For a significant part of the Middle Ages the Iberian Peninsula (modern day Spain and Portugal) was ruled by the Islamic Empire. Muslims first arrived in 711 AD and ruled portions of the region until 1492. They had a significant impact on the culture and lives of the people in the region and brought many advancements to Europe.
Muslims referred to the Islamic land of Spain as "Al-Andalus." At its peak, Al-Andalus encompassed almost all of the Iberian Peninsula. The border between Al-Andalus and the Christian regions to the north was constantly changing.
Muslims First Arrive
Muslims arrived in Spain during the conquests of the Umayyad Caliphate. The Umayyads had conquered much of northern Africa and crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco to Spain in 711 AD. They found little resistance. By 714, the Islamic army had taken control of the majority of the Iberian Peninsula.
Battle of Tours
After conquering the Iberian Peninsula, the Muslims turned their attention to the rest of Europe. They began to advance into France until they were met near the city of Tours by the Frankish army. The Franks, under the leadership of Charles Martel, defeated the Islamic army and forced them back south. From this point forward, Islamic control was mostly limited to the Iberian Peninsula south of the Pyrenees Mountains.
In 750, the Umayyad Caliphate was taken over by the Abbasid Caliphate in the Middle East. However, one Umayyad leader escaped and he set up a new kingdom in Cordoba, Spain. Much of Spain at the time had come under the control of various bands of Muslims. Over time, the Umayyads united these bands under one rule. By 926, the Umayyads had regained control of Al-Andalus and named themselves the Caliphate of Cordoba.
Mosque of Cordoba by Wolfgang Lettko
Culture and Advancements
Under the leadership of the Umayyads, the region flourished. The city of Cordoba became one of the greatest cities in Europe. Unlike the dark and dirty cities of most of Europe, Cordoba had wide paved streets, hospitals, running water, and public bath houses. Scholars from around the Mediterranean traveled to Cordoba to visit the library and to study subjects such as medicine, astronomy, mathematics, and art.
Who were the Moors?
The term "Moors" is often used to refer to the Muslims from North Africa who conquered the Iberian Peninsula. The term didn't just include people of Arab descent, but anyone who lived in the region who was a Muslim. This included the Berbers from Africa and local people who converted to Islam.
Throughout the 700 years that the Islamic Empire held the Iberian Peninsula, Christian kingdoms to the north attempted to take back control. This long lasting war was called the "Reconquista." It finally ended in 1492, when the united forces of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile defeated the last of the Islamic forces at Granada.
Interesting Facts about Islamic Spain the Early Islamic Empire
Non-Muslims, such as Jewish people and Christians, lived peacefully with the Muslims in Al-Andalus, but were required to pay an extra tax called the "jizya."
The Great Mosque of Cordoba was turned into a Catholic church in 1236 when the Christians took the city.
Prior to the Islamic invasion, the Visigoth kingdom ruled over the Iberian Peninsula.
The Caliphate of Cordoba fell from power in the early 1000s. After this, the region was ruled by small Muslim kingdoms called "taifas."
Seville became a major center of power during the latter part of the Islamic rule. One of Seville's famous landmarks, a tower called the Giralda, was completed in 1198.
Two powerful Islamic groups from north Africa, the Almoravids and the Almohads, took control of much of the region during the 11th and 12th centuries.