The Moors in Andalucia - 8th to 15th Centuries
The Moors ruled parts of Andalucia from the early 8th until the late 15th centuries – 800 years of history. Their legacy, especially in terms of what we can see today, was considerable, with two of the region’s most important and most-visited monuments – the Alhambra and the Mezquita – dating from Moorish times. Both are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
These tribes from North Africa left an outstanding cultural legacy behind them in Al-Andalús, or Andalucía as it is today. This complex mix was inextricably woven into that of the myriad civilisations (see Prehistory and the Romans) which had previously invaded and settled here.
The influence of the Moors’ culture reached out far beyond Spanish borders, with the mighty cities of Sevilla, Córdoba, Granada and Cádiz being recognised throughout Europe and North Africa as centres of great learning, renowned for magnificent art and architecture, and homes to eminent scientists and philosophers. In the countyside, they also left behind sophisticated irrigation systems, testament to their skilled agriculture, and many pueblos blancos – white-painted hillside villages.
Following the Invasion of Iberia by Tariq in 711 the Umayyads arrived from Damascus and settled in Córdoba where they established their capital in exile. Towards the end of the 11th century the Almoravids followed by the Almohads a Berber Muslim dynasty came over from northern Africa. Following the losses at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, at the beginning of the 13th century the Nasrids (who claimed to of middle eastern origin) began their 250-year reign of the Emirate of Granada (today's Granada and Malaga provinces) as a vassel state. When the Emerite of Granada was finally conquered by the Christians in 1492 the last Nasrid ruler, Boabdil, was exiled to the Alpujarras but after a year departed for Fez (in today's Morocco.
As the distance between the cities was so vast, numerous towns and villages were built along the well-trodden routes connecting one to another. They acted not only as staging posts, but were also settled by generations of caliphs and emirs, their families and entourages, who built the alcazabas (citadels), fortalezas (fortresses) and castillos (castles) that can still be seen today. Some have fallen into ruin, others have been restored to a lesser or greater degree, but all bear testimony to a fascinating period in the history of Spain.
The irrigation systems laid out by the Romans, which had fallen into disuse after their departure at the end of the 4th century, were recovered and extended by the Moors who brought water into the very heart of urban buildings through a complex network of wells and channels, fountains and pools. The water was not only for domestic purposes, it was used comprehensively in public squares, patios and private gardens, and also for their hammans or public baths, still to be seen in many provincial capital cities throughout Andalucía.
After they left, Moorish history and culture was all but ignored, both by the Arab world and by Europe, the same fate facing the traditions and culture of the Jews who were expelled around the same time. Relegated to beautiful legends in the annals of history, those eight centuries of Spain’s past were not considered sufficiently important to study or even remember.
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Where to see the finest examples of Moorish architecture
You will also see Moorish castles and towers, and remains of fortifications all over Andalucia, both on hilltops overlooking towns, and in the middle of the countryside. Also the Museo de Huelva and the Archaeology section of the Malaga Museum have Moorish artefacts.
Useful Moorish Words
- Alcazar - palace, fortress
- Alcazaba - fortress
- Medina - city
- Mezquita - mosque
- Zoco - market
- Al - means 'the'
- Ben - means 'son of'
- Acequia - irrigation channel
- Adobe - brick made from clay
- Azotea - flat roof or terrace
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