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5 Important Facts You Should Know About Al-Andalus

posted on: Jul 5, 2021

By Contributing Arab America Author/ Christian Jimenez

Al-Andalus has become a famous part of Islamic History. Many historians and Islamic scholars in this field have explored the subject in political, economic, and cultural detail.  This article will highlight some of the most important facts to take away when learning about Islamic Spain.

The Conquest and the Caliphate

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1.The first interesting fact that I would like to talk about regards the fact that Al-Andalus was part of the Iberian conquest by the Umayyad Caliphate. This Umayyad campaign in Spain occurred in the 8th century, not long after the conquest of North Africa.  Meanwhile, the Iberian Peninsula was ruled by the Germanic Visigothic Kingdom, who governed the area since the fall of Rome. 

These two armies met when the Umayyads, made up of Arabs and Amazigh and led by Tariq Ibn-Ziyad, landed in Spain on April 30, 711 C.E. They were able to defeat the Visigothic King, Roderic, in the battle of Guadalete on July 19,711 C.E. The Visigothic kingdom had been weakened and split by a civil war that took place just before the invasion. Thus, the conquest was an easy victory.

Today Tariq is still remembered through the name of the coast Gibraltar, which means “The Mountain of Tariq” in Arabic. However, the Abbasids soon took control of the caliphate around 750 C.E. This led to a member of the Umayyads, Abd al-Rahman I, to flee to Al-Andalus for refuge. He was then able to form his own emirate, the Emirate of Cordoba.  The Umayyads would then proclaim themselves a caliphate under the rule of Abd al-Rahman III in the 10th century.  The Umayyads then ruled a unified Islamic Iberia until the breakup of the caliphate into numerous Taifa states around 1030 C.E.  

Andalusian Science

Andalusian Astrolabe by bon

2. The Caliphate of Cordoba was one of the most prosperous nations in Europe and in the wider Islamic World. Firstly, the caliphate had many medical scientists. One of them was Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi, who wrote a medical encyclopedia on medicine around the year 1000 C.E.  This encyclopedia would help many surgeons as they no longer needed to gather multiple books to learn comprehensive medical information. Hence, Al-Zahrawi soon became known as “the father of modern surgery”. 

In addition, there were also interests in botany and pharmaceuticals thanks to Muslim scholars such as Al-Ghafiqi. Al-Ghafiqi gathered and described many plants in detail in three languages. Moreover, Ibn Al-Baytar, a pharmacist,  wrote a book on 1,400 medical drugs.  There was also the investment in astronomy and mathematics, which is seen by the spread of Arabic numerals and the astrolabe, a navigation tool, being transferred from the Islamic World to Europe via Iberia.

A Tolerant Society in Al-Andalus

Christian and Muslim of Spain playing lutes
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3.In addition to science, the nation of Al-Andalus was a rather tolerant society.  In the lands of Al-Andalus under the Umayyads, the country’s non-Muslim subjects were treated well.  These religious minorities included Christians and Jews, who made up around five percent of the population at that time.  Both of these groups were able to have their own courts and culture due to their status as people of the book. Nevertheless, as they lived under the rule of Muslims, they had to pay the jizya tax

However, the Jews living here, known as Sephardic Jews, were able to explore philosophy and science and create new legal codes for themselves.  They also played an influential economic role as well serving as merchants between the Muslim and Christian worlds.  In addition, they would also be sponsored as poets, advisors, and other positions by the kings of the Taifas after the fall of the caliphate. The Jews of Al-Andalus were faring much better than their European counterparts living under the Almohads and Spanish. Thus, the Jews were equal beneficiaries of a Golden Age of culture in Al-Andalus.  This time when Al-Andalus enjoyed co-existence and cross-cultural sharing among the three monotheistic religions is known as the convivencia.  

The Influence of Arabic on Iberian Romance

Image of language distribution of Iberia 1000-2000 C.E.
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4.With the conquest of Al-Andalus by the Umayyads came the spread of the Arabic language, which influenced the Romance languages developing in these parts of Spain under Islamic control.  This Arabic/Romance dialect became known as Mozarabic. It was used by Christian inhabitants of Al-Andalus while other members of Al-Andalus spoke an Andalusian version of Arabic. 

However, with the Reconquista, many people started to use Castilian rather than Arabic or Mozarabic. Thus, the pair of new languages disappeared.  Nevertheless, Spanish and Portuguese still contain Arabic loanwords after Spain and Portgual conquered the lands from the Muslims. And, Mozarabic speakers headed north due to the Almoravids and Almohads.  Some of these words include ojala and inshallah meaning hopefully or God willing, and Alceite and Az-Zeit meaning olive oil.  Today many Spanish words beginning with the prefix “al ” most likely hints to an Arabic origin.

Al-Andalus Cultural Legacy

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5.Al-Andalus has left a rich cultural legacy in Spain, marked by the famous palace of Alhambra, which first built as a military zone in the 9th century on the remains of Roman ruins. However, a palace would be built soon after by the Nasrid Kingdom of Grenada in the mid 13th century.  The construction of the other palaces of Alhambra, called the Casa Real Vieja, was later commissioned by sultans Yusef I and Muhammed V in the 14th century, who converted Alhambra into the royal palace.  There was also the construction by the Umayyads of the Grand Mosque of Cordoba, which included an impressive 856 columns.  Other forms of architecture would include arches and other Arabesque designs of art such as calligraphy.  Thus, giving Spain a rich architectural legacy.  


Thanks to Islamic Al-Andalus, Iberia was the beacon of light in what was the Dark Ages for Europe. The country was invested in science as well as a very tolerant society for its time.  It also laid the foundations for the Spanish, Portuguese, and the rest of Europe. The Spanish and Portuguese kingdoms translated many Arabic books and literary works into contemporary European languages.  In addition to this, Al-Andalus laid the foundations of Spain in Portugal when in language, science, and architecture. Today, the legacies of Al-Andalus have not been forgotten by Iberia and the world.  

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