The Legends of the Caliphate: Al-Andalus

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  • 16-03-2017

Over the years, the Iberian Peninsula has been home of a very rich cultural mix. One of the most important influences in this area was and will be the Muslim culture. Al-Andalus is the name given to the territory formed by the Iberian Peninsula and the South-west zone of France (Septimania) during the period when Muslim were dominating these regions in the Middle Ages (711-1492).

The Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula began on April 27, 711, with the landing in Gibraltar, and divided the area in a Muslim state (Al-Andalus) and northern Christian counties and kingdoms. After few months, the Visigoths were defeated at the Battle of Guadalete.

Abd al-Rahman I reached Cordoba in 756, and in 763 he created the Emirate of Cordoba, becoming politically and administratively independent from the Caliphate of Damascus. Abd al-Rahman II delegated power to the viziers. The process of "islamization" was fast and the number of Mozarabs (Hispano-Visigothic Christians present in Muslim territory) declined quantitatively due to the conversion of many of them to Islam. Abd al-Rahman III proclaimed himself as a caliph in 929, established the Caliphate of Cordoba, and declared it religiously independent from the Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad.

After the conquest of Melilla (927), the Umayyads of Cordoba were controlling the triangle formed by Algeria, Siyilmasa and the Atlantic Ocean. But this stage of great splendor ended in 1010 with fitna or civil war caused for the succession to the throne, divided between the supporters of the last legitimate caliph Hisham II, and the successors of his prime minister or Hayib Almanzor. The consequence was the fragmentation of the Umayyad state in a multitude of kingdoms known as Taifa Kingdoms, and the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba was succeeded by the Caliphate Hammudi of Malaga.

After the conquest of Toledo in 1085 by Alfonso VI, the taifa kings decided to request some help to the Almoravid sultan of North Africa, Yusuf ibn Tasufin, who won the battle of Zalaca (1086) and progressively conquered all Taifas. However, after the loss of Zaragoza in 1118, some rebellions took place (Cordoba, 1121), and Almoravid authority began to decline in North Africa due to Almohad pressure. In 1144 the Sufi Ibn Quasi led an anti-Almoravid movement by which the Second kingdoms of Taifas began to emerge. Their empire extended from Santarém (center of Portugal) until Tripoli (Libya) and they managed to stop the Christian advance defeating the Castilian troops in 1195 in the battle of Alarcos.

But after the Christian victory at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), the death of the caliph al-Nasir and the successive fights that took place, the caliphate sank into political chaos and the Third kingdoms of Taifas were created.

In the middle of the thirteenth century, Al-Andalus was reduced to the Nasrid kingdom of Granada. In 1238 Muhammed I ibn Nasr, known as Al-Ahmar "the Red", entered Granada. The creator of the Nazarite dynasty and founder of the Kingdom of Granada, had to become a tributary of the Castilian kings in order to maintain their independence.

The Nasrid dynasty of Granada was divided, in its last decades, by an internal civil war that faced Al-Zagal, Muley Hacen (brother of Al-Zagal), and his son Boabdil.

The last king of the Nasrid dynasty, Boabdil, was defeated in 1492 by the Catholic Kings, ending with the Reconquest, annexing the Kingdom of Granada to the Crown of Castile.

With the arrival of the Muslim people to the Peninsula, important changes took place for that time, fomenting the commerce and the markets (of metals and crafts materials); developing agriculture, with new horticultural practices such as irrigation techniques; as well as in the development of cities, handicrafts, sciences and art, mainly in architecture (examples of this are the mosque of Cordoba and the Alhambra in Granada). 

Cities that stand out in Muslim art are: 

  • Malaga hosts a large number of places to visit such as the Alcazaba (Muslim palace fortification), the Cathedral, Castillo de Gibralfaro, Mirador de Gibralfaro, and the Malagueta (bullring), among others.
  • Ronda, a city set on a mountain range, has historic sites such as El Puente Nuevo, Bullring, and Arab baths and walls.
  • Seville, the capital of Andalusia and its biggest city in terms of population, also contains one of the biggest old districts in Europe with some monuments selected as Unesco's World Heritage. Some of the recommended visits are: La Giralda (bell tower of the Cathedral), Real Alcazar (the oldest active royal palace in Europe), Torre del Oro, the Cathedral and the Plaza de España.
  • Granada, has one of the most amazing heritages of the Nazari dynasty, The Alhambra. Other places to visit are: El Generalife Gardens, the Charles V Palace, Sacromonte, Albaicín, the Cathedral and the Mirador de San Nicolás.
  • The city of Cordoba, the most important city of Al-Ándalus culturally and economically, surpassed 100,000 inhabitants in the 10th century, and became the largest city in Western Europe. It has the famous Mosque-Cathedral, the Castle of Christian Monarchs, the Roman Bridge, the Synagogue, and at 8 km. from the city the area of ​​Medina Al-Zahara.
  • Toledo, capital of Castile, is one of the cities with the highest concentration of monuments to visit: the Alcazar, the Cathedral, the Old Synagogue, Zocodover Square and the Santa María Synagogue.