of Muslim architecture that dominated the region in the Middle Ages. The Alhambra, a fortress and palace built in Granada in 1238 and later enlarged by successive Muslim rulers, remains one of the area's greatest tourist attractions and is possibly the best-known example of Islamic architecture in Europe. Many Andalusians consider themselves culturally distinct from the majority population in Spain, and the Andalusian Muslim League has revived pride in the region's Islamic history. See also Architecture; Art; Libraries; Literature.

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